Thought leadership is a savvy communications strategy for a swath of businesses: 2022 research by LinkedIn and Edelman found that it’s one of the most effective tools B2B companies can use to demonstrate value to customers in a tough economy. For impact companies it’s essential—regardless of market conditions.
Driven by a commitment to deliver social and environmental benefits, not just profits, these enterprises often have complex technologies or business models that directly challenge received wisdom. Even with a compelling backstory and an appealing mission, impact enterprises often face a skeptical “come back to me when you prove this out” reaction from media and potential customers alike.
Thought leadership—developing and distributing original thinking on problems and solutions—enables these companies to break through barriers by engaging potential customers, partners and influencers in their work and positioning leaders as expert sources for journalists.
Selling the Vision
Many impact companies are starting at ground zero: They need to convince their field and market first that a problem exists (heating and ventilation systems are secret water hogs, for example, or standard credit-scoring systems exclude millions of responsible people) and then that there’s a smart way to solve it.
Thought leadership that works makes the case not only with data but also by painting a picture of a better world when vision becomes reality. That promise is what inspires people to open the network doors and take a chance on something new.
Overcoming Status Quo Bias
Engineering a true market shift, however, also requires overcoming the status quo bias that even holds back people who buy into the vision. Change takes effort, it can cause anxiety, and there’s often little incentive for making it happen. Those factors breed inertia.
Thought leadership can help impact enterprises take action by making complex technologies and models accessible to a broad audience, illuminating systemic issues at the root of problems, and showing practical paths to achieving the vision. Writing and speaking in this vein might involve explaining how to get maximum benefit from a new product, service or model, providing strategies for applying a new model or addressing business challenges surrounding implementation.
Getting Thought Leadership Right
Regardless of where it sits on the visionary-to-practical spectrum, effective thought leadership typically has four characteristics:
A fresh perspective. Impact enterprises, by definition, are bucking convention; their thought leadership, at minimum, must reflect that.
A clear point of view. Articles, white papers and talks need the power of a strong opinion to rise above the vast content blob that envelops us. Thought leadership that attempts to speak unobjectionably to everyone, tends to register with no one.
Utility to others. Audiences expect a reward for their attention. An informed view on where the company’s sector is headed, an analysis of market opportunities, or research findings and insights on effective change strategies are all ways to provide that.
Generosity. True thought leaders share their knowledge unstintingly. They also ask questions, respond to feedback and exchange ideas.
Done right, thought leadership is a powerful tool for advancing impact enterprises and visionary ideas. It keeps companies that don’t generate frequent headlines in the conversation. It positions authors and speakers as expert sources. It sparks conversations with influencers and industry leaders. And it builds brand value over the long term.
Sandra Stewart is principal of Thinkshift Communications.