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Show, Don’t Tell: Getting Started with Thought Leadership Marketing

by Rolf Jester  |  March 21, 2013  |  1 Comment

In marketing and selling of IT services, showing is better than telling.

If you’re selling IT services or software solutions to senior executives, then Thought Leadership Marketing (TLM) could be important in your marketing mix.  It’s about showing what you can do for the client, rather than just telling.

For example, I talked recently to a Testing services company that claims a differentiated approach to software testing.  For that company, TLM would be a way of providing its target buyers with valuable guidance and advice free of charge, while building awareness of its brand.

I’ve been researching the practice of Thought Leadership Marketing in the IT industry, and just published a revised version of the guide to how IT services and software providers can use it: Marketing Essentials: Targeting Senior IT Buyers With Thought Leadership Marketing

TLM is a marketing tool that IT professional service firms tend to use almost instinctively, but it can work for many other kinds of IT providers, especially services and software companies.  It is the practice of giving some useful information or advice so as to create awareness of the value that you can deliver. It can favourably position you in the perception of senior executives, create differentiation and stimulate demand for your products or services.  It has started to become an established marketing discipline.

Emerging IT providers – that’s the smaller ones who will one day be bigger – have asked for a cut-back version of my rather comprehensive guide.  Here it is: Getting started with Thought Leadership Marketing.

  1. Know your positioning, audience and purpose.  This is essential: don’t do anything before you have this clear.
  2. Decide whether TLM can reinforce that positioning and create awareness. The answer is likely to be positive if you are targeting CEOs or senior executives;  if your value proposition is aimed at specific narrow vertical markets;  if the value you deliver, and the way you communicate it are dependent on your deep knowledge of your client’s business;  if you have genuine expertise to offer;  and if it is possible to demonstrate the value of your offering through small doses of valuable advice – i.e. showing rather than telling.
  3. Decide your stance in the market and the position you are seeking to reinforce.  I’ve seen plenty of expensive and glossy “though leadership” that is totally wasted because it doesn’t support the provider’s actual value proposition.
  4. Set goals and decide on resourcing – people and money.  Our research has found that some companies waste money or don’t spend enough.
  5. Manage it as a marketing program, even though the thought leadership content will of course come from your subject matter experts.  This is possibly the main thing that too many companies fail to do.  They have thought leadership all right, but they don’t manage it as a marketing program.
  6. Track results: it’s a marketing program after all, and has to contribute to growth. 

There’s a lot more to running a full TLM program in an IT provider.  Picking the right content, the right stance, the right communications channels and the right follow-up mechanisms are just a few.  That’s what the published full research note is about.  But these points are what you need to get started.

 These blog posts will continue to offer thoughts and advice on the business of IT Services, based on my research and that of my colleagues.

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Tags: it-services  marketing  

Rolf Jester
Vice-President, Distinguished Analyst
16 years at Gartner
46 years IT Industry

Rolf Jester researches the business of IT services, particularly business and marketing strategy and best practices for IT services providers. He focuses on the IT outsourcing business globally, and also on the IT services market and service providers in the Asia/Pacific region. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Show, Don’t Tell: Getting Started with Thought Leadership Marketing


  1. Hi Rolf,

    Great summary article.

    Apart from the standard marketing parameters that you highlight; positioning, target markets, expected outcomes and measurement you make two very important points; tightly aligning the content to capabilities and having Marketing manage the program using content sourced from subject matter experts.

    Many companies that I have been involved in start a TLM (though often it is not called that) in a flurry of activity only to see it die six months later as the initial enthusiasm wanes and content supply dries up.

    Marketing cannot produce a TLM program by itself and it needs high level management commitment to keep content flowing from SMEs to marketing logistics and on to the final consumer of the content.

    I like your characterisation that this is showing, not telling. There is greater power in the showing, but the strictures are also greater. There is little to no wriggle room. What is, is. This is why TLM is so powerful, the target audience knows that by showing capabilities an organisation is showing truth – faking TLM content is professional suicide.



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