What we think

Thought leadership in the digital age

September 2010

When one of the top four global accountancy firms published a provocative point of view recently about the regulation of Europe’s hedge funds, internet immediacy helped to ensure it was widely read and discussed. For asset managers, the firm instantly became the forward-thinking authority that they needed to consult to ensure their UCITS hedge fund products were appropriately structured.

Old-fashioned PR played its part. The Financial Times picked up on the point of view, publishing its findings prominently, and was followed up by other publications. Yet internet discussion on forums such as LinkedIn maintained the momentum.

Web 2.0, with its explosion of interactivity, debate and referrals, has made thought leadership a far more valuable tool. Original and insightful points of view stimulate discussion as never before. They raise the author’s profile and increase interaction with clients. Ultimately, they should stimulate new business.

Today’s internet, with its interactive forums, is made for thought leadership. If Web 1.0 made long-tail marketing a reality, then Web 2.0 has vastly increased its effectiveness. In other words, the first generation of the internet gave niche topics a global audience and the second has built the specialist online communities to discuss them.

Such is the diverse nature of the web that there is no single set of data illustrating its power for marketing thought leadership. But consider the structure currently evolving. Myriad online communities have thousands of discussion groups within them. For business-to-business marketing, there are groups dedicated to topics as diverse as private equity, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and HR.

At a time when the internet is fast becoming the most important medium for business-to-business marketing, debate stimulated on these sites, and consequent traffic to a firm’s web site, is valuable in several ways. Not only does it raise the profile of the firm on the particular topic profiled, but also it helps to improve the web site’s overall search engine rankings.

Quality of content

Evidently, the key to thought leadership marketing is the power of content. The term point of view explains neatly that every piece of thought leadership should articulate a clear opinion. Such opinions are at their most powerful when they are both topical and controversial. Former journalists with a nose for a story are often good at sensing what will be interesting.

An opinion is worth little, however, unless it is substantiated. While it goes without saying that the logic behind a point of view should be rigorous, with the evidence substantial, all too often this is not the case. Internal politics, the dead hand of consensus opinion or insufficient internal knowledge can often derail these projects.

Some organisations – such as professional services firms – have considerable internal knowledge, which provides a basis for strong opinions. This can be supplemented by straw polls or surveys of external opinion. These can focus on specific issues or, more generally, ‘take the temperature’ of the market.

A good writer can pull these disparate elements together.

Becoming a ‘web influencer’

In the terminology of the internet, thought leadership can ultimately make organisations or their employees ‘web influencers’. Using language that everyone understands, this means thought leadership on the web can be used to cultivate a position of authority on a specific topic.

Various techniques can be used to promote thought leadership. Videos can be added to written papers. Online and offline events also help. Dedicated web sites can be forums for debate, as can groups on social networking sites. And blogs help too of course.

Ultimately, thought leadership can be used to establish leading market positions in ways that were never possible before. The ease of exchanging and accessing information ensures this is the case.

For companies seeking to market their wares – especially those with high intellectual capital content – this can be extremely valuable. But even in this new world old rules apply. Thought leadership must be provocative, rigorously researched and well written.

For thought leadership writing contact the Clerkenwell Consultancy.