8 Nov 2011
This is part two of 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 two of three excerpts from that interview:
Do you believe a brand can be a thought leader?
“I think there are enough examples to show that brands can be thought leaders. In fact, I have changed my opinion on this over the years. My view previously was that a thought leadership campaign needed individuals. And while you do need individuals to take that message forward, from experience I’ve witnessed how a brand can evolve a thought leadership strategy on its own. Examples would be Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty; BMW’s Activate the Future, IBM’s Smarter Planet.”
What’s the way forward? How sustainable is thought leadership
and what are the risks?
“A thought leadership campaign that rests on one individual is risky. What happens if that person leaves? If Richard Branson were to leave Virgin would that thought leadership go with him? There is always that danger.
“Companies are aware of this and they adjust accordingly.
“I think thought leadership is in its infancy. As companies rapidly catch on to the content game to engage with their consumers or clients they will also realise that they need to differentiate their content, come up with something new, something to challenge their audience and something that adds value to their challenges beyond just a good ‘for information’ read.”
Is thought leadership measurable?
“I believe measurement is the key to thought leadership – not only can it be measured, it has to be measured.
“The critical element that you need up front before you even start, is setting out the business objectives. What do you want to achieve for the business from your thought leadership campaign?
“If you don’t do that upfront, it will be very difficult to measure. Once you’ve established these, you need to attach key performance indicators to them with assigned responsibilities. You should be able to be very clear in your measurement criteria e.g. we want to meet the board or the CEOs of 20% of the top 100 listed companies in America or Australia or wherever you
are. Or, we need to publish four white papers a year and each should be distributed to our entire client base, etc.
“So you become very specific about the criteria and how you measure them. You can become even become more specific e.g. if we want to meet 20 % of the top 100 companies over the next two years we want to have three as clients.
“Another key thing to do is to research the impact of your thought leadership on your stakeholders. You should be researching them to find out whether what you gave them was valuable and how it can be improved. If you’re in it for the long-term, you need to be measuring and evaluating so that you can tweak it and change it and make it relevant to your customers.”
What are the evaluation methods for a thought leadership
“I would say that most thought leadership probably isn’t measured. From my experience, companies that do measure normally use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research but mainly qualitative.”
Does thought leadership have a financial impact?
“I think it can have a significant impact and I base that on what I’ve seen. I’ll give you an example, Deloitte in Australia identified six years ago that they wanted to get in front of the boards of the top 100 companies listed on the Australian stock exchange. It was identified as an area on which they wanted to work and they came up with a thought leadership proposition on risk – risk to boards, risk to board members, how they look after that risk, what that risk is, etc.
“Five to six years later they now have access to the top 100 boards. Their partners now have relationships with members on those boards, which they didn’t have before or to a limited degree.
“I am not privy to the numbers in terms of the monetary return but they wouldn’t be committed to it at such a senior level if it wasn’t working.”
In part three, Marte asks me about thought leadership and influence, my view on the legitimacy of thought leadership as a marketing tool and its use as a short-term campaign.
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