"Thought leadership" may sound to you like a fussy marketing strategy, but for Dan Dershem, it's easily defined. Dershem's company, LeanLogistics, develops supply-chain management software for the transportation industry. To drum up business, the Holland, Michigan, company offers expertise free of charge to as many people as possible in the form of white papers and case studies on supply-chain management. The company has invested more than $2 million over the past few years to build up its library of logistics literature.

The reports have always been distributed via e-newsletters and Webinars (which are co-sponsored by trade journals). But the company switched course this year, deciding to spend more on newsletters and less on Webinars. The reason: Dershem found that his company's e-mail campaigns yielded almost double the number of leads at only one-sixth the cost of producing a Webinar, in part because newsletters can be e-mailed multiple times. They also tend to sit in a client's in box for days, while a Webinar is more ephemeral--a client either logs on at the appointed time or not, even if the broadcast remains available online afterward.

E-newsletters are also a rich source of market data. Using Vtrenz software, LeanLogistics tracks which topics prospects are clicking on. By comparing that with information in his database, which includes any previous orders, Dershem is able to better understand what a customer is likely to buy.