The ingredients of successful thought leadership

When budgets are squeezed, producing high-quality thought leadership can be a cost-effective marketing and positioning tool for professional firms. A successful leadership campaign provides its audience with invaluable commercial insight and generates considerable returns.

The thought leadership bandwagon is gaining momentum. It is now widely recognised as a useful tool which allows firms to demonstrate their expertise and start up conversations with clients. However, as more firms seek to reap the benefits that thought leadership can offer, it becomes increasingly difficult for any single report to gain the attention of time-poor senior executives. This audience is ruthlessly discriminating when deciding what to read and what to ignore. Any piece of thought leadership therefore must work hard to capture interest quickly and make its audience want to carry on reading.

The best examples of thought leadership remain faithful to one crucial concept: to provide readers with valuable insights into topical business and economic issues. Although this may sound straightforward in principle, what does developing a successful thought leadership campaign actually entail in practice? What makes the different between a report that truly engages its audience and one that remains unread in a CEO’s in-tray? This article identifies four critical success factors for a successful thought leadership campaign.

1. Clear objectives during project planning phase

  • It is incredibly important to begin any thought leadership campaign with a set of clear objectives: who to target, how to use the IP generated, and what the opportunities for business developments will be.
  • Every campaign will not have the same objectives, but a primary goal of thought leadership is to craft research around distinct themes that related strongly to a firm’s core values and mission, and, in doing so, to strengthen their brand position.
  • To maximise the planning phase, start with the end-user first to think about what is directly relevant to their needs.

2. A captivating subject matter

  • A thought leadership campaign that chimes with the interests and concerns of its intended audience will always garner attention from readers.
  • The most effective thought leadership often takes a hypothesis-led approach: scenarios can be tested during interviews with leading experts to develop a ‘big picture’ consensus, which can be further reinforced with high-impact statistics.
  • Thought leadership reports should provoke debate, and provides readers with new thinking to help them make tough business decisions based on the insights of those at the forefront of the debate.

3. Insight from leading commentators

  • Thought leadership reports that grab the most attention from both readers and the media do so by bringing together insight and commentary from highly-respected experts into a single document.
  • A campaign is a great opportunity to capture and disseminate a firm ‘point of view’ on the issues at the forefront of business thinking.

4. Integrated into a broader campaign

  • In a digital world, printed reports should are no longer conceived as a stand-alone output.
  • There are fantastic opportunities to maximise return on investment by using thought leadership collateral to provide content for online micro-sites, diagnostic tools and conferences or round-table events.

By Alastair Beddow

A version of this article first appeared in PSMG Magazine.