Thought leadership done right, by MD Lisa Shaddick

In our line of work, it is common for every ounce of budget to be laser-focused on pushing clients’ latest innovations, highlighting their most recent products launches and shouting about their new technologies. But there comes a point in every client relationship where you have that difficult conversation; a conversation that may make them twitch a little, maybe even break into a sweat – and it doesn’t even involve procurement!

That conversation is about thought leadership. And it’s an uncomfortable conversation for clients because you are suddenly suggesting deliberately NOT talking about all those wonderful products and services R&D departments have been working on feverishly, and which have marketing plans galore laid out.

Not just a catchphrase
No longer a trendy catchphrase, thought leadership is a truly valuable tool that focuses less on sales (cue: beads of sweat forming) and more on positioning clients as experts in their fields. It is about building trust and improving how people view your organisation. In a recent study, 59% of survey respondents said they preferred thought leadership over marketing materials for how they view a business’ competence, trustworthiness and capability. And 89% said that thought leadership enhances their perception of an organisation.

Thought leadership isn’t a sales activity
So, thought leadership comes with an inescapable catch-22: while like all business communications its purpose is to increase market reach and, hopefully, sales, it can’t read like a sales pitch. The same study showed that low quality or “salesy” attempts at thought leadership left respondents with a negative impression of an organisation – exactly what you don’t want from your thought leadership.

Doing thought leadership right
First things first. Don’t wing it. It must be taken exceptionally seriously – and we would always strongly suggest working with professionals who know what they are doing. You must have something meaningful and insightful to say. Thought leadership must be as planning and organised as other marketing and communication activity. And, like all good comms work, it should be well targeted, and time should be spent on honing the list of media outlets to pitch. This shouldn’t be a huge list, either. This is more Michelin star than McDonalds. And don’t it once and be done with it; create a sustained thought leadership programme to ensure real impact.

At Indaba, our client programmes are multi-faceted and thought leadership plays an integral role, and for good reason; almost half of decision makers spend meaningful time-consuming thought leadership. As experts with years of working with CEOs behind us, we embrace the challenge of thought leadership. Every CEO is different; they all have different ways they want their companies to be perceived. Unlocking that, and then communicating it successfully, is one of the reasons we get up every day.

If you’d like to talk to us about thought leadership for your company, please get in touch.