A thought leadership positioning is not established overnight. It takes time to develop.

To guide organizations in their thought leadership challenges, Kym Kettler-Paddock and I have developed the Thought Leadership Framework at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University. The framework takes you through four essential phases:

Diagnosis: Before companies consider adopting a thought leadership strategy, it is important to first review the company’s potential to pursue such a strategy. Thought leading companies do so by asking themselves the following questions:

  1. What future market/societal themes are going to impact the lives of our stakeholders and our company?
  2. What is our Novel Point of View on these themes?
  3. Does this Novel Point of View fit in with our identity, knowledge and expertise?
  4. Can we show (leadership) commitment and allocate sufficient resources to implement this Novel Point of View as part of our strategy?

Reviewing these four questions enables companies to reach a Go/No-go decision on pursuing thought leadership and to identify their potential themes and related novel viewpoints.

The time/efforts that companies take in this first phase differ from one organization to the next. Some companies do extensive market/societal studies, internal reviews or work on a complete change in strategy, of which thought leadership is an extension.

Other companies complete this phase faster and simply use the four questions to (re)-clarify their identity (who are we, what are we good at, and what do we want to be in the future), knowledge and expertise and to develop their themes and novel points of view. It really depends on the type of company, its market/societal context and challenges.

Nevertheless, each company developing thought leadership would be wise to take this diagnosis phase seriously. A well-invested diagnosis phase is the solid foundation for the implementation phase

Implementation: Companies that pursue thought leadership take the following four steps seriously. These steps are typically taken in an iterative fashion

1)      Articulating the NPOV. Novel Points of View grow and mature when companies take continuous, relentless efforts to express and explain them to their different types of stakeholders. They do so through a variety of communications and media platforms: the company’s website, speaking platforms, company videos, infographics, podcasts, op-eds, etc. By using the right types of platforms they become the sum of their parts for explaining your Novel Point of View in an authentic, compelling and consistent manner.

2)      Sharing knowledge and expertise. To gain credibility and trust as an expert on the Novel Point of View, companies’ content sharing strategies are typically aligned with the Novel Point(s) of View of the company. Through a variety of modern media (infographics, insight series, videos, games), they offer stakeholders insightful information on the themes that matter to them and, as such, show that they understand their stakeholders’ world and concerns.

3)      Initiating network platforms. Thought leading companies want to facilitate and lead the market/societal conversation around the themes they have chosen. This is why they build network platforms of experts, opinion leaders, customers and other stakeholders that address these themes. In this way, they not only play a central role in the debate on these issues, but they also remain open to refreshing ideas or partnerships that originate from people in the network. Philips, for instance, has set up “think tanks” involving the themes “Active Aging” and “Liveable Cities”. These think tanks consist of global experts and opinion leaders who come together four times a year to share their insights and identify solutions for improving people’s health and well-being.

4)       Act in line with the Novel Point of View. Promoting yourself as a thought leader without providing any indication of substance behind this title is tricky. BP (with its “Beyond Petroleum” viewpoint) is a dire example. Thought leadership can only be successful if companies attune their actions and behavior to their novel points of view. While this is sometimes challenging, thought leading companies continuously work on improving the alignment between their novel viewpoints, their activities and their performance.


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