Why Thought Leadership is More Than a Content Strategy: Interview with Torsten George

Interviewer: Today I am pleased to welcome Torsten George. Torsten is the Vice President of Worldwide Marketing and Products at integrated risk management software vendor Agiliance. Torsten has more than 20 years of global information security experience. He’s a frequent speaker on compliance and security risk management strategies worldwide. Torsten has held executive level positions with ActivIdentity, Digital Link, and Everdream Corporation. He holds a Doctorate in Economics, and a Master of Business Administration in B2B Marketing and Business Strategy. So Torsten it’s great to have you here.

George: Thanks for inviting me. I am really pleased to help you and kind of spread the message about how to deal with the challenge of tight budgets, but the expectation of delivering great results.

Interviewer: What a great topic. You know that’s very close to my heart, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today is how do you deal with what is often the reality of running a marketing organization where you might have been told or might have thought at one point you had a decent budget and a lot of time, only to learn you’re budget has been slashed and the time frame has been cut in half? So tell us a little bit about that environment Torsten and some of the things you’ve learned.

George: Sure, I mean throughout my career I’ve faced that situation multiple times. You have a set budget at the beginning of the year and then three months into it suddenly everything changes and you have to be very creative. When I look back on my career here in the U.S. it’s kind of interesting. I started out for a company, as you mentioned, Everdream Corporation, a pioneer in the software as a service industry. And at that time, that was the last 90s, we had a lot of money. We were able to spend millions of dollars on advertising campaigns, but in reality of course it was an emerging market. The results, the demand that we created was not that exciting. So it’s not all about how much money you have in your war chest, but it’s really about the creativity and really leveraging access to people. And we all, as marketers know it takes five impressions to make a sale. In enterprise software, it’s even nine impressions to make a sale. So I learned throughout my career that it becomes very important to really think in an integrated manner, not just core focus on core lead generation and bring in the big quantity. Of course quantity at the end of the day it doesn’t necessarily count. As we all know sales always complains about quantity. They love quality.

Interviewer: Right.

George: And so for me a good story is I joined a [00:02:57 – Inaudible] company called Digital Link and we kind of spent money to conduct a telemarketing campaign and it was driven from our V.P. of Sales, and at the time we were kind of a no name brand company competing against the big gorilla CISCO. And so I kind of trained the telemarketing team and I listened into the conversation and what I observed constantly was within the first two minutes we were turned down based on the fact that people would only spend their valuable time if they either have heard about you before from an independent source, or if you’re one of these big name brands.

Interviewer: Um hm.

George: And so for me it became apparent, even if I would spend millions of dollars and sending out advertisement, email campaigns, I might not get the same attention. So I reverted back to a approach where I say I first have to build the foundation. I have to plant the seed. And the way I applied this throughout the few years, last few years, is really I put more emphasis on public relations. And that’s not just sending out press releases, but more importantly, really creating buzz on the street. And starting with a rapid response program where on a daily basis you are really looking at what stories come out that are related to our business, or at least slightly related to the business.

Interviewer: Right.

George: Of course you can always spin your story and that gives you a lot of coverage as it relates to either a commentary where your company is mentioned; you can also then pitch byline articles; you can pitch blogs. We have an extensive award program. Just last year alone we won 22 industry accolades. And by building this foundation where constantly every day you are somewhere covered, people get these impressions about your company. So now when you invest money into, let’s say a white paper or content syndication, or you’re sending out email campaigns people receive this and instead of clicking the delete button they kind of, wow I just read some article where this company was mentioned. Let me spend this extra time to read through what they have to say, because obviously if they’re constantly in the news they must know the market. They must know how to solve the problems. And even though that for instance Agiliance we’re not the big name company, we’re competing with RCA Archer, and everybody know RCA, we get the attention. We have seen that we tripled our sales pipeline in just 18 months by pursuing this strategy. And I’m working with an extremely tight budget here that really doesn’t allow me to do advertising, to do major programs with Google AdWords or something. So just by really building that foundation of rapid response, blogs, byline articles, we have seen a tremendous uptick in demand, and this is demand that’s not kind of – like a lot of times when you otherwise run your content syndication or you go to events, you get a lot of people that in reality are not really interested in your product. But here you’re really driving the demand of high quality leads to your website. And we have seen an 87% increase in inbound inquiries since we started this program. And that is really showing off that it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to spend millions of dollars. It really comes down to be creative. And nowadays we have so many tools out there with social media, search engine optimization, all these different LinkedIn groups where you can also evangelize your product, that it doesn’t necessarily require to spend millions of dollars. Would I be happy to have it in my war chest?

Interviewer: Sure.

George: Sure, but –

Interviewer: But let me ask you – let me ask you a question there. So it sounded like your approach was to focus on awareness first, because in the example you gave for Digital Link, people didn’t want to talk to you. One of the reasons was they had never heard of you before.

George: That’s correct.

Interviewer: So now the suggestion here is make sure you can create awareness in the market so that when you get to the next level of engagement or conversation with a potential buyer, they’re comfort level has gone up. Is that right?

George: Yes, and I would especially emphasize the type of awareness, correct? I mean, awareness I can create again by driving advertising campaigns, branding campaigns.

Interviewer: Uh huh, right.

George: But that’s not the type of awareness that I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is really thought leadership that in the public mind you are perceived to be somebody that is very entrenched in the pains that exist in the market. You are very knowledgeable about how to solve this, and you’re willing to share with the peers what it takes to solve these issues.

Interviewer: Right.

George: So it’s not core brand awareness, or core intention to drive sales initially. It’s really more on an educational, thought leadership level. Of course that’s where people feel more comfortable. If they would see advertisement, yeah you create brand awareness and it helps you, but it might not help you necessarily to make them feel comfortable to really engage with you on a level where they talk about their problems without immediately feeling that you’re pushing them to buy your product.

Interviewer: Right, so question for you Torsten. Most of our clients would talk about what you’re doing as a content based strategy. And it’s interesting you didn’t use the word content, but when companies step forth and say okay we’re going to leverage content to create awareness for ourselves, and create a dialog with our potential buyers, they often find that thought leadership is what I call aspirational. It’s something they want to go for but they have a difficulty achieving it.

George: Hm.

Interviewer: So I’m curious what you guys have done, or you’ve done in your career to provide thought leadership, because I think a lot of companies look at thought leadership and say, wow, how are we going to become a thought leader? How are we going to create that content? How are we going to promote that content?

George: Hm, well I think the first thing that you have to hire knowledgeable people that really know the market pain points. For me, I am a marketer that always when I look at the four P’s of marketing, product has always been one of the most important things. I can have the best promotion, but if my product stinks I will sell the product once and don’t have repeat orders.

Interviewer: Right.

George: So when I say I’m focusing on product it’s not just the functionalities, the features, but really I have to understand the market, and I have to understand the pain points. That’s where product marketing plays a big role. So for me, any time I entered a new company, or entered into a new market segment, I spend a tremendous amount of time outside of work to really get knowledgeable; to speak with analysts; to speak with end users, be it customers or be it prospects, and really try to really understand what is driving them. What is really keeping them up at night. And once you gain that understanding and you can apply either your solution or a generic solution to their problem that’s where you become really that thought leader where you can really give advice without having to pitch your product. You’re talking about concepts. You’re talking about their pain points, which is very important, because that’s where you create this, what I call, de ja vu effect. They have to either go to your website, or they have to read an article and feel like, this is me.

Interviewer: Ah, right.

George: They really understand me. And that’s where you get that personal connection. Of course, at the end of the day it still holds true, people are not buying from a company, people are buying from people.

Interviewer: Um hm.

George: And so it’s very important to create this comfort level where they say, hey this person really spent the time to understand what I’m going through on a daily basis and therefore, I am trusting this person. And by trusting it, their sharing with me more information about their company and their challenges; which allows me then to really tailor a solution that addresses their problems. And that’s the important part.

Interviewer: Excellent. A question for you about content curation, which is something we talk a lot about and I’m curious about your strategy as it relates to that. Let me define it for you in the context of this conversation. It would be to take content that others have developed, that is applicable to your buyer that does talk about their pain points, and put your own spin on it but go ahead and publish that content even though it wasn’t originally yours. Do you take advantage of that?

George: I definitely do, especially as part of our PR programs where we do byline articles. I always try to substantiate my own views that I’m presenting with research that has been done be it, let’s say, in the security industry very good examples, Verizon Business that conducts a data breach study on an annual basis.

Interviewer: Um hm.

George: So every time it comes out new I am taking data points from that and integrate that into my next blog, or into my next byline article that’s being placed at Network World, or SC Magazine. Of course, that again adds credibility. It show that you’re not just pitching your own ideas or your own product, but that you’re substantiating it with 3rd party analysis, and that’s very important. We also have engaged with multiple analysts and research firms to really do white papers or research reports that help organizations to get a peer comparison, get benchmark.

Interviewer: Right.

George: And that’s very important too. And the same thing, we normally do annual predictions and these predictions are based on our engagement with analysts, with end users and prospects. But we’re also complimenting that with 3rd party contact to kind of again, have these proof points that whatever we’re stating is really something that can be seen across the market.

Interviewer: Great, what I’d like to do is ask you a couple of questions around what I’ll call short cuts in content strategy, content development, content marketing. If you wouldn’t mind sharing with us some of the things you’ve learned about how do you use a content approach, as you have, within a limited budget and a limited staff?

George: Well for me it’s really about efficiency and when I talk about efficiency I mean for instance at Agiliance you’re talking to the person that does everything in marketing. I don’t have a team. I have a V.P. title, but I’m still getting my hands dirty.

Interviewer: Um hm.

George: So considering that resource limitation, if I let’s say, create a byline article that is being placed somewhere, I am repurposing that same content and leverage it for different vehicles. I will also create a webinar. I might change the title, but the topic, the content might be the same.

Interviewer: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

George: I will do, next road show we’ll use this as a speaking engagement. We turn it into a white paper that we’ll also post.

Interviewer: Oh that’s fantastic.

George: So really the important thing is repurposing and you can use one content element and really turn it into different vehicles and also slightly change it. I mean, it doesn’t need to be word by word, but really the core message you can repurpose. And again, that’s very helpful; because suddenly instead of having one content piece you have six content pieces. And each vehicle that you’re using is potentially attracting different people correct?

Interviewer: Absolutely, absolutely.

George: With a webinar for instance, you have a different audience than if you do core byline articles.

Interviewer: Now that’s great. I wrote an article called The Four Pillars of Content Strategy, and the third pillar is repurposing.

George: Yes.

Interviewer: And one of the reasons why we emphasize that point is that it is so difficult to create the content initially, that companies struggle with that, and then they often just leave it as the original content. It might be a blog post, or a white paper. And we say, no, no. The real value is in repurposing that content so that it can show up in a lot of different places, and it enables, when you start to think about how buyers absorb information, they want to receive it in different ways. They might only look at video. They might only listen to podcasts. So you need to reach them where they are.

George: Exactly, and I think very important also is that you look across the sales cycle correct?

Interviewer: Right.

George: A lot of people make the mistake when it comes to the content strategy that they focus either on the front of the end of the sales cycle, or on the back end of the sales cycle. But you have to have a very balanced approach to where do I put my efforts. And here again, repurposing content and creating different vehicles that can be used at different stages of the sale cycle is very important.

Interviewer: Fantastic, well I’m impressed with the secrets you’ve been sharing with us Torsten. And it’s amazing you get done as much as you do. Do you want to leave us with any last tips before we sign off?

George: Again, for me, it’s not all comes down to spending millions of dollars. Do it smart. Be effective by leveraging content and multiple facets, and leverage new media. New media is something that’s available free of charge, but it has major benefits as it relates to awareness, and so take advantage of that.

Interviewer: Torsten thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to have you.

George: Well Glenn, thanks for inviting me again.

Interviewer: You’re welcome.

George: Thanks.