23 Jul 2009
22 Jul 2009
I have identified some of the broad characteristics of a thought leader as follows.
A thought leader is someone who:
1. Expert – is an expert in their field and has a unique point of view
2. Shares information – is willing to engage with and share insights and information with their audiences through speaking, social media, writing, mainstream media, etc
3. Big picture – is refreshingly candid and understands the bigger picture and where they and their brands fit into their consumers’ lives and how they can add value or insights to their consumers beyond merely selling them a product or service
4. Passionate – believes passionately in what they do or the space which they occupy
5. Social responsibility – sometimes feels a moral or social responsibility to deliver something of value to the community in which they sell or operate
6. Expects nothing in return – Is prepared to engage with their stakeholders and share information and insights and literally expect nothing in return in the immediate future
7. Values based – has long-term vision and often secures their space by anchoring their business in values-based behaviour which shows an understanding of their most important audiences
8. Motivates – is able to motivate people to look at and to do things differently.
Please let me know if there are any other characteristics I should add to this list
20 Jul 2009
Much has been said and written about how to get your thought leadership actions and thoughts to market. However, after reading on the topic for over 3 years I’ve yet to find a methodology which goes back one step and outlines how to go about discovering and prooftesting your thought leadership position.
That’s why I came up with START IP, a seven steps process to help you or your company arrive at a thought leadership concept which will ultimately deliver the consumer/target audience awareness you desire for your brand.
To me, START IP is the beginning of the thought leadership journey. While I cover this in far more detail in my book Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership, what follows is a quick overview:
- Scan the media and social media sites for issues impacting your brand, your sector or your specific area of expertise.
- Track your competitors’ share of voice to make sure you or your company is not competing in an already crowded space.
- Analyse and understand the ‘true north’ of the company in order to define better the thought leadership areas it can enter.
- Review your current intellectual property to see if it could spark a thought leadership campaign and review the alignment of your campaign with your company’s values.
- Trend spot and identify the forces which are likely to shape your audiences lives now and in the future.
- Identify a thought leadership champion to lead your campaign or maybe that’s you.
- Panel means appointing a panel of other thought leaders from different walks of live. They bring in fresh perspectives from outside the organization who will question your point of view and help make what you take to market a little bit more robust.
Putting this thought leadership process into action involves a real commitment by you, key leaders in your company and your team. Once you’ve identified what it is you want to be a thought leader in, the challenge is how to roll out your thought leadership campaign and, in the process, how to engage with your audiences authentically.
And here I need to stress ‘engage with’.
True thought leadership is not about sending messages to an audience, rather it is about sharing information and, in turn, listening to your audience. It is a conversation, not a broadcast.
Listening is something many companies have struggled with in the past, largely driven by the way traditional mass media worked. Your company placed an advertisement, sent out a press release and hoped that the demographic it wanted to reach would consume it.
Traditional media have been a wonderful top down communications vehicle and will continue to work for many brands or services.
However, the internet, and particularly Web 2.0 and the advent of social media is changing all of this rapidly – as businesses such as United Airlines, Dell, Wal-Mart, BP and other smaller brands, such as Kryptonite, have discovered.
So do your homework, run through the START IP process and then think strategically about how you are going to go about building your thought leadership position. If done properly, you’ll find the START IP process as well as the action of building your thought leadership position in the market as a truly meaningful, authentic way to engate with your stakeholders.
Good luck and let me know how you go.
By the way if you have anything to add to the START IP steps let me know, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you.
Thought leadership is a grossly misused phrase -
People use it liberally without much thought to its meaning let alone its strategic context.
Hopefully in some small way over time, I and the many other people who advocate and write about thought leadership can deliver to CEOs, PR practioners, marketing and brand professionals and other interested parties, a better understanding of the tremendous power of thought leadership if used strategically. Properly used and applied, thought leadership has the ability to turbo-charge personal profiles and brands so that they stand out from the competition.
It’s my view that while thought leadership for brands/companies is more challenging than building a thought leadership position for an individual, it can and has been done very successfully by many companies.
The challenge for companies to be thought leaders
Why do I say it is more challenging for a company to be a thought leader? For a number of reasons.
First, the best thought leaders share information with an abundance mentality. Most companies aren’t into sharing information, alternatively if they do share it is usually information that has been sanitised and filtered to a bland paste through committees, sub-committees, legal compliance, brand managers, etc.
Second, the best thought leaders engage with and listen to their audiences in order to understand their needs. They’re in tune with their audience and are constantly seeking feedback and adapting what they deliver based on this feedback. They are interested in adding value to their customers lives beyond merely selling them a product or a service.
Unfortunately most companies are still stuck in the old media mentality of choosing your medium and then delivering a much massaged or creatively enhanced message to its audience through that medium. That’s the way it’s always been done and it’s worked.
Thought leaders research and listen to their audience
So why should we change? Why should companies engage with its audience rather than continue delivering messages to them? After all we conduct research, that’s listening, that’s engaging isn’t it?
Yes and no. Research is a very effective way of listening to an audience but is it two way engagement? Not really.
And herein lies the rub. Social media and Web 2.0 has changed the way not only how companies communicate with their customers but more importantly the way customers want to and expect to communicate with the company and how they find out about a company’s brand and what the social media community out there are saying about that brand.
It is no longer good enough to merely sell products or services the way you always did. There is a growing percentage of customers who want more from the company from which they buy. Questions are being asked about what the company does in the community, how it recycles, how it sources and processes it raw materials and what impact it has on the environment.
This is even being felt at at B2B level where suppliers in turn are being asked to tick the procurement box on a number of issues such as employment and environment practices, health and safety, corporate social responsbility, product sourcing practices and the like.
Tap the rich vein of thought leadership ideas
This is where the rich vein of thought leadership opportunity rests for companies. It is the companies who engage with their customers, suppliers and the communities within which they operate, who get to the bottom of the issues that are important to these audiences.
It’s at this point that they are able to align the delivery of a thought leadership platform relevant to the issues that are important to the very people it is trying to influence, whether that be government, consumers, regulatory bodies, the sector in which they operate or their own staff.
In my mind the best, long term thought leadership examples are tied very closely to the company’s core values but that is an entire topic on its own which I will address in another posting.
I’ve talked about listening and engaging with an audience throughout this post and so I look forward to any views you may have on the topic.
Also if you have any thought leadership case studies which you know of or you’ve been involved let me know – who knows they may appear in my next book: Great thought leadership case studies from around the world – How leading brands are getting ahead. (more…)
19 Jul 2009
I have my own definition of thought leadership, it goes something like this: ‘Thought Leadership is establishing a relationship with and delivering something of value to your stakeholders and customers that aligns with your brand/company value. In the process you go well beyond merely selling a product or service and establish your brand /company as the expert in that field and differentiate yourself from your competitors.’
While there are many definitions I’d like to share a few. Professors Terrell and Middlebrooks of the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and University of Chicago Graduate School of Business capture part of what thought leadership is about http://tinyurl.com/nc5due They say: ‘The key strategy is to be different from competitors…They break free from “be better”, internally oriented initiatives to be different’, externally oriented strategies. Being different is grounded in providing customers with unique value that they cannot get from any other competitor.’
A RainToday.com research report (www.raintoday.com) thought leadership, published in 2006, notes: ‘You cannot go after a market without something authentic and valuable to offer, without something spun from the passion you hold for your area of expertise…and you cannot continue to teach others and sustain your business as a whole without developing an ongoing relationship with your market. One without the other just doesn’t work.’
Wikipedia also has a definition: “Thought leadership as a buzz word or jargon ‘used to describe a futurist or person who is recognized among their peer mentors for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable, distilled insights.
‘It is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.
‘Thought leadership is also an emerging discipline in its own right. Our ability to understand its core practices and then effectively apply them is key to positioning ourselves and our companies for next level growth.’
I like the second paragraph of the Wikipedia definition, but this only comes if you have first evaluated your own values, researched the deeper needs of your stakeholders/customers and then identified, sometimes in conjunction with those stakeholders, what will be important for them.
One of the common themes in most of the thought leadership definitions I have seen is that at its core, thought leadership revolves around developing a deep understanding of your business and customers and, more importantly, the needs of those customers and the broader market in which you operate.
Please send me your definition I’d love to publish it on my blog.