Every founder in Asia Pacific understands that they need to be a thought leader in their respective vertical. You can witness this fact in their dedication.
No matter how busy they are with recruiting, product development, or other business-critical tasks, they will always try to find time to give talks at conferences, seek out journalists for features, or be interviewed on radio and television.
Yet, while founders know they need to appear in these channels, they are less sure about what they should say when the opportunities do present themselves.
Most often, founders in Asia Pacific tend to default into product marketing, as I’ve witnessed directly through my content marketing studio, Ambidextr, when we first meet potential partners who want to revamp their strategy.
In the past, they’ve usually discussed the features of their product that distinguish it from others in the space:
It’s faster, cheaper, more powerful, or some other superlative or combination of superlatives. In proof of the fact, founders will share their traction: how many users or clients have adopted it, why it’s changed their life or business, and what plans they have in place to ensure this
Product marketing has a time and a place, but it should not be the thrust of your thought leadership.
You never want to appear as just a salesman hawking his products. No one, after all, likes to be sold to.
What people do appreciate, on the other hand, is having their problems solved.
That’s why the major thrust of your thought leadership should always be market education, especially in Asia, where most consumer and enterprise tech industries are still relatively new (at least compared to Silicon Valley).
Choose market education, not marketing
Let me give you a textbook example. While the United States has Amazon for almost 25 years, before even the dot-com bubble, e-commerce in Asia is still very much new.
When the first etailers and marketplaces emerged over the last few years, most Asians in emerging markets were unused to buying online.
As predominantly cash-based economies, they did not feel comfortable sharing their debit or credit card information online. Inevitably, a hacker could get their information and go on a wild spending spree, they believed.
Despite this challenge, some of the early e-commerce pioneers focused on product marketing, touting their platform’s selection, affordability, and speed.
The most perceptive e-commerce teams, on the other hand, also committed to market education. They taught the market why it was generally safe to buy online and what they could do to protect themselves further.
Some went as granular as explaining what phishing attempts were and how consumers could defend against them.
Others advised consumers on how to track packages and protect them from theft. Still, others recommended essential cybersecurity tools that would allow consumers to protect themselves from would-be data thieves.
In many cases, market education influenced product development, as these marketplaces adopted cash-on-demand and consumer-friendly return policies to engender trust in e-commerce further.
Between e-commerce founders who only promoted their marketplace and those who spoke about more significant industry-wide issues that could affect consumers in the space, who do you think people trusted more? The latter, of course.
The same goes for any other vertical in the Asia Pacific. If you put yourself out there as product marketing-oriented salesperson, people will most likely tune out.
On the other hand, if you go out of your way to discuss issues relevant to consumers, they will turn to you when it comes time to choose a company or provider. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true.
The less you talk about your product, the more people will buy into you, and in time, whatever it is you’re selling.
Founders in the Asia Pacific thus need to devise an overarching thought leadership strategy that touches upon all the issues that could affect customers and enterprises in the space.
Every field has many. In fin-tech alone, for example, there are regulatory, compliance, data privacy, and inclusion challenges and issues.
Founders must champion these vertical-defining problems to enamour themselves with their respective audiences.
But becoming the voice for these issues is harder than it seems.
You must look beyond the walled gardens of your office walls and think about what affects not only your company but all your competitors as well. In this process of conducting your market education, you will inevitably help others in your space.
To conservative founders who may be opposed to this kind of assistance, I would like to offer a new twist on an old quote: A rising tide lifts all ships, and positioned correctly, most of all yours.
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Image Credit: Joshua Ness