Thought Leadership: Buzzword or Brand Benefit?

Thought leadership can sound like another communications buzzword, however, when done right, it can have a real impact on a brand. But what is thought leadership and why is it important?

The concept was made popular in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine, who stated that “A thought leader is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate. They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.”

In short, thought leadership is when an organization or individual is considered an authority within an industry or particular field. They are capable of introducing new ideas and accurately analyzing what is happening today while also being able to make informed predictions about industry trends.

A successful thought leadership strategy has many benefits. Here, we’ll discuss a few of them.

Standing out from the crowd

An impactful thought leadership program helps brands differentiate themselves from competitors. Instead of following the herd, these companies, helmed by thought leading executives, are driving innovation and often dictate where the industry is going. For example, Peloton, led by CEO John Foley, helped transform the at-home fitness industry long before consumers were forced out of gyms by the pandemic. Despite recent drops in stock, Peloton is still a leader in the pack and Foley continues to be sought out for his thoughts on the future of at-home fitness.

By becoming go-to sources for insights on topics that are important to their target audiences, thought leaders like Foley are able to raise awareness for their brands and propel them beyond just being a product or service provider.

Building credibility

Consumers want to buy from brands they trust. In fact, according to PWC’s Trust in US Business Survey, almost half (49%) of consumers have started or increased purchases from a company because they trust it. This trust is not solely based on the products or services a company is selling.

Consumers are paying attention to the content a brand is putting out, what a brand’s leadership is doing or saying and ultimately, whether a brand’s ideals align with their own. Therefore, it’s important for company executives to use their experience and expert knowledge to provide the type of valuable commentary that helps establish them as credible and authoritative thought leaders. As a result, the brands these thought leaders represent are often perceived as more trustworthy among their key audiences.

Attracting workforce talent and keeping current employees engaged

In a similar vein, current and prospective employees, especially millennials and Gen Z, are looking at brands’ values, the causes they support and the actions they take when considering whether to work for a company. With this in mind, it’s critical that brands use an authentic voice to communicate their ideals using the formats and channels that resonate most with workforce audiences to attract new talent and keep current employees engaged.

A prime example is Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder and CEO of dating app Bumble. Beyond speaking on expected topics like dating, female empowerment, workplace culture and leadership, Herd has further solidified herself and Bumble as industry thought leaders by putting her money where her mouth is. In recent months, she has announced collective week-long holidays twice a year (on top of the unlimited PTO already offered) for employees to help fight burnout and created a relief fund for those impacted by Texas’s abortion law, demonstrating the company’s values to the general public, industry peers, competitors and the working population as a whole.

What to consider when developing your brand’s thought leadership strategy

Before developing your brand’s thought leadership strategy, ask yourself these questions:

What are the topics that my company spokespeople are experts on and can speak to authentically? What audiences are we trying to reach and what subjects are important to them? Where is our target audience consuming information? What type of content would resonate with them and what channels should that content be distributed on?

With the right voices, the right content, and the right channel mix, your thought leadership program can have real short- and long-term benefits for your brand.

TELL US: Who are some thought leaders and brands that you admire?