The CEO of a client company once told me I shouldn’t do a webinar on the company’s, secret sauce. They were a professional services company, and he was worried the competition would go to school on them, learn something about their secret sauce, and then use it against them. I asked him if no one knew about the secret sauce, then what good was it? I asked him what would happen if that competitor began giving away their knowledge? How would customers and prospects react? I promised him I would give the attendees only a taste. Well, it might have turned out to be an appetizer.
Giving away your secret sauce is a type of thought leadership. You find forward thinking companies and individuals doing this. CEOs and bean counters don’t like it because it’s hard to quantify the immediate return. That’s what makes it hard to instill in a company, and why it has to be top down driven. But what is thought leadership and why is it important?
Here’s my definition of thought leadership:
It is the ability to share with passion the things that truly advance the art and science of your company’s business, your understanding of customer needs and your marketplace, and to do this with confidence and without thought of risk and immediate return.
The longer term value of thought leadership is that it can help a smaller companies leverage their size, become better known and increase their reach. This creates larger audiences with more significant clients and reduces the cost of client acquisition. And like brand, it can add to the valuation of the company. In addition, from several of my last posts, it can help retain customers and engage them in new products and services. There is value in thought leadership.
A key characteristic of true thought leadership is sharing; sharing ideas, technology, knowledge, and intellectual property, all without the thought of immediate gain. It contains elements of passion, generosity and education. Ultimately, like brand, it is about what others say about you. You can’t say you are a thought leader or if you do, no one will believe you. It’s like saying you are the world’s greatest lover. Though that also has something to do with sharing, recognition comes more with simmering the sauce over a long time.
The combination of sharing without asking for something immediate in return is what makes it so hard for senior management to appreciate thought leadership and get behind it. Like brand, marketing’s job is to help lead organizations into creating a culture of thought leadership, and to help show that ROI.
While the webinar was going on, I shared a text from a prospect with the CEO. “This stuff is great. I am reminded again of why we should try to do business.”