11 Nov 2011
This is the third and final part in an interview series on thought leadership. Marte Semb Aasmundsen, is a postgraduate student due to graduate this month with her MSc Strategic Public Relations and Communications Management at The University of Stirling in the UK. She approached me some time ago about interviewing me on the topic of thought leadership as part of her thesis.
This is part three of three excerpts from that interview:
What is your view on thought leadership’s role in influencing
“You’re talking to somebody who’s obviously biased towards thought leadership. You know I would say that it’s one of the more powerful tools that you can use as a brand.
“I’m not saying it’s the be all and end all, there are other ways that people influence but there is no doubt in my mind having witnessed the power of thought leadership that it can create huge influence. It’s all about eminence and expertise and if you show eminence or excellence in the field, people see you as an expert, they want to come to you.
“If you just sell a service or a product, they can get that anywhere. Where’s the stickiness, where’s the trust associated with your brand?”
What’s your critique of thought leadership? How legitimate is
“You’re touching on a topic that I get quite passionate about – the loose use of the term thought leadership.
“There are a lot of businesses out there that use it incredibly loosely. Some businesses just like put out a piece of pop-research, you know the sort – a quick, cheap and nasty opinion poll. They call this thought leadership and its absolute bull!
“Then you have other companies putting content out there, calling it thought leadership but it’s actually just their opinion. It’s not evidence based in any way.
“There will always be varying levels of what people think is thought leadership but some of it isn’t.
“I’m pretty pure in my definition or my approach to what thought leadership is. The key is having a process. The first step in that process is researching what the challenges and issues that your audience face – in their day to day lives – or in their business. Than matching it to where your expertise lies and how you can elevate those areas of expertise or conduct a deep dive through further research to enhance your understanding and knowledge in that particular field. Then you need a communications strategy, a content management plan and an activation plan so that the whole thing is tied together very neatly into a comprehensive thought leadership plan.
“This plan should incorporate the business objectives, the research, the content management strategy, the activation strategy, and then the measurement and evaluation at the end.
“I think that’s how practitioners have to look at it. You need a process and a methodology that takes the client on a journey that arrives at a thought leadership property that is well researched, has a good strategy behind it, is well thought through and importantly has the buy in of the business and not just the PR team.
“If it doesn’t have the buy in across sort of senior level it will never be effective.
Has thought leadership been used for short term promotional
“Absolutely, it goes with what I said earlier, there are a lot of companies out there that use pop-research or pop-thought leadership as the quick and nasty, let’s get it out there approach.
“It may well be an interesting, quirky angle but typically it doesn’t have any depth and really doesn’t add any value to anybody. However, companies are putting that sort of stuff out all the time and all it’s for is a quick media hit.
Is the short-term approach detrimental to a thought
“I think that’s a really interesting question and I think you’re right. I think it could. I have no evidence to support this, but off the top of my head I think it could actually do some damage. The reason I say this is because it puts you on the lower rung of the thought leadership ladder and people come to expect that from you.
“Once your audience associates your brand with that level of content, trying to elevate the perception of the market about your content/thought leadership material you deliver can be difficult.”
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