Santa Fe: Research led thought leadership

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Thought Leadership has become central to the B2B marketing mix

Buyers now expect prospective suppliers to contribute something of value to the debate and demonstrate real expertise.

But by definition, thought leadership can only be afforded to the few.

Santa Fe, a provider of workforce re-location services to multi-nationals, approached Circle Research with a clear brief – equip us with the tools needed to become the undisputed voice of authority in our sector.

Here’s how we did it.

The Seven R’s of B2B thought leadership

Much ‘thought leadership’ just isn’t; it’s ‘thought followership’. A ‘me-too’ approach where the same well-worn topics are explored, the same conclusions drawn and the same reluctance to invest in building a solid fact base apparent.

To stand apart, true thought leaders follow the Seven R’s:

  • Resonant. Rather than diving in and producing a piece on what seems to be the latest hot topic; pause. Speak with as many people in your market as possible. What are their priorities? What interests them? What information would they bite your hand off for?
  • Rare. Before committing to a particular route identify direct and in-direct competitors for similar mind space. Then audit everything already published, map out the angles taken and identify areas of white space
  • Road mapped. Unique and compelling angle in hand, a thought leadership strategy is needed. At its core should be a theme which will guide all of your activity in a coherent manner
  • Robust. The temptation now is to leap in and publish a paper detailing ‘our view on…’. But nowadays readers demand more. They expect real substance. Conducting an exclusive survey is a great tool in this respect, but remember that B2B audiences are likely to be research savvy so settle for nothing less than a reliable, representative and solidly executed piece of work. Likewise, be careful not to turn the outputs into an explicit sales pitch
  • Rounded. The best thought leadership goes the extra mile in delivery. Each piece in the series contains not only exclusive survey findings, but other content which gives flavour and facilitates action, e.g. best practice guides, case studies
  • Rooted. To become known as the ‘go to place’ on a subject, you need to give people somewhere to go. Develop a separate brand for your thought leadership programme and a micro-site to call home
  • Re-used. To ensure content delivers as high a return as possible it needs to be packaged to appeal to diverse consumption preferences, e.g. reports, video, infographics, seminars

These principles which Circle Research has developed over the course of several thought leadership projects guided our approach to Santa Fe’s challenge.

Relevance and substance

We began with a comprehensive audit of competitor materials. This was coupled with a series of interviews with customers and key opinion formers to better understand what information they would most value.

It transpired that global workforce mobility trends are often poorly understood with little information exchange between practitioners competing for the same talent pool. Moreover, as globalisation gathers pace there is increasing demand for relocation services from new industries and in new countries.

When combined, these conditions have created an information vacuum. Our goal with the Global Mobility Report was to fill this gap.

As a result, we set out to establish a robust, survey based peer benchmark in key areas that Santa Fe’s target market wanted to understand yet did not have appropriate data. Indeed, by surveying 1,119 respondents from 56 countries, we created what is now widely accepted as the most authoritative source of information available on the subject.

Shout it from the roof-tops

Recognising that people like to consume information in different ways, the survey output was delivered in multiple formats:

The core report for those seeking an in-depth explorationAn executive summary, infographics and social posts for those seeking highlightsAn interactive benchmarking tool and dedicated micro-site which allowed users to prepare a bespoke analysis for their industry sector or countryA series of roundtables and public speaking activities

Having educated colleagues about the report so they felt comfortable fielding any questions from clients, Santa Fe set about designing an external communications programme to ensure that all those that could potentially benefit from the information were aware of it.

The release of the report was phased, going first to survey respondents and then to opinion formers that supported the project. This created a network of advocates who talked about the findings with their peer groups. Soon thereafter, key customers were briefed using ‘taster sheets’ each focussing on a different part of the research. Concurrent PR activity caused many of these ‘taster sheets’ to be picked up by specialist press.

With headline results in the media, a series of emails were sent to customers highlighting the research and inviting them to dial into a webinar briefing; more than 500 signed-up.

All interest was channelled back through the microsite (take a where people could see a preview and apply for a copy of the full report. Registered users were then able to use the interactive benchmarking tool which encourages colleague referrals to the site.

The result

Remember that original brief?

“Equip us with the tools needed to become the undisputed voice of authority in our sector”.

There’s no doubt this has been achieved, and more.

The report has driven performance across three key areas.

First, Santa Fe receives regular feedback from customers that the report is a highly valuable planning tool (take a look at some of the feedbackhere).

Second, it has informed important strategic decisions. For example, Santa Fe are developing several products as a direct result of findings in the report, e.g. a training offer focussing on the challenges customers face in emerging markets.

Third, it has boosted Santa Fe’s brand profile and positioning as a strategic partner. Tangible outcomes include:

Visibility to more than 80,000 sector specialists through partner websites, LinkedIn groups, email outreach, academic articles and blogsEngagement with more than 3,100 interested delegates at seminars and round-tables dedicated to discussing the research resultsConsultations with more than 1,000 existing and prospective clients

At the time of writing, the interactive benchmarking tool has been used more than 2,000 times and the dedicated Microsite receives over 1,800 unique visitors per month.

Ultimately there’s no doubt that the report has firmly established Santa Fe as the ‘go to’ source of information. They have been invited to share findings with leading institutions like Cranfield and IMD Lausanne. Oxford University have approached them with a view to using the survey data to support their work in this area.

Job done.