The role of research in corporate thought leadership
‘Thought leadership’ – often overused as a term – can be a powerful weapon in helping organisations to build credibility, connect with key audiences or transition how they are perceived.
Well executed, it can increase brand awareness on issues that matter, build relationships with key stakeholders, support the corporate story and attract top talent.
It can be a great way to get influential media coverage on the opinions of key people from within an organisation, getting their voice heard by a relevant audience, as well as building influence with potential customers and industry experts over time.
When it comes to developing a thought leadership strategy, there are a number of options to consider.
Commissioning third party proprietary research
An option – which likely requires investment – is commissioning third party research which allows an organisation to make an informed and credible contribution to public discourse on key issues.
Fire on the Hill has worked with one of our global clients in the travel technology sector on a number of projects, using research carried out by leading organisations such as Northstar Research Partners, Forrester, London School of Economics and Kearney.
These organisations bring credibility and reputational heft – as well as global insight.
Our recent project with Amadeus, Traveler Tribes 2033, surveyed over 10,000 consumers across multiple markets and industry experts from a variety of sectors, combining both with behavioural science methodologies to build a compelling and credible view of travel in ten years’ time.
The benefit of commissioned research is manifold. Fresh eyes examining current and future challenges, creative thinking to inspire new ways of thinking and connections to those who are shaping global opinion.
Using in-house expertise
An alternative is to keep research and insight projects in-house – after all, you are the experts!
Many organisations are sitting on a rich body of insight and data which can be supplemented by existing material from industry bodies, think tanks, government departments and elsewhere. And harnessing this insight and data, combining it with other sources, can be a good way for organisations to get started with thought leadership, helping spokespeople to build ‘opinions’ and ‘perspectives’.
In particular, when taking a qualitative approach, it can be very effective to interview company leaders, customers, partners and other industry stakeholders. Fire on the Hill recently worked on a project like this alongside our partners at Conferma Pay – The rise and rise of virtual cards.
As an industry leader in digital payments, the in-house team had a wealth of knowledge to share, and it was felt that there wasn’t a need for third-party research as there was so much expertise in-house. In this case, Conferma Pay was the best ‘expert’.
For companies that are part of a rich and diverse ecosystem, including others in the project can really help to bolster credibility.
Making thought leadership work
As with so many things, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to thought leadership. But the key thing to ensure is credibility. So, whether that comes from commissioning third party research, bringing together varied insights and data, or putting forward evidence-based opinion, the northstar needs to be credibility.
The best thought leadership is focussed on collective interest, not commercial self-interest. Thought leadership isn’t about the selling, it’s about contributing to debate, floating new ideas, winning arguments.
Done well, thought leadership has the potential to secure significant competitive advantage. Done badly, you risk shouting into a vacuum.