I’m not a fan of the term “growth hacking“. The very essence of the phrase suggests there are shortcuts that startups can take that will propel them to wild success without having to figure out the block-and-tackle basics of executing a sales and marketing strategy.
Short-term tactics can put quick wins on the board, but to win your market for the long term you have to have a strategy for acquiring customers that is both scalable and capital efficient. In my experience, the approach with the highest likelihood of success is to grab the mantle of thought leadership and establish your company as the premier authority on the problem that you solve. It takes time, but once you’re there it’s extremely difficult for your competitors to dislodge you from the minds of your prospects.
Executing an effective thought leadership marketing strategy requires 3 three things: focus, exceptional content and face time.
Focus on a niche
The most important factor in determining your success in becoming the thought leader in your market is focus. Becoming the leading authority on cyber security in banking is an exercise in boiling the ocean; becoming the leading authority on mobile application security for community banks and credit unions is absolutely attainable. With the first topic, you’re going to have massive challenges in trying to be heard in a large and highly competitive content market, but with the second topic, you and your early-stage company actually have a fighting chance at establishing a reputation for thought leadership.
At Hireology, the company I founded in 2010, it didn’t take me long to determine that being another voice barking about recruiting and hiring was not going to get us anywhere–there were thousands of competitors out there vying for the same mindshare. Instead, we made the decision to focus all of our effort on solving the very specific problems of a large but untapped niche market. Had we not focused our message on a specific industry segment, I doubt we’d be in business today.
Create exceptional content
You won’t be the thought leader in your target market if you have bad content. Your writing and/or speaking must be clear, concise and valuable, and it must be all three of these things consistently over at least a twelve month period for your thought leadership strategy to take root.
One of the biggest practical benefits of having a refined industry focus is that specificity unlocks access to the network of trade publications that exists in every business vertical. Every one of these trade publications is starved for content that speaks to their readers’ biggest business challenges, and that’s where you come in. Reach out to these publications, and ask them if they’re willing to take vendor-written content. Many will do so if you ask repeatedly over a period of months. Most of your industry publications are for-profit enterprises and have defined pricing for vendors who wish to contribute content.
For years, I’ve heard CEO/founder peers tell me that trade shows are a waste of time. Their reasoning is that trade shows are both expensive and time-intensive, and both of those statements are true. But compared to what?
If you’re in an industry where your ultimate decision-maker is nearly impossible to get on the phone or in a meeting, you’re already spending a fortune trying to reach them via traditional selling and marketing methods. How much time and money are you spending in an attempt to get one meeting on the books with your decision-maker that turns into a closed opportunity? For most business-to-business companies, it’s in the high-thousands of dollars.
Once again, focus pays huge dividends: there are a finite number of industry conferences in your niche market, and your decision-makers are probably attending them. Pay for the booth, and put your best people there. Show up with printed articles and case studies, and engage with everyone that walks by. Better yet, apply as a breakout speaker at each of these conferences, and revel in the fact that you’re going to get a room full of your decision-makers opting in to hear you speak about solving their biggest challenges. Do this relentlessly, show up to everything, and benefit build your status as a thought leader who’s investing their time in advancing the industry.
Authority-based marketing is a powerful strategy because it’s proven and it’s hard to do well. You can’t “growth hack” being established as the leading authority in your market on the specific problem that you solve, but that’s a good thing. With focus, great content, and presence you can build a marketing asset for your business that will win your market and keep you on top.
Note: This post originally appeared on Inc.com.