Half of C-Suite executives say high-quality thought leadership has more impact on their purchase decision-making during economic downturns than when times are good. But there is often confusion about what thought leadership is, what good looks like, how it should be used, and even who is the right ‘voice’ for it. 

Thought leadership is a formidable weapon in any organisation’s trust armoury. When it is authentic and credible, thought leadership content reinforces clients’, customers’ and employees’ positive perceptions of a company. It reinforces the ‘trusted partner’ image. Research reveals that 75% of decision-makers say that thought leadership content has prompted them to research products or services they had not previously considered. It is much more trusted by this audience, which includes the C-suite, than marketing materials or product sheets.

Thought leadership is critical not only to attracting and retaining new customers but also to helping competitors steal one another’s existing business. Thought leadership can also help to cross-sell or upsell existing customers, particularly for lesser-known offerings.

So what is thought leadership?

Effective thought leadership has three key attributes: it cites strong research and data, helps audiences to better understand their organisational challenges, and offers concrete guidance. 

At Allegory, we demystify the thought leadership process by working closely with senior management teams to identify exactly what their target audience wants to hear about, what a business wants to say, and where the best voices for thought leadership can be found within it.  

70% of C-suite executives said that thought leadership had led them to reconsider their current supplier relationship. About half (54%) said thought leadership made them realise other suppliers might better understand their challenges and needs. 

Put simply, thought leadership usually comes in the form of editorials, which might appear in mainstream newspapers, specialist media, selected blog sites or B2B publications. As the name suggests, the main purpose of these articles is to establish an organisation, or an individual within it, as at the forefront of ideas, innovation and leadership.

Thought leadership offers a very different opportunity than a news story or press release, as it is part of an ongoing strategy to grow brand recognition alongside that of the personalities within an organisation. The more you use thought leadership, the more your profile is raised, which leads to yet more opportunities. It truly is something that can snowball when done right. That editorial in a trade publication can be used to leverage a similar article in a national newspaper, which in turn can lead to an appearance on Sky News or BBC radio. 

How Allegory works to develop thought leadership

Thought leadership is, of course, all about pushing ideas forward and (hopefully) changing minds, whether those are of those you wish to influence, from customers, funders and investors to government ministers. But it also creates a footprint of an organisation’s philosophy and ideas, increasing Google profile and visibility with decision-makers nationally and globally. Some leaders don’t want to put themselves out there in this way, but we believe that this is a mistake. To dismiss this relatively new way of speaking to your audiences is to waste a channel that can bring great rewards. 

At Allegory, we work closely with organisations to hone and develop their thought leadership profile. This means identifying which ideas need to come to the fore, who should be expressing them and who the business needs to speak to. We research audiences and publications, using our extensive media contacts to find the right home for opinion pieces, profiles and commentary. 

We also speak the language of the press. Just because you are a strong leader it does not follow that you already have the skills for this kind of work. We can have as much or as little input as works for you, whether that is ghost-writing editorials, collaborating or simply tidying them up before submission.

The interpersonal relationship with thought leaders is an important one, but also one we handle with expertise and sensitivity. We recognise that those we are working with are the experts in their field, so we use our own experience to bring that out while keeping the elements of individuality that make leaders who they are. 

If you can be bold, controversial or break new ground with ideas then so much the better. After all, a national newspaper editor won’t want to simply give you a platform to talk about your new widget, new educational programme or report unless you can offer something that readers will read, digest and discuss. 

For example, in our work with the Open Data Institute, we would not dream of claiming the kind of practical and academic expertise that the founder of the world-wide-web, one of the UK’s pre-eminent experts on AI or any other members of the extensive senior team have in data infrastructure. But we can hone the way that they put those ideas across, edit to the house style of a national newspaper and speak to top editors about what topics they would most like to hear about.

Tell me about the value of thought leadership

One-off thought leadership can generate new business enquiries but it is unlikely to shift perceptions on a large scale – it takes time and effort and needs to be a well-resourced programme, with organisations prepared to invest in a topic and themes over the long term.

The people and organisations who create thought leadership do so to increase positive sentiment among potential clients (55%), get leads to reach out for more information (48%) and get potential clients to consider their services (40%).

As with all earned media, we believe that this will always have a more powerful impact than advertisements or advertorials. When you are being reported in the news or, more importantly, expressing your opinions in the opinion columns of the Financial Times, Guardian or Daily Telegraph then people notice and they pay attention. 

It is impossible to put a financial value on an editorial, but even that real estate on the page would be into the £1,000s. Never mind the value of being able to speak directly to policy-makers, the public and other media. Thought leadership shows potential employees, investors and customers that your organisation is active, influential and opinion-leading. It is part business development, part publicity, part influencing and part brand building. 

Thought leadership is also an economical way to exploit changes in the way that the media works. Journalists are often overworked, underpaid and trying to hit targets for clicks, conversions and content. Gone are the days when they could spend days on one story, as they chase the page views with often onerous targets. So, providing readymade thought leadership, be that as whole editorials or prepared quotes, saves a lot of time for writers and editors. 

Finding the right voice for your thought leadership

Who delivers the thought leadership matters. The key is to focus on this particular topic, who within your organisation would be viewed as the most credible expert – credibility matters more than the job title. And yet many businesses automatically assume it should always be the CEO.

The more shares and discussion that you can inspire the happier the editor will be and the more likely that they will ask you to write for them again. At Allegory, we recognise that this can often be a difficult path to walk, but we are experts in offering counsel on just how to do that, balancing the strength of opinion within the bounds that individuals or organisations are comfortable with. We know that shareholders and stakeholders matter far more to a business than media coverage for a manufactured controversy. 

In short, we believe that thought leadership is something that every business, charity, university or organisation needs in their arsenal. There are far too many advantages for it to be ignored or something that you can leave to rivals. It is a way to speak directly, forthrightly and in your voice. And there can be few ways of communicating that are more satisfying or more valuable. 

If you would like to hear more about how Allegory Communications has worked with clients to help them become thought leaders and how we could do that for you, please get in touch via bizdev@allegoryagency.co.uk

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