Brand-building at scale: The value of thought leadership

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In the Philippines, every business relationship, every transaction, begins with trust.

A consumer will choose your product because they trust it will work for them. A business will choose your service because they trust it will bring them value.

But despite the importance of trust in Filipino business dealings, we’re still operating in the dark ages when it comes to trust-building.

Most Filipino professionals that deal with their customers — whether in marketing, sales, accounts management, or senior leadership — dedicate a significant portion of their work life to this abstract process of trust-building. They spend face-to-face time with their potential clients, sometimes in formal meetings, often in casual settings. Over lunch, dinner, or even drinks, they mix business and pleasure like the cocktails they bond over.

In my experience, the problem with this rubbing elbows-approach is that it’s simply not scalable. There are only so many interactions you can have with potential clients in a given week.

To ilustrate: Let’s say you skip the EDSA gridlock by optimizing all your meetings down to a single location in Metro Manila. How many meetings would you be able to squeeze in? Four or five a day? 16 or 20 a week? Even then, these meetings are essentially a lot of speculative work for a few possible deals that may or may not pull through.

So what’s a business leader to do?

We believe that the much more scalable approach to trust-building is thought leadership.




First things first, thought leadership and public relations are not the same thing. Public relations boils down to getting exposure for your company through various channels — be it print, digital, radio, or television.

The goal of thought leadership is not necessarily to make your company more visible — though that inevitably occurs — but to showcase how you are the most trusted authority in addressing the problem at hand.

I’ll share some insights from my experiences with Micab, the taxi-hailing platform I founded. Given that the transportation space is one of national importance, Micab has gotten a lot of exposure through traditional public relations channels.

For example, our new ads platform, MiAds, was featured heavily by media networks — as well as our recent hardware partnerships with Huawei and Smart Communications.

Our thought leadership, on the other hand, focuses much less on our own business experiences and challenges.

Instead, we try to highlight our advocacy of creating “Taxi 2.0” — a revitalization of the industry with drivers that are polite, kind, generous, and cars that are clean, comfortable, and modern.

The focus of our thought leadership efforts is to communicate our goal to create inclusive innovation for the tens of thousands of taxi drivers across the country. So many platforms take pride in wanting to “disrupt” their livelihood, but we believe they deserve a chance at proper customer service training and support in optimizing their connections with riders.

We promote this goal and present Micab as the group best-equipped to tackle it. In so doing, our partners grow to trust us, not because we claim we are experts, but because they understand how we are experts.

And the best part is that by spreading this type of messaging through various platforms like digital, print, radio, television, and even in person at events, I’ve found that I’m able to build trust at scale.

The inbound contacts that result from thought leadership make establishing partnerships much easier. Oftentimes, potential partners are already familiar with us, even before we meet them. In many cases, they even reach out to us for a partnership, rather than the other way around. Since your reputation precedes you, the only thing left to do is finalize the particulars.

Thought leadership, in short, gets your foot in the door — hundreds of potential clients and organizations at a time. How many one-on-one lunches would it take to do that?

Think about how you can position yourself as a leader in your industry, so that people will come to you. This may not be the natural inclination of many Filipinos, predisposed as we are to be low key, but it’s a must. By becoming thought leaders, we can lead our industry in the right direction.


Eddie Ybanez is the founder and CEO of Micab. Based in Cebu, he is a “hacker” by training and by heart.