Everyone Wants to Be a Thought Leader. So How Do You Differentiate Yourself?

“We would like to be thought leaders” is a common statement you will come across in most strategy meetings of companies these days.“Thought leadership” is a term that has come into its own in the past few years and is one of the primary communication methods that enterprises are using to connect with customers. However, given the growing number of proclaimed“thought leaders” and social media platforms strewn with blogs, tweets, videos and the likes, the term is fast becoming one of the most overused buzzwords. The scenario gets more complex what with customers becoming increasingly involved and influencing the buying process more so than ever before. It’s imperative to reach the target audiences with innovative ideas and information that stands apart from the crowd.>

So What does it take to be a different "thought leader"

The sheer volume of white papers, case studies and blog posts is no longer enough to establish one’s expertise. Rather, the hallmark of a true thought leader is one that presents new and challenging ideas along with quality and relevant insights to challenges that customers face today. What really differentiates a thought leader from others is the recognition and acknowledgement from the public that the company is a renowned expert and providing value rather than just another company selling its products and services.

The 5F model for successful thought leadership campaigns:

1.Focus - on the customer

Most organizations create content revolving around their products and services. However, what people really need care about is how you can help them address their issues and deliver solutions for the same. By providing the audience with fresh, educational content and useful insights on current trends, rather than just a sales pitch, thought leaders can demonstrate that they understand the problems that customers face and are committed to resolving them. Cisco’s large scale thought leadership program for the Cisco Global Education Group is driven by partnerships with number of leading corporate, government, educational and endowment groups to help improve education, technology infrastructure on a global basis. With numerous initiatives that span research, publications, marketing, and events, Cisco is seen as a market leader and expert in the education space.

2.Fresh perspective

Rather than just propagating or repackaging the same topics that everyone else is discussing, thought leaders need to stand out with a new angle or a new approach, idea or concept. With original ideas, new concepts or approaches forming a basis of a unique opinion that strikes off by itself in a crowded marketplace, thought leaders can help take the organization and customers forward. Deloitte’s Risk Intelligent Enterprise program takes a strong stand on what“risk intelligence” is about and how it relates to business strategy. With a series of white papers and publications, this innovative program goes well beyond conventional thinking and focuses on the upside of taking risks in a the downturn as well and helps companies understand one of today's most critical management issues in a thoughtful, creative, and responsible way.


The best thought leadership programs are built around evidence-based research. By backing new ideas and viewpoints with hard data and facts, a company can establish its expertise and influence in that subject. It also helps to showcase the company’s ability to offer something truly valuable to its customers. IBM’s Institute of Business Value has a long track record of churning out publications backed by substantial research findings. Its Global C suite study for instance gives practical insights for organizations that can facilitate their business strategies.

4.Facilitate- knowledge sharing

The willingness to openly share important information and best practices is what differentiates a true thought leader from the rest. Most companies tend to hold back crucial information to generate enquiries and lead generation. However, by openly sharing their resources and expertise with customers, they can promote themselves as the go-to authorities and knowledge experts in that space. McKinsey’s solution to this is reflected in its popular microsite, ‘What Matters’, that convenes outside experts and McKinsey consultants from around the world to offer a broad range of expert views on key global issues to clients and others.

5.Fix attention- Engage the audience

By creating compelling content that are relevant to customers and driving them to contribute and share with their connections, thought leaders gain a tremendous opportunity to influence agendas and establish standards in the market. It is also important to demonstrate that the company encourages and listens to customer feedback - online communities, discussion forums and chat rooms are key ways to foster a relationship with customers and engage directly with them. Dell has a large social media presence with over 3.5 million community members spanning across it’s blog Direct2Dell and IdeaStorm, along with popular networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Flicker. And through these platforms, Dell actively works on customer engagement by providing them meaningful information, inviting them to brainstorm, share opinions and feedback.


Thought leadership is a fine balance between meeting customers’ desire for something relevant, and interesting, and meeting organizational growth strategies. When done right, thought leadership is an effective strategy to get noticed in today's increasingly competitive marketplace. It allows a company to inject its brand’s personality in a crowded marketplace and gives a human face to its point of view. And it works because it gives consumers what they want: useful, relevant information, not a sales pitch, a chance to engage in a two-way dialogue with companies they consider doing business with. So it’s time to do a “mirror-mirror” & ask yourself “who is the real thought leader among all”

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