25 Jun 2010
We live in an era of corporate consequence and there is no better example than BP right now. Companies are increasingly being held to account not only how they bring their products to market but how they source their materials, their environmental and social impacts and even the way they market their products. Even the consumer is becoming more responsible in who they choose to buy from and which products they purchase.
Not only is the consumer becoming more responsible but they are also wielding a lot of power in terms of their interactions with their favoured or not so favoured brands. That power comes courtesy of a wide variety of social media channels online. The result for many companies is that they are battling to imprint that most valued brand attribute on their publics – trust.
For years the professional services firms have realised that in order to gain the trust of their publics they had to engage with them in a way that went beyond merely selling them a service. They had to share openly their insights and their knowledge. They had to do this over and above the products and services they delivered in order to differentiate themselves and in the process earn the confidence and trust of their market.
For many, this has been a sound way to establish their credibility underpinning the sales process to these prospects.
In many instances it has been thought leadership best practice. It has taken time, investment and patience but it has paid off for those who have done it well and for those who have defined a clear position for themselves.
The thought leadership lessons from professional services companies
From within these professional services firms lies the clue for other companies – lessons on how to identify and forge a thought leadership position for themselves; lessons on how to take your thought leadership to market, and; lessons in how true thought leadership can build trust with their target publics and thus the ultimate accolade, brand loyalty.
Today potential customers/clients are less likely to become so unless a high level of trust has been established.
Go back to your values
I come back to a very well known crisis, the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol case. Few people know that at the time J&J did not have a crisis plan in place. Instead, in the face of enormous pressure, the CEO used the values of the company to guide his decisions and to this day the way the Tylenol crisis was handled is used an example of how to do it right.
What relevance does this have to thought leadership?
The same principle applies. Meaningful, long-term thought leadership positions need to be informed by the values of the business. If they don’t they run the risk of being seen as inauthentic spin and a thinly veneered attempt at a false consumer friendship.
Marketers are going to have to work a lot harder at winning business because customers are demanding better reasons to buy from you, they are more thoughtful about their purchase and, in many instances they are buying with a conscience.
Well researched, consumer focused thought leadership campaigns have the ability to circumvent these issues by tapping into the real needs of the client or the customer and showing that you care about their lives and the issues they face in their lives and that you are prepared to provide information/services/support/products that show you understand.