Thought leadership – From Puff to Panacea


Charles Ansdell, Professional and Financial Services

Part One of a Two-Part Blog

Thought leadership – From Puff to Panacea

Everybody’s talking thought leadership. From LinkedIn to the sites of the Big Four professional firms, thought leadership is ubiquitous. The reality is that in the quest to win new business in a competitive market, B2B organisations are investing vastly in thought leadership. 

Indeed, evidence increasingly shows that thought leadership is an important element in the B2B decision making process. Since companies are engaging later in the purchasing cycle, it is a critical factor in getting onto media relations pitch shortlists.

Thought leadership failings – so what or me too?

Thought leaders can be defined as the companies/ or individuals who shape opinions in their chosen fields– the ‘go to’ experts. But in a crowded market place, getting thought leadership that presents genuine cut-through is challenging. Thought leadership that fails to challenge and engage, fails to deliver on objectives.

The reality is that there is a premium on genuinely original thinking. Thought leadership more frequently than not ends up being me too – emulating competitors or other influencers – or so what? – contentthat fails to engage.

Creating the framework for thought leadership.

Critical to running successful thought leadership is creating and defining a project and strategy that answers the critical questions.

What is the objective of the thought leadership? What does the company wish to be known for? Who are the target audiences? What are the key messages? What are the deliverables?

Project and strategy development is one of the most important stages in thought leadership. It also provides an opportunity to fully engage internal audiences. 

Developing thought leadership ‘white space’.

While companies should be realistic about the difficulties of developing truly ground breaking ideas, there are ways to deliver insight that neither mimics nor bores.

Key to this is developing a robust process for identifying ‘white space’ – areas unoccupied by other thought leaders where companies can develop real leadership.

Any process should seek to properly analyse and evaluate the drivers and environment that companies are facing.  What are the current market trends and changes?  What are the challenges that potential clients face?  What are influencers and competitors saying?

In turn, companies should seek to gain these insights from various sources. What are internal business development teams hearing from clients? What is the mainstream and social media saying?  What are independent analysts saying?

It is only by thorough analysis and listening that companies can discover areas where they can demonstrate genuine insight and engagement.

Making sure that thought leadership ideas are effective.

It is essential that a leading opinion is not only distinctive to others’ views but is insightful, credible and robust. Thought leadership surveys and research will be subject to competitor and media scrutiny. Flaky research won’t cut it.

Furthermore, thought leadership must be relevant to the target company’s business, and be actionable. Calls to action must be clear and integrated with companies’ internal business development processes.

Finally, thought leadership must engage, stimulating dialogue and debate. It is essential that companies think and speak boldly – companies should not fear contrary viewpoints or opinions to get their message out. As Oscar Wilde said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

Good thought leadership – a simple test.

The role of media in thought leadership is very important. The media remains an essential tool for the distribution of thought leadership – 10 of the 20 most visited websites in the UK are media outlets. Most B2B company websites have much smaller distribution.

But frequently the media is not considered sufficiently in the development of thought leadership.  Unfortunately, involving media relations after thought leadership has already been created can lead to disappointing results.

The media provides an excellent filter test for thought leadership. Journalists have to sift thousands of emails and calls each day. Only the most newsworthy, engaging items get published. If media coverage is a key objective of thought leadership, it makes sense to check whether ideas will be newsworthy before they’ve published. A simple test is to run ideas in principle past a friendly journalist.

From ideas to delivery.

Although developing genuinely distinct ideas is challenging, by employing rigorous methods and testing, ideas that offer genuine insight and engagement can be developed.

Once a strong idea is developed, managing the effective distribution/ delivery to various stakeholders is key to campaign success.  We will cover this in detail in the second part of this blog.