Some thoughts on “thought leadership”

The catch-all phrase now known as “thought leadership” has been bandied about perhaps once or twice too often for many people. It has been so poorly defined by so many that it’s almost in danger of becoming an empty suitcase.

But the fact remains, a proven way for B2B firms (especially professional services firms) to separate themselves from the madding crowd is to make a genuine commitment to thought leadership. PwC and IBM are two examples of great thought leadership in action.

What, exactly, is thought leadership, and how can it help your firm? A blog post by Craig Badings and Dr Liz Alexander from Cannings Corporate Communications helps explain:

There are many definitions out there. In fact click on definitions of thought leadership to the right of this post and you will find a number of them. However, co-author Liz Alexander and I have said this in the book: “Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view. They engage in ‘blue ocean strategy’ thinking on behalf of themselves and their clients, as opposed to simply churning out product-focused, brand-centric white papers or curated content that shares or mimics others’ ideas.” link

Why do companies struggle to make thought leadership work? Badings, who is a director at Sydney-based Cannings Corporate Communications, believes there are three main reasons:

  1. Organisations generally are not great listeners and many are not truly engaging with their customers/clients around the genuine business, social, economic, environmental and political issues they face face
  2. Many leave their thought leadership to the marketing department and it is not owned by senior management i.e. there is no culture of thought leadership
  3. Most companies are too product or service focused and sharing content or intellectual property is a big ask for them
So what will you do when someone asks you why your firm isn’t known as well as it should be, given its expertise in a particular area? Do you really want to tell them you haven’t made the time to engage with your customers about the issues they’re facing?

Perhaps it’s time to make the time.

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