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June 2017

How to Position Your Company as an Industry Thought Leader: The Role of a Strategic Narrative

How to Position Your Company as an Industry Thought Leader: The Role of a Strategic Narrative

What is an industry expert?

To me, it’s someone who not only knows a lot about his particular field, but also understands the underlying principles of his domain, the mega-trends impacting it, and has a vision for where his field is headed — and is open and able to communicate that to others.

Speaking with telecom industry experts is what I do for a living.  I’m a collector of other people’s insights.  I organize those insights, combine them with ideas of my own, and deliver it all back in the form of industry reports, journal stories, and white papers.

Now, I’ve known Catapult PR/IR since we worked together 10 years ago, and when I spoke to Guy Murrel and Terri Douglas for this interview story, Guy said something intriguing:

We try to get companies to think like an industry analyst.

That idea resonated with me because that’s exactly the kind of person I enjoy interviewing most.  An industry product or service, by itself, is somewhat interesting.  But couple that with a higher industry perspective, that’s much better.  Someone who’s thinking about the industry “big picture” is someone very valuable to converse with.

And it’s much broader than that.  For you, the reader of this story, want to learn something too — to gain industry level insights that enhance your career and move your company forward.

So I applaud this idea: every high tech company should get smart about telling an industry story, not just giving a product pitch.

Fortunately, Guy and Terri have studied and researched this idea in detail.  In fact, they created their own narrative and messaging approach they call “Strategic Narrative Marketing” and they have fleshed this idea out very nicely in our discussion, as well as in a concise, how-to guidebook called: A Practical Guide to Strategic Narrative Marketing.

Dan Baker, Editor, Top Operator: Guy, in your opinion, what’s the state of market messaging at high-tech firms these days?

Guy Murrel: Dan, it’s not very good.  Good market messaging has become a lost art, a lost craft.  And maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise in a world where it’s so easy to cut-and-paste, and attach a picture to some words.

Many companies are just writing content for the sake of doing it.  Companies might be blogging two times a week, but the content is generic, boring and does not support a central theme or vision held by the organization.

People often get caught up in how many eye-balls and how many people clicked a “like” on their content.  It’s fun to track those indicators, but if you’re not reaching the right people and giving them something compelling to think about, you’re wasting your time.  Lots of startup companies out there don’t have a good idea what they stand for anymore.

And not enough attention is paid to content quality in the high tech marketing business.  But if you look at the blogs we write for our clients, 80 percent of those blog stories reinforce a very specific strategic narrative.  We’re almost maniacal about that.

Tell us about this “strategic narrative.” What is it?  Why do you consider it important?

The strategic narrative is a step or two above storytelling, brochures or product pitches.  It’s the idea that to connect with and change the thinking of a prospective customer, you need to talk much less about yourself and more about the industry you’re in.

It helps organizations talk more about industry deficiencies, industry challenges, or areas where the industry — not the company — can improve.  Trouble is, most companies are not used to thinking that way.

Hidden within every company is a true industry vision.  These companies are full of smart people who have been doing great things for many years during their career.  It’s just they just don’t have the mechanism or the foresight to unearth their industry story, articulate it and leverage it.

We try to get companies to think like an industry analyst.  People get wrapped up in talking about their product or service, but that miss the point.  A strategic narrative starts at a higher level.  It’s about thinking how your company — large or small — is contributing to your industry.  And when a company gets that kind of strategic narrative out there, they instantly become an industry leader in the process.

Then, when it comes time to talk to analysts, a Gartner, Forester, and on down the line, it’s a different conversation than just running through the PowerPoint deck of product features.  The other beauty of it is you’re engaging with customers at a higher level.  You’re not even talking about your products, but an industry vision everyone needs to rally around because it’s the right thing to do, or it makes economic sense.

I understand you recently did some strategic narrative work for one of the telecom giants.  How did you work with them?

Well, in this case the company had a technology solution scattered across several departments.  It was a mix of video encoding, video distribution, and advertising platforms.  It has all sorts of awesome solutions, but it was difficult to articulate a clean message that joined all its services under one umbrella.  Another challenge was a lack of messaging consistency when it came to selling all these solutions.  It’s a familiar problem faced by large companies who sell many product lines to a range of customers.

So we helped create a strategic narrative around a holistic, “lifecycle management” approach that addressed the entire spectrum of challenges customers face.  We wanted them to think differently, about tearing down silos and viewing the technology stack in a more connected way.

The trick is the strategic narrative did NOT mention the company’s products or services.  It advocated a new approach, plain and simple.  That, in turn, leads to a much higher-level conversation when communicating with influencers, customers, partners and employees.

The strategic narrative we created outlines industry mega-trends, the company’s view of the current state of the industry, and its vision for the future of the industry.  We then helped create a position paper on the approach.  This encapsulated their industry vision through a new, step-by-step approach for solving industry level problems, which they make freely available on their website.  Its open and inclusive — even to competitors.

It was a very successful campaign for them, as they launched the new approach at a major industry conference, and engaged with industry analysts and media on a completely different level.  They were sharing an industry vision, not trying to convince the market they have the best solutions.  It’s really profound how moving away from claiming you’re a “leader,” toward “leading” the industry, has on an organization!

What are the reasons companies fail to create a strategic narrative?

Terri Douglas: Dan, everybody wants their company to be positioned as a market leader, but they struggle to get that message out if they lack industry market share and vision.

Smaller companies often worry about how to position themselves off of larger competitors.  But they should look at the opposite approach, which is to define and shape their industry or particular category.

The bottom-line is most companies just don’t take it upon themselves to define the industry, to lead it.  They leave it up to others.  We help them articulate how they are contributing to the betterment and advancement of the industry, and along the way, that causes them to be considered a thought leader.  Market leadership is not synonymous with being a Fortune 500 company that has mighty marketing resources and clout.

The truth is: by having a voice in industry leadership, you can elevate your company to a level playing field with the larger players.

The idea is to describe the industry trends, talk about how they influence the industry, concepts for what the industry needs to do, and how you can help support that through your own effort.  So it’s a great awareness builder.

Okay, how do you go about creating a strategic narrative and, once it’s fleshed out, how do you get that message out?

We have our clients participate in a one-day workshop.  And our rule for the first half day — and clients constantly break the rule — is you can’t talk about yourself.

The workshop is broken into three pieces.  First, what are the industry megatrends?  Second, we talk about the challenges in the specific area of their expertise, and third, we ask: “what’s your vision for where the industry needs to go?”

In most cases we help them identify how they can articulate their own, unique industry vision.  It includes: 1) trends, 2) industry understanding and 3) industry vision.  Then an industry positioning statement is created around a new category or approach, and spelled out with a series of core tenets of what that is, how it can be implemented and the value it delivers.

Now, you’ve got plenty to talk about with analysts and media when you launch it via a news release, blogs and social media.

In the case of Catapult, we have positioned ourselves as experts in Strategic Narrative Marketing — because we invented it!  We tweet about it, we evangelize the idea.  And by doing this, we have completely differentiated ourselves from other PR firms.

Besides gaining customers, I know a lot of PR and marketing firms get hired just to improve brand awareness or position a client for being sold.

Strategic narratives are really about enhancing your brand — and all the benefits that flow from that.  A highly visible company, with strong industry thought leadership, attracts greater sales leads and raises the overall valuation of the organization.

It’s wild because it’s often overlooked as a way to add value.  And rarely do we run into a company who says, “We love our messaging.” More often, the messaging is forgotten.

Many years ago, we represented Connexn, a startup telecom software company focused on revenue assurance.  They worked hard to evangelize that category, and subsequently were bought by the India company, Subex.  The value for Subex was, in part, based on the strategic narrative that positioned Connexn as a market leader within the category of “revenue assurance.” When you think of most acquisitions, the acquiring company is buying into a category.  And, the most attractive candidates are the category leaders.

Great, Guy and Terri.  Many product marketing guys I know will appreciate hearing your perspective.

You’re welcome!

Copyright 2017 Top Operator Journal

 

About the Experts

Guy Murrel

Guy Murrel

Guy is a principal and co-founder of Catapult.  He provides strategic PR counsel to Catapult clients, helping them articulate their story to break through the noise and capture market leadership.  With more than 20 years of experience, Guy outlined Catapult’s new positioning and messaging framework in the book: “A Practical Guide to Strategic Narrative Market,” for start-ups, emerging growth companies and Fortune 1000 companies.   Contact Guy via

Terri Douglas

Terri Douglas

Terri is a principal and co-founder of Catapult.  A veteran of the high-tech world, she has more than 25 years‘ experience leading the PR/IR activities of industry leaders and emerging growth companies.  At Catapult, Terri is responsible for the strategy, development and execution of customized PR programs.  She also leads investor relations initiatives, and assists with positioning and messaging and corporate public relations.   Contact Terri via

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