Many companies that embark on a thought leadership strategy lose sight of an essential component of thought leadership. It actually has to lead.
By this, I mean that true thought leadership puts the stress on the “leadership” dimension of the concept. It has to be based on a vision for how the knowledge and practices of an industry must evolve.
In other words, for thought leadership to lead, it must focus on innovation and persuasion. When reading an article, whitepaper, blog, or other artifact, clients, prospects, and influencers should transform their understanding of the topic.
Knowledge sharing is a related but different strategy. It also has value as a way to explain complex concepts or demonstrate expertise. Informational briefs can offer significant benefits for their intended audiences, and keep them coming back to you again and again as a reliable source for industry expertise.
Used together, knowledge sharing and thought leadership help reinforce the likelihood and depth of a client’s intent to do business with you.
At a high level, achieving leadership in thought leadership requires working along six critical dimensions :
- In-depth knowledge of the baseline understanding of the topic. Do an initial assessment of this baseline by searching media, online sources, competitors, analysts, etc. to identify the contours of conventional wisdom around a specific set of issues.
- Clarity around where your thinking is innovative or transformative. By knowing what people already believe or think about the topic, you can determine what else you want them to know, believe, and do – in ways that both advance your industry and align to your marketing and business objectives.
- A bench of ready spokespersons. Thought leadership can come from your general corporate brand voice or from a collective “we,” but it also needs individuals to make it credible and convincing. The reality is that people are more inclined to believe people than they are to believe ideas alone. While spokespersons may also have front-line responsibility for implementing the actual innovation you want to communicate, they also need the right communications persona and skills to carry forth the thinking effectively.
- A position statement. The position statement articulates the uniqueness of your thinking in a clear and crisp manner and feeds into the deeper, more detailed messaging that must be developed for the thought leadership campaign and individual communications within it.
- A campaign plan. With the starting point and end point defined, you then need to lay out the interim steps. To flesh out this plan, ask yourself questions such as: What channels will you use (earned and owned media, industry events, etc.)? Which formats will you use in what combination? How can you hone the skills of your designated spokespersons? Which influencers should you get on board early to magnify your impact over time? Which audience segments take priority? Which beliefs will you target first?
- Willingness to make a sustained commitment. Like any other effort to lead, thought leadership takes time to deliver results. A single publication may launch your efforts, but you need a steady cadence of communications to keep your thinking visible. Only through repeated exposures can you achieve a goal of changing what people think and feel about a topic.
Thought leadership works as a communication strategy because clients and prospects for complex products and services are truly making a buying decision. Transforming their understanding and guiding the evolution of an industry sets the underlying conditions in which those buying decisions occur, and generates inputs that guide them towards you. It’s worth the effort.
For more information about how to build or enhance your thought leadership strategy, contact us.