Why all companies need to be thought leaders

Let’s face it, everyone’s looking for an edge. An edge over their competitors, a service edge, product edge, sales edge and a relevant differentiation edge. In fact, in the 1980s and 1990s, in political campaign management, we called it the “wedge”. It was as simple as exploiting the opposing candidate’s greatest weakness and staking a messaging "wedge" between the two candidates in an effort to deepen the differentiation.

Since then, times have changed, but the intent has not. We need relevant differentiation from our competitors in every corner of our businesses, whenever possible. Enter thought leadership, the most powerful discipline of all the Disciplines of Market Leadership and probably the most sought after, too. And why is it so sought after? Primarily because research is abundantly clear that CXOs and decision-makers across all industries value thought leadership in a provider or partner as much, if not more, than any other attribute or characteristic that we know of.

For instance, in a 2017 study, 9 out of 10 CXOs considered thought leadership to be important or of critical importance in their decision making particularly when determining a partner, vendor or provider relationship, and 16% of them indicated they spent four hours per week on thought leadership reading, studying and information gathering1.  As compelling an argument as this is for companies to implement a thought leadership position within their organization, there is trouble looming beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, this same audience, in fact 53% of them, lost respect and admiration for companies that claimed to be thought leaders, but delivered low-quality or irrelevant content. And therein lies the lesson for all businesses. When you implement a thought leadership campaign as part of your sales, marketing and branding effort, and you choose to initiate the campaign using entirely internal resources, consider yourself doomed before you’ve even hit the starting line.

Thought leadership is a discipline that requires close collaboration with external experts who implement these campaigns time and again. The thought leadership highway is riddled with corporate casualties who think they know what content subject matter is important to their target audiences; who believe their insights are groundbreaking when, in fact, they’re usually garden-variety; and perhaps worst of all, when they try to sell their thought leadership status, only to find out that they are followers, not leaders, they’ve forever lost the one edge they wanted all along, a sales strategy based on selling wisdom. Ironically, a little wisdom would have guided them to some outside assistance that would have resulted in the edge they wanted right from the start.

As much as you need to be a thought leader, you also need to be thoughtful in regard to implementing the discipline. Going it alone brings a high degree of failure, research tells us that. But research also tells us that when thought leadership is done right, it’s full-speed ahead to a successful conclusion.

1 Source 2017: Edelman/Linked In Study “How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation.”