First popularised more than 30 years ago, thought leadership has become a mainstream communications activity. A cursory search on LinkedIn throws up thousands of jobs, posts and potential contacts. Yet, despite its growing popularity, some naysayers still regard thought leadership as a buzzword, claiming that it’s an empty term with little or no real function.
We decided to put that scepticism to the test and explore the purpose of thought leadership in more detail in our latest piece of research. We asked senior figures at eighty leading organisations why they run thought leadership programmes, and how their goals and purpose may change in 5-10 years’ time.
The findings reveal a telling shift. Half (50%) of respondents believe that providing a fresh perspective and shaping new thinking will become one of the primary reasons for undertaking thought leadership in the future – a dramatic jump from 32% today. At the same time, the proportion who see the need for thought leadership to raise brand awareness will drop to 38% in the future, from 65% today.
Rather than being judged solely on profile and awareness – an important but traditional measure of PR success – the success of thought leadership initiatives in the future will rest on an ability to set and lead the industry agenda.
Our research uncovers other notable changes in purpose. The need to create opportunities to collaborate and co-create with target audiences jumps from 17% now to 29% over the coming decade. This swing towards greater collaboration points to one of the unique benefits thought leadership offers: working with target audiences to shape content and develop key issues. It is increasingly recognised as a prime way to achieve future success, as end users become loyal advocates.
The proportion expecting to use thought leadership as a means to create a long-term communications platform also trebles in the future (from 7% to 20%). A sizeable cohort of organisations are already turning to thought leadership to create a long-term platform for owned, earned and paid media success. This trend is likely to continue apace over the next decade.
The research findings confirm that thought leadership is more than just a buzzword. The research reveals a desire for thought leadership to build on traditional communications outputs and offer long-lasting commercial benefits. Ultimately, by marrying communications with business goals, we believe this shift in purpose can help communications directors secure all-important budget from boards and senior management.
To download a copy of the report, click here.