What defines genuine thought leadership?

Candice O'Sullivan
October 4, 2013

 

‘Thought leaders are brave; explore areas others don’t, raise questions others won’t, and provide insights others can’t.’  

– Dr Liz Alexander and Craig Badings from their book,
‘#Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign’

What defines genuine thought leadership?

Not all content is worthy of being called ‘thought leadership’. Unfortunately, it is a term too readily applied to mediocre content by over-eager marketers and self-absorbed professionals. Genuine thought leadership will offer readers novel ideas, unique insights and innovative approaches to old problems or new issues. It is not simply a label that can be magically applied to every blog post or white paper you write (if it can, you must be Yoda).

This type of content is neither easily generated nor easily imitated. For this reason, it can act as a valuable source of competitive advantage, helping to set you apart from others in your field. By positioning yourself as the true authority on a topic, you become the ‘go-to’ resource, with revenue growth the direct benefit.

Producing this kind of content, however, requires a significant investment of human capital and non-billable hours. So how do you assess the thought leadership potential of your proposed content and decide whether it is worth investing in? You can test it against the following criteria:

  • It addresses trends, hot topics or emerging issues in your industry before anyone else has got their head around them
  • It aims to intrigue, challenge or inspire people (even people already familiar with your company)
  • It delivers compelling answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience
  • It offers a unique perspective or reframes an old issue in a new light
  • It demonstrates innovation on the part of your company
  • It provides unique insights from original research or secondary sources
  • It adds to a discussion already being had but in a new or different (and value-adding) way
  • It raises questions that have not been asked before (and attempts to answer them)
  • It helps to influence, change or set the agenda for an issue
  • It provides a new solution or approach to a key challenge.

If your intent is to produce content that will achieve some or all of these things, you’re working towards genuine thought leadership. If you are just window dressing an old story, you might end up with a nice blog post (much like this one) but you won’t change the world.

This post was contributed by Candice O’Sullivan, Director and Head of Strategy at Wellmark. You can find Candice on Google+ at +Candice O’Sullivan or follow her tweets on brand strategy, content marketing and related topics @candicepill.

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