Thought leadership blueprint and tips for 2011

Don't you love the start of a new year? Hopefully you've had time to reflect on your personal and business goals. The question is whether you are doing anything differently for your business? The way you sell? The way you market including your advertising, PR, direct, online, etc?

If you are one of those fortunate businesses that has done exceptionally well year on year don't read any further - if it ain't broke don't fix it.

However, if you are wondering whether you could be doing things differently, particularly with your customers or potential customers, read on.

The path to thought leadership - questions companies should ask

Companies wanting to market themselves differently or those wanting to make a difference should start by asking the following questions:

  • 1. Are we happy with the sales and marketing culture of this organisation?
  • 2. What are the values of our organisation and can these, in any way, guide our marketing philosophy/approach?
  • 3. What are we good at and for what do we want to be known?
  • 4. What are the key issues affecting our customer'/consumer's lives and do any of these align with what we want to be known for?
  • 5. Can we provide insights or content that helps our consumers/customers with these issues?
  • 6. What brand perception do we want to leave with our consumers/customers when it comes to these issues?
Start formulating a thought leadership position

Once you have answered these you can start formulating a thought leadership position. A good starting point would be to apply the START IP methodology to add some real rigour to your process. This is covered in more detail in this blog but briefly it includes:

  • Scanning the media and social media sites for issues impacting your brand or sector.
  • Tracking your competitors' share of voice to make sure the thought leadership approach you want to take is not already 'owned' by a competitor.
  • Analysing and understanding the 'true north' of your company i.e. its values, in order to define better the thought leadership areas you should enter.
  • Reviewing your current intellectual property (IP) - you may very well already have the makings of a thought leadership campaign within your existing IP.
  • Trend spotting to identify the forces that could potentially shape your audiences lives now and in the future and aligning your thought leadership with this.
  • Identifying a thought leadership champion to lead your campaign.
  • Panel. Consider appointing a panel of outsiders who could bring fresh perspectives and a more robust sounding board to your ideas and your campaign.
Making thought leadership a culture

Now for the tough part, we've all heard of a sales culture, a culture of innovation, a culture of safety, a client service culture etc. Companies with strong cultures very often tend to do well. Thought leadership should be no different. In order for it to truly succeed and to take seed it should become part of the culture of the organisation.

Take a look at the management consultancies. For years many of them have had an intense focus on thought leadership. It is what has driven their client engagement and underpinned their sales process - it became part of the culture of many of what are now highly successful organisations.

Thought leadership is not for the faint hearted. It needs time, budget, measurement as well as management participation and support.

Critically too, it should not be the sole domain of the marketing or PR teams otherwise it may very well live and die there. Instead it needs to become part of the DNA of the organisation and ingrained as part of the culture of the organisation.

You cannot be a thought leader without communication

Finally the big test is getting your thought leadership content to market - I've yet to meet a thought leader that doesn't share their thoughts/ideas/content.

The question is how and which channels to use. The answer I believe lies in your target audience. How well do you know them? Do you know what they read and where they get their information? Do you need to use channels such as daily print, electronic and social media or is your audience a lot smaller in which case a one-on-one or small group engagement strategy may work better.


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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