– Daniel Rasmus
Wikipedia terms thought leadership as a ‘business jargon’ and also defines it as content that is perceived by others as innovative, covering trends and topics that influence an industry.
Thought leadership is usually misused and a misunderstood word. To me, thought leadership is about becoming an authority on related topics by answering important questions on the minds of the target audience. So it is safe to conclude that the appeal of an organization is highly influenced by its thought leadership. Thought leadership develops from strategic differentiation, a demonstration, a proof point of differentiation. Given the complex world, there are many things that add value to the customers, so providing true and relevant thought leadership can be as important to a brand as the product or services it sells.
Successful thought leadership does not appear with a published idea linked to an expectation that someone will notice brilliance and sweep the firm from obscurity into industry eminence. Thought leadership should be about ideas/activities that can potentially change how people perceive the company. Let it be through information gained from attending events/conferences, winning awards for excellence, publishing relevant blogs/whitepapers/newsletters, consistently providing problem solving ideas, attending webinars, CSR activities, or securing industry-specific patents.
Thought leadership is an influential way to deliver considerable value to customers/prospects and is one of the most efficient business development methodologies. And therefore, it can be attained only through meaningful and relevant content.
An example would be a company called Type A Machines, a 3D printing manufacturer in California, USA. The company presents itself as an innovator in the 3D printing industry by portraying its technology, final prints, and R&D through its website. More particularly, the company uses its content to take the latest news buzzing around the 3D printing and technology industries and highlights benefits of their products and services.
Thought leadership delivers value by creating insights and notions that enable the expected audiences to become more successful. Only content that is constructive in the eyes of the expected audience will be embraced and adopted resulting in support of the business development activities of a firm.
The best thought leadership helps people in the concerned industry to do something exceptional or gain insights that help them better interpret the market. Thought leadership is better when the focus is limited to a particular type of audience rather than trying to target the whole lot. Workforce planning companies should streamline their focus into organizing and participating in workforce planning events and project management companies need to be a part of project management societies. When a firm which cares ardently about the things it does in its domain conducts workshops, gives presentations, runs panels, joins standard bodies, leads societies, or starts a not-for-profit that redefines an idea or creates a platform for compatible firms to invest, the firm would positively influence people’s perception of the company and their products.
What Makes Thought Leaders Rise to Prominence in their Line of Work, While Other Experts Remain More or Less Unseen?
An essential key is research. One of the main aspects for solid thought leadership marketing is an accurate understanding of the market. Successful thought leaders have a complete understanding of what matters and are relevant to their clients and prospects.
Impact of Research on Growth and Profitability (Source: Inside the Buyer’s Brain)
The above chart shows that there is a strong correlation between research and growth. While being adept in ‘something’ means a person has good knowledge about a subject area, it does not necessarily mean that the person has an expert view on the way that issue impacts his audience. When he performs audience research on a regular basis, he builds a body of applicable knowledge from his buyer’s perspective. And without the aid from this research, he is essentially blind to the way his audience defines the problem. Unavoidably, clients will see things differently and good thought leadership marketing will incorporate that perspective.
Where Does Thought Leadership Come From?
Thought leadership can come from any source – sales representatives, executives, product managers, customers, designers, customer service representatives. Everyone has knowledge, experience, and a point of view. Digging deeper into the same with additional research and being up to date with industry trends helps them to stand a step ahead of others.
Benefits of Thought Leadership
Thought leaders are credible, go-to authorities among peers and industry colleagues who possess an ingrained ability to contribute to the conversations happening today, while also being capable of speculating what is going to happen tomorrow. Thought leadership activities can guide people involved in the business decision making process concerning problems they are facing. It will aid them in identifying the problem and help them by solving it.
The benefits of thought leadership start with brand affinity. By communicating thought leadership, a company becomes part of the conversation, early in the buying journey. If the company’s ideas are meaningful and valuable, buyers will come to the company on their own and the thought leadership communication becomes a pre-sales discussion.
Thought leadership can be most useful when it is not only free, but has an anticipated personal value. Think about a manager who attended a thought leadership conference on healthcare and then goes back with some great ideas for his/her team. The person sharing the learning expresses a certain level of trust in the source, which they may well go back to should any of the ideas work out, thus converting a learning experience into a purchase.
Thought leadership does not instantly increase sales, retail transactions, or fill the consulting pipeline. Over a period of time, it builds a following, trust, but how long that takes depends on investment, industry, and most importantly, the value of the insights/ideas and their commercial success.
For any firm, becoming a thought leader is going to be significant in order to attain reasonable levels of success. In the strong-competitive environment, most firms are in coupled with ever more insightful clients and being a thought leader is one of the most compelling ways to influence those clients and generate business.
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