Cracking the Code: The Anatomy of Successful Thought Leadership

Aspiring to be a thought leader is admirable. However, being in a leadership position does not automatically grant one thought leadership status. With countless subject matter experts and influencers cocooning all over the digital space, it becomes imperative for leaders to ask the question: “Do I simply have loud opinions, or are they inspiring ideas that are novel, research-backed, and sensitised to the market?”

An instance of a thought leadership strategy changing the course of a business is Sanjiv Bajaj’s sharp focus on innovation in the NBFC space. Bajaj Finserv revolutionised the idea of loan approval in just 30 seconds, influencing consumers to perceive quick and simple approvals as the benchmark.

One of the best financial leaders in India, and Chairman & Managing Director of Bajaj Finserv, Sanjiv Bajaj, believes, “It’s not just about building a successful company, but about a legacy you wish to create. Be a leader who leaves behind a contribution to the world, for which he is remembered even after 50 years.”

According to an Edelman study, a staggering 71% of decision-makers felt that half of the thought leadership they consumed was useless. Here’s the breakdown of strategy leaders can use to construct thought leadership pieces with valuable insights.

Ideate Purposefully and With the Intent to Provide Value

A study had 55% of buyers say they would skip a thought leadership piece if it didn’t pique their interest within the first minute. This means that leaders cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all strategy and must regularly brainstorm new ways to engage with audiences. 

As experts, the goal should be to provide value through insights, inspiration and even entertainment. Leaders can utilise previously unexplored informal platforms such as podcasts and YouTube shorts to cast a wider net. Striking a good balance between being intellectually rigorous and enjoyable is key here. 

A great example of a leader constantly trying out new ideas is Elon Musk. He engages with his employees, buyers, and investors by making information on Tesla and his other projects easily accessible on social media. His out-of-the-box SpaceX launch got the whole world to sit up and look at him as a thought leader in space travel.

Research to Provide Analytical and Referenceable Content

The market is saturated with thought leadership content. In this space, leaders can’t risk putting out run-of-the-mill content. In fact, 63% of consumers note that extremely generic thought leadership pieces led them to tune out. Audiences want to be able to evaluate opinions and form their own. This is why leaders should not shy away from investing in research which can back their pieces.

With audiences increasingly seeking analytical, verifiable and no-fluff content, leaders can meet the demand with research-backed content. It is crucial to have it be referenceable with whitepapers, surveys, studies, reports, and more. 

This is a good indicator of high-performing thought leadership and leads to more credibility and trustworthiness. An example is Deloitte, which regularly uses first-party data and insights it draws from its consulting segment to establish itself as a thought leader capable of influencing multi-million-dollar decisions.

Storytelling Aimed to Inspire Audiences and Create Momentum

While storytelling was previously considered necessary while establishing brand identity, today, audiences use it to gauge if thought leaders stand for something. They demand a human connection from leaders and measure social parameters to get influenced. 

In fact, 65% of buyers say their perception of a company changed for the better due to a good thought leadership piece. This is because leaders come across as authentic voices worthy of their time, attention and trust.

Leaders can combine the power of visuals and storytelling to create immersive experiences for audiences. It can be used in blog posts, videos, images, GIFs and infographics. For entrepreneurs particularly, storytelling can help leave buyers and investors wanting more. 

Research shows that 53% of buyers want small companies to produce thought leadership content to consider buying from them. Good storytelling can completely flip the script for audiences inundated with visual content.

When done well, thought leadership is the gift that keeps on giving. It can drastically influence brand perception and buying behaviours at every point in the decision process. Anyone can have a brand story and develop a gimmicky marketing plan. Only leaders working on establishing an innovative, knowledgeable and socially-conscious persona can convince audiences to embark on a new personal journey with them. 

If thought leaders can do all this while staying relatable, they will be successful and in a class of their own. Due to constant thought leadership, famous corporate leaders such as Ratan Tata, Adi Godrej, Azim Premji and Lakshmi Mittal were ahead. This shows that proof is definitely in the pudding. Leaders just need to get cooking.

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