This is the final in a three-part series on Thought Leadership (click to see Part One or Two) based around an interview with Think Write Grow author Grant Butler. Himself a thought leader in his field he has provided some invaluable insights – these can be borne in mind as you ponder how to incorporate thought leadership in your next firm or marketing strategy review, or accommodate it in your partner performance management system or key performance indicators.

In this final post:

  • Grant talks about the importance of focusing on thought leadership quality, not quantity – this requires careful management (and some diplomacy!) but the aim must always be to provide material that gets clients and others thinking (and talking).
  • He also touches on the important topic of the resistance some professionals still feel to releasing their thought leadership material to the wider world. His view is unequivocal: be prepared to share more than you traditionally would – it will come back to benefit you.
The message is clear when working up thought leadership material - produce quality not quantity - try to make readers sit up and take note. Also be prepared to share material beyond your traditional comfort zones - it will help you build relationships of trust which will benefit you in a number of roundabout ways.

SL: TWG confirms thought leadership marketing should be a priority for many organisations. In the past thought leadership probably developed in a dynamic, less structured way – people became thought leaders “while they were doing their job” well. Now that thought leadership is becoming part of mainstream marketing and strategy-speak is there a danger it will lose its dynamic character? Will it become buried in marketing/management/consulting clichés, jargon, systems and processes?

GB: The internet has certainly made it both easier and more important to create thought leadership material and yes, there’s a danger of it being lost in the volume. The main defence is to focus on developing high-quality material. I would suggest consider the following points:

  • I’d encourage firms to focus on quality rather than quantity.
  • It’s better to come out less frequently with really succinct and insightful material that makes clients sit up and take notice.
  • This requires strong internal controls to ensure that substandard material is held back.
  • That in turn means making judgments and can be a political problem (try telling a partner their article is not good enough to release…), but it’s vital to remember that every time a firm publishes weak material, the less likely a client is to open their next email or attend their next seminar.

SL: People still seem chary about sharing their thought leadership assets (despite the positive propagation of the notion of ‘sharing’ via social media) – this is their ‘stock in trade’ and others will simply steal/use them for free. How would you respond to these concerns?

GB: I explore this in some depth in the book because it’s a really hard line to tread. You need to publish enough to grab the attention of clients and prospects but not so much that you are releasing high-value commercial material. Where that line lies will be very specific to each situation, but I would make a couple of points.

  • First, professionals and firms should generally be prepared to give away more intellectual property than they feel comfortable with and trust that they will gain the benefits back in roundabout ways – including new client business leads, media coverage and professionals defecting from other firms to join them. This is the basic premise of thought leadership style marketing: you need to give to receive, and you need to have some trust in the good will and honesty of others.
  • That said, it is possible to keep some control by being selective about how information is released. If you have very high-value information, perhaps deliver it in a seminar for key clients and only give participants a summary as a takeaway document. The other method is to develop thought leadership around topics that are related to – but not directly in line with – your area of expertise. In this way, you can be very vocal and open with your material to gain attention and show your expertise without giving away your core IP. For instance, an accounting firm might offer extensive ideas about tax reform but keep internal work processes highly secretive.
I hope that you have found this series helpful and thought provoking. I have certainly found that in the strategy work I do for law firms thought leadership is an essential consideration  – it comes into play when thinking about partner performance systems and contributions (mainly to building the firm’s capital fabric™), firm strategy or business building strategy. It is also a crucial element of brand strategy, being a foundational element of building individual brands.
Grateful thanks to Grant for participating and I am sure you will join me in wishing him every success with Think Write Grow.
Think Write Grow author Grant Butler - he can be contacted at