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| 2 minutes read

Thought Leadership - How to fix it

Thought leadership sits right at the core of successful professional services marketing.

In services-based industries, the ability of a firm to demonstrate that expertise and capability to market is a critical factor in determining ongoing success.

Firms that can establish reputations as recognised thought leaders in a particular practice have a tangible and difficult-to-replicate advantage in winning work, setting pricing, and retaining talent.

It is perhaps a bit strong to say that most thought leadership programs in professional services firms fail, yet it is rare that a firm would report that its thought leadership program accurately represents the true expertise and capability of the firm. This is not to say that the marketing team are somehow incompetent; More that the breadth of expertise in a mid or large-sized firm is extraordinarily complex to even understand, let alone express to the market.

Resources and size do not determine success in thought leadership

Firms across all different specialisms and geographies report significant “eminence gaps”, where the market perception of the firm's expertise and capability lags considerably behind what the firm can deliver to clients.

The eminence gap phenomenon is reported in all sizes of firms, from boutique specialists to globally dominant brands. In fact, larger firms often struggle more to demonstrate their true capability to market.

Resources and investment are not the deciding factors in whether a firm is effective in thought leadership.

It is not uncommon to see a firm of a few dozen professionals and a tiny, part-time, outsourced, marketing department capture a share of voice in thought leadership many times its size, dominating several niche areas of practice.

Over the past 5 years, we’ve seen globally dominant firms fail and then succeed, we’ve seen niche firms establish dominant market positions. 

Thought leadership isn’t something that a firm can do or can’t do. It’s not something that can be solved by throwing money at and most of all, it’s not something that can be ignored.

The four linked reasons thought leadership programs succeed

Thought leadership programs are successful or not depends on four critical factors that form a chain. If any given factor is weak or missing then the entire chain falls apart and the program fails. Each link in the chain is relatively simple to achieve, but it is challenging to scale the links altogether, which is why larger firms often find truly successful thought leadership out of reach.

The four factors that separate successful professional services thought leadership programs:

  1. Author-centric publication: Empowering authors to create content in an easy and well-understood way.
  2. Governance: Quick and efficient approvals processes for all content.
  3. Create Once, Publish Everywhere: Guaranteed reach for published content to the audiences that matter.
  4. Feedback: Layered feedback to each of the stakeholders - and, in particular, to the authors who must see the value of creating the content.

By focusing on these success factors, and by enshrining them as critical project priorities, firms of all sizes are to see a nearly overnight transition from barely active online, to delivering a steady stream of useful, timely content to market that establishes the firm as the market leader.


marketing, professional services, best practice