5 Proven Thought Leadership Strategies For 2018
Thought leadership, as a term, if we were to talk about its genesis and how it has gained salience over years, almost becoming a buzzword, is a century old. Its appearance can be traced as back as 1876, when the famed American lecturer, poet, philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, was said to possess “the wizard power of a thought leader”. Patrick Reilly, in 1990 publication of Wall Street, used the term “thought leader publications” to refer to magazines as Harper’s. From humble beginnings, with a fair share of brickbats and criticism, at times dismissing it as a business jargon, or being esoteric, it has been gradually embraced and nurtured to leverage the latent aspects of business ecosystem and benefits accruing from it. Now we have even specialized agencies of repute, helping corporations to leverage on thought leadership and make it a winning strategy.
In any case, a brief outlining or rudiments of a term, is essential in grasping the meaning for the potential reader. With an eye to have a plum share in the competitive space, and emerge as an authority in their field, companies and marketing strategists, rely on thought leadership. A thought leader, which can be a firm, individual or concerns associated with the business, and the leadership that follows, has developed a unique ability cultivated over time, backed by insight and extensive analysis, to come up with innovative solutions to customer problems, have in depth understanding of business dynamics and are the go to people in industry, having carved out a niche for themselves or the organization. Globalization has brought people and businesses closer, making them seamless, at the same time making it fiercely competitive. Also, present day businesses are knowledge driven, thanks to spurt in technology. This means, knowledgeable customers interacting with them, need to be satisfied adequately, to forge a long term relationship. Evolving societies have opened up an entire of issues, ailing mankind today, ranging from climate change, consumerism, water management, renewable energy, health and well being. Key is finding solutions to these issues, rather than a mere acknowledgement. Need of the hour, being such leaders who can tackle these issues, create meaningful discussions, come up with groundbreaking ideas and challenge the status quo, with a vision to address these issues. It is there, that thought leadership takes centre stage. Wide array of companies as diverse as IBM, McKinsey, Apple, Unilever all pursue thought leadership.
Having said that, with changing business paradigms aiming to align itself with variable customer perception, how does one not only stay afloat but ratchet up the position, using productive thought leadership strategies in 2018?
- Identifying your niche: One does not have to have an in depth knowledge of everything under the sun, though one can inarguably have a generalized view of things. Identification of an area which one has considerable expertise and which can be honed over time, is the elementary idea behind thought leadership. One can only speak with conviction on topics and dig into domains, offering insightful solutions, which one has substantial experience in. Business houses and individuals have zeroed in on, areas they are well equipped to offer guidance, rather than spreading themselves thin on virtually everything. Apple Inc, stands out as a sterling example of how Steve Jobs’s vision of a “computer for rest of us” ignited the PC revolution and catapulted it to dizzying heights. It could carve out a niche market for itself in the technological space. It would not have been possible without his insight to pick his area of excellence.
- Riding the pulse: individuals or organizations claiming to be thought leaders do not have it easy. It’s a sustained long term process, going through the grind of keeping oneself abreast with the dynamics of the chosen world. It requires due effort and diligence, each day. The idea is not to keep oneself afloat but ace the field. One cannot simply afford to rest back cozily on past legacy and expect to command authority! What gains have been made; need to be supplemented to gain a degree of respect among peers and in the fraternity. Consistency is the key. With changes being quick and inevitable, a thought leader has to display the semblance of someone who has full idea of what’s going around. Only then can he claim to be a thought leader in truest sense of the term. Examples abound. Forrester Research, is regarded a thought leader by their clients, due to its sheer ability to feel the market pulse, predicts future trends and produce high quality research reports. In recent times, organizations are trying and investing on IoT (Internet Of Things), because it is being touted as the next big thing!
- Identifying target audience to create a base: As with a leader, thought leaders should be very clear about the intended recipients of their ideas, the interaction taking place. Initially, one should refrain from sounding too commercial and pitching on sales or self promotion, which may be picked up by discerning audience and dismissed as being unengaging! But once, the trustworthiness is created, unconsciously, on the basis of novelty of an idea furnished, gradually a following is established. It takes time but once in place, it pays rich dividends to individuals and industries claiming as thought leaders. Take the case of IBM, a name which is a de facto leader in the computer manufacturing segment, hardware, software and host of other services ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology. Its tag of being a thought leader is attributed to its ability to provide smart solutions to its audience. They are successful in making the world a better place, be it smarter traffic management, optimized water management or robust energy grids. Similarly, it went on to share as many as 25 case studies for different industries on their smarter planet website, to not only challenge set industrial standards but also build a credible base of its novel ideas. As it turns out, to be a successful thought leader, one should have the ability to exploit needs, answer queries and satisfy wants of target audience and come up with content that can alter lives positively.
- Uniqueness of perspective: Pursuing a path towards attaining thought leadership, entails the ability to churn out unique, out of the box perspectives. There is so much noise out there, that only an idea with new vision to existing issues captures the imagination. It also does not mean, repacking of old ideas, dressed up as new ones! Nor does it simply mean innovation. Innovation would mean, translating a new idea into a tangible product/service, aiming at gains by selling it to prospective customers. While thought leadership goes beyond this, it is using a vision to address a societal issue, which has ability to influence minds, and becoming the fountainhead of that concept. Let’s take an appropriate example. Way back in 2003, Unilever’s global brand team, embarked on a task to shape up it’s 50 year old beauty brand Dove. It carried out a research in some 10 countries, eliciting response on the idea of beauty and how women identified with it. The commissioned research threw up surprising results. Most respondents (women) suffered from a sense of low self esteem, and struggled keeping up with the conventional idea of beauty defined by most beauty brands. A meager 2% of women were confident enough to call themselves beautiful! It is here that Dove Brand Team, came up with the novel concept of “Real Beauty Campaign”. They did something which was both energizing and ground breaking. It used real, average looking women, picked from all walks of life, doing away with professional models. It instantly resonated with millions across the world, and how beauty is perceived. This emerged as a text book case of thought leadership, going beyond stereotypes. In the second business quarter of 2005, Dove experienced a double-digit growth for their brand. Furthermore, an eleven percent (11%) sales increase, in the first quarter of 2005 as well as a six percent (6%) total sales increase! This resides at the core of true thought leadership.
- Ability to inspire others: Thought leadership, invariably includes the element of leadership. And as with all leadership, it means a source of inspiration for rest to follow. The novelty of an idea, creates a chain effect, with brands and individuals vying for bettering themselves. People like to take a leaf out a thought leader’s book of success and replicate it. A healthy ecosystem, where individuals vie for better solutions ultimately leads to a better society. It acts as a catalyst for change. Thus it not only affects organization on the exterior but internally motivates those associated with it, lending them a sense of accomplishment. People around feel motivated to contribute and come up with new discoveries. Philips, set a benchmark for other technology giants to follow. Under its thought leadership program, called “The centre for health and well being” it commissioned massive research under two themes of “Active ageing “ and “livable cities” to reinvigorate discussion around conventionally accepted notion of ageing and infirmity and cities as optimized centers of healthy dwelling in the urban landscape, respectively. It drew experts from industry to take on the issue. Without this undercurrent of inspiration, which rubs on people, a thought leadership fails to achieve the larger motive!