Getting Real with Thought Leadership

It’s great to see so many companies today that want to be recognized as “thought leaders” on the business problems their services and products address.  Consulting firms, research houses, and professors aren’t the only ones anymore that see the benefits of being recognized as an expert on an issue.  Software companies, transportation firms, financial institutions and many other sectors want in on the game.  

It's not a surprise to me. In a world of complexity and confused customers, these companies see the value of having compelling points of view that create order out of chaos and thereby attract customers to their offerings.

But what these companies often don’t recognize is what it takes to be seen by the market as a thought leader – a go-to organization on a particular issue. (By the way, many consulting firms don’t get this either.)  From doing this work for more than 20 years, I see five factors that are key to determining how well a firm plays the thought leadership game:

1. A large appetite for differentiation based on possessing unique expertise about solving customer problems.

2. The organizational patience for the time and effort it takes to create great content and attract an audience to it.  Developing a great point of view on a complex issue – novel and substantiated-with-real-examples insights on how to solve it – is akin to developing a product. Both require R&D, not top-of-mind thinking.

3. A willingness to focus mental and monetary resources on developing and marketing a few deep and compelling points of view, not many superficial ones.

4. A champion for each point of view who will ride herd on the R&D and marketing activities – the equivalent of a product champion or owner.

5. The recognition that the end game is not only to produce content for marketing programs but also use that content to fuel new offerings or to invigorate existing ones. Regarding thought leadership solely as a way to capture and market a firm’s existing expertise is shortsighted. The process of capturing an organization's expertise on an issue can lead to new services and products.

In subsequent blogs, I'll drill down on each of these factors.

 

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