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January 15, 2020
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January 25, 2020

WHEN ‘NORMAL’ STOPS WORKING, businesses look for thought-leadership. Who else has got stuck? What have other people done to think — and act — differently?

There’s a lot of confusion about thought-leadership — even among international event and media executives.   Is it marketing, learning or business development?  Where should it sit, and who should lead?  How can we manage spaces that generate and promote thought-leadership?

Thought leadership should be original thinking that helps companies engage decision-makers and support their wider commercial and marketing goals.  Great examples contain agenda-setting insights that light up the world and create lasting impact on an audience — and on the business itself.

Content or Learning?

While it’s fair to see it as the cream of content marketing, it can also be a powerful force for business strategy and the learning and development of both staff and organisations.  Projects are often large and complex, requiring many different stakeholders to work together as a team.  Whether an event or media asset, thought leadership takes time to establish.

Research conducted to produce the content helps validate that your solutions are right for your market. A programme of content can ease prospects into a sales conversation, one where you have already gained their respect and trust in your expertise.  Done well, thought leadership opens up conversations about challenges that matter.

Because it’s a great differentiator for business-to-business marketers and consultancies, lawyers, accountants and property agents are all laying claim to this new intellectual territory in order to start commercial conversations.  Sadly, much ‘thought-leadership’ content falls wide of the mark.

Copy that merely regurgitates existing ideas — or, worse, is thinly-veiled sales spiel — might generate a few social media shares, but the attention will be fleeting, and the effort commercially unrewarding.

Yet, investing in surveying an audience and reporting back to it year after year — such as at an industry event — the media and other audiences will come to respect, trust and expect it.

Pitfalls to avoid

Former managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit, Rob Mitchell, identified five common pitfalls:

  • Initiative-itis.  Rather than jumping from one topic to another, the most successful thought-leadership project is a strategic and coherent long-term investment focusing on one theme. It builds momentum, perhaps with an annual survey and report that positions you as the ‘go to’ organisation for a particular challenge.
  • Build and they’ll come. Don’t stop when the report is written.  Create a cross-platform campaign to disseminate it to your audiences, such as training events and media appearances.
  • Navel-gazing. Forgetting that external audiences may not see the world like you.  We might think a company is in one vertical sector, but it might identify better with a horizontal market.
  • Lack of focus. It’s tempting to try to represent every business area in a report.  A smaller facet of a larger one may lead to greater insights and originality.
  • Hit and hope.  How can research serve your business objectives?  Start with a few hypotheses, and an idea of outcomes and what you hope to say.  Of course, you must remain open to surprise.

Thought-leader types

Writer Erika Toni suggests companies choose which role to play.  She’s picked out four archetypes who add value to public debate.  The best role for you will depend on your organisation’s main strength.

  • Issue Experts:  To be the expert’s expert, you’ll need to carry out original research and read just about everything written on an issue.  You’re probably already a walking encyclopaedia on your chosen topic.
  • Innovators: The creative thinker sends debates in new directions. You view old problems from unusual angles to provide answers to long-standing puzzles.
  • Explainers: These people clarify the debate for others. They serve as a conduit from other thought leaders to other audiences.  They span silos as translators and pollinators.
  • Decision-makers: Thought needs to turn into action — how to vote, where to sign.  Decision-makers are both thought leaders and the target of thought leaders.  They stand up — and may get shot down.

Contented thought-leadership

Contented helps engineers to generate and promote insights and act on them.  Contact us for further information on enquiry[at]

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