15 May 2019
Claire Mason, Founder and CEO of Man Bites Dog, The Strategic Ideas Company, recently gave a presentation at our BD Forum on bridging the gap between thought leadership and competitive advantage for business, and is our guest blogger this week.
We are living in disruptive times. Business leaders are all worried about one thing: the future. For their company, their career and even for their children.
While leaders in emerging markets remain optimistic, Western leaders fear a rapidly approaching dystopia. Man Bites Dog’s recent research reveals that the majority of large corporate CEOs believe their own company’s past is brighter than its future. And in this dystopian future the mighty will fall: leaders expect 1 in 6 large competitors to fail by 2023.
One CEO described the new leadership paradigm to me as the difference between driving a car (something else that will soon be obsolete) and riding a motorcross bike. Leaders are now offroad and running their companies faster than ever before, so they must point their strategy further ahead while scanning for competitors in their peripheral vision.
This creates a critical challenge for business leaders because human beings are very poor at anticipating the future with any degree of accuracy. Which means visionaries now have unprecedented influence. Clients are looking for experts who can see beyond these limits. In this uncharted territory, there is a clear opportunity for companies to pivot from past precedent to future orientation: becoming the trusted navigator who, rather than fearing the future, embraces change and sees further.
The old tokens of credibility - best practice, tradition and track record - may now work against you by consigning you to the history books. The ability to adapt again and again is now our best predictor of future success. We are entering an era when credibility must be balanced with agility.
Nothing is safe as houses anymore: the mighty giants of retail are falling. Property is at the sharp end of changes in the Future of Work - WeWork is arguably the most overvalued company in the world - one floor of WeWork is supposedly worth more than the building hosting it. And we are seeing the explosion of alternative asset classes like purpose built student accommodation and build to rent.
This puts us in the business of predicting the future. You will be judged based on the indicators of your future performance tomorrow and how you can positively impact your clients. And thought leadership holds the key. Thought leadership is the future of services marketing because it reinforces your future orientation and positions you as the navigator.
Man Bites Dog defines thought leadership as: a strategic idea with the purpose of gaining and conveying competitive advantage by sharing value.
Your strategic idea should strike the right balance between telling your clients something valuable and genuinely new, and promoting a problem you solve, connected to your brand, your services, and your area of authority.
Thought leadership is not a tactic: an isolated article, a reaction to breaking news or regulatory change. It’s a strategy: holistic corporate thinking should lead thought and lead your marketing activity.
Thought leadership is also certainly not thought followership. In an era when the speed of the innovation cycle means you can no longer differentiate on your services, the only battleground you can win on is your distinctive thinking.
Strategic ideas demonstrate your future orientation and reinforce your authority as a navigator - it’s all prospects have to go on that you are the go-to experts. So how can you harness the power of strategic ideas to win?
IDEAS will win
There are 5 key considerations, for which IDEAS provides a useful acrostic:
I stands for Idea:
A genuinely new idea should tell your clients something they didn’t know that will help them win in the future. To be a thought leader, you must have the courage to lead thought: to be first and make people think.
D stands for Diversity:
Companies don’t think - people do. We need a diversity of thinkers to challenge groupthink and develop game changing ideas to solve the biggest problems facing business and society.
Consider the thinkers and speakers for your organisation. Do they reflect your client base, your workforce and the future workforce you want to recruit? You measure your Gender Pay Gap, but what does your Gender Say Gap look like, for example?
E stands for Evidence:
Data is critical to helping you see the future with credibility and accuracy. Strategic ideas based on robust evidence enable you to tell a powerful story, tailored for maximum client relevance.
To make your idea catch fire you must find the right research methodology to quantify your idea’s scale, direction and impact. Thought leadership is not an isolated article - it’s the start of a movement.
A stands for Activation:
Once you have developed and evidenced your idea - you must make your idea travel by marshalling appropriate content assets and channels to build reputation, deepen relationships and ultimately generate revenue. The medium should reflect your message. Get creative to generate opportunities for clients to interact with your content, your leadership and business development teams.
Corporate thinking is a team activity - empowering thousands of professionals with relevant ideas enables you to become thought leaders at scale.
S stands for Sales (or Business Development if you prefer!):
Thought Leadership at its best is ideas-led selling. By diagnosing a problem or an opportunity clients didn’t know about, you create a call to action for your prescribed solution and give your leaders and business developers a hook to connect clients to a relevant offer.
Being effective at ideas-led selling does not mean emailing clients your report or thudding a white paper on their desk, it’s about having a profitable conversation using that content - using events and meetings to deepen relationships.
Embrace the future
We are living in uncertain times. But you can choose whether to disrupt or be disrupted. You have an opportunity to be the navigator - to see further and share future-oriented ideas that genuinely solve clients’ real challenges.
The future belongs to visionaries and in the ideas economy the biggest thinkers will win. Shouldn’t that be you?