Corporate thought leadership.
Ew! you’re thinking. Ick!
Let’s make you feel even yuckier: Being a little “corporate” about thought leadership works.
Here’s Gini Dietrich (founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich and a global leader in PR innovation) on the benefits of effective corporate thought leadership:
Corporate thought leadership is far more challenging than your typical personal thought leadership, but it has the potential for even more beneficial results.
When it’s properly executed and fully supported, it can set your organization apart from the competition.
It shows brand consistency, industry authority, attention to detail, and pride.
You will know that you’ve reached the ultimate goal when your competitors look at your organization as the leading figure on thoughts, ideas, and implementation.
That last paragraph — you want something like that for your research-driven organization, if it has a pulse.
Why Your Thought Leadership is Probably Already a Little Bit Corporate
The problem, of course: Corporate thought leadership seems to involve selling your research soul. Dietrich says it
involves an organization made up of multiple thought leaders who agree on the same values and beliefs — and can tow the company line and live the values, no matter where they are, who they’re speaking with, or what they’re asked.
Everything about that sentence is anathema to research culture, where the very concept of “corporate thought leadership” seems like something someone in corporate thought leadership would dream up.
But if you run or work for a research-driven organization with any degree of advocacy, you know Dietrich is at least partly right:
- You’re there because you share the organization’s values and beliefs.
- Your organization’s advocacy flows from those values and beliefs.
- The signal of that advocacy will come across much stronger and cleaner when it frames your research within those values and beliefs.
Even if you’re just trying to promote an idea, a paradigm, or a solution out of your research, you need to be consistent in your messaging. And it doesn’t hurt if you can draw on an organizational brand known for promoting that idea/paradigm/solution.
Now we’re being a little bit corporate.
Research sometimes finds it difficult to wrap its pointy head around the virtues of messaging, of positioning, and of brand. We’d love to live in a world where great research automatically got the attention it deserved. Where unworthy research sank below the waves without a ripple. Where organizational messaging automatically updated to reflect our latest research findings. (I would love for my hometown Brewers to win the World Series, too. I’ve been waiting 51 years for that to happen.)
While we wait for that amazing world, though, our organizations too often either a) pull punches on their thought leadership so they can look more credible to other researchers, or b) attack their researchers when they produce findings that contradict messaging that was never all that research-based to begin with.
The Takeaway: Four Ways to Be a Little More Corporate
Here are what I think are the best ways to solve this problem.
First: Hire people who believe in your organization’s mission and endorse its core readings of the literature, both for your research topics as well as the broad directions in which those readings will push future research. Taking this step solves the problem of having researchers on staff who agree with you but not enough to join publicly in your advocacy.
Second: Publicly articulate and socialize those core readings and broad research directions. Everyone should understand your organization’s POV.
Third: Co-publish your research as much as possible with external authors to remove the advocacy-first taint.
Fourth: Create and market compelling thought leadership content to promote your research and your solutions.
It’s not easy to be both great at research and great at thought leadership.
Organizations that want to be both should take…an organizational approach. One that’s at least a bit corporate.