Winter 2008

Positioning a consulting firm as a thought leader is almost de rigueur. What's more, companies in other industries have caught on
and are catching up—to the need to demonstrate their thought-leadership capabilities.

A (Pretty) Penny for Your Thoughts:
The Benefits of Thought Leadership  

Time was, only strategy or management consulting firms dared to call themselves "thought leaders." And those firms that wore this label most successfully adhered, by and large, to the following four-step model:

1. Develop a methodology, approach, or concept.
2. Publish article on said topic in the Harvard Business Review.
3. Come out with a blockbuster business book.

The fourth step? Enjoy the market share (and the revered status as a business guru) that thought leadership brings.

All Aboard the Bandwagon
Witnessing the effectiveness of such an approach, other consulting firms soon clambered aboard the thought-leadership bandwagon. Now, positioning a consulting firm as a thought leader is almost de rigueur. What's more, companies in other industries have caught on
—and are catching up—to the need to demonstrate their thought-leadership capabilities.

A recent Google search on "thought leadership" produced links to Cisco, Symantec, and Oracle, among other firms. Interestingly enough, the first three pages of search results provided just one link to a consulting company: A.T. Kearney. This same search also came up with a few sites that refer to thought leadership as "jargon" or a "buzzword"
—another indication that the thought-leadership pool is getting a bit crowded.

Standing Out Among the Thought Leaders
The benefits to be gained from thought leadership are substantial, from boosting market awareness to generating larger numbers of business leads. But as more and more companies wade into the thought-leadership waters, it's getting harder and harder to stand out. Therefore, we offer a few tips to help you do just that:

Say something new. Most thought-leadership articles tend to bunch around a small number of topics. Take business processes, for example. "This is one of the most crowded areas of the market, ... yet firms continue to churn out articles on it as if they're the only ones to have any say on this subject," according to Management Consulting News. Whatever the topic, demonstrate genuine thought leadership by having something new to say, introducing a unique angle, or having a strong
—even unconventional—opinion.

Be timely and add value. Markets, technology, the world ... they're all in constant flux. Stay on top of breaking news and trends, understand how they can affect your industry, and then provide your audience with recommendations and approaches for solving its problems and dealing with the needs of its customers.

Stake a claim. Differentiate your company from the competition by providing expertise in a specific sector. "Applying thought leadership to a particular industry reduces the level of immediate competition, shows you can apply your thinking, and is more likely to be perceived as relevant to your potential audience," Management Consulting News reports.

Show that you've done your homework. Whatever your opinion, your recommendation, or your angle, back it up with hard evidence and real research. Benchmarking data, survey results, and the like all underscore the depth of knowledge that you offer.

Make your materials interesting and enjoyable to read. If a reader's eyes glaze over as he attempts to read your article, book, or white paper, you've lost him—and you've gained no ground in the thought-leadership battle.

Most companies would agree that thought leadership provides a significant return on investment. By demonstrating the depth and breadth of your expertise with useful information tailored to your prospects' and clients' needs, you too can position your company as a recognized leader and trusted resource.

Sources: Fiona Czerniawska, "Thought Leadership: Are You Making It or Faking It?" Management Consulting News.
David Meerman Scott, "How Online Thought Leadership Can Transform You (and Your Company) into a Trusted Resource,", June 26, 2007. (Subscription required.)

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