Does product, sales or market leadership equal thought leadership?

There are divergent views about whether product, sales or market leadership equal thought leadership. I don't think they do. That said, there is no doubt that you are at a massive advantage if you own any of these spaces in your market. If you do it sets you up perfectly to take a thought leadership position to market.

In a paper by the Content Factor entitled 'Is Anybody Following your Thought Leadership?', Richard Currier is quoted describing the three stages of corporate leadership as:

  • 1. Product leadership
  • 2. Sales leadership
  • 3. Marketing leadership
But I have bad news, none of these on their own or even combined equate to thought leadership.

Thought leaders share their insights

Why? Because being a thought leader means sharing your ideas, your IP, your insights with the market so that you become the go to company in that market. It is one thing to lead in terms of product, pricing, service and delivery but quite another to lead the market in terms of ideas, thoughts and insights. In fact to many companies sharing this sort of information is an anathema to them.

I agree with Currier that market leadership is the only long lasting advantage. Thought leadership should be viewed as a way to turbo-charge this advantage thus further embedding the company at the top of its sector and owning an even stronger share mind among its publics.

Thought leadership adds enormous brand value

Implemented well, good thought leadership can add enormous value to helping build a brand. It cements trust and loyalty in your brand by adding something of value to your clients or broader publics that goes well beyond selling them a product or service. It shows them that you have a deep understanding of the issues or challenges facing their business and their everyday lives and that you have the people and the expertise to deliver not only the insights but the solutions to address these.

In his new book Linchpin, Seth Godin talks about 'shipping'. By this he means sharing your ideas, getting them out of the door and in the process not being afraid of failure. He maintains that if you do enough of it that over time your ideas will sharpen and you will eventually become indispensible to your market or your employer.

There is a very strong parallel between what Godin says and thought leadership. Thought leaders 'ship' - they 'ship' their ideas for all to see and in the process they become indispensible to their publics.

Building pre-eminence in your niche and being viewed as indispensible is the ultimate accolade for a thought leader. It should also be the ultimate thought leadership objective for your brand and its position in the market.

What do you think?


Craig Badings has spent the past 21 years consulting to small and large brands about their public relations challenges. He is a director of leading Sydney-based financial and corporate communications consultancy, Cannings. Cannings is a member of the ASX-listed, STW Group Ltd, Australias largest communications services group. In 2009 Craig published a book on thought leadership 'Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership'. He believes that thought leadership is an incredibly powerful yet...

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