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Thought Leadership: unpacking the myth

By Josephine Ornago

When I talk to prospective clients I often see that one of the most effective and interesting parts of our proposition relates to Thought Leadership. Another thing I’ve found, though, is that few have a clear idea of what this means in general and, more worryingly, what it means to their business.

At ThoughtSpark, we’ve been offering Thought Leadership long before it became ‘a thing’ with the clear objective of positioning clients as leaders in their field. In order to maintain this level of gravitas we’ve gone so far as to set up a completely separate sister company called MindMetre Research that manages all original pools and surveys independently and at arm’s length. On this basis, we’re well placed to explain what Thought Leadership (TL) means to the marketing and PR industry, but also what it most definitely isn’t.

Thought Leadership has to be original, expert and thought-provoking.  The audience needs to extract value from the thought leader’s views as this positions them as the point-person regarding a specific subject matter. Sounds easy, but there are so many pitfalls! Some of these are:

  1. Firstly, don’t be tempted to be a generalist- you need to be an expert in something, not in every single aspect of the industry, or you risk undercutting your expertise.
  2. BUT don’t be too niche or technical- the people coming to you to understand the issue need answers, not technical jargon and legalese.
  3. Don’t be tempted to jump on the latest bandwagon unless you really have the experience to be leading in the subject. It is so often the case that a client sees something tangential to their services is big in the media and wants to be positioned as commentator. While we probably can put together a nice informative article, are you sure your service or product really responds to the issue? If someone calls up your sales people will they be able to support your claims? Don’t bother if not.
  4. This is not a sales pitch! The main focus is to display knowledge, provide information and express original vision so there is no room for openly commercial messaging.
  5. Make new friends- sometimes clients tell us they are already well known in their industry and don’t need TL to position themselves; they just need announcements. The problem with this is that prospecting activity is completely ignored and that it doesn’t take into account the high risk of a new player coming into the market (with brand new technology for example) and positioning themselves ahead of your business in an area that is rightly yours- if only you’d bothered to build your profile a bit more.

So, finally, TL has become a bandwagon itself with too many players talking about it, but with little foundation. Like any part of a marketing and communications plan it should instead be a feature of an organic strategy and have a clear objective: driving more people to your business.