Thought leadership – how to cut through the noise

Thought leadership is a hugely important tool in placing your organisation at the forefront of your industry. As you might expect, thought leadership is about demonstrating that you’re leading the way in thinking in your field – usually that means doing original research and producing insights on key issues that affect you and your stakeholders.

Thought leadership is meant to be shared. It’s designed to show others that you’re an authoritative voice and help you shape the agenda to your own needs. That’s why any findings you produce need to be statistically robust – which in turn usually means bringing in an external research agency to conduct at least part of the research and analysis for you.

That in turn means that if you want your thought leadership to be taken seriously, you’ll need to pay someone to help you. And a reputable research agency – the likes of YouGov or Ipsos Mori – doesn’t come cheap. That’s why it’s vitally important to plan well in advance around how you’re going to get the most out of your thought leadership.

More than likely, your report will land in a busy marketplace, with plenty of other organisations vying for attention and media coverage. If you’re planning on investing into a strong data set, then investing time and energy into analysing results and writing a report, you want your thought leadership to be as impactful as possible. That’s why ensuring it’s underpinned with a robust communications strategy is incredibly important.

Given that competition for cut-through is so fierce, what can you do to give your report the best chance of success?

 1.       Fill a gap

Thought leadership should, by its nature, be original. You want to present new findings – re-hashing old work or covering the same ground as everyone else simply won’t cut it.

That’s not to say that you have to go off the wall with your research topic – just think outside the box and look for a gap that’s not been filled. Start with the big issues facing your industry and look at them in a different light – what hasn’t been said about Brexit? The gender pay gap? Changing customer attitudes? The UK’s aging population? New technology and AI? Use these big issues as a springboard and consider how they might impact your organisation. Then, do your research to ensure you’re not doubling up on your competitors’ activity.

2.       Research what people want, not what YOU want

When you’re planning your thought leadership project, you should definitely be guided by sentiment in the industry and by the pertinent issues of the day. However, that doesn’t mean that you can get away with a piece of research that’s too inward-looking.

PRs call it “naval gazing” – and it never works. Just because something is interesting to you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s interesting to the rest of the world. The trick is to hit on a topic that impacts both you and your competitors, that isn’t too specific to your own business and that hasn’t been done before. It’s no mean feat.

Be sure to keep an open mind and try to think beyond the specific issues that your organisation might be facing. Keep it relevant and ensure your final audience is as large as possible.

3.       Try and look forwards

There are times when we’d all love a crystal ball. Thought leadership doesn’t quite tick that box but it can at least give you a platform to make an educated prediction on what’s around the corner. The best thought leadership gathers original data, analyses it, offers some insightful findings and uses them to paint a picture of what the road ahead looks like. Where are the pitfalls? Where are the opportunities?

Nobody’s asking you to predict the future, but if you can paint it out in broad brush strokes you’re doing well – even if some of what you say turns out not to be true in the end. The media loves bold predictions like this, especially when they’re backed up by some original facts, and your stakeholders will be suitably impressed by your boldness and foresight.

4.     Make the most of the findings

The biggest crime – and biggest danger – around a thought leadership project is that, in a haze of satisfaction after weeks of research and report writing, you pop it on an obscure section of your website where nobody will ever read it.

When your report is complete, the hard work really starts. Thought leadership is only valuable if people actually see it – that’s why your communications plan is absolutely crucial. The best thought leadership communications don’t stop at writing and issuing a press release – think about using your findings as a hook to tempt journalists into meetings with your senior spokespeople, holding a roundtable to discuss the research and leveraging the most interesting stats for marketing and social media collateral.

It’s incredibly important to ensure that there’s internal engagement from across your business in thought leadership activity too. The value of thought leadership goes beyond comms activity – businesses development teams should use it to strengthen or build client relationships. It’s a valuable tool when it comes building trust and should help demonstrate that you’re an industry leader.

Done right, thought leadership can catapult your communications to the next level – but doing it right is far from easy. If you’re planning on undertaking a thought leadership project, be bold, be brave and plan ahead to ensure you make the most of your hard work.

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