Thought leadership; what exactly is it?

October 12, 2016
Nigel Cliffe
, ,
thought leadership

Thought leadership! It’s the buzzword of modern business right now. But what exactly is ‘thought leadership’ and what is simply opinion, information or ‘content marketing’?

It’s certainly true that thought leadership is a frequently used and often ‘abused’ term. Many organisations claim to be ‘thought leaders’ but are in fact simply stating their own aims, objectives and goals within the confines of a so called ‘opinion’ piece in order to gain a competitive advantage. But be warned – it’s very easy to ‘see through’ manufactured thought leadership and observe the corporate goals, objectives and disguised sales messages underneath. That’s why, a well-written thought leadership article has to be independent, applicable to ‘everyone and contain genuinely new and interesting information and crucially – absolutely NO sales or corporate messages.

So what’s thought leadership really all about?

In its purest form, thought leadership delivers interesting, engaging and ‘value added’ information which educates and persuades the reader to ‘look afresh’ at a topic or issue and to transform their thinking, beliefs and approach. The newly ‘educated’ reader can then start to look at developing different options and solutions to topical or burning issues. But researching, agreeing the approach to take and writing something truly innovative takes considerable time, effort as well as creative flare and money. So if it’s so difficult, why do organisations want to become thought leaders?

Thought leadership can work strongly to an organisation’s advantage if the solutions it offers are genuinely market leading and transformational. Therefore the act of developing and distributing thought leadership alone can further thinking and ‘position the company favourably in the minds of readers and the market at large. It’s a win-win situation – as well stated intelligent views and insight subtly convey corporate professionalism and expertise whilst also openly communicating competency and the ability to ‘do’ the job. And a highly qualified and knowledgeable company that states an unusual or ‘provocative’ view can gain widespread attention whilst simultaneously enhancing the corporate reputation.

How does thought leadership differ from ‘content marketing’?

The two terms are often interchanged – but they are in fact very different from each other. How? Thought leadership is new, fresh and useful – helping the reader to better understand or appreciate a topic or issue whereas content marketing is all about trying to gain attention from a defined audience with the objective of gaining them as a customer or prospect. What’s more, content marketing tends to be heavily branded whereas thought leadership is much more neutral with a branding ‘light touch’. Put simply – thought leadership elevates – content marketing promotes.

So if you are thinking of developing ‘thought leadership’ – ask yourself:
• Is it a priority for the market (and my potential market) right now?
• Does it contain a unique perspective or view?
• Has it involved innovative and fresh research?
• Is it engaging to read with memorable, simple ‘take out’ messages?
• And has it been tested and approved by different groups for sense and impact?

If the answer’s yes – then go for it. If not, then think again. Good luck!