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Thought Leadership a ‘Must Have’ - Not a ‘Nice to Have’

By Karthik Nagendra (1090 words)
Posted in Marketing & Innovation on October 24, 2013

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Here’s the thing. You cannot claim to be a thought leader. However, if you are a thought leader, it would be sinful not to claim your leadership. Get it?


Brian Clark, the incredibly talented and insightful founder of Copyblogger, is of the opinion that thought leadership, in the realm of content marketing, is derived from authority; That a thought leader is ‘selected’ by the intended audience and cannot ‘claim’ to be one. Quite right. 


However, if we look beyond content marketing, we live in an imperfect world where braggers get noticed, loudness is passed off as knowledge and the packaging often wins over the product. In such an unequal world, you cannot depend upon your audience to correctly choose your ‘thought capital’ over others’. And… oh, do they even know that you exist?


The current business landscape is tough, unpredictable and, at times, unethical. To survive and thrive under such conditions, you need to claim your position of leadership not only through deed, but by sharing the merits of that deed.  You need to nurture and promote your ‘big idea’ through correct platforms and channels. You need to reach out to your target audience and convince them that you are trustworthy. 


The following three aspects underline the necessity of treating thought leadership as a ‘must-have’, and not a ‘nice-to-have’ function.


1. Clarity

Branding is big. But bigger than branding, is thought leadership. The core of any organization is defined by its ‘thought capital’. All other activities and initiatives, including branding, services and collaborations, should be an extension of that thought. This approach helps organizations gain clarity about their growth. 


The process of defining and executing thought leadership is in many ways, akin to the search of the ‘self’. Seekers ask, “Who am I?” Similarly, businesses need to ask, “What makes us, ‘us’?” Once clarity is gained, unnecessary baggage can be dropped, energy & effort optimized, and passion can be focused on meeting the goals defined by the ‘thought capital’.


2. Growth

If you are genuinely different, if your thought capital is unique, if your ideas are valuable, then why don’t you utilize these attributes for your growth? Thought capital is a treasure that stagnates when not shared. And to share with your target audience, you need to engage in relevant initiatives that spread much beyond content marketing to forums, associations, collaborations, initiatives and services. 


The more you engage with your target audience, the deeper the insights you will glean. You will not only learn more about the challenges your target audience faces, but will be receptive to their feedback and ideas. The cycle of idea-exchange will not only generate higher ‘thought capital’, but will establish you as an authority over the subject. 


3. The Deal-Sealer

The internet is a great leveler. I recently visited an electronics showroom to check out mobile phones. Their selling pitch, including an ‘end of season sale’, was compelling. However, a quick online search on my smartphone revealed that the store was offering discounts on inflated selling prices and the same mobile handsets were available elsewhere at still lower prices. What did the store gain from this elaborate marketing setup? Only my disdain. 


This is today’s marketplace. With information at fingertips, and competitors offering similar products at competitive prices, what does the buying decision boil down to?




It is this simple word that makes the world go round. 


Hence, if you want that extra edge that will help you gain new customers and retain existing ones, look beyond short term initiatives such as freebies etc, and sculpt the big picture through thought leadership. While the initial investment might be heavy and the ROI may take time, thought leadership more than makes up for the losses in the long run. 


In fact, businesses should invest in thought leadership especially when the economy is down. While potential buyers may put their buying decisions on hold, they will continue surveying and rating products and services. The burden of rising costs will probably make them more circumspect about their purchases. For businesses, that is the perfect time to get the foot in the door by gaining customers’ confidence. When customers receive valuable insights that make a difference to their quality of life, minus any selling pitch, trust is generated. No prizes for guessing who does the buyer choose when the economy bounces back!


Cracking the customer-code isn’t as simple as selling products cheaper than everybody else. While cost does matter, one must remember that customers are people who base their decisions on quality, relationships and trust. Remember the story of the hare and the tortoise? Slow and steady wins the race. Look at the big picture. Invest in thought leadership. Make it a ‘must-have’ and win the race.



{#/pub/images/KarthikNagendra.jpg}Written by Karthik Nagendra, Founder & Director of ThoughtLeaders. With more than a decade of core marketing experience with prime focus on brand positioning, communication strategy, executive communication & thought leadership marketing, Karthik & his team help businesses transform from sellers to influencers by helping them unearth their 'big idea' and thus brand them as experts in their field. He has authored papers & articles on thought leadership marketing in international journals & has been a guest speaker at the Wharton Business School, UCLA, Duke University among other Ivy league Universities globally.



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Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 


5 Reasons Why You Need Thought Leadership

The Weight of Your Words

Mapping Thought Leadership Marketing in Organizations 

Marketing 101 With A Twist…Making It Effective - Podcast

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: How to Develop Yourself & Your Team



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Comments (3)

Susan Payton posted on: October 25, 2013

You touch on an important subject, at least in my world. And to your point, you're right: you can't claim to be a thought leader, but you do have to do everything you can to get others to think of you that way.

It's an ongoing effort, and one that isn't always obvious in its payoff. Just focus on sharing great information with your audience.

Karthik posted on: November 18, 2013

Thanks for your opinion Susan. You are absolutely right, companies need to take a sustained, well thought through & integrated approach where the strategy, development & marketing teams work together to achieve this goal.

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