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.