Thought leadership (you may want to add the adjective “true”) is one of the most overused terms in the industry. It’s pondered over extensively by corporate marketing teams, strategists and consultants, occasionally snubbed by the press for not delivering, and agonized over by communications pros wondering “How do we fix this piece?”

Frequently, there’s greater emphasis on “thought” than “leadership,” seemingly missing the point of why a commentary might pique the interest of intended audiences. It’s less of an issue for market leading, traditional media outlets – such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Financial Times – who critically examine how industry perspectives provide value-add to their readers. However, in the age of digital and social media, the proliferation of blogs provides an outlet for anyone who’d like to make their thoughts known.

While these developments have not raised the bar for the quality of thought leadership pieces published daily in a digital world already flooded with content, they have brought an equalizer to the universe of thought leadership contributors as well as generated new opportunities to reach very specific audiences. Most importantly, the new media landscape has made it imperative for executives to better differentiate themselves in a crowded content space by demonstrating more “leadership,” bringing fresh and timely perspectives to the market.

This means being out of the gate early on with relevant and critical perspectives or revealing insights that help frame or educate industry participants (including companies’ clients, potential business partners, etc.) on emerging trends, industry dynamics and challenges, or market opportunities before everyone else weighs in. For example, the term Unicorn – a new wave of high-growth startups with big valuations – was coined by venture capital expert Aileen Lee in 2013 for the broader industry. Two years later, the surge of start-ups valued at over $1 billion started to have all signs of a market bubble. FLAG Capital (today part of Aberdeen’s Alternatives Group) spoke early on about the need for managers to pro-actively manage the risk in portfolios that have large exposure to Unicorns.

To be sure, companies need to carefully choose what to say and when to say it in order to not compromise business objectives as markets take notice. It is also not ingrained in every company’s culture to take measured risk in voicing strong opinions, which comes with the territory. Many businesses, however, we find are under utilizing the institutional knowledge they could leverage for market differentiation. Those who do take a more proactive stance are the true thought leaders, building positive visibility for themselves and their company.

– Katrin Lieberwirth

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