What is thought leadership, why is it important, and what does it mean to be a thought leader? Although a relatively new term, the concept of thought leadership is ageless.
We’ve all known thought leaders. As kids, it was that popular person we wanted to emulate; the one whose behaviors, mannerisms, clothing, views, etc., garnered a following or heightened level of positive influence and notoriety. In school, on the playground, on the court or the field, these were the people whose opinions mattered. They exercised significant influence over their peers, dictating changes in behavior, style, etc.
Flash forward 30 years. As professionals, our interests lie beyond interpersonal associations. Business leadership and markets are the focus, with all eyes on the early adopters as they are the ones within whom the visions of thought leaders resonate most.
Thought leadership can be many things to many people. In this blog, I will be discussing the role of thought leadership as a core developmental element within the marketing and branding strategy process; and the importance of encouraging thought leadership internally, as an incubator for organic idea generation and intellectual capital.
DNA-gents of Change
Within the DNA of every disruptive, market-transforming business are thought-leading individuals who shape the marketplace through their vision. They serve as futurists, forecasting the market's direction and the actions needed to position their company as its leader. Their vision defines the framework and acts as the building blocks for a well-defined, go-forward marketing strategy. The ability to determine the market gives thought-leading businesses a head start on their competition.
Historically, thought leaders have been pivotal in spawning new technologies or industries. Over 100 years ago, it was Andrew Carnegie’s ability to exercise his vision that forged a fledgling steel industry of independent mills into the economic bellwether, U.S. Steel, launching a new age of industrial growth and economic re-globalization.
Similarly, in the mid-1970s, it was Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who, in the garage of Jobs’ Silicon Valley home, legitimized the concept of personal computing with the launch of Apple Computer. Years later, exiled from the very company he founded, Jobs returned to Apple, restoring the company and its brand with his vision of the next frontier in personal computing - a plug and play, Internet-based computer that was fun and simple to use. Viola, the iMac is born, and the birth of the “i”-industry rockets full steam ahead.
The i’s Have It
Using Steve Jobs as an example, let’s reference a few astonishing facts that underscore thought leadership's financial relevance. In 2000, Apple’s market capitalization was $17B. At the time of Jobs’ death, eleven years later, Apple’s market cap was $350B – an unbelievable 2,000-plus percent increase. In engineering his transformation of Apple, Jobs’ vision and leadership redefined not one, not two, not three, but four industries: personal computing, music, mobile phones, and tablets. Imagine today’s lexicon without the words iPod, iPad, iPhone or iTunes? I guess there’s timeless legitimacy in the adage, “the i’s have it.”
The ability to influence lies at the core of every thought leader. Industry leaders are frequently thought-leading businesses with strong market recognition. The market acknowledges their skill in defining what the next wave will be. Throughout the late '70s and early ‘80s, Sony was a recognized thought leader, creating the demand for stylish, portable, personal, electronics. The Walkman was everywhere, and people looked to Sony to see what was next.
However, what differentiates a thought-leading company from just a ‘knowledgeable’ company is the recognition that it intimately understands its business, the needs of customers and the broader marketplace in which it operates. Such knowledge forms your brand's foundation and promotes a trustworthiness that motivates markets to listen to your views and embrace your value proposition. It becomes your reputation. Establish your brand as thought-leading and your vision will become gospel: Consumers will purchase you, journalists will quote you, analysts will call you, and social media will discuss you.
Brand recognition transcends the simplicity of a company’s name, logo or tagline. Brand and brand loyalty are derivatives of the quality of one’s experience, having been involved with that brand. Said another way, it is the promise of the experience garnered by the brand's users. Therefore, effective branding takes time to build and sustain. Skillfully integrating thought leadership into one’s branding strategy can be among the most powerful -and least costly- elements of that strategy.
The basis of thought leadership - ideas, vision, and insight requires little investment. Becoming a thought-leading business does, however, require commitment - a commitment to nurture the organic creativity that lies within employees, and supporting them in an environment that encourages and rewards risk. Visionaries are such because they see possibility and possibility is, by definition, limitless and without the punitive concerns evolving from a culture of fear.
There’s a timeless article in the Harvard Business Review called People Are Not Your Greatest Asset. Not to be fooled by the title, it provides a pragmatic perspective on how companies empower their people to deliver strategic organizational value, using individual contributions organized and scaled to produce unique thought-leading and market-leading solutions. Herein, lies the legacy of Tech Data.
Tech Data’s end-to-end portfolio of products, services, solutions, and expertise in next-generation technologies reflect the competencies and capabilities one would expect from a market-leading, Fortune 100 company. However, Tech Data’s leadership goes even further with unique, thought-leading offerings like its IoT and Analytics Solutions Catalog, comprising over 30 proven, repeatable solutions and its Practice Builder™ methodology, which significantly accelerate partners' time to market.
Parting Note: Some Thought-Leading Considerations
Everyone has contributory value; that value is the wisdom and expertise acquired doing what they do. Encourage it, share it; exercise your views and value lessons. To learn is to lead; thought leadership requires proactively sharing the knowledge all of us possess.
As a leading technology solutions aggregator relentlessly pursuing resources to enhance our channel partners' value, Tech Data’s Authority Blog provides readers with salient discussions on current issues relevant to the channel. From tips on how to hone your cyber security skills at home, to videoconferencing best practices to improve customer engagement, Authority provides enlightened reading from the company’s best thought leaders. To find out more about how Tech Data is leading change, go to our website at www.techdata.com.
About the Author
Steven Kelley is a senior marketing specialist for Tech Data in Tempe, Arizona. In his role, Steve writes articles about next-gen technologies and market trends for Tech Data’s corporate blog, Authority, in addition to the company’s partner newsletter, The Power of Partnership. Prior to joining Tech Data, Steve managed the marketing, communication and PR duties for a range of businesses in the aviation, defense, energy, hi-tech, and healthcare industries. Steve’s background and profile can found on LinkedIn.