how to build a reputation for thought leadership

February 01, 2014

how to build a reputation for thought leadership

The term “thought leadership” has become ubiquitous. I confess to being guilty of using the buzzword. I call myself a thought leader and tell people who ask what I do that I do thought leadership for a living. People seem to understand but I might just be talking to people in my industry or perhaps to the overly-polite. Years ago I defined “thought leadership” when I wrote a book about the importance of building CEO reputation by having something to say about the future instead of talking about your company’s products. Fast forward to today and thought leadership is now morphing into content marketing. I like to think, however, that thought leadership is the better half of content marketing. Much of content marketing today is pushing out talk about your company and all the great things it is doing without thinking about whether it is new, interesting, useful, relevant and compelling. Building a reputation for thought leadership is about ideas that keep a company at the forefront of change. It should transcend sectors and geographic borders. It should…

  1. Enrich the company’s relationships with its key constituencies:  clients, prospective clients, opinion leaders, recruits, internal audiences, employees, media
  2. Make the world aware of new insights
  3. Build, support and sustain the company’s brand reputation
  4. Influence the industry agenda and own significant elements of it
  5. Be strongly identified with the future

Defining thought leadership is the subject of Michael Brenner’s article in Forbes this week. Brenner is Vice President of SAP Global Marketing. His definition is as follows: Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience.” He makes a good point in that great thought leadership comes from answering your customers’ biggest questions. However, sometimes good ideas come from looking sideways or at where no one else is looking. I call it catching the wave. It is about catching the wave or the idea before it crests. Seeing the kernel of an idea when it is just emerging and not yet at its peak. Those provide the best content.

Here are Brenner’s pointers for creating thought leadership from his thoughtful article on thought leadership. I found them very useful and will add to my deck on building a reputation for thought leadership (giving him credit of course):

  1. Identify the questions customers are asking. Prioritize them.
  2. Answer those questions across multiple formats and channels.
  3. “Give to get.” In other words, don’t make it hard to access.
  4. Make it interesting. Enjoyed his comment that thought leadership should have a “return on interesting.”
  5. Invite customers to participate. Ask them to help you curate and produce great storytelling.
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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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