A thought leader is an individual or firm recognised as an informed opinion leader, and the ‘go-to’ person in their field of expertise. They are not only the trusted sources that move and inspire others; they turn ideas into reality and know how to replicate success.
In the context of brand strategy, this is an incredibly powerful tool. Once the solid industry term of corporate PR: today’s multi-channel opportunities enable any brand to drive end-user and consumer engagement through challenging the equilibrium.
For any brand to harness the power of thought leadership it must run deeper than a press release or social media campaign. It must be an integral culture of a business. Why? Because the competitive advantage most brands are vying for is not easy to achieve in an ever-changing, sceptical world. Nor should it be.
True thought leadership must breed innovation from the foundations of a business and the collective individuals who make it happen. Only then can a business project its thought leadership to a wider, external audience.
Great thought leadership challenges the norm; it doesn’t simply provide commentary. It is driven from the individuals behind a brand who ask why? Or, what if? And, more often than not thought leaders, who inspire an organisation, aren’t necessarily the right people to communicate it, internally or externally.
So how can a brand truly harness thought leadership?
A brand can really engage its users by embracing a differentiated brand proposition, enabling the business individuals to live it in everything they do. This breeds innovation, new product development and above all, brand advocacy through distinctive, campaign-able conversations.
The best way to understand this is to cite the brands that do this well.
You might argue some of the thought leadership has waned since we lost the brilliance of Mr. Jobs. But my view is, he did more than enough to launch Apple into a position of thought leadership for years to come simply by breeding innovation throughout the veins of his business. The result? A plethora of brand advocates who genuinely love the familiarity they get from the intelligence of intuitive products from the very first time they pick them up, to the ‘nothing-is-too-much-trouble’ in-store experience.
First up, the obvious one. Apple Inc.
Second, SAP. Yes – I’m being serious.
As a business software powerhouse that wants to show how your business can leverage the latest innovative technologies to solve problems, SAP is a thought leader in its own right. The content provided by SAP is about leading and helping, not simply selling. SAP is thinking of its brand as a media outlet producing content that is relevant to its target audience. It does this by establishing itself as a bright mind that can help your business solve problems. It also provides a great showcase for its internal leaders to position themselves as experts in their field. IBM’s alignment to implement its intelligent systems on the ground, is not without piggy-backing innovative thought leadership…
Third. It’s TED.
TED is a brand built on thought leadership. The nonprofit organization’s talks and conferences represent the world’s most relevant and influential thinkers, and the ideas distributed through videos and blog posts impact a widening range of industries and disciplines.
The organization’s actual target audience is made up of individuals representing decision-makers in every aspect of business, education, technology and other industries. Now TED is branching out to create conferences centered on a range of subjects and locations; 2014’s TEDMED is serving as the brand’s first conference dedicated to one discipline. This is how TED is able to influence industries and audiences in ways that most brands only dream of.
A final thought…
All three of these brands operate as thought leaders by moving their audience in a very pertinent way. They engage, innovate and stretch once they’ve mastered what they’ve been doing thus far. Thought leadership isn’t commentary, and it isn’t PR – it is about communicating a brand’s ability to deliver results to help improve both lives and business.