Everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout thought leadership ...
While the notion of being a thought leader is readily embraced by most clean tech companies (who doesn’t want to be one?), you have to play it right or risk undermining your organization’s credibility.
Eight things you need to know:
1. The starting point? The word “thought.” Begin by creating a big picture idea with relevance to many. Look outward, not inward. The idea isn’t myopically focused; it has appeal to others outside your company. And while it doesn’t have to appeal to a vast universe, it must appeal to a market or a segment of the clean technology market. Pervasive thought leadership platforms cleverly rise above (A) a company, (B) its products, (C) its technologies, and (D) its services. This is definitely the hard part.
2. Companies create thought leadership ideas to forge a differentiated position for themselves. By developing big concepts, the thought leadership company creates competitive advantage. How? Because the marketplace perceives it as a mover and shaker: someone shaping the agenda vs. responding to it. Great thought leadership campaigns give their creators an offensive vs. defensive position. And get them noticed. Example: GE's "Ecomagination" campaign. Despite a former checkered environmental record, GE effectively re-positioned itself: an initial $700 million in clean tech R&D in 2005, expected to grow to $1.5 billion by 2010. GE wants $25 billion in Ecomagination product revenues that same year. A commitment of that size resonates across the industry.
3. An effective thought leadership idea has forward appeal. It’s not 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. Example: Obama has consistently spoken about the need to take dramatic action to revive U.S. manufacturing and create jobs by investing in alternative energy sources. He emphasized it in his inaugural address, "We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories."
4. Effective thought leadership ideas are embraced (sometimes readily) by others. The ideas are so strong and compelling, that direct competitors either overtly or indirectly respond to – and shape themselves around - the idea. In some instances, competitors adopt the thought leadership idea but morph it with their own language.
5. Great thought leadership lives a long life ... years not days. It isn't intended to be a short lived advertising tagline or a bumper sticker ... it's a concept that becomes a definitional stake-in-the-ground for high-level corporate messaging.
6. The best thought leadership ideas are thought provoking, challenge the clean tech marketplace and are perceived as newsworthy by the media.
7. Now for the second word, the “leadership” part. Great thought leaders don’t sit back and say, “Give me a call when you want to talk about this idea.” They are bold, aggressive and in-your-face. They push the ball up the floor and take their message out with great consistency.
8. There is – for the bold and socially minded - an even higher state of thought leadership. Companies can rise above their own market niches (and self interests) by making their world a better place to live. Clean technology is at a perfect crossroads for this kind of corporate social responsibility.