Taking a company global is challenging enough, and positioning it as a thought leader while doing so sets the bar higher still. In this article we discuss thought leadership, and why we would advise an internationalizing company to aim for it. ‘Positioning’ is the fourth success factor out of five in our Takeoff Success Factors framework.
1) Getting started: Understanding the playing field
‘Positioning’ by definition means taking a
position in relation to someone else. This is the reason we are not referring
directly to ‘marketing’ or ‘brand building’: To position oneself, one must first
understand where the other players stand: Who are the potential customers and
what are their needs? What does the competitive situation look like? What are
the target market characteristics and how do they differ from each other?
Typical ways to gather insights on the industry
are to search online, interview experts and potential customers, and visit industry
events. This research exercise should result in a clear picture of the customer
demand and the competitive playing field – and an idea of the position that the
company should be able to claim in the marketplace.
2) Getting ready: Developing an own voice
A thought leading company is one that customers
and interest groups want to follow because the company genuinely adds value to
them. The best way to ensure this is to be unique: Provide something that
others (in particular the competitors) do not. Achieve this, and over time you
will most likely be able to price higher than the competition.
The company’s own voice will be developed based
on best practices discovered while working with the first customers. The first
successful experiences will prove the concept, and this proof should be used in
starting to market the company, i.e. starting to go after the desired market
3) International market entry: Taking marketing seriously
Now the company has a good idea of its
international customers and competition, a positioning plan, and the first
successful customer cases to build on. It’s time to enter the targeted new
markets, and marketing needs to be resourced accordingly. In other words
marketing needs to be built into a professional program with a leader that
truly understands the heart of the business, a brand and marketing strategy,
KPIs to measure success with, and resources to perform the tasks defined in the
Surprisingly many companies underestimate the
amount and quality of planning and resourcing that needs to go into marketing
in order for the company to reach the ambitious goal of thought leadership. Yet
through community building and smart marketing the company should rather
quickly be able to have its happy customers ‘sell to each other’, which in turn
accelerates growth in sales.
4) International growth facilitation: Leveraging thought leadership
At this stage the company has proven its worth
in the global marketplace and has earned a thought leader’s brand position
through sharing best practices and educating the market. Marketing continues to
be a professional program that produces regular deliverables and continuously
seeks fresh perspectives for the customers and interest groups to benefit from.
5) Running a global business: Nurturing the global followership
A thought leader’s market position is not
easily obtained but once the company has such status, its brand does have a certain
tendency to stick. With a globally recognized and respected brand, the greatest
risk is the lack of renewal, however, and to stay as a leader the company has
to continually lend a keen ear to its customer community.
Also, coming back to where the entire
positioning exercise started, the company should never forget watching the
emerging trends and competition in the industry. Thought leading frontrunners
will only stay as that if they remember to always think ahead – and share that
thinking proactively among their community. Naturally this thinking also needs
to be reflected in the continuous development of the company’s products and
Next up: Traction - Winning trust that translates into numbers
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About the Takeoff
Success Factors™ framework
The Takeoff Success
Factors™ framework is a summary of best practices in
internationalizing B2B software and service businesses. It grows from the
combined experience of the Takeoff Partners team in taking businesses global. The
proprietary framework is a unique checklist for entrepreneurs to help plan for
their company’s internationalization from ‘flight preparations’ all the way to
reaching the ‘cruising altitude’.