Thought leadership?

Who came up with the term ‘thought leadership’? Used correctly, it would be acceptable, but is has become so bastardized that if I write the words at all, I put inverted commas around the first usage. The truth is that too often thought leadership has become the misnomer for product marketing messages dressed up as pearls of wisdom strung into a fine necklace.

These gemstones should be junked – as should the term thought leadership. In its place I propose we use the term ‘independent insight’ to frame whether an article or blog is close enough to original thinking.

Before we go further, let me be very clear. Content marketing, in its various forms, is a powerful and important component of building and sustaining a brand reputation. We ourselves write thousands of words each month to support the aims of our clients. What is at stake is original thinking. Like many aspects of modern day society, ‘thought leadership’ has become democratized, and like everyone being ‘top of the class’, it’s oxymoronic.

Independent insight is easier to benchmark. Articles and opinions need to be written in an objective manner that genuinely adds to industry discussion. Editors can detect barely-disguised propaganda; so can readers. While independence is theoretically a straightforward measure, the reality is that anyone with a valued opinion will de facto be close to the subject and have embedded views. Independence should therefore be viewed as taking a position that is not influenced by a product or service offered by the company.

Insight is the eye of the reader. For some, this article might provide a degree of insight; for others, it may seem obvious. Insight should really provide a takeaway, something that is worth remembering, however small.

So next time you talk about thought leadership, catch yourself. Take a deep breath and measure what you are saying. Is it really independent insight that you are looking to provide?

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