Thought Leadership 2.0: Raising the Bar

Are you a thought leader? You may be. And even if you’re not, chances are you want someone in your company or your brand to be a thought leader.

With the current emphasis on content marketing, thought leadership has become more and more important to businesses – and also more and more of a buzzword.

Artemis Strategy Group wrote about thought leadership in the June 2015 blog post, Thinking about Thought Leadership. We want to add perspective on thought leadership, and especially on using public release surveys for thought leadership.

What is Thought Leadership?

The term “thought leadership” is often used to connote a certain level of expertise or experience. For example, a consulting firm claims they are a thought leader in strategy. Or a communications firm claims to be a thought leader in social media. Even Wikipedia gets into the act; defining thought leadership as “an individual or company that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” Many, many people are experts in their fields but are they truly thought leaders? To be a thought leader, you must be an expert or authority, but that alone is not sufficient.

Thought leadership requires something more – the ability to reframe the question and redirect the conversation. As Daniel Rasmus wrote in Fast Company: “Thought leadership should also be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.”

He continues by saying, “Amid the cacophony of corporate voices, those found to be additive to the dialogue, rather than distracting, can be considered thought leaders. Given our complex world, providing true thought leadership can be as valuable to a brand as the products or services it sells.”

So it is no wonder that individuals, companies and brands want to be thought leaders. Aside from the potential for profit, thought leaders are sought out for answers to the big questions and are trusted advisors to their customers. Thought leadership builds brands.

Thinking about Thought Leadership

True thought leadership starts, not surprisingly, with thinking. Thinking that takes time. As we said previously, the sort of thinking that leads to thought leadership does not naturally take place in the hustle and bustle of doing business. Businesses must nurture a culture of intellectual engagement to yield real thought leadership. But how do you do that and still run the day-to-day operations of the business?

To achieve true thought leadership, companies must encourage the kind of thoughtful consideration that can lead to revolutionary (or at least, evolutionary) thinking. How can you make the most of the thinking that occurs to generate thought leadership?

First, leverage moments of creative thinking that now occur in your business, whether in strategic retreats, at conferences, or anywhere you take the time to think about the big picture. What questions are customers asking that currently have no good answers? What high profile industry events are creating uncertainty for players? What mistakes do industry participants seem to make over and over? What are the important trends facing your industry? All of these can be opportunities for you and your company to demonstrate thought leadership. Determine which questions or issues are most closely related to your brand position, or most relevant to your target audience to define your thought leadership.

The Importance of Marketing Research in Thought Leadership

Next thought leadership requires a compelling story, which means saying something new, different, and above all, interesting. Whether you are speaking to the big picture or a very focused topic specific to your industry, marketing research can be key to developing a strong fact base to contribute knowledge. The beauty of using marketing research as the foundation of thought leadership is that it is a known and credible vehicle for your audience and the media, immediately giving your message the attention you are seeking.

However, true thought leadership will go beyond facts to create a compelling insight – one that will make others stop and think and that will challenge industry norms and traditions. You are not looking for a sound bite, but for a sustaining property that sets you apart from others in your industry. Real insight is where facts and creativity come together to reveal something new and dynamic.

Thought leadership takes an investment in time and resources, and the real opportunity of creating thought leadership goes beyond simply publishing a press release, a blog or other communications. The real opportunity lies in leveraging the insights created into your marketing efforts. For example, we worked with a financial services firm to conduct marketing research that revealed new insight into the investment needs of a target population. While the client firm, of course, published the findings of the study to demonstrate its thought leadership externally, they also prepared their advisory force to utilize the insights in their sales efforts. Supporting materials, training, and advisor briefings were developed to ensure that advisors would be able to apply the insight to address their target customers’ needs.

As thought leadership continues to be a desirable goal for companies and brands, the challenge then becomes to rise above all of the noise to truly stand out. Artemis Strategy Group has extensive experience in working with client organizations to build thought leadership and to leverage that insight throughout their marketing efforts. It is not easy. After all, we are talking about thought leadership – not me-too thinking! Achieving true thought leadership can create sustainable differentiation and competitive advantage, and can be well worth the effort.