In the face of constant digital disruption and competition, organisations are on the hunt for new, cut-through strategies that give leaders a competitive advantage. Thought leadership is one strategy that can provide a distinct advantage and lead to success. Yet it can be difficult to define, and even more difficult to leverage on the ground.

So what is thought leadership? Forbes contributors Russ Alan Prince and Bruce Rogers talk about thought leadership as the sharing of knowledge in “selected areas of specialisation”. This results in a leader and/or brand being the “go-to individual or organisation for said expertise”.

The value of thought leadership is hotly debated. Many executives see it as just another method of marketing – a sales pitch for selling their own ideas. Yet this assumption is short-sighted and overlooks the long-term reach that a leader can have, as the respected authority on a subject.

Developing thought leadership is often that added something extra that can give leaders and their companies that competitive advantage and help boost business results, as much as individual profile.

Harnessing the power of thought leadership

For too long, leaders have been missing the chance to share innovative thinking with their industries. However, according to an Edelman study, the concept of thought leadership is rising in popularity.

Almost 60% of decision-makers now read up to three hours of content weekly and more than 40% of smaller companies consider thought leadership to be an important part of their overall business strategy.

In a highly competitive landscape, trust and reputation are hard to build, but thought leadership can help. It provides a refreshing first-person alternative on important topics, whether it is via articles, interviews, webinars, panel discussions, and so on.

Thought leadership is an effective tool for showcasing your business ideas, vision and values in a way that doesn’t feel like marketing and offers insight to the audience – making it a valuable read rather than advertising to be ignored. It can also provide insight and visibility into an organisation’s vision and business performance.

But, there is no simple formula for success. It can take years to cement a position as a credible business leader. Done well, it can significantly boost your business reputation and profitability.

Three key benefits of thought leadership

  1. Boosts brand value.

    Like any key marketing tool, thought leadership helps build brand equity and value. It also directly dictates partner and client behaviour. Decision-makers often use thought-leadership material to judge an organisation and it can be the main ‘sticky’ factor for your brand.

    It can also establish a premium price for your brand, particularly in the business-to-business sector, with partners willing to pay more to work with companies that promote a strong vision. Why? Because the best thought leaders guarantee value for their partners and help to build stronger rapport with the end consumer.

  2. Fosters innovation.

    Thought leaders bring new ideas to the table that can lead boardroom discussion and spark new industry trends. The best thought leaders are invested in research and have a passion for holding the highest standards. This often leads to industry-wide change, improved services and greater client value.

    As an influencer, potential clients will see you, the thought leader, as the pioneer of industry innovation and look to you as having the most desirable offering. Over time, your status and desirability will grow, encouraging others to work with you and follow your example.

  3. Promotes future proofing

    In times of industry downturns, companies with a thought-leadership reputation will be in higher demand. Leaders who have achieved this are highly valuable to a business, encouraging clients to continue to invest in the brand – even in the face of disruption or change.

    If your business clearly demonstrates passion for achieving quality and presenting it to the world, others will be drawn to you. Other companies, potential partners and clients will look to you for advice, expertise and collaboration. In this way, thought leadership is a long-term goal and strategy for business success.

With the right thought-leadership strategies in place, you can give your industry a clear sense of your brand as a market leader. Keep in mind that a successful thought-leadership strategy should also look beyond improving business models. Employee engagement and workplace culture must also be considered as part of the change journey.

In summary, it should be part of a C-suite mentoring and development program. It should not be seen as just nice to have, but rather as an essential tool used as part of market and employee engagement.