At the onset, it was all about the quality of products that came off the assembling line. Quality products were seen as the rewards for a successful migration from the agrarian to the industrial age. As newer and newer technologies were birthed so were higher quality demanded of the finished products. The competition was intense. However, the problem with competing on quality was that it was only a matter of time before a saturation point was reached. And beyond that, it was no more enough for the organisation to just produce quality products.
It became almost a requirement for the organisation to also “serve” customers. Customer Service, Customer Experience, Service Excellence, etc. took over. Then the concept of service was extended to the community, society, the Planet and Humanity at large. Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability and Responsible Corporate Citizenship became the new buzzwords. These ideas are still around and still shape a lot of what organisations do.
However, in addition to all that, organisations are now being required to do one more thing—to think. Yes. Organisations are expected to use the resources at their disposal, human and non-human, to think out answers to some of society’s toughest questions. Organisations that are able to do this become recognised as Thought Leaders.
Welcome to the age of Thought Leadership.
A Thought Leader is simply that entity—individual or corporate—that is recognised as an authority on a particular subject matter. Thought Leaders are those entities whose views are so respected that anything they say on a debatable subject matter can lay the matter to rest.
Thought Leadership used to comfortably rest in the cradle of academia but slowly it has begun walking the corridors of industry. Thought Leadership was the exclusive preserve of those in our higher educational institutions. Individuals who had gained considerable knowledge about a subject matter and had written tomes on that subject were those we saw as Thought Leaders. They were originally those professors, scientists and experts the Media would call when an issue arose in a particular area of expertise. They were the undisputed authorities on these subjects. However, things have changed. Businesses are being asked these days to answer the questions that are bothering society.
Thought Leadership has become such an important phenomenon that many organisations are going in that direction. There is good reason for this trend. There are several benefits for the organisation that leads via the power of thought.
Benefits of Thought Leadership
Some of these benefits are as follows:
- Earned Trust
The Thought Leader is the one that easily earns the trust of customers. Human beings are wired to accept what a leader says without questioning the veracity of that thought. We are all witnesses to the way many leaders have taken advantage of this trust to abuse those who follow them. However, day after day, we still see people giving in to the ideas of new leaders.
Evidently, things are not about to change any time soon. The one who knows—and is able to convince others of that knowledge—is the one whose words become sacrosanct. This is exactly what Thought Leadership does for the organisation. Customers will begin to trust that organisation and we all know that people will readily give their all to those they trust. After all, people have even given their lives for people they trust.
- Reliable Source
There is a reason why reliability appears high on the list of qualities customers look out for when seeking an organisation to do business with. Reliability makes life easier for customers. It frees the customer from too much thinking. If you are dealing with an organisation that is reliable, you can “sleep better at night”. It is easy to do business with the reliable organisation. This is why Thought Leadership is of such importance.
The organisation whose words can be trusted on a particular subject matter is seen as reliable. It is this reliability gained from the organisations’ subject matter expertise that is then transferred on to the entire organisation. In short, the organisational Thought Leader gains a credibility that will accompany the brand everywhere.
- Useful Answers
Today’s customer, especially the B2B kind, needs to be engaged at both the emotional and intellectual level. These customers have unanswered questions they are grappling with—questions whose answers will help make their lives a lot easier. For such customers, it is the organisation that is able to provide answers that customers can use to better their lives that will make an impression on that customer. Eventually, it is that organisation that would end up winning the customer by being the provider of most relevant information.
The answers that are obtained through the Thought leading organisation’s efforts can be put to use by not only its customer, but society at large. If an organisation uses it resources to find an answer that leads to a medical breakthrough, the whole world is made the better for it.
- Boosted Visibility
Another thing Thought Leadership brings to the organisation is easy brand recall. The organisation that is able to provide the answers to the customer’s nagging question becomes the one that stays on the mind of the customer. The boost to the organisation’s brand presence is something that can greatly boost the fortunes of the organisation.
When the Media regularly calls one particular organisation because of the views of that organisation, the audience of that media house will begin to slowly take notice of that organisation. The more people hear of the organisation, the greater the top-of-mind-awareness the brand will have with customers.
- Great Marketing
Thought Leadership is marketing. Plain and simple. As a matter of fact, there are some experts who have classified Thought Leadership as a form of Content Marketing. By regularly churning out relevant information that engages its target audience, the organisation is able to market itself and its products and services in a way that is essentially non-intrusive. The last statement is particularly important because today’s customer is so inundated with marketing and advertising information that he or she is always on the lookout to block out any such information. By riding on useful information, the organisational Thought Leader is able to get marketing information to customers without any interference.
- Internal Pride
Another merit of Thought Leadership is that it imbibes in employees a sense of pride. Knowing that your organisation has earned the respect and trust of the greater community fills staff with a sense of pride. This is then translated into positive attitudes to the organisation, healthy work habits and an overall great working environment. When employees feel a sense of pride for the brand they represent, it is easy for them to go out of their way to do more for the brand and its customers.
The issue of employee engagement is one that plagues many organisations all over the world. Workers come to work in person but not in spirit. They come to work just so that they are paid at the end of the month. By making these workers fall in love with the brand, it becomes a lot easier to get them to become fully engaged on the job.
It has even been suggested by some that when individuals within the organisation are encouraged to communicate on the subject matter, the rate of employee turnover decreases. By making room for those within the organisation’s ranks to gain some recognition, the organisation shows to other employees that it is the right place for career advancement and fulfilment.
- Increased Profitability
From the on-going discussion, it is easy to draw the link between Thought Leadership and the bottom line. Those who lead in thought eventually lead on the market. A reputation of trust and respect might not be easy to quantify in terms of its effect on the bottom-line. However, not being able to quantify a thing does not mean the effect is not there. Indirectly, Thought Leadership contributes to the profit margin of the organisation.
- Greater Good
The benefits of Thought Leadership do not end at the bottom line of the organisation. By providing useful answers to some of world’s biggest challenges, Thought Leading organisations advance the cause of humanity. In this sense, Thought Leadership can be said to be an extension of the organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility. In fact, many businesses go into Thought Leadership simply because they want to contribute more to society. These particular businesses do not see Thought Leadership as means to market themselves but as a way of contributing to the greater good of mankind.
Thought Leadership Strategy
It is important for organisations that intend to Thought Leaders to know that it takes time to become recognised as such. It takes a sustained concerted effort to rise to the top when it comes to a particular subject matter. It may take more than just the sponsorship of a single event to become recognised as a Thought Leader.
It takes a lot of dedication before an organisation can truly be seen as Thought Leader. However, due to its growing importance, many organisations are prepared to develop full-fledged Thought Leadership Strategies.
A typical Thought Leadership Strategy involves the following:
- Choosing the Subject Matter
The first step in the Strategy would definitely be choosing the area of expertise where the organisation intends to lead. It is important to note that although the subject matter need not be directly related to the industry or sector the organisation operates in, it helps if the organisation leads in the area of its operations.
A mining business can definitely be a Thought Leader in the area of dentistry or gynaecology. However, that business would struggle to establish Thought Leadership. A mining business has an easier chance of establishing Thought Leadership in an area within the extractive industry domain or even something concerning land reclamation.
There are also those subjects that are available for Thought Leadership regardless of the industry an organisation finds itself in. Health, education, sanitation, environmental protection, etc. are some of these subject areas.
In choosing a particular subject, it is important decide on whether the organisation would be a generalist or a specialist on the subject. Experts however advise that the better approach is to dig deep into just one or two topics. The risk, they say, in speaking on too many subject areas is that the organisation looks like it lacks focus. It becomes difficult to pin the brand to one specific area of expertise.