Through my agency's work building brand reputations, we meet with top leadership at corporations to advise on and develop PR and communications strategy. Thought leadership has become an important tool for companies to present their expertise, express a brand point of view and participate in timely conversations related to key subjects tied to vision, mission and value proposition.
In this issue of Marketing Coach, we take a step back to consider the wide range of individuals who can become effective thought leaders in the business world today.
Who Can be a Thought Leader?
One very powerful tool for building a trusted brand is thought leadership. While today's open and accessible media environment doesn't always differentiate between people with convincing opinions and those with deep knowledge and access to a subject or situation, companies have the opportunity - and even responsibility - to decide which voice(s) will represent them in the marketplace.
It's your brand. It's your investors and your customers. So, your company must be discerning and strategic when identifying who will serve as its thought leaders.
Simply put, thought leaders who have genuine expertise attract credibility to a brand (the company's and their own) by sharing ideas. Effective ones actively represent and communicate a valuable point of view.
When vetting possible thought leaders, be sure to consider what they are known for now, how their reputation and expertise connects to the company's desired reputation, and how they are willing and able to see their role in moving the company toward where it needs to be.
Next we'll highlight the types of thought leaders that can advance the brand story.
Central to any company's thought leadership strategy is a plan to galvanize and engage those at the top to present a compelling vision and to demonstrate the talent and promise that comes with the brand. Accordingly, members of the C-suite are essential thought leaders to represent the company.
Typically, the corporate communications department will champion these executives' thought leadership roles by facilitating published commentaries, media interviews and speaking engagements.
Senior executives commonly take on the role of industry experts, shaping the state of the industry and delivering the brand story context and content. Additional company professionals and trade association leaders frequently also step up as industry experts.
Subject Matter Experts
When a company has a particular topic it wants to promote in public, or the need to provide a spokesperson for a news story or other PR opportunity, subject matter experts are the "go-to" people.
The best people to choose or accept for this role are those most knowledgeable about the topic and who have the highest ranking or most relevant title. An expert will be selected based on the needs for developing a particular theme or storyline and their unique ability to make a compelling and newsworthy case.
Depending on the brand's need to emphasize specific competencies and talent, these function-lead thought leaders are the top professionals in their departments: Operations, HR, Marketing, Product Development, Legal, Finance, etc. And, they represent the company externally in their individual areas of expertise.
In today's earned media environment, there are other sorts of thought leaders to consider beyond the usual suspects, including journalists, citizens, and brand ambassadors.
The news media has become a purveyor of thought leadership. Many reporters with specific beat expertise, or those immersed in a timely and widely discussed story, are often sought after and interviewed as situation and story experts.
Everyday people become "influencers" and thought leaders by establishing blogs or actively communicating through social media. There are times when brands will want to deliberately develop strategies for involving a selection of these individuals - either directly and collaboratively or by sharing their published commentary with the public.
Customers, official "brand ambassadors" and those who take to social media to share their opinions about brands, products, and services are another type of thought leader. Oftentimes, these customers reflect the views of a particular audience, such as moms, Millennials, baby boomers, a particular ethnic/racial community, or a particular lifestyle group.
No matter how formal or informal, high ranking or low profile a thought leader may be, it is safe to assume that everyone has their own agenda and is stepping up for their own professional purposes. That motivation is not a bad thing, but it does need to be carefully taken into account when setting your brand's agenda.
Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc. helps companies build reputations and differentiate in a competitive market through thought leadership, public education, issues management, content strategy, and strategic communications. To find out how ICCC can help you and your company build your reputation contact firstname.lastname@example.org, call 212-399-0026 or visit www.ivycohen.com.