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How to Build Sustainable Thought Leadership Strategies for Growth

Centered on new ways to craft sustainable thought leadership campaigns, this session delved into methods of bringing everyone in the organization together on projects to fuel business growth. The panel was moderated by Gurpreet Purewal, Vice President of Sales at iResearch Services.

Your role in altering your company’s business growth

Jeff Potter took to the stage to give his presentation. He’s the Head of Advisory US Insights at KPMG and traveled over from Seattle to be with us for a showcase of thought leadership strategies.

At KPMG, Jeff and his colleagues were challenged to see what roles they could play in changing the growth trajectory of the firm. They formed their main objectives:

  • Meet the market where their clients are, instead of where the business is
  • Position the company on an accelerated growth path
  • Increasing the quality of content to truly drive value.

They knew they would be successful if their thought leadership activity informed the business strategy, built better themes and aligned their content across the company. On that latter point, Jeff stressed this goal could only be achieved through greater transparency and connectivity. His observation – sometimes a part of an organization says one thing and another part says something else – certainly struck a chord.

Data deep-dive crucial to success

Jeff found the quality of the insights significantly improved when they went deeper into the data. Most importantly, they had to ensure the intended audience would really want to use the content.

 “What we’re trying to think about,” said Jeff, “is how do we build stuff that’s going to be used by partners and practitioners and our business constituents, so they’re excited to share the story? And that’s obviously a journey that’s ongoing because all of you know it’s really hard to get people to do something like that!”

Reducing the siloed thinking to improve return on investment (ROI)

Establishing better internal connections is of course the way to break out of siloed thinking and put you on the path to improved business growth. Jeff’s route to that objective was to set up Advisory Insights to enhance internal capabilities, harmonize content creation, amplify cross-functional themes and drive adoption. 

Jeff told the audience how his company’s business leaders could tap into a newly built ‘fact base’ to change the business in a positive way. This initiative helped them define and redefine value propositions and gave them the capability to combine insights into content strategies. This “tighter connection” truly boosted the business reputation.

A transformational shift

We learned that Generative AI has allowed KPMG to move faster, especially on go-to-market models. Jeff pointed out that many lessons were learned to enable sustainable growth. He concluded that this transformational shift is still providing strong business advantages today.

The path less travelled

Next to take the stage was Euan Davis, the Vice President of Virtusa. He began by telling his career story which has taken many twists and turns, beginning by heading to London to become a chef. Then he took a turn into technology, first by being a journalist and then transitioning into analyst roles, where he built and honed his thought leadership skills and knowledge.

Euan was frank about his next career epoch, as the thought of being an analyst forever did not appeal to him. Just over a decade ago, he joined Cognizant to be in their Center for the Future of Work think tank. He describes this time as a point where work and technology really coupled up. A change at the top of the company had them neglect thought leadership for a few years, but it was reinstated following another personnel change. Following these tumultuous times, he moved to Virtusa recently.

Building thought leadership strategies from a business goal

 Euan then presented a model for gauging the maturity of thought leadership. This was divided into levels:

  1. Ad hoc: the entrepreneurs
  2. Operationalized: the builders
  3. Orchestrated: the aligners
  4. Optimized: the agenda setters

“This for me is a really interesting model,” said Euan, “to think about sustainable strategies within thought leadership because it informs your focus, it informs the sort of teams you need to do the operations, the idea development, how you work across the business to get some of those ideas in. You think about how you hand it off to marketing and how you disseminate it into the market in your channel.” 

Euan was quite the evangelist for this idea, which he admitted was not a model he had designed himself but one that he believes in strongly. 

Next, Euan discussed how to take a business goal and turn it into a thought leadership blueprint so that Marketing, Editorial and other colleagues can take action. He talked about his experience in forming strategies and five editorial themes from having set a major business goal.

He was incredibly open about the parts of the strategy that were costly and failed but did point out that the campaign succeeded. This was an illuminating presentation,  punctuated by brutal honesty and underlined the importance of execution.

Managing board expectations

We moved into the Q and A session, moderated by Gurpreet.. Euan was questioned on how to manage expectations when senior leadership expects an immediate positive impact on the business.

Euan responded that tools were important for his teams in Marketing, Web and Social Media. “I don’t want them to feel threatened, I want to give them the tools they need and the belief they can do it.”

Gurpreet asked Jeff how to keep board members happy about their need to talk on the latest hot topic, Generative AI.

“What we’ve tried to do,” replied Jeff, “is create the model that is actively engaging and constantly trying to gather the stakeholders across a wide range of markets and capabilities, to spend time talking about where we want to go and help prioritize. So by using all our digital capabilities, where we’re having our teams play more of an interactive role in helping shape the storyline to allow us to say, ‘we made a consensus on where we prioritize because ultimately, we want to be thought-provoking and also deep in the work that we do’.”

The key to forming thought leadership strategies

1. Thought leadership and strategy must be connected

Turning to audience questions, the panel was asked where the thought leadership function should fit into an organization.

For Euan, he described how, in his situation, the Chief Marketing Officer is also the Strategy Officer. This is where marketing is woven in with strategy, with Euan remarking on how it works well.

2. Finding the right thought leadership themes

The two panelists were also asked how they attained alignment on themes for thought leadership.

Euan created a thematic architecture entirely on his own, which he stated was a process “born of frustration” as nobody was willing to contribute to it. Of course, he expressed that ideally, setting up such a framework should really be done through collaboration.

There was a different approach from Jeff. He explained that his team segmented topics from discussions, which was instrumental in finding enduring themes. These themes have helped fuel business growth.

Another audience member was given the opportunity to ask a question. They wanted to know about the panelists’ experience in assessing the level of maturity of themes.

Surveys were the ‘research platforms’ for Euan. He explained he had to think carefully about the distinct types of thought leadership. He added that he was fed up with the same 50-year-olds writing this content, so wanted younger voices, such as graduates, to deliver fresher perspectives.

Jeff pointed out that it is logical that each of your themes end up ‘owned’ by individual stakeholders in your organization. He recommended helping them along the way.

3. Getting leadership buy-in for thought leadership

The final audience question came in from the Slido app: “How do you get buy-in for the ‘last mile’?”

Jeff explained that it is about trust. He advised that when a theme is ‘owned’ by a stakeholder, it is vital to approach that stakeholder, help them invest in a piece of content and help them to disseminate it in a better way.

4. The importance of internal collaboration

The importance of not being so rigidly structured was made clear, with Jeff recommending people should work across their company’s internal functions. He said the Learning and Development (L&D) team, the internal communications team and the knowledge teams should all collaborate. He believes thought leaders have a duty to represent them to the rest of the company.

Interested in watching the Paradigm Shifts – Thought Leadership and Sustainable Strategies for Growth session on-demand? Click here.   

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