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What thought leadership actually means

Apr 24, 2024 | Marketing, White papers

Thought leaders are seemingly everywhere, and with good reason – thought leadership can significantly increase how receptive buyers are to your products and services. But with so much of it around, what does thought leadership actually mean to you?

Nowadays, most businesses appear to understand the value of thought leadership. Look at any marketing or communications strategy; at least one slide will be devoted to it. According to one survey, just 5% of companies do not currently include thought leadership in their content marketing and have no plans to either.

Executed properly, it can drive sales: another report noted that consistently producing quality thought leadership content could increase buyers’ receptivity to sales or marketing outreach and boost the chances of being invited to participate in RFP processes.

So, being a thought leader can pay off.


Do you know what thought leadership means?

The business case might be clear, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in your organisation is on the same page when it comes to knowing what thought leadership means.

This is something we’ve seen a lot of over the years. The budgets come from all over, the amounts vary wildly, and it’s a similar story regarding stakeholder engagement. For something that should be agenda-setting, the embodiment of a company’s vision for not just where they or their industry but where society is heading, it can often feel like a bit of a tick-box exercise.

You won’t find an agency or, for that matter, a client-side team that hasn’t been in this situation.

At least part of the confusion is that many companies have forgotten that thought leadership should be a clear, differentiated vision of where you believe the world is headed. Instead, they hear thought leadership and think execution: surveys, whitepapers, roundtables, talking head videos, podcasts, and opinion pieces.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with these actions. Deployed appropriately, they can drive the outcomes you want to see. But with most markets already drowning in content, it becomes harder to stand out when the execution is often so similar.

But before reaching that stage, you must define what thought leadership means to your business. Throughout the next couple of blogs, we will explore more facets of becoming a thought leader, but there’s no point in doing that if you don’t know what being one means to you.

What makes you authentic?

And at the heart of being a thought leader is authenticity. You’ve got to believe what you’re saying, and you’ve got to be able to prove that you know what you’re talking about. Whether it’s years of experience, verifiable results in helping your customers in this area, or a track record of predicting where your industry is headed, you’ve got to ground your vision in something tangible.

To define that, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What can we authentically claim? What are your strengths (and weaknesses), what experiences do you have, and what results have you generated for customers?
  2. Is what we’re saying useful? Would anything change (outside of your organisation) if you said anything? Would it provoke any action that had no material impact on you?
  3. Does it align with our capabilities to deliver? Do you have the skills, the technology, the R&D, the organisational structure to do what you’re promising?
  4. Is this something the whole organisation can back? Does it resonate with everyone from front-line customer service to back-office IT and right up the food chain? Or is it something crafted at the top of the company and executed by marketing?

This is the first step in becoming a thought leader. Next week, we’ll dive further into why you aren’t yet one and what you can do to start the journey.

White papers can be useful for positioning your company as a thought leader. But they can be overwhelming if you haven’t planned your messaging in advance or allocated enough time to each stage.

Read our essential guide to creating compelling whitepapers here

And how you too can create a compelling white paper in 8 weeks.

If you would like to speak to us directly so that we can help you make your white paper a success, then email us on [email protected].


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