Thursday, 30 August 2007

Thought Leadership- What it is and how can you build it?

To me, the essence of thought leadership lies in the way the client sees you. Are you positioned as a "guru" to your customers or not? The line of reasoning from the customer's perspective is thus- if these chaps know more than I do about the problem I am faced with, I am more likely to believe that the solution they present to me will indeed sort me out- the "guru" positioning. Thought leadership is about being seen as the Guru.

This rationale works well with highly amorphous products or services (high intangibility) -the more amorphous, the more difficult to quantify the benefits, hence more the need for you to appear as the guru= you require to be seen as the "thought leader". Particular examples are high-expertise, intangible industries- eg business consultants, eg Public Relations consultants…

How do you build it though?

Most arguments at this point emphasise bringing out thought leadership through "thought papers"… i.e., create white papers that present a differentiated point of view on the subject to the audience. I would however argue, this is possibly not the best route to building thought leadership. There are not that many "different" solutions to a problem, after all isn't it all about common sense anyway?

To me building thought leadership is about having an informed and experienced view on most issues that vex customers around the subject, it is not about having a unique view i.e., it is not important to have an alternate take on every thing, but it is important to have a reasonably enlightened view on most things that matter on the subject. Think about how you would look at a Guru- it is not that the guru's solutions are totally different from other solutions out there, but it is that the guru will be the best placed to give you the right solution in the first place, because they know so much about the subject.

Take the example of a strategic consultancy- which wants to be seen as a guru of <say> business transformation- I would argue that it is more important for this consultancy to have an experience based view on all key elements – eg., business transformation through process improvements, through leveraging new technology, through portfolio optimisation, through mergers and acquisitions, through reemphasising competitive advantage, through restructuring, through building alliances etc… rather than have a unique take on any or all of the above.

In short, creating an entire library of white papers on the subject is more important than focusing on that "brilliant" prize winning article alone.

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