Chris Koch shared Four Reasons to Hate Thought Leadership earlier this week. He made some great points in his call to end the use of the phrase thought leadership, but ultimately I disagree with his conclusion. We don’t need to stop using the phrase, we need to start using it right.
The problem is thought leadership has become a catchall for any marketing that includes content. Unfortunately, looking back, it isn’t surprising that this happened.
Here are four of the underlying problems that created the situation.
At the heart of the problem is the idea that you can market your way to thought leadership. The role of marketing is to shine a light on your company’s thought leaders and thought leadership. Marketing can facilitate, organize and amplify. But unless your business is marketing, thought leadership needs to come from your business.
2. Thought Leadership Isn’t a Real Priority
Your potential thought leaders are valuable people in your organization, and everyone wants more of their time. When it comes to getting time, it becomes clear that thought leadership isn’t the real priority.
3. Thought Leadership Is Human
Today, it seems some businesses are so busy humanizing their company or brand that they forget to include real humans. I see logo-ed social media accounts that don’t indicate who is behind it, or blog posts on corporate blogs posted by “admin” or “blogger”.
Notably, in this discussion of thought leadership, all of the example given were individuals, not companies.
4. Thought Leadership Isn’t About You
Marketing organizations are instinctively focused on their product, message and position. Real thought leadership needs to exist on its own, independent of your company and product. Thought leadership and “Product X is the fastest in its class” should never coexist in the same space.
Despite the problems marketers have created for thought leadership, it is still valuable. According to Wikipedia, the distinguishing characteristic of a thought leader is
“the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.”
Many other definitions would add a unique and forward-looking element as well.
This is a position that creates differentiation for a company, before getting to any individual product or service. It is not a position every company is able to claim, but for those that are, it continues to have significant potential.
We are slowly killing thought leadership, and it will be our loss if it dies. So let’s keep using the phrase thought leadership, let’s just start using it right.
Should thought leadership stay or go, and why? Share your perspective in comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).