Thought Leadership on the rise

If you enter the term Thought Leadership on Google, you will still receive almost exclusively English-language search results. No wonder, because as with many other management terms, the intellectual home of thought leadership is on the other side of the Atlantic.

We would like to bring the knowledge about thought leadership to Europe. That's why we always let other thought leadership experts have their say in this blog. For example Daniel W. Rasmus, a US expert on thought leadership, consultant and author. Already at the end of 2012, he published an article on the website of the American business magazine "Fast Company" entitled The Golden Rules For Creating Thoughtful Thought Leadership, in which he lists ten important points to consider when building a thought leadership position.

What rules should you follow when building your thought leadership?

In general, every individual, company, brand and institution can become the thought leader and opinion leader of a specific target group. Therefore, the following points might be relevant to your business or concern, no matter what you want to do or change on this planet.

Rule 1: Sell people your idea - not your products

You are engaged in thought leadership to become the undisputed opinion leader and authority in the market for your topic. Then never forget that with thought leadership you want to build a real relationship with your target group and your customers. Hard selling is not an option. Let your idea, your messages and your content be in the foreground - not your company.

Rule 2: Give your best - your knowledge

If you do content marketing, for example, every one of your readers knows of course that your efforts ultimately also serve to gain interested parties and customers. But at the same time you give your best for this - your valuable ideas and your know-how. So build up an exchange with people. After all, at some point your customers should also enthusiastically commit themselves to spreading your idea and your offer.

Rule 3: Give a perspective - your own

With thought leadership, you will only succeed if you have a unique perspective and communicate it. Use content marketing and above all: act accordingly. Make your perspective tangible - also through your products and services. Do not limit yourself in the implementation of your thought leadership. It's all about a holistic strategy - and only the result counts.

"Apple doesn't produce a lot of white papers on design, yet they are seen as a thought leader in hardware design. The result reflects their thought leadership." Daniel W. Rasmus

Rule 4: Set a clear focus

Large corporations such as General Electric and Microsoft consistently focus their thought leadership strategy on the respective target groups of their business areas. For example, the thought leadership strategy of the medical technology division of a group follows different principles and target groups than the thought leadership strategy of the wind turbine division in the same group.

Set a clear focus on what positioning the individual areas of your company should stand for. And, especially in the case of complex corporate structures, ensure a long-term Thought Leadership umbrella campaign that is equally relevant to all target groups and with which you can position your company as a thought leader across all industries.

Get inspired, for example, by IBM's current thought leadership campaign for cognitive computing. The star of the worldwide campaign is the quite human computer platform called IBM Watson. You guessed it, of course - the term Cognitive Computing was of course decisively influenced by IBM.

Rule 5: Make yourself relevant for your target group

You only act as a thought leader when others listen to you. So help people with your know-how and your offer as concretely as possible to overcome their personal problems and to achieve their goals. Tailor your messages precisely to the interests and expectations of your target group.

That sounds easier than it is in practice. Make it clear exactly who your "Buyer Persona" is and put yourself in their role and life. Give insights to people who make their lives and jobs better and easier. Only then will you become truly relevant and achieve a unique position in the minds of the people who are important to you.

Rule 6: Show commitment to the cause

If you are passionate about a great idea as part of your thought leadership as a company, then you also set a good example as a role model. For example, a company that wants to stand for innovation in electrical engineering should also be committed to the promotion of young academics in this field. Such a company should organize conferences and working groups, hold workshops and presentations and thus visibly energize the topic.

The supreme discipline: Create your own web platform on which your customers, interested parties, employees and even investors can get involved in your topic. In any case, make visible progress. Or as Daniel Rasmus says: "Don't just say, do!"

Rule 7: Have the courage to take a step back and face the unknown

We live in an age of unmanageable complexity. And many things are changing ever faster. Nobody can have an absolute overview and insight. Living thought leadership does not therefore mean knowing everything. Rather, it means getting involved with customers and employees in the multitude of possibilities and uncertainties of the markets and sharing experiences together. It is about taking people on a journey into the unknown. Thought leadership always arises outside the boundaries of what is already known and established. And that is exactly where it is needed.

Rule 8: Create value from the perspective of the individual

Create personal value for each member of your target group with Thought Leadership. Either your concern and information will be perceived as personally valuable, or you can pack it in directly.

See your messages and information as your own contribution to building a relationship with your target group. It's like at a party. You will only stay in the conversation if your input somehow pleases your interlocutors and helps them on some level. It's no different in business and in building customer relationships. And, as I said, it's really about each individual, not just an anonymous "target group" or "buyer persona".

Rule 9: Market Thought Leadership like a product

This may sound contradictory at first sight. But as a thought leader, you first have to gain access to and make yourself heard by your target group. This doesn't work with single measures like a lecture, a viral video or a commercial.

You can only realize and market Thought Leadership as a campaign. Plan an integrated Thought Leadership Campaign and network all communication channels that are available to you. Your advertising, your webinars, your press activities and your communication on Facebook and Twitter - you can integrate all of these into the dialogue with your target group to advance your positioning theme.

Rule 10: Give your Thought Leadership a face

The CEO is an important brand face of your company. The communication of your executive floor (C-Suite) has a huge impact on the external appearance of your company. Therefore, you can only realize Thought Leadership if you involve the top executives of your company in storytelling and in the activities of your Thought Leadership Marketing. Only then will you be able to build the necessary reach and credibility.

Companies like Deutsche Bank also use a variety of internal experts in their thought leadership marketing - for example, a Chief Investment Officer as the face of the company's market opinion. At the same time, the bank engages renowned external experts such as international chair holders with their "Academic Insights". These are all the "brand faces" of the company, and are explicitly intended to stand for the company's thought leadership.

The most important thing at the end: Thoughtful Thought Leadership

You cannot appoint yourself as Thought Leader. You will be appointed as a Thought Leader - by your customers, by the public and by your community. Once you have achieved this status, you are obligated to use your newly acquired information power responsibly.

Thought Leaders form opinions and determine our thinking and actions in society, politics, business and other areas of life. We can therefore only agree with David Rasmus' demand: "Thought Leaders should be thoughtful leaders." Opinion leaders should be mindful to lead people with their opinions.