Thought Leadership Strategy

Thought Leadership Strategy - The planning of success

The selection of the appropriate strategy to build thought leadership begins with an analysis of the status quo - potentials, capabilities, resources as well as vision, mission, and goals. Because in order to help new ideas, products, and business models to break through, strategic planning and procedures are required.

Use gap and scenario planning to develop alternative approaches and strategy paths in order to achieve your thought leadership goals and the entrepreneurial or financial goals behind them with the highest possible effectiveness and efficiency within the planned timeframe.

Thought leaders are the undisputed authority on the MarketTLS-Thought-Leader-sind-die-Autoritaeten-im-Markt-1

  • Companies are Leaders - Thought Leaders are Opinion Leaders
  • Companies have customers - Thought Leaders have Fans
  • Companies work the Market - Thought Leaders Create the Markets
  • Companies build products - Thought Leaders build their Own System
  • Companies conquer market shares - Thought Leaders conquer Minds and Hearts
  • Companies want to be number one - Thought Leaders are Unique
  • Companies think are thinking about it - Thought Leaders are Thinking ahead


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  • Five steps to a unique position in the market

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Thought Leadership operating with a system means…

Great ideas and the pioneers of new techniques, products and concepts have always conquered our minds and hearts intuitively.

The difference in the digital era: Today, more and more people and companies are discovering the structural principles and professional applications of Thought Leadership for themselves. Every company, brand and institution (including NGOs) can become a thought leader.

The web and social media also give newcomers a reach and interaction opportunity that was unthinkable ten years ago.

But a great idea and the will to thought leadership alone are not enough.

Today's successful Thought Leaders know that this requires a well-functioning system. You have to anchor ideas and products in people's minds, involve people in the implementation of your own big idea and ultimately lead campaigns or build a customer community. Ideally, Thought Leadership is already part of the business model. However, it is always the result of well-coordinated measures.

… Creating and strengthening customer relationships



Economic effects of Thought Leadership

  • Acquisition of new customers and interested parties (Inbound)
  • Active recommendation and high willingness to recommend (Referral)
  • Intensification of customer relations and customer dialogue (Engagement)
  • Activation of customers as brand ambassadors and community fans (Advocacy)
  • Reduction of marketing and sales costs (On/Offline)
  • Easier market penetration of innovations
  • Increasing brand awareness and relevance

Five Steps to Your Thought Leadership

Thought Leadership is universally applicable - across all industry boundaries and business models. This is what makes this management principle so interesting not only for companies.

Success stories that make targeted use of Thought Leadership, can be found everywhere in our society:

  • Companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, SAP, Siemens, Accenture,
  • Open source movements such as WordPress and Wikipedia,
  • Blockbuster franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings,
  • Organizations such as Weight Watchers and non-profit organizations such as Greenpeace and ADAC
  • Personalities like Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Richard Branson.

The different examples make it clear how individual a Thought Leadership Strategy can be in individual cases.

As a rule, it makes sense to systematically reflect on past successes as market pioneers, analyze opportunities that have been exploited and identify potential that has not yet been exploited in order to develop them with a targeted strategy.

In our cooperation with many companies, a fundamental, five-stage strategy process has proven its worth.

1. Goals

Definition of objectives
and dimensions of
Thought Leadership

1. Define your goals

It all begins with setting the right goals, key performance indicators (KPIs) and the intended return on investment. The positioning to be achieved, the timeframe and the target groups (customers, public, employees) should already be defined.

Many factors such as the type of business model, the average acquisition costs of a new customer, their Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), the available budget and the sustainability of the desired competitive advantage determine the appropriate Thought Leadership Strategy.

Tasks for your checklist

  1. Analysis of your positioning and market strategy
  • Define your market role and the resulting strategy options. Are you the undisputed market leader in your industry? Do you want to defend or actively expand your position? Are you a newcomer in your market? How big is your gap (market share, turnover) to your biggest competitor?
  • What does your corporate strategy want to achieve? More organic growth in the market with existing products? Are you pursuing an innovation strategy or regional expansion? Are you an innovator?
  1. Analysis of your Thought Leadership target groups
  • Define your external target groups (customers, partners, institutions, suppliers, the public) and internal target groups (employees, top management). How are you seen? What exactly do you want to stand for in the market?
  • How do your customers decide? Develop Buyer Personas for your key target customers.
  1. Consideration of current positioning and key messages
  • Which topics are currently relevant for your company? Collect all current brochures, press articles, online materials, etc. that enable an assessment of your company's current communication strategy. Which main messages (key messages) result from this?
  • Which media partnerships or established influencer relations can you fall back on? These include, for example, multipliers such as institutions, social opinion leaders and communication experts (e.g. bloggers).
  1. Evaluation & Analysiss
  • What is your overall picture after these analyses? Do you get a consistent overall picture of your company, your competitors and your customers? Does your current positioning fit the goal of your corporate strategy?
  • Do you see starting points for a unique position in the market with which you can occupy an important human need? How well do your business model, your products/services and your current communication fit in?

2. Strategy

Development of suitable
Thought Leadership Strategy

2. Develop your strategy

The path to achieving the Thought Leadership goals results in the right strategy. The three basic types Campaigner, Innovator and Game Changer are widespread role models.

In many industries there are still many more conceivable and worthwhile positions and strategies. Above all, the chosen strategy must match your own strengths and resources.

Tasks for your checklist

Develop Thought Leadership that works equally for all target groups and markets.

  • Determine the Thought Leadership potential of your business model. Is your focus still on marketing individual products? How can you expand your service portfolio into a system? Is there intellectual property (patents, concepts, software, etc.) that protects your market position from imitators?
  • How strongly do you involve your customers and partners in your business model? From companies like Google or SAP
    benefit global user industries (e.g. search engine optimizers, SAP consultants). What about you?
  • Derive the appropriate communicative positioning from your target image (step 1). What human need can you fill with your Big Idea? This is the basis of your thought leadership campaign.
  • Coordinate the three dimensions of your thought leadership: expanding your business model into a system, gaining a head start over competitors through innovative products, unique communicative position through big ideas and campaigns.

3. Concept

Concepts & Content,
Story & Solutions,
Platforms & Systems

3. What and How: The Concept

In this phase, the necessary content is created on the basis of the defined goals and strategy in order to stage and experience the Thought Leadership positioning.

All concept elements should be consistently focused on value creation for the client and should also embody the claim of the thought leader to make this planet and people's lives better. This contribution to the benefit and well-being of all is not management esotericism, but proof of the credibility of the provider as a mastermind of his market. Examples such as ADAC or VW show how hard a company can otherwise be hit.

Tasks for your checklist

  • Give your Thought Leadership a face (Brand Face). Identify people in the company and on the market who should stand for your big idea and your brand. This includes internal brand faces such as top management and employees and external brand faces such as bloggers, experts, political or social personalities. These brand faces make the messages of your Thought Leadership positioning tangible.

  • Prepare your marketing and sales channels for the direct dialogue with interested parties and customers. In particular, expand your web presence, online marketing and social media marketing into an integrated dialogue platform. Your goal is to establish personal dialogues and relationships with many customers at the same time. Use modern marketing concepts such as inbound marketing. With modern marketing software you network your website, social media, your Google presence, your email marketing and your content management to the customer acquisition machine.

Develop your Thought Leadership campaign and content strategy

  • You want to make your Thought Leadership communicative and credible across all sales and marketing channels. In this way you want to make new customer contacts and turn customers into fans.
  • Your Thought Leadership campaign supports you in the long term by conveying the positioning and big idea of your company. Good thought leadership campaigns work successfully for years. Brands such as Dove (Natural Beauty) or IBM (Smarter Planet) show the way.
  • Check out media cooperations for cross-media implementation of your Thought Leadership strategy. For your international business, you may develop country-specific modules for the local adaptation of your thought leadership strategy.

Expand your Thought Leadership Management

  • Thought leadership can be personally experienced through the faces of your company in the market (brand faces). Your CEO, top manager with customer focus and each of your sales employees is a face of your brand. Strengthen them in their role. Empower your brand faces through Thought Leadership content (blog, campaign, social media presence, theme microsites) and strengthen the competencies of your brand faces through effective customer training.
  • Establish a marketing and sales approach in your company with inbound marketing that supports the
    promotes active dialogue with your customers and invites them to contact you.

4. Implementation

Implementation, Structure
of customer relationships

4. The implementation

This phase is the longest and often most important phase of a Thought Leadership Strategy. It shows whether thought Leadership is really deeply anchored in the vision and mission, brand and Leadership of the company.

Communication is a success factor whose impact is often underestimated. With excellent messaging and storytelling, Thought Leadership is firmly anchored with customers. This task is assigned to all visible Thought Leader protagonists of a brand (brand faces).

The CEO of a company is always an important brand face of his brand. Steve Jobs set a good example here at Apple and cultivated the brand myth personally - to the point of unmistakable messaging with the slogan "One more Thing", with which he introduced the highlight of every Apple presentation.

Other important brand faces are full-time brand faces such as Corporate Blogger or the Chief Customer Officer. They have a decisive influence on the perception and image of the company and should be involved and supported by all parties involved in the company as central drivers of Thought Leader positioning.

Tasks for your checklist

Build a Thought Leadership Excellence Team

  • Put together an internal, cross-departmental team that remains in constant contact. Both management (C-level) and marketing, sales, corporate development, public relations and employee communication should be involved. This team adapts and monitors your Thought Leadership measures for all markets and buyer personas.
  • If necessary, use an external partner such as Thought Leader Systems to design and monitor your thought leadership. Make sure that such a partner has the necessary consulting competence as well as experience in the implementation and holistic support of your Thought Leadership - offline as well as online.
  • If necessary, anchor a central organizational position such as a Thought Leadership instructor. He/she should have a close connection to your top management and actively participate in the expansion of your Thought Leadership in business model, product/service policy and communication. This position can serve as an internal hub for the exchange of information between all managers and brand faces involved in the company and ensure uniform positioning.

Insights for your strategy

Thought Leadership Marketing starts with the vision and idea of the business model. Design your business model in such a way that you inspire, involve and even actively involve people. Create contact and resonance with people through information and inspiration with valuable content and credible (brand faces).

  • Actively involve people in your brand world - with Influencer Marketing, Customer Engagement and Customer Experience Management. Use inbound marketing to create outstanding content that customers search the web for and build customer relationships with. Your customers become more involved and actively recommend you as a "Brand Evangelist" (Word of Mouth).
  • Thought Leadership Marketing pursues consistent inbound marketing. This marketing approach is based on the fact that people are committed to relevant and resonant content and enjoy consuming and disseminating it. Not just for the sake of sharing, but to actively contribute their own content to the brand (user-generated content). People write product reviews, give usage tips in forums or videos, meet in user groups or organize their own brand communities.
  • If necessary, plan your customer community strategically from the beginning. Actively promote the development of user-generated content and strong relationships among users and fans of the brand. Provide your own brand platforms with which fans can organize, meet and inspire each other. This is how thought-leader marketing works.

Checklist for your Thought Leadership Marketing

Buyer Persona Management

  • Buyer Personas are images of customer profiles. They include not only sociodemographic data of the customer types but also statements about the media usage behavior, the purchase decision process, i.e. the customer journey and the use of the different channels of the provider at the customer touchpoints.
  • Create concise and precise profiles of your buyer personas. Ask your customers, former customers, customers of your competitors, and also non-users of your products.

Campaign Management

  • Campaign management is the burning glass for the effectiveness of your marketing. You can only be truly successful here if you closely coordinate your marketing, sales, and communication activities with joint, time-limited, and measurable campaigns.
  • Develop a campaign idea that inspires people to participate and share - not only in social media but along the entire customer journey.
  • Design a campaign so that it reinforces and builds on each other across all channels (online, offline). Involve your customer community in the selection of the campaign idea if necessary.
  • Make the campaign work for the benefit of all - beyond your company and your customers.

Content Marketing & Storytelling

  • „Content is King“ is the current battle cry of marketing. But beware, all suppliers are producing just for your customer's tons of whitepapers, how-to guides, and eBooks. So pay attention to the "Content Shock": currently more content is produced daily than mankind is able to read. That cannot go well.
  • You create long-term successful content marketing if you integrate your content into your campaign and target group strategy, i.e. into your Thought Leadership campaign. Rely on content that offers potential customers real added value and conveys your leading role in the market as a Thought Leader.
  • Create a consistent storyline for all your content. Be sure to match the tonality of your brand. Are you a friendly family business like Lego? Are you a global player like Google? Are you a long-established medium-sized company or a young start-up? Why do you exist?

Influencer Marketing

  • When making purchasing decisions, customers trust their colleagues, friends, and renowned experts more than the providers of products and services. These are the influencers of your target group.
  • Create contacts, exchange, and commitment of these influencers in order to gain their trust and willingness to recommend professional Word of Mouth Marketing.

Brand Community Management

  • Each brand can generally build a fan community. However, it should be noted that there are different categories of communities. Not every community is suitable for every brand. Do you need an expert community in the B2B sector (e.g. doctors, board members, private investors)? Do you serve a broad B2C group?
  • Create active community building and manage the necessary different roles in your fan community (e.g. administrator, greeter, mentor). Run your community not only as an online platform but also to create targeted customer events (e.g. customer forum) in real life.

Public Relations & Corporate Communications

  • Develop your own topics and concerns with a social dimension that strategically positions your core business in the public eye and with multipliers. With your PR and CEO communication, serve a great social need of the people.
  • Expand your corporate social responsibility to not only sponsor established actions but also to actively position and implement your own thought leadership topic.
  • Position and empower your CEO and CXO as faces of the brand - as authentic "brand faces" that embody and stage the concerns and values of your company.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is the art of being found by the customer instead of constantly bombarding him with advertising. If you do inbound marketing, you should master several tools:

  • If possible, produce only content (e.g. blog, eBooks, videos) that is enthusiastically shared in networks.
  • Operate professional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and link building with multipliers and experts in the market (influence
  • Create a distinctive and engaging presence in social media - on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram as well as in forums and blogs.
  • Invest in the right team and in the right infrastructure such as marketing automation (e.g. Hubspot) and social media management (e.g. Hootsuite).
  • Operate professional customer and prospect acquisition (lead generation) with automated marketing workflows.


5. Monitoring

Measurement, evaluation,
Optimization, expansion

5. Learning from errors: Monitoring

This phase closes the cycle of thought leadership management. When measuring success and continuously monitoring the development of a Thought Leadership strategy, the preparatory work from phase 1 (goal definition) is worthwhile.

In our work with customers, for example, we create our own catalog of key performance indicators, which we use to monitor the positive effects of the Thought Leadership strategy.

  • Our Performance Index includes, for example, monitoring customer acquisition, customer loyalty, market share development, and present development in the Google, social media, press, and key influencer markets.
  • The strengthening of the brand through Thought Leadership should also be monitored. This includes the development of brand awareness and brand clarity in the target group as well as the emotional brand loyalty of the customers.
  • With professional success measurement, the right conclusions can be drawn and the next adaptation measures can be chosen to strengthen one's own thought leadership

Thought Leadership is a Management Concern

The CEO is the most important communicator in the company. The communication of your executive floor (C-Suite) has a huge impact on the external appearance of your company.

You can only realize Thought Leadership if you involve the top executives of your company in the storytelling and activities of your Thought Leadership marketing. Only then will you be able to build the necessary reach and credibility - both internally and externally.

Tasks for your checklist

  • Include the executive floor in the project right from the start.
  • Get approval for your activities
  • Give executives an active role within your Thought Leadership project.
  • Report on your project on an ongoing basis and keep the executive floor speech-enabled internally as well as externally.