Companies create thought leadership to forge a differentiated position for themselves. By developing compelling high-level ideas, the organization creates competitive advantage because the marketplace perceives its creator as a visionary seer and interpreter: a company shaping the agenda vs. responding. Great thought leadership campaigns create an offensive vs. defensive position and build brands.
Here’s what you need to know to become a thought leader:
1. Look outward, not inward – Begin by creating a big picture idea with relevance to targeted stakeholders. The idea isn’t myopically focused; it has appeal to others outside your company. While it doesn’t have to speak to a vast universe, it must resonate with a relevant market or market segment. Pervasive thought leadership platforms cleverly rise above (A) a company, (B) its products, (C) its technologies, and (D) its services. Ways you can develop thought leadership include: (a) talk to consumers/customers and uncover what they’re worried about/thinking about; (b) study your competition to find untapped content zones; (c) share what you know including lessons learned, marketplace insight and even a little IP; (d) discover the “unmet need” and forge a viewpoint on how to meet it; and (e) conduct original research.
2.Take a stance – If your organization is trying to get noticed, don’t be boring. Color and controversy are good things; you’re trying to catalyze an active, recurring conversation.
3.Create forward appeal – Memorable thought leadership isn’t a rehash of where things have been, it’s a brilliant definition of how things should be and where they should be headed. It’s a desired state with emphasis on benefits. It’s a new, fresh idea.
4.Have a long life – You’re not creating a short-lived advertising tagline or a bumper sticker …it’s a definitional stake-in-the-ground for sustained corporate messaging. IBM’s Smarter Planet is a great example – it has topical and distribution “legs,” and thus can last a long time.
5.Create compelling content regularly – Today’s effective thought leaders understand the power of creating a steady flow of original content that’s clever and can be distributed across traditional and social outlets. Look no further than McKinsey…they publish five journals on a regular basis including the McKinsey Quarterly. Content should be diversified…from video and blogs to events and website to images and advertising to research and published articles.
6.Push the ball up the floor – Great thought leaders don’t sit back and say, “Give me a call when you want to talk about this idea.” They’re bold, aggressive and in-your-face. They leverage social media and digital platforms to proliferate ideas, stimulate conversations and build community.
7.It’s people, not just ideas – Compelling thought leadership involves ideas and content, yes, but also people. Carefully chosen spokespersons personify thought leadership ideas and help gain traction. Klout.com made noise with its “Klout Scale” which measures online influence. People personify ideas, and in today’s digital age, they come in a wide variety:
8.Be open to envy – Effective thought leadership ideas are embraced (sometimes readily) by others. The ideas are so strong and compelling that direct competitors may overtly or indirectly respond to and co-opt the idea.
9.Make a difference - For the bold and socially minded, there’s an even higher state of thought leadership. Companies can rise above their own market niches (and self-interests) by authentically making their world a better place to live. Cases in point: TOMS Shoes, Stonyfield Farms and Brighter Planet. These for-profit entities give back and make a difference. Consumers, in turn, endorse these brands with their pocketbooks, preferring to do business with companies supporting a broader vision.
10.Don’t forget natural search and lead gen – Thought leadership is cannon fire; lead gen is rifle shot. As your organization is increasingly perceived as a thought leader, people will seek out your perspective and will be open to registering for content access. The two feed off each other.