Thought Leadership Style Hinges on Organizational Values, Leadership

Thought leadership” is a typical reason any larger business-to-business marketer engaged in content marketing and content curation, and that effort can take a number of forms. The “style” of thought leadership and the audiences are key dimensions.

Those “style” of thought leadership almost always is directly related to organization values and the type of leader those organizations have, says Craig Badings, a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications. In other words, some types of firms naturally gravitate to some forms of thought leadership, compared to others.

“In my experience, the thought leadership that works best is thought leadership that is true to the values of the organisation,” says Badings. “Think of DuPont and its long-term focus on sustainability, IBM’s Smarter Planet, BMW’s Activate the Future, Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty, Booz & Company’s Innovation 1000, SKM’s Achieve, Deloitte’s Boardroom Risk to mention a few.”

Among the four types of thought leadership (Badings credits Dr. Liz Alexander with thoughts on three of the four), “philosophers” tend to focus on change at a societal level, rather than issues such as “how are we going to be more innovative or more productive?” The “What Matters” site is a good example.

“Problem solvers” tend to be characteristic of consulting firms and others more centrally concerned with what needs to be done, in any specific industry, to address the central problems and opportunities that industry faces

“Practitioners” include firms that some would say practice content marketing and content curation, rather than having a specific broad methodology to share. Incremental improvements in industry practice often are more the substance of practitioner content.

“Innovators,” says Badings, might include visionaires such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo, Da Vinci or others whose industry vision often creates markets, rather than improving them.

“Without doubt different firms can occupy different thought leadership positions,” says Badings.   “I don’t think it has anything to do with firm size, rather it  has a lot more to do with the values and the culture of the company.”

“For example I have come across some very risk averse companies who wouldn’t dream of sticking their necks out on a thought leadership position, in case they were shot down,” Badings notes.  

“These companies will never be the thought leaders in their industry or sector,” he says. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t excellent at what they do, they merely don’t have the appetite or inclination to lead the market in this way.”

But there are other reasons why some firms might choose not to engage in extensive thought leadership efforts. In some cases firms consider what they know to have proprietary value whose “sharing” diminishes intellectual capital.

Some “believe that thought leadership is merely giving away your intellectual property,” says Badings. Their thinking is: “Why on earth would you do that?”

Such firms will not engage in thought leadership initiatives because doing so is seen as “giving away” products that could be sold.

“They too don’t have the culture to be thought leaders, for thought leaders don’t hold their cards close to the chest,” Badings says. On the other hand, many of the best examples of “thought leadership” come from firms whose products rely heavily on intellectual property or knowledge.

“I would say they often are the best thought leaders,” he says. The reason is that “all they have is their IP and most companies in this space have learned to package this material very cleverly.”

“Often it’s more difficult for the hardware focused companies to find a  thought leadership position because they struggle to get out of the realm of product speak and into the intangible realm of thoughts and intellectual property,” Badings adds. “Product and brand speak is the death knell of thought leadership.”

Thought leadership is one traditional reason business-to-business brands engage in content marketing and content curation. In other cases, more practical concerns, such as search engine optimization, can be major drivers as well.

Content curation now is among the four basic types of “thought leadership” styles.