In my view…

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“These days everybody has far too many opinions,” a friend complained recently. His throwaway remark got me thinking. Anyone who has ever scrolled down to the polemic discussions after a contentious online article, for example, or followed the tweets during a premiership match would agree. It seems that everyone feels the need to give their view on everything from the situation in Syria – to Strictly.

And yet, is this really the case? UK voting statistics were worryingly low, even before Russell Brand told us not to bother. We still avoid spouting politics or religion, but often out of apathy rather than fear of offending. Without the protection of a Twitter handle, many are not quite so eager to put their heads above the parapet.

So perhaps this is why, these days, those whose opinions are backed by sound knowledge and experience and who tell their story in an engaging way, stand out from the masses. If you can show that you know what you are talking about, have passion and vision, you will be heard above the general gabble, clichés and catchphrases.

As in life, so in business. Thought leadership – or the art of pushing a debate or idea forward through new information or a new angle – has long been a powerful way to communicate brand values and establish respect and authority. But these days with the growth of online content through blogs and social media it’s become even stronger. Yet too often businesses cling to their products or services like a comfort blanket.

A friend of my husband’s recently sent him a link to a video of mountain biker Danny MacAskill riding the precarious Cuillin Ridge on Skye with the message; ‘this is incredible’. Nothing unusual about this – except the friend is certainly not the type to willingly take part in a viral marketing campaign. It just so happens that they had both walked the ridge and climbed the Inaccessible Pinnacle which features in the film a few years ago.
It was incredible – beautifully shot with breath-taking views and bike stunts. You wouldn’t be aware it was a commercial venture, unless you spotted the subtle product placement of a can of Red Bull and the bike logo. Yet, we were left with nothing short of admiration for the brands involved. They knew their target audience wouldn’t be easily impressed, but had gone all out to produce something that even they would want to share. We didn’t feel ‘sold to’ or cheated as they had given us something in return – a short but stunning experience.

This video seems a world away from, say, a technology white paper which discusses research findings on a particular issue such data security or the use of cookies. But in fact, they are both types of thought leadership. They both start from knowing what the customer wants to see or needs know, rather than from the brand or product, which becomes almost an afterthought. Yet they both leave their target market sure that “this brand knows what it’s doing – and what I like, or need to know”.

So what about all those opinions? When they are built on a firm bed of expertise – they are all part of the thought leadership toolset. It’s about ‘owning’ a topic and giving something to your audience that demonstrates you are driving the discussion – even if it is just your view or a new slant on an old subject.

So while it’s important to be ‘on message’ – it’s counter-productive to avoid saying anything disruptive or controversial. Nobody likes a brand that’s bland. Tease out a topic and weave your story around it. I’m tempted to say this is where the content creators at Whiteoaks can help. Then perhaps I’d be going against my own advice…