The Branding Power of Thought Leadership

A great article written this week by Len Stein touts thought leadership as the next frontier in public relations (read the article). I could not agree more with the views Stein puts forth in the article. Traditionally, companies have made news releases a key component of their PR strategy. These bits of news and facts are mass distributed to media outlets and posted on company web sites in the hopes that someone will find information in a release newsworthy and give it coverage. News releases are typically "we are great" messages that are one-way conversations between a company and whoever they think would be interested in learning about how great they are.

Yes, news releases can be an inexpensive way to create exposure. Yes, news releases are perceived as more credible than advertising because the source of the message is viewed as the news media, not the company whose release led to the coverage. But, everyone does them- for profits, non-profits, institutions, organizations, everyone is trying to get exposure. The result is that news releases do not carry the punch that we would like to believe they possess.

In contrast, thought leadership offers more for audiences. It is about informing and educating a target market that would value receiving information. Recipients can put to use information received or are otherwise better off for having been exposed to messages from thought leaders. Another key benefit is positioning as a thought leader not only strengthens brand credibility, it can help humanize the brand. Thought leaders are people, not entities. In order to forge a leadership position, people have to make it happen. Whether it is through blogging, podcasting, books, or other form of disseminating information, it is accomplished by associating a name and face with the information being shared. News releases are very impersonal by comparison.

Becoming a thought leader is not done with the objective of increasing sales or market share, but those results can be by-products of establishing a position of high credibility in an industry. It comes down to what do you have to offer to your target audience that adds value. "I am great" does not work in developing thought leadership; rather it is more like "how can I help you become great?"

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