I've been ranting in a series of posts lately about what should be expected of marketing experts (and of course what we should expect from ourselves). Fiona Czerniawska's article on thought leadership last week from Mike McLaughlin's fantastic Management Consulting News brought new perspectives....
Czerniawska reported on her research about the comparative amount of thought-leadership activities of several global consulting firms. Her remarks triggered my renewed focus on the differences between a firm's publishing for volume's sake versus (IMO) the more competitively potent thought leadership that uniquely benefits a firm's clients. Czerniawska agrees:
In a crowded market it's important to be a thought leader rather than a thought follower–to find the topics or angles that others haven't considered–the white space.
This is where the rubber meets the road for marketing experts: to know the difference between a puffed up writing activity ("let's publish a white paper!") and competitively advantaged intellectual capital. Marketers (and a firm's practitioners) should have the professional bravery to ask themselves:
"Do I have the the intellectual heft and internal political influence to tell my fee-earning colleagues that they need to develop more cutting-edge intellectual capital than they currently have?"
"Do I have an excellent grasp of three things: our clients' access to beneficial solutions; the state-of-the-art thinking in their industry; and the thought leadership output of our competitors?"
There are a few firms who have made thought leadership a central part of their competitive strategy. Czerniawska's research focuses on the management consulting arena; McKinsey, Booz Allen, and Bain among others. For those of us who follow the marketplace of management consulting firms, it's a no-brainer to see the cutting-edge thought leadership output of these and a select few others. Czerniawska's work (thought leadership itself) will provide further clarity on what is and is not thought leadership.
No matter what professional service sector we may consider, though, it takes client- and competitor-savvy marketers to drive their firms toward the embrace of powerful thought leadership (and not just noise).
For a firm that wants to tap "the thought leadership white space," it will take
a marketer who is extremely well grounded in that firm's service portfolio, and who knows where those services fit in the panoply of intellectual capital and services that the clients can access.
the firm's management to support the marketer's deep interaction with the firm's practitioners, to both mine the knowledge that resides in the practitioner's' heads and to prod and push where it appears that intellectual capital is dated.
a firm's management to support that marketer's contact with clients to gain new perspectives about what's really new and simultaneously beneficial.
These marketers are what I would call "experts."
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