Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thought Leadership as a Marketing Strategy – Part I of III

">Read Part II here

This is part one of a three part series on using Thought Leadership as a marketing strategy. I won’t pretend that I thought this all up myself. I read far and wide and distilled it all into what I think are the most important elements. I will be sure to name the influential sources at the end of part 3.

What Is Thought Leadership?

It might sound obvious but a thought leader is a recognised leader in the current thinking, advancements and improvements needed in one’s field.

What differentiates a thought leader from any other knowledgeable company/person is the recognition as being at the forefront of understanding and/or application of a discipline(s) and having the confidence to promote or share those ideas.

This means providing both clients and competitors alike with insights which can be actioned or applied to their own work. Thought Leaders have a lot in common in that they have a public outlet for their thoughts (blog, public speaking, whitepapers), have something valuable to say and a commitment to publishing on a regular basis. Thought leaders are committed to being fair and balanced, to sharing experiences and fostering the learning and development of others.

It can be difficult to determine who is a thought leader and who is just a pundit. Essentially, a company/person is simply a pundit if they undertake any ideological discussion or criticism of a problem without presenting solutions that are grounded in some experience.

A Position That Is Granted – Not Claimed

Thought Leader 1 Occupying a thought leadership position is important not only because of the advantages that it provides but also because of the disadvantages that a company would experience if a competitor occupies that position (and becomes more trusted or positions conflicting thoughts/messages).

On the flip side, the market advantage for a company is where thought leadership positions it in the minds of clients. That position is one of a premier provider and trusted advisor in their field.

A Thought Leadership position is, however, perishable. It is granted by the market and it is the market that sees a company as a thought leader (and which the company must work to build/maintain). A company is not a thought leader simply because it claims to be.

Within this is an inherent paradox – what is important to a company/person might not be important to their clients (at least at first). One of the critical roles of a communicator or marketer is to make the case for the thought (thinking about a problem or need). This has an important alignment with the traditional buying‐decision process i.e. awareness.



Thought Leadership as a Marketing Strategy – Part II of III

Read Part I here>

Thought-Leadership Occupying a thought leadership position is important not only because of the advantages that it provides but also because of the disadvantages that a company would experience if a competitor occupies that position (and becomes more trusted or positions conflicting thoughts).

An Attractive Strategy

A Thought Leadership strategy is attractive because it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to communicate and get their message across on a mass scale. Traditional “interruption” methods (i.e. advertising), is working less and less in the consumer market let alone in the business-to-business (B2B) market.

Consumers are increasingly expecting value without an exchange i.e. a purchase. This means that consumers are expecting information about solutions to their problems without having to buy any services.

This is particularly important if a company is responsible for making the client conscious of a problem they were not previously thinking about or aware of. Thought Leadership quietly positions a company in a trusted relationship - waiting for the time when a client becomes conscious of a problem and requires a solution.

It’s not necessarily that consumers expect a free solution but instead that they expect to be well educated during the information gathering stage of the buyer decision process. Essentially they are more resistant to being sold to. As such, a company should spend time positioning themselves and softening (educating/informing) the market prior to a sale. This positions the business as a go-to solution with which they have a trusted relationship. Trusted because they see the business as a thought leader willing to contribute to the greater good by sharing their thoughts and information.

Some of this positioning will inherently be to those that do not require a company’s help.That’s OK. When they do have a problem they are more likely to the company. Additionally, as they move between organisations, or are promoted, they will take their view of the company as a thought leader and trusted advisor/partner with them.


A Thought Leadership strategy must have the buy-in and ownership of senior management.

Unfortunately, the pressure on senior management to meet monthly budgets can be a major dampener on a deep-seated, long-term thought leadership strategy. The longer-term reputation and trust building resulting from thought leadership does not satisfy the need for immediate results i.e. sales.

One of the biggest issues is the perceived high cost, in time and energy, relative to perceived benefits. Such perceptions can sometimes discourage investment in thought leadership tactics that promise to position a company as thought leaders and a trusted authority. Sometimes, the value may be agreed by all yet efforts to pursue the strategy must be prioritised in the wider context of the business.

The danger in this situation is the company has no choice but to market in conventional ways and rely on product-focused brochures, mass emails, call-to-actions or mass advertising – all of which are aimed at short term revenue. They have no real value for the client and the situation will be no different the following month.