The power of thought (cont’d): Winning customers through thought leadership

J. N. Halm
  • Buy-in from the top

Leaders must lead from the front when it comes to Thought Leadership. It helps if the target audience hear from the top leadership of the organisation on the matter. Nothing is associated faster to a corporate brand than the Chief Executive saying something about a particular subject. Additionally, having the CEO speak on the subject matter gives customers the confidence that they are dealing with an organisation whose leadership stands for something worthwhile.

It is a fact that an organisation is only as a strong as the individuals within it. People make the organisation. It is true that there are certain individuals within the organisation who, by virtue of their past experiences and expertise, are already Thought Leaders in particular areas. These employees will however struggle to help make the organisation a Thought Leader, if the leadership of the organisation does not permit them. If those who are already established figures will struggle to breakout as Thought Leaders in a stifling environment, one can only imagine what the situation will be like for those who are relatively unknown.

For workers to be seen as individual Thought Leaders, management must make way for them. One way is by using the organisation’s influence to get these individuals speaking at events where they would be noticed. Management can also encourage these employees to take to blogging (and vlogging) to make their voices heard. Therefore, beyond choosing and settling on the subject matter, it is important that leaders in the organisation give room for others within the organisation to develop into Thought Leaders.

It is true that in the process of implementing a Thought Leadership Strategy, freedoms can be abused. There are always those who always want to do things their own way, regardless of the effect on the corporate body. It will fall on the same Management to set up the clear guidelines that will ensure that every individual Thought Leader within the organisation speaks with one voice.

As can be seen, Thought Leadership requires resources. Therefore, it will take Management’s approval for the necessary resources to be devoted to the in-depth research and analysis that is needed to come out with good content. Sometimes, the resources needed might be human resource—employees who might have to devote some time to research or write on a topic during working hours. It will take Management’s permission for the organisation to get involved in organising or sponsoring the right events that will establish the organisation as the Thought Leader.

The role of top management in fostering a culture of Thought Leadership within the organisation is a really important part of the whole Strategy. Without the full backing of Management the entire process will be a big exercise in futility. Nothing worthy will come out of it.

  • Research, Research and Research Some More

Research and data collection is something that is integral to good Thought Leadership strategy. What makes research even more important these days is that the avenues for research are so rife that any individual with enough time to spare can find the same information. The Thought Leader does not have monopoly over the information. What differentiates the Thought Leader from everyone else is the unique perspective or different slant the Thought Leader brings to that topic.

The learning process never stops for the Thought Leading organisation. On a constant basis, the organisation should always be on the lookout for the latest trends on the subject matter. This would also require the organisation making time to listen to what others have to stay on the topic. Being an authority is not an excuse for the Thought Leader not to learn from others, even from those who might not seem to have anything worthwhile to share. It however takes humility to make a Thought Leader want to learn from others.

  • Develop Relevant Content

Because information is also becoming obsolete faster than one can ever imagine, it is crucial for the organisation as a Thought Leader to always be researching and gathering more information. It takes time and continuous effort to build the treasure trove of current information that makes one a trusted source. As an important part of the organisation’s overall strategy, Thought Leadership requires a devotion of resources into producing content that is useful for the target audience.

  • Share Content

It is one thing to have good content and it is another thing to ensure that the content gets to the target audience. Content must be shared in a format that the target audience is comfortable with. If the target audience listens to a particular radio station, it does not make sense to share the content meant for them on a social media platform they might never visit.

If the target audience is comfortable with a certain language, it will be prudent to share the subject matter content in that language. Content can also be shared as podcast, via YouTube or even as newsletter. It does not matter what format the information is disseminated in as long is gets to the target audience the way the target audience wants to receive the information.

  • Do!

It is not enough for an organisation to just give answers to the questions that need answering. Thought leading organisations “walk the talk”. They take concrete steps to back their narrative with the resources needed. It will not be enough for an organisation to be the leading voice on an issue such as illegal migration. It must go further to take action—to organise seminars, conferences, events that are targeted at those most affected by the trend. As a matter of fact, when an organisation begins to speak on a particular subject, people expect the organisation to put action behind the words.

Challenges to thought leadership

It is true that Thought Leadership has a lot of advantage for any organisation that tows that line. However, as with many things in life, there are also challenges that the organisation must envisage. For one, taking up a position on a subject opens up the organisation to be challenged by any entity that has an opposing view. This is why any organisation that intends to take up Thought Leadership as a strategy must have a plan in place for such a time when they are met with a different viewpoint. It will not look good for the brand if it engages in a social media war with another entity.

Thought Leadership can actually be a risky venture, especially if the viewpoint of the organisation happens to be opposed to those of powerful forces within the society. In certain parts of the world, standing up for one cause will normally expose someone else’s ineffectiveness. If that person turns out to be an influential person, such as an elected public official, then the one will not take the exposé lying down. The one will lash out at the organisation and can even go the extent of threatening the very existence of the organisation.

Sometimes, the stance of the organisation might mean a change in some piece of legislation. This will require the organisation to undertake some lobbying activities which would come with attendant risks of being labelled with one political tag or another. These are risks that every potential Thought Leading organisation must be ready to face.

The talk of Thought Leadership and the resources needed in establishing an organisation as one should not lead anyone to believe that Thought Leadership is limited to huge conglomerates. Thought leading organisations comes in all shapes and sizes. A sole proprietorship can be as good a Thought Leading organisation as a Limited Liability Company.

A start-up can easily become a Thought Leader. This can easily happen when the founder of the business is already an established authority in a particular area. The one can then ride on that personal brand power to create a start-up that would be associated with that personal brand. As a matter of fact, a start-up can ride on Thought Leadership to stand out and make a big impact on the market. The talk of profit should also not mean that Thought Leaders are only profit-making organisations. There are a lot of examples of not-for-profit businesses that are Thought Leaders.

Whichever category an organisation falls into, it is important that its leadership and management recognises that Thought Leadership is not a passing fad. It is not something that is done just to please a few stakeholders for a little while and then it is back to business as usual. Far from that! Thought Leadership as a strategy is an agenda for the long haul. It is something that will eventually become part of the identity of the organisation and so must be viewed as a long-term project. When the results do not materialise within a short spate of time, the organisation should not throw the idea off. It must stick with the program. It is the tenacity to stick with the Thought Leadership agenda, without wavering, that eventually brings in the results.

Today’s customer is so flooded with alternatives that sometimes it becomes overwhelming to choose the right brand to deal with. By standing out through the power of Thought Leadership, the organisation does something important for the customer. The organisation takes away the customer’s burden of not knowing which organisation to do business with.

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