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
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.