5 things to consider before launching a thought leadership team

The idea is this: get a group of experts on a team, then offer their knowledge to customers and prospects as a value-added service. It’s influencer marketing writ large and it can burnish your brand.  What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty, as it turns out. Having managed several such teams, I am now helping two clients—a software startup and a consulting firm—formalize their thought leadership functions. Both will admit it’s harder than it looks.

What is thought leadership, anyway?

Thought leadership is more than a bunch of clever individuals with big ideas. A thought leader should offer fresh perspectives on a field or topic—yet a fresh perspective by itself doesn’t make one a thought leader. Academic achievements, books and journal publications, or regular conference keynotes likewise don’t define someone’s thought leadership bona fides. Thought leadership combines forward-thinking points of view, on-the-ground experience, and enough situational awareness to help customers work better.

Executives considering a thought leadership organization should keep the following five suggestions in mind.

1. Be unique

“But we’re all thought leaders!” goes the refrain from objectors, some of whom have silently assumed the thought leadership mantel while no one was watching. (Others are simply simmering with schadenfreude.) As can be said with musical virtuosity or chess, if all of us are masters, then none of us is.

A thought leadership team should concentrate effort on what I call core-adjacent activities. For instance, maybe you work at a machine learning startup that can diagnose tumors based on digital images? A thought leadership team might research the evolving role of the pathology discipline and public health. Or maybe you’re running an autonomous vehicle program for a major software vendor and decide to analyze your market to target early technology adopters?

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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