During a recent round of research on thought leadership I encountered an article that a B2B marketing firm created several years ago that encouraged marketers to use thought leadership as a “competitive weapon” to “create” differentiation. The simple premise of the article underscores a misconception that we run across from time-to-time when discussing thoguht leadership marketing and while it’s not exactly damaging the perception of the thoguht leadershi concept, thinking in this way could set the would-be thought leader off on the wrong path.
The Thought Leadership Path Doesn’t Lead to Differentiation
What do you need in order to be a thought leader? Well, you need to have the right mindset, you need to have the four C’s, the four A’s, and you need to have a well-articulated point of view that emanates from you well-articulated and understood sense of why.
“Are thought leaders different than organizations that don’t pursue thought leadership?” Of course, they are differentiated, but thought leadership is an easily copied “what” in the marketplace, not a real differentiator One only needs to look at the genesis of the discipline of thought leadership within the confines of firms in the consulting industry, all of which purport to be thought leaders, to see that thought leadership is easily copied, but truly differentiated thought leading ideas with a substantiated point of view are not.
Differentiation Comes Through Competence
Specific competence, as Steve Van Remortel talks about in Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream, is “that which your company does better than anyone else in the markets in which you compete.” Competence is why your customers buy or should buy from you over the competition. Your competence is what leads to differentation, and that competence is what a firm uses to develop thought leadership points of view that are ultimately turned into many different forms of content ranging from articles to conference presentations to tweets to blog posts. The bottom line here is that issue of your differentiation is resolved much further upstream and is much more essential to your survival than any form of thought leadership, no matter how great the point of view or content is.
Thought Leadership is a Only One-Legged Stool
Resting your hopes of pulling away from the pack of competition using only thought leadership is, in fact, not a very wise approach. Thought leadership and by extension, thought leading firms, is part of an integrated system of several moving parts including, but not limited to, industry experience, competence, research and data, a well-defined “why” that your customers (and employees) believe in, a disciplined approach to content-creation, industry relationships, content distribution channels and not the least of which – a desire to educate the market and the attitude to take a value-forward approach to your marketing.
Thought leadership is not complicated, per se, but its far from being a silver bullet or a straight shot to differentiation. At best, it’s one step on the winding path to that visible market position that takes you from “hidden talent” to “visible expert” that drives new business to your door.