Thoughts on thought leadership

What does thought leadership stand for and what does it mean to the marketeer and his company if they would like to pursue this competitive position? Lets start by saying that one does not become a thought leader overnight, it has to grow. Self proclamation is not the way either. The receiver is in the driving seat. He or she has to experience you as the leading voice in your specific discipline.

Can you mention a few thought leaders?
There are a lot but if I mention Smart Highways, which building company comes to mind? Or which brand of cars do you think of when we say that they are fully electric but still good looking? Fully cradle to cradle processes in the tapestry industry? Or chemicals for the human race? I wonder if you know the companies mentioned here.

Is it for large companies only?
No, certainly not, even individual bloggers reach this position and build a huge following. It does mean hard work and ‘noblesse oblige’. Thought leadership is reaching the highest level of reputation by sharing super relevant content. People have to see you as visionary, an opinion leader, trendsetting and strongly customer oriented. Thought leadership is all about sharing insights and ideas which sprout from a unique vision. This results in new ways of thinking and entices discussion that leads to action.

Jon Miller, VP Product Marketing van Marketo:
“Both thought leadership and content marketing can very effectively build your awareness and brand, but true thoughtleadership is much rarer. Thought leadership consists of ideas that require attention, that offer guidance or clarity and that can lead people in unexpected, sometimes contrarian directions. Thought leadership needs to be educational and ideally provocative; content marketing can simply be fun or entertaining.”

It is all about choices
To aspire to be a thought leader might be a strategy which fits your company, but make a well considered choice whether or not to give your marketing department the order to pursue this route. Do you recognize certain characteristics in your company which are already there to add credibility to the thought leadership claim? As stated earlier, simply proclaiming to be a thought leader is a no go. You have to figure out a strong content strategy to develop this reputation. You have to know the ins and outs of your target audience. What goes on there? What questions do they have. What are their needs in the future? A well-meant initiative by one of your staff, who happens to have a sharp pen, is doomed to fail.

You decide to go for it…
Begin by choosing: in which discipline would you like to be thought leader? A specific theme, product or process or a complete industry? Strongly specialistic, with a sharp focus or a broad view?

The availability of resources, time, money and people plays a significant role. You have to be able to generate enough media pressure to reach your audience. It is a continuous process. A single, one of campaign, is always going to be insufficient. Think long term: what is necessary to keep your trendsetting position and stay provocative for a longer period of time?

My advice: do not skate on thin ice and do realise that you cannot become a thought leader by simple self proclamation. If you do everything right it will come to you eventually. And not because you say so, but because others do.