Marketing is an endless succession of buzzwords, and one of the most persistent has been “thought leadership.” When companies engage in social media, blogging and content marketing in an effort to establish or further thought leadership, they are wasting their marketing investment in all but the rarest of cases. Here is the argument against thought leadership as a marketing goal. (BTW, these are my views and not necessarily those of Straight North.)
IF YOU HAVE TO PROCLAIM IT, YOU AREN’T A THOUGHT LEADER
Thought leadership — being an original, innovative and influential thinker in your field — is something people recognize without being told or sold. A true thought leader infuses leading thought in everything he/she says. It’s not a marketing objective; it’s a part of who he, she or an organization is.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP IS RARE
Original, innovative and influential thinkers are rare. Saying you are going to establish yourself as a thought leader is like saying you are going to establish yourself as a multibillionaire or a world conqueror. Saying it won’t make it so. Most campaigns that pass themselves off as thought leadership amount to half-baked, unoriginal and generally unhelpful ideas.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP SMELLS OF SMUGNESS
Attempts to establish thought leadership through content creation can come off poorly, leading readers and viewers to consider your organization pretentious and locked in an ivory tower. A more effective tone to strike in content is one of engagement, humor and empathy — these are qualities that turn cool prospects into customers.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP DOESN’T SELL
Even if prospects accept you as a thought leader, will they buy from you? Not necessarily. As I alluded to above, a lot depends on the tone of the content. Definitely, the proper voice can make a thought-leading company as appealing as a beloved grade school teacher, but companies with the ability to blend true thought leadership with a heart-winning voice are rarer than pure thought leaders.
BUSINESS IS ACTION, NOT IDEAS
There’s no question that real thought leaders (e.g., Peter Drucker, Malcolm Gladwell) have had an enormous, if not incalculable, impact on business strategies and operations. But for the most part, business people — and particularly your prospects and customers — are more concerned with how they can address their business challenges now, today. Communicating fuzzy “thought leadership” concepts is nice, but prospects want to know how your products and services can reduce their cost and improve their performance in concrete, measureable terms. Content that converts addresses those issues, specifically, concretely and compellingly.
Granted, there are exceptions to this, particularly in, say, areas of technology where a company’s ability to innovate is a core competence, a real difference-maker. In your business and your industry, is this the case? If the answer is anything less than an emphatic yes, your marketing investment will be better spent in other directions.