Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In Search of (Thought) Leadership

Dean Landsman and I have been talking lately about the recent rise in volume from business leaders about the value of thought leadership.

Here's the logic of this model:
With electronic media, everyone has more opportunity than ever to get your clients' and prospects' attention. You'd better have something impressive to say that they haven't heard before.

Thought Leadership -- What Is It?

The terms Thought Leadership implies a collection of valuable and original insights into business matters that have stumped less visionary thinkers. More important, it suggests that the people who developed these insights are worth following -- aka hiring -- to help top businesses think through their toughest problems.

Thought leadership is really part of a long-term brand-building strategy that offers client's proof of concept. Format depends on market -- surveys, white paper, essays, even blog entries can count, as long as in addition to data they contain the key insights and analysis everyone is looking for.

Of course, before you start disseminating insights, it's essential to have a clearly articulated value proposition or you're probably wasting your time.

Effective examples demonstrate the superior value of your business capabilities over that of your competitors. In fact, the most effective thought leadership eclipses the existence of competitors with its blinding insights. Clearly, it's much more effective than insisting you're great in marketing language that no one really believes anyway.

How Much Do You Need?

Electronic media have created expectations of continuous updates in a manner unheard of in the days when the time and cost of printing made it prohibitive. This can present a challenge because although electronic delivery methods makes access to information immediate, it doesn't actually speed up the rate at which we can come up with new ideas.

Depending on your business and the expectations and needs of your clients, a weekly, monthly, or quarterly schedule might be fine for the Big Thought pieces with more frequent smaller insights sprinkled in. Regardless of frequency, however, it's essential that you keep producing if you expect to compete.

What Does This Mean To A Bottom Line?

If you're in a business of strategy, there's no question that you need to invest heavily in your brand. Thought Leadership should be one of the most important parts of this strategy, so expect it to require capital. No way around it: no immediate ROI. But long-term brand development is more important.

How Should Thought Leadership Be Distributed?

Your website should have some good examples of recent insight pieces in any area for which you're pitching business. On the on the other hand, take down all those white papers and surveys from two years ago -- the world has changed, and old news says more about you than no news at all.

If You Build It, They Still Might Not Come

If you're not already top of mind as a thought leader, research shows that people might not come to your website even if you provide brilliance every day.

So show up with your genius in unexpected places.

Write a book, use push technology, create a high-profile relationship with someone who your market already respects. Go where your market is, and if your insights are fresh, frequent, and persuasive, they will follow you anywhere. And so will your ROI.

That's how you'll know you're a thought leader.

But this is only part of the story. It assumes that those who don't speak have nothing to say of value.

What might you be missing?.


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