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Ideally, thought leadership is about ideas: offering a unique point of view or an especially insightful look into a business issue. There’s a small debate in the industry however about whether or not you can achieve thought leadership in a specific market without offering any real insights. I guess the purists would say “no,” the not-so-pure would say “yes.”
I’d like to think that I’m a purist, but I also realize that it is possible to ‘backdoor’ thought leadership strictly through content bulk. That is, it’s possible to dominate a subject (and therefore posit a perception of thought leadership) without offering a unique or insightful look at the subject at hand.
I acknowledge that I have no research data on this, but I do have the power of observation. I noticed that a high tech company has developed an acronym for a relatively new technology approach and it offers its description of this approach, along with a review of the technology’s features and benefits, at every conceivable opportunity. This includes articles in relevant trade press, publication-sponsored webinars, road shows, company webcasts, industry events, white papers, microsites, press releases, online and print advertising programs, blog posts, social network posts (Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter), enewsletters, virtual trade shows, case studies, cost calculators and partnerships with other industry leaders to develop even more articles, webcasts, ads, etc.
That communication bulk translates to a lot of time and money – and, ultimately, something that borders on thought leadership: If you fall within their target audience and you are interested in the topic, you can’t escape this company’s name, their acronym (which, by now, experiences some degree of acceptance within the industry), and their information. And at this point, does it matter that there is nothing original or compelling about the company’s take on the subject? If you were an editor, wouldn’t you feel compelled to feature their spokesperson for relevant feature articles? If you were an interested blogger, wouldn’t you be following their posts and perhaps moving their content through the blogosphere? Isn’t it likely that all interested parties will attribute a certain degree of thought leadership strictly by virtue of their pervasiveness? I think it is.
So truth be told, there is more than one way to achieve thought leadership: you can blanket the industry — or you can have a truly interesting point of view. I still think it’s cheaper…and better…to be original. Really interesting thoughts can take on a life of their own.
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