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Which Industries Want Thought Leadership the Most?

Every firm wants to be a thought leader these days, or so it seems. We have first-hand experience with this, in listening to the firms that have wanted our help the last few years. They include architecture, clinical research, law, medical device, real estate management, contract manufacturing, research and hotel companies.

That’s a far cry from the early days of thought leadership marketing – the 1960s and ’70 – when the practice was the private reserve of the management consulting industry. In fact, from 1998 (when we launched this business) to the year 2010, nearly every one of our clients came from the consulting and IT services industries. There were few exceptions.

Not so now. Many B2B companies want to be recognized for their expertise, and they’re spending money on firms like ours to do so.

So how much has the mix changed? We just conducted a survey to get a handle on this. Our research method: Identify the sectors of people on LinkedIn with “thought leadership” in their titles. Our thinking was that if those words are in their titles, their companies are investing in thought leadership marketing. They may not be investing much. But something is likely going on.

So the first thing that amazed us was the sheer number of people with “thought leadership” in their titles. Originally, I went through 11 screens on LinkedIn, each of which had 10 names. That yielded 93 people, excluding those who appear to be independents – solo PR, writing and other professionals. Then my business partner urged me to get a bigger, more scientific sample. So I went through 15 more screens, rounding up a total of 219 people with "thought leadership" in their titles (again, excluding the solo practitioners).

Here are the numbers:

  • 25% are from consulting, IT services and training firms. That’s the largest concentration. However, what this says to us is that thought leadership is no longer the private domain of this sector.
  • 20% are from the information technology sector (software, hardware and online services). They include people from Cisco, Google, LinkedIn, Dell, HP, Yahoo, Oracle, SAP, and NXP Semiconductors.
  • 20% work in financial services firms, and several big ones. People from JP Morgan, Fidelity Investments, John Hancock, MasterCard, and US Trust have thought leadership responsibilities. In fact, 10 people from Fidelity Investments have "thought leadership" in their titles.

Percentage of thought leadership roles in each sector (click to enlarge)

That leaves us with 35% from other sectors. They’re spread out among information services (e.g., Nielsen and Thomson Reuters), publishing, marketing, law, insurance, health care services, accounting firms, PR and marketing, consumer packaged goods (e.g., PepsiCo), pharma and other sectors.

So, has thought leadership marketing caught on beyond the consulting sector? Absolutely, according to our survey -- and in industries that go far beyond the one that embraced it first.