It seems like the pendulum has swung too far on the concept of thought leadership. There are some camps that treat the concept of influential marketing as a panacea: “Anyone can do it – just think of something thought-provoking to say!”

That last part really irks me. Sure, there are lots of folks who can shout from the top of a mountain and believe the words will be heard, simply because they are spoken loudly. There are others – individuals and organizations – who call themselves “thought leaders” simply because they have what we call – clout. And still, there are people on social media channels who believe they are ‘thought-enablers’ simply because they have thousands of followers or perhaps have had a tweet retweeted dozens of times.

I’ve come to believe that thought leadership is not about words or proclamations. Rather, it is about behavior and a ‘stand tall’ stance. It is about the willingness to go one way when most people are going the other. What really counts – and what makes thought leadership both effective and recognizable – is whether your clients, customers, and competitors recognize you as such.

Thought leadership needs to be recognized as a business-wide alignment between new ways of thinking and your organization’s mission and vision. It should never be reduced to a mere PR communications or marketing tool. Thought leading content is not peddling an opinion, putting out a list of hints and tips, nor curating other people’s content. Instead it is offering a new, fresh perspective, preferably one based on empirical evidence that delivers value beyond the product or service.

When crafting a thought leadership platform, here are a few secret ingredients:
  • Will thought leadership motivate your target audience to act or change the paradigms of your industry or market sector?
  • How will you avoid suffering the all-too-common mistake of being data rich but insight poor with respect to your thought leadership metrics?
  • Will your thought leadership platform have long-term potential? The campaigns that benefit clients and organizations best run for many years.
  • General Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.” How differentiated is your thought leadership thinking?
There are many ways, in today’s ultra-digital world, to distribute content and engage with others, some of whom might believe you are influential. Yet, more often than not, thought leadership requires a sound strategy based on developing answers to some key questions:
  • What are your business goals?
  • Who are the influencers shaping your market?
  • What topics are those influencers (other thought leaders) discussing and where is the discussion taking place?
  • What does success look like for your company and is that vision stated in your thought leadership platform?
  • Is your thought leadership platform inspiring and motivating employees and does it act as a talent retention and attraction magnet?

We’ve heard beleaguered marketing executives who say their CEOs just want them to jump in and ‘build a community or launch a thought leadership campaign.’ Often, they’re doomed to fail because they haven’t thought through the vision and taken the time to identify the essence of thought leadership. Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning. Savvy marketers and CEOs understand that thought leadership is not a no-brainer and they’ve come to appreciate the role that thought leadership plays in providing strategic guidance and smart execution that augments the company’s skills and capabilities.

So just like there is not a magic pill to help you lose those last 10 pounds, there’s no magic pill when it comes to thought leadership. But if you do your homework and spend the time to do it right, the results might just seem like magic. And the ROI can be long-lasting. The advantage of thought leadership is that it is a virtuous cycle in which the brand and its employees make each other better.