The Power of Thought Leadership

Today we hear more and more about thought leadership. Love it as a valuable tool or hate it as gimmicky buzzword, there really is no escaping thought leadership.

The origin
Originally devised by Joel Kurtzman in 1994 whilst he was editor of Strategy and Business magazine, Kurtzman said that Thought Leaders possess distinctly original ideas, a unique point of view and offer unprecedented insight into their industry.

Finding a voice
In a loud, crowded market it’s difficult for small and medium-sized businesses to gain a voice and attract their customer’s attention. How do you gain market share when you don’t have a big reputation to trade on? How do you gain a reputation on a limited budget? That’s where being a thought leader can work to your advantage.

So, what really is thought leadership?
Marketing blogger of Symantec and Apple fame, Elise Bauer has used an astute description. Bauer describes Thought Leadership as the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers and the broader marketplace in which it operates.

Yet, thought leadership is still undermined by the constant churning out of marketing content, particularly in a B2B world. Why would a brand invest in high quality, research-led thought leadership when they can choose the cheaper option of quick, ‘fire and forget’ content, supported by keyword tagging and pay-per-click spend?

Unique points of view, market insight and original ideas don’t grow on trees. Extracting the best thought leadership often demands a conversation with the boss or other senior directors and many marketing departments find it difficult to gain that access and ask the penetrating questions which unlock the seeds of that valuable content.

All too often, companies resort to writing and proliferating less ambitious marketing content – indeed content marketing has become the buzz phrase of choice for many marketing departments and agencies alike. Many try to package this content as thought leadership so it’s important to return to Kurtzman definition to check if your content is delivering real insight or unique opinions or knowledge which the outside world, the readers or viewers value.

The benefits of thought leadership
Executed effectively, thought leadership can:

  • differentiate your company from the competition
  • define your brand
  • establish an expert spokesperson
  • ultimately generate sales leads.

Thought Leadership can help businesses by informing their decision making, guide their thinking about strategic partners and keep them up to date with industry changes.

A common misconception is that thought leadership is simply having a unique opinion or voice. Whilst it does demand this, it demands so much more. Thought leadership really needs to get to the gritty detail of the recurring and current needs of your customer, what the real issues are and how it affects the market.

Authentic thought leadership goes way beyond the remit of the marketing department and a solid content plan, it should harmoniously underpin the entire core business strategy. That’s when the true power of thought leadership comes in to play.

Research proves that thought leadership hits the C-Suite spot
Back in 2016, UK agency Grist, commissioned Coleman Parkes to undertake market research – The Value of B2B Thought Leadership – to survey 210 senior executives from FTSE 350 companies to understand when, how and why they sourced thought leadership material by their advisers. Earlier this year, Grist expanded its research to cover 525 senior executives to gain further insight into the trends affecting thought leadership today. Based on these findings, Grist outlined five reasons why B2B organisations should give more serious consideration to thought leadership:

  1. Thought leadership is critical to decision making appointments – 99% of senior executives claim thought leadership is critical or important to their decision-making when appointing an adviser.
  2. Senior executives actually want to read quality thought leadership – 34% want to hear from firms that specialise in an issue. By creating thought leadership with original insight on a market trend you grab the attention of the very people you want to target.
  3. Without it, you’ll miss out on leads – senior executives read a third of the thought leadership that they come across. Strong analysis backed by robust data is the key quality the C-Suite is looking for.
  4. Quality, relevant thought leadership = business opportunities – 26% of the C-Suite readers will reach out to the company that created the content. Executed correctly, this targeted quality content could bring you ROI unlike any other communications tactic.
  5. One piece of thought leadership can fuel an entire year’s marketing campaign – don’t be put off by the price tag of a survey-based thought leadership programme. Evaluate instead what it can do for you. 43% of readers will go on to review related articles. 33% would attend an event by the firm. If you’ve used the research as a basis for an integrated sales and marketing campaign, one well-planned piece of research can provide an entire year’s worth of insights.

The good news is, business leaders want thought leadership. Some 84% of FTSE 350 executives surveyed by Grist believe that strong thought leadership content adds value to their role.

Almost as many emphasise its importance in keeping them abreast of important business issues (79%); informing their decision-making (76%); and helping them to take a view on the future (76%).

Yet, despite their enthusiasm for thought leadership, these senior executives only read 31% of the material that comes across their desk. Asked why it fails to grab their attention, the C-Suite’s top three complaints were:

  • It’s too generic (63%).
  • It lacks original insight or ideas (58%).
  • It promotes the firm that produced it, rather than addressing their needs (53%).

The audience test
So how do you ensure your thought leadership is in the top third that actually hits the spot with senior executives? The answer is to:

  • Conduct market research to ensure that your thought leadership gets under the skin of your audience and/or delivers unique consumer or market insights.
  • Address the concerns that are high on the C-Suite’s agenda.
  • Adopt a collaborative planning processes: consult subject matter experts, client facing teams, marketing resources and your target audience.
  • Explore future trends.
  • Find emerging themes that haven’t yet been discussed or have a unique take on an existing theme.
  • Develop strong, original ideas that resonate with clients, prospects, the business and the media.
  • The media is a good acid test on the strength of your output. If there is no new angle, journalists are unlikely to write about it.
  • Continually reassess – if you fail to get traction, re-think. It normally means you just need to go deeper to uncover genuinely original insights.
  • If your content provokes little interest, is there too much interest in the company and not enough focus on the issues affecting the industry?

Ultimately be a thought leader not a thought follower!

The path to success 
It is clear that there is a demand for your thought leadership. But for it to have any real credibility, it must be based on research which adds value to your audience. Then with considered planning and targeting you have the potential for effective thought leadership that can really drive your business forward.

Agility PR helping you to Thought Lead
Agility PR has 20 years of experience helping B2B clients, across a wide number of sectors, to establish and build on a reputation as a thought leader. To discuss your needs without any obligation please email


Author: Miles Clayton

Published: 28 November 2019