October 12, 2021
What is thought leadership?
There are a lot of different definitions for the term ‘thought leadership’, and to make things even more confusing, a many thought leaders have created their own definitions for the term. According to the Oxford English Dictionary: “A thought leader is an individual or a firm that is recognised as an authority in a specialised field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.”
Now let’s mull over the word ‘authority’ for a moment. Authority is all about knowledge, credibility and value. When used as a marketing tool, thought leadership is not a case of describing your products and services, it’s not content marketing, and while it might be the current buzzword in marketing and PR, it’s not new.
A history lesson on thought leadership
Ralph Waldo Emerson was said to manifest “the wizard power of a thought-leader” way back in 1876. The American essayist, lecturer and philosopher is still known for his thoughts and essays today, including his 1836 essay ‘Nature’ which introduced the transcendentalist movement.
Henry Ward Beecher was an American minister and said to be "one of the great thought-leaders in America." He’s probably best known as being a social reformer – especially for speaking out against slavery and for his Christian views on God’s love.
These are just two examples of many. Thought leaders and thought leadership existed long before content marketing, so how has the term evolved over time? And what does it mean today?
There is no shortage of self proclaimed thought leaders and thought leadership content in the world today. In fact, if you type ‘thought leadership’ into Google, a whopping 728 million organic search results are generated. But how much of this is high value content?
Last year LinkedIn and global PR and marketing consultancy firm Edelman released a brilliant study on the impact of B2B thought leadership, which asked 1,264 US business executives for their views on thought leadership.
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Interestingly, while almost all of those surveyed believe that thought leadership enhances brand impact and over half of the leaders spent between 1 and 4 hours a week consuming it, very few of them ranked the quality of that thought leadership as good or excellent. Now if you are a brand, marketing agency or content creator, this creates a very interesting opportunity. In a world saturated with poor or average quality thought leadership content, high quality, genuinely valuable content stands out.
“While the market for professional services firms wanting to be thought leaders is quickly becoming saturated, the market for stellar thought leadership is not.”
Profitable Brilliance Russ Alan Prince & Bruce H Rogers What makes excellent thought leadership? [insert diagram from slide 8] High quality thought leadership starts with deep thinking and intellectual rigour. This is absolutely essential if you want to position yourself, your views or your brand at the top of the pile. Next, you absolutely have to have buy-in from senior leaders. It takes time, commitment and resources to get this right, but is invaluable in the long run. Once you have ticked both of those boxes, you need a targeted marketing plan that will deliver your thought leadership to the right people. I have worked on many programmes where the focus has remained on the first point for too long. You end up with a brilliant product. But then everyone is exhausted, there’s no time allocated to create a successful launch, and it limps out into the market and is lost amongst the noise of everything else. Thought leadership promotion and marketing takes time and commitment, but it is absolutely essential in making sure that your story is heard. Communicate Thought leadership is an excellent revenue generator. It has an incredible ability to build brand authority and connect you to your market. Make sure to include a call to action whenever you promote your thought leadership content and remember to follow-up and close. “Thought leadership when done very well is one of the most sophisticated and sublime business development strategies existing today.” Profitable Brilliance Russ Alan Prince & Bruce H Rogers To find out more about how we approach thought leadership, here’s a recent example of a thought leadership campaign created for one of our financial clients.