Thought leadership. Everybody is talking about it as a way to influence markets and consumer behavior – whether it’s aimed at individual or corporate consumers. It comes in a dizzying array of formats, channels and devices. It can be about trends, best practices or even tips and tricks. And businesses are trying to incorporate it into more opportunities to stay connected with customers and prospects over time to build long-lasting relationships with them. But many companies seem to be focusing their thought leadership efforts on their needs instead of delivering what’s important to the audience they want to connect with.
In a recent CRM Playaz episode, me and co-hosts Paul Greenberg and Nicole France spoke with Janelle Dieken and Ginger Conlon who are heading up thought leadership efforts for Genesys, a leading customer experience platform. Janelle, VP of Content and Thought Leadership, and Ginger, Thought Leadership Director, shared with us their views and approach to building thought leadership that first and foremost provides customers and prospects with content that delivers relevancy and authenticity in a way that leads to trust.
Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation. Click the SoundCloud player to hear the whole conversation.
The purpose of thought leadership
Janelle Dieken: In doing thought leadership, we look to be the guide to other people. And that takes combining data and research and story, which is another key part, into something that does inspire, but actually gives that audience enough next step to do something with it. And so I think when you combine all of those elements, that is when it can be something that’s really generous to be able to take and make useful. So I think it is a combination of both and done well, it takes that combination.
Ginger Conlon: Right before I joined Genesys and Janelle’s team, they did a survey called human connections in crisis. And it’s a great example because it gives you how to think about what’s been going on in people’s minds since COVID, and as a company… It provides an understanding that you might not have realized or known about before. And then as a company, how you can help your customers go through and come out the other side in ways that you might not have thought of with things that you’re already doing, just doing them differently. In this case with more empathy, and what empathy means in this particular case. And so it’s a great example of making people think. Or helping people think differently, giving them steps forward.
The difference between thought leaders and spokespeople
Janelle Dieken: I definitely see a difference between thought leaders and spokespeople. I think thought leaders are originators of the idea and spokespeople, help share and amplify those ideas. So I think that there is a key distinction in there. At the risk of naming a bunch of names on who are thought leaders in Genesys are, I’ll point to a group that I adore in Genesys, beyond Ginger, who I just hired of course to be one of those.
Internal thought leaders
Our strategic business consultant team, they come from such a diverse background of talent and expertise in the space of customer experience. And a key attribute that I really appreciate about them is that they’re listeners to the individual customer to connect the dots and then drive new ideas out of that, that has… We developed products because of some of those ideas.
So that group within Genesys is very special to me as a team of thought leaders. One of the challenges that you mentioned that we have is spot on that, as a quote ‘vendor,’ we do have to overcome the stereotype that whatever thought leadership we produce is self-serving to us. And I think it does come down to the people and people can sniff out authenticity pretty easily, right? And intention. And so I think I would put up people who just have customer advocacy at the forefront and not the intention to just sell the next shiny object that we have to offer to the market and really understanding and applying empathy to what the company’s business needs are, to then lead them down a path that’s going to help them along the way and be their advocate and guide.
Thought leaders – internal vs external
Small Business Trends: Internal thought leader versus external thought leader. How do you compare and contrast them and what’s the right mix to bring to some kind of engagement that you guys are involved in?
Janelle Dieken: It depends on the topic, right? For example, Ginger referenced some recent thought leadership that we just put out to the market around the human connection in crisis. Part of that research was serving consumers in the United States about how connected that they’re feeling to draw a tie to the relationship that might have in customer service. And so we leveraged a third-party research company who had that network to do that survey and help us analyze that information. And then we took that information and we aligned it to the so what, of what can brands do about that based on our experience.
And so that was a mixed approach, an example of that. We also look to have plans where we leverage other third party researchers and their awareness footprint more heavily while also looking at other topics where we have just internal things that we’re building new ideas around, that we will raise up those thought leaders as the centerpiece for our content. So that’s my long answer to saying it’s a mix and it really depends on what the focus is and where the expertise lives internally versus what sources of data we need to validate that with externally.
Small Business Trends: Ginger, any thoughts on that one?
Ginger Conlon: Yeah. It’s definitely that kind of a, it depends answer, right? What are you trying to, what are you trying to share? Who are the best, what’s the best mix of expertise to get that message out there? I mean, if you look at the kind of content that Janelle was just talking about, that’s one angle of one type, and then you mentioned also events. Like if you look at most of the vendors, big events, the people that they have on stage are those various types of thought leaders, right? So you typically have someone from the company who has that thought leadership type of messaging. And then you typically have a couple of people from the outside who are bringing in some relevant messaging to what the company’s theme is that year. And it may not be about the business itself. It may be about leadership or some, cool consumer trend or what have you. But I feel like it always depends. It depends is the answer based on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Janelle Dieken: I definitely think that we shouldn’t, and no one should, approach thought leadership in a silo, right? And that with thought leadership it needs to be connected. It needs to be connected to a strategy overall. It needs to be connected to the market that you’re looking to serve. And so at Genesys, we deeply care about customer experience. One of the findings from that recent report was that 40% of consumers in the U.S. Still see calling and contacting customer service as a hassle. That hurts my heart. And so we deeply care about making a difference there and helping to be an advocate for enterprises in changing that and making a difference. And so what I found in looking into this is that there’s no shortage of ideas. We’ve surveyed our customers for ideas, looked at where the gaps are in thought leadership we’ve surveyed internally, and we have a long list.
And so that’s a good problem for Ginger and I to tackle and where to go after first. But what we’re focusing on is really what are our customer’s biggest needs? What questions are they seeking to understand? Because I think that, my philosophy is vendors are great for selling hotdogs and bagels on the streets of New York, but enterprises and our customers that we’re serving, they’re looking to us for a real partnership. And they need someone they can learn from, grow with, someone that can be their guide along their whole journey. And that’s what I’m really set out to do with our thought leadership team.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.