According to a 2021 thought leadership impact report by LinkedIn and Edelman, 66% of global decision makers say the pandemic has seen an increase in the amount of content being pumped into the marketplace – but 71% of them don’t believe that it offers any valuable insights.
The pandemic brought about a surge in the use of digital platforms as we worked from home, shopped online and stayed connected with friends and family via video communication services. That brought with it a glut of content, too, as businesses sought to reach their ever-more digitally focused audiences. We were subjected to a tsunami of words as business leaders fought to maintain their profiles during a succession of lockdowns. As a result, it has become harder and harder to stand out from the crowd, cut through the white noise and connect with consumers and prospects.
Part of the problem is that people find comfort in demonstrating they have an opinion on the ‘big issues’ of the day. But, while talking about the same things as competitors might spare business leaders from feeling left behind, it does little to empower and bring about positive change unless it drives the conversation forward. There’s a risk of becoming a ‘thought follower’ rather than a ‘thought leader’.
The term ‘thought leadership’ was coined decades ago by Joel Kurtzman, the former editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review and Strategy and Business Magazine. He said that a piece of thought leadership should ‘possess a distinctly original idea, a unique point of view, or an unprecedented insight into their industry’. But, if the LinkedIn and Edelman statistics are anything to go by, most thought leaders are simply reflecting the current zeitgeist and peddling well-worn ideas. In many cases, it has become an exercise in grabbing airtime rather than saying anything useful. Content for content’s sake.
But it could be argued that there has never been a greater need for strong and astute thought leadership. The pandemic has knocked us sideways and had an enormous impact on the global economy. Every sector will have experienced disruption, and most business leaders are negotiating commercial landscapes that have changed dramatically. The needs and concerns of audiences, whether B2B or B2C, are shifting at lightning speed, too.
Lead the charge
Being a thought leader and not a thought follower doesn’t mean avoiding the subject areas that everyone is talking about, but it does mean scrutinising why an issue is of such importance to the target audience, and then providing meaningful insights and solutions. In other words, it’s not all about you, you know. Explaining who you are, what you do and how you think is not enough – you need to make it clear that you’re essential to your audience’s life.
For example, we’re seeing a lot of content in the sustainability and ESG (environment, social and governance) arena at the moment, thanks to shifting regulations and new global initiatives on carbon emissions. According to a report by global consultancy partnership Kearney, leaders that introduce sustainability into their business models ‘outperform traditional rivals’. Businesses are learning that, for many stakeholders, staff, VCs, investors and audiences, sustainability is a priority. All of which is having a massive impact on the business community, from construction and retail to FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) and pharmaceuticals. The question a thought leader in this space needs to ask themselves is: “What new insight or initiative can I bring to the table to move the conversation along?”
So, what makes good thought leadership and why is it worth investing in?
Thought leadership, when done well, significantly influences brand perception and buying behaviours. According to the LinkedIn and Edelman report, which surveyed 3,600 global industry leaders, 42% of decision makers invited an organisation to bid for a project based on thought leadership; 48% awarded a project to the business responsible for the thought leadership; 53% decided to increase the amount of business they did with the organisation, and 54% were persuaded to buy a new product or service that they had not previously considered buying.
Get ready to deliver
Before sitting down and attacking the keyboard, a few key questions need to be addressed:
- Who are you trying to reach?
- What burning issues form the root cause of their stress?
- What is your distinctive point of view, and is it different enough from all the other content swirling around the digital ether?
- What advice are you offering – is there a call to action?
- Why should people listen to you – can you demonstrate your expertise?
Thought leadership can be a useful tool in establishing credibility and awareness. It should express a business’s unique talents, passions and experiences, and answer the biggest questions on the minds of its target audience. But it needs to pique the reader’s interest in the first minute, and it needs to provoke. (All too often, authors back away from saying anything punchy and controversial.)
Primarily, however, never forget that the reader wants help – and make sure that the article delivers.
Contact us today to find out how our expert team can help develop and implement your thought leadership strategy.