It’s been 10 years since Simon Sinek first encouraged us to “Start with Why”, and emphasise the purpose of our organisations and what we believe. Today, PwC research shows 79% of business leaders feel purpose is central to success (and continued existence).
As Pat Malone, Global Marketing Leader at Sodexo, says: “My belief is that brands that are mission-based will be the only ones around in the future.” Thought leadership is fundamental in that mission and the ongoing communication of your purpose. It’s a powerful strategy that supports business growth, and strengthens your position in the market through consistent and potent differentiation. It’s the door to sustained influence, trust and reputation.
According to Edelman and LinkedIn’s 2019 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, 87% of business decision makers say it increases trust in an organization, while 61% said they’re “more willing to pay a premium to work with an organisation that has articulated a clear vision versus one that does not publish thought leadership”.
The business case may be compelling, but much of the content labelled ‘thought leadership’ that’s available online today isn’t fit for purpose. LinkedIn’s The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership observes a gap in marketers’ understanding of what it actually is.
“Ask ten people how they define thought leadership and you’ll likely hear ten different answers”.
So, what’s missing?
Avoid those BLoody bear traps
Thanks to its close-knit ties with content marketing, thought leadership is often lumped into the ‘problem-solving’ category: identify the questions an audience is asking, and answer them.
This tunnel vision positions thought leadership as a one-dimensional strategy, and is an easy bear trap to fall into. Becoming a prolific problem solver is just one part of a bigger conquest that digs into the depths from where your brand was born from.
Marketing Insider Group’s Michael Brenner, identifies another of these ‘traps’: the unique point of view trap. “I have heard more than a few executives delay going all in on thought leadership by focusing on “the unique point of view.” They say: “there is so much noise in the marketplace. We can only compete if our content is differentiated and completely unique”.
Yes, you need to answer prospective buyers’ burning questions. Yes, you need to “…differentiate with your consistency by becoming an authority and by helping your customers with different types of content, every single day”. But there’s another piece to this puzzle.
Content that shines
When it comes to communicating purpose and values, confident firms are stealing the show. In a world fuelled by change, you need to create stronger - high-touch, high-trust and highly collaborative relationships with your customers.
“Corporations that embrace thought leadership as a strategy for growth represent the essence of market leadership, corporate accountability and changing the rules of client engagement,” writes Glenn Llopis for Forbes. Those with an authentic story to tell and a clear strategy around how they communicate their values and purpose are also winning more business.
American research specialist JUST Capital tracks the relationship between ‘good corporate behaviour’ and business performance, describing those businesses with passion and purpose with one of our favourite corporate puns: “Firms of Endearment”.
Good pay levels, positive treatment of customers, strong leadership and ethics all characterise these firms, and JUST Capital’s studies show they outperform the rest of the market in just about every meaningful statistic: Greater profits, higher wages, more balanced workforces, sustainability and more.
That leadership, those relationships and ethics should shine through in your content.
Are you a workplace service provider? Why? Because you want to transform the employee experience? What does that vision for the future look like?
Do you sell manufacturing technology? Does your product enhance efficiency? Sustainability? What else can your audience do to bring about these outcomes in the industry?
Lay down your roadmap
The adage, “Be the change you want to see in the world” epitomises thought leadership. The realisation of the brand through inspiring and informative content will help your audience, customers and wider market, to participate in that change with you.
“Marketing is about change–changing people's actions, perceptions or the conversation,” writes marketing visionary, Seth Godin. “Successful change is almost always specific, not general. You don't have a chance to make mass change, but you can make focused change.”
There are no shortcuts. Building an impactful long-term thought leadership program presents a long and winding road to brand maturity where multiple lanes converge.
Problem-solving, differentiation, market insight and innovation all play their part, but the driving force behind it all should be your brand purpose - the positive outcome you’re trying to achieve.
“Today’s corporate leaders must be potent pioneers - blazing new paths few would go down and having the courage to see them all the way through to the end,” rallies Glenn Llopis. “To be a pioneer, you need to trust yourself enough to share the unique ways that you think as a thought leader, continually testing your constructively disruptive ideas and ideals”.
True thought leaders lay down their roadmap and lift others up around them to create something better. Your ideas and ideals are the lights leading the way.