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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Branding Thought Leadership

Leveraging New and Old Media
by Steven Brown

Today's business climate can lead to a hyper-focus on top line revenue, but it's just as important to watch the bottom line and operations. Reducing costs, or avoiding them, can make or break profitability. Corporate Travel costs are often the easiest to target, and the hardest to control. But what does that have to do with personal branding?

For Ellina Arakelova, having a comprehensive vision how best to control Corporate Travel expense is her unique value. She invests time to be educated on innovations in technology, as well as the travel industry. Her vendors recognize her willingness to work with them early in their programs - if she is satisfied then nearly all their customers will be as well.

In short, Ellina is a Thought Leader in her industry. Her recent article outlining a successful travel program is an example of what Thought Leaders do - they think ahead and influence others to emulate their example. By definition there is a small percentage of people who are Thought Leaders, which can be a significant advantage when competing, and is an important consideration when investing in your personal brand.

What is Thought Leadership

I spend time with thought leaders of my customers. They inform me of the scope of the problem they need solved, the solution they would like, and the value it provides them. I trust their judgment, and I return the favor by helping promote their visibility as thought leaders.

Wikipedia describes a Thought Leader as:

"a futurist or person who is recognized among peers and mentors for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights."

How Does Thought Leadership Impact Personal Brand

Thought Leaders define markets and are an instrumental part of influencing a wave of change that provides opportunities for profits. In Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, such leaders are called Mavens, "people we rely upon to connect us with new information".

If you're an individual wanting to define or enhance your brand, being a Thought Leader is certainly a position to consider. It is in the early period of trends that differentiation versus existing or competitive offerings is the primary decision making criteria for purchase. This role is highly valuable for companies that are seeking to gain benefit by being innovators in your area of expertise. In the case of Ellina mentioned above, her company wants to control travel costs and is willing to be more innovative to do so.

Establishing Your Thought Leadership Position

It's not simple to become a Thought Leader. Some people are born to it, others are willing to work for it. The key attributes of a Maven are information and insight. Having early access to information, usually through personal experience, is a requisite. However, the most important characteristic of a Thought Leader is one who is plugged into the unique requirements for a segment in the market place. They are aware of some unique value proposition that requires a shift in understanding or offering. In order to become a Thought Leader you must identify a domain where you have such advanced awareness and knowledge.

Communicating In a Noisy Mediaplace

Equipped with knowledge, one must then nurture a communication forum. Before the internet the forums were limited to books, newspapers, magazines, tv, radio, conferences, or other such mass media. The internet facilitates many forms of community creation where such thought leadership can be demonstrated. Twitter is the latest innovation, enabling thought evolution at the speed of light.

Others, myself included, are using blogs for creating and making thoughts easily accessible to an audience. Sometimes it's important to use more traditional media because of the endorsement their brand provides. The lower frequency can enhance the credibility of the voice, as in the case of USA Today publishing the interview about travel program management.

First You Must Have Thought

In my experience working with Thought Leaders the most important behavior they exhibit is continuous communication. They have thoughts and they share them, check them, and learn. Their pursuit of knowledge is tireless, and their willingness to put themselves out there is routine. Once there is thought and an openness in communication, the media forms will be simple decisions on the path to Maven-ness.

1 comment:

Shankar Hemmady said...

Yesss.. Steve, you have the talent of packing intricate messages into a few short sentences!

Love reading your blog entries...

-shankar Hemmady

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