Entrepreneurs as Thought Leaders

As a startup founder or a budding entrepreneur, one is donning multiple hats as he/she tries to build a sustainable brand and make a big impact. Amidst all the business meetings, investor presentations, team pep talks, trainings etc., it is difficult to find time to blog/ write about relevant topics on the social media or be a part of community conversations. The interesting part is that thought leaders are the fast gaining prominence across industries. You might be the CEO of a fast-growing business with innovation at the forefront, but it is important for you to define the trends and be seen as an expert in the business. As a thought leader, the entrepreneur can also lead the community in the right direction.

So, who is a thought leader?

A thought leader is an individual or an organisation that is excelling in its business/domain and has the expertise to talk about the community at large. A thought leader can foresee trends, can talk about what is going well and what is not working for the community in the current scenario and also influence policy making. A thought leader also has the power to help his/her audience solve a problem.

A thought leader has a large number of engaged followers and can define the future trends as well as influence the thought process across a wide range of audiences. He/she is a respectable name in his business who knows his business well and is seen as a visionary, a mentor and a trendsetter.

Why is it important to be a thought leader?

A number of leaders are of the view that thought leadership is just another marketing strategy. That is not true. While thought leaders do talk about their business, their product etc., the objective is much bigger. It is about generating content that sets the tone for the business, that visualises the future of a specific community and helps in image building for the business at a national as well as a global stage. Thought leaders not only share their views on their social pages, but also are an active participant in key community events where they can set the tone for the business at large. 

The hindsight is that there is a constant need to reinvent and innovate in the way one communicates as a thought leader. He/she also needs to be on the top of his game. Also, a thought leader needs to be mindful of what he/she says as it can have a direct impact on the business. 

Effective content showcases a CEOs intellectual capital and his/her personal perspective—a mix of human and business-led communications, that is becoming increasingly important to today’s audiences. Increasing number of CEOs comment on social issues and topical news, and this trend is fast spreading beyond the large corporates. There are some big CEOs who have millions of engaged audiences- like Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Sundar Pichai. Tim Cook regularly tweets about Apple and shares his personal views on relevant business news. In India, Anand Mahindra is one of the popular names on the social pages and he shares his views on important topics and news. He also shares interesting videos on innovation that he may across, along with the news on the latest developments in the organisation. Also, there are a number of unicorn founders who are thought leaders.

Why the need for startup founders to be thought leaders

For startup founders/entrepreneurs, thought leadership can give them that differentiator or cutting-edge, if planned well. It can also help in brand recall and enhance credibility for their brand. Since startups are still in an emerging phase, the founders actually have the opportunity to become the face and define the DNA of the brand. In some cases, the Founders can really communicate the culture and business vision, if positioned well as thought leaders in their space.

If we look at thought leadership and founders, there are some key advantages:

  • Investors value founders who are thought leaders: Investors value founders who have the expertise and business knowledge. When investors invest in an early-stage startup, they not only bet on the product or the business model, but also on the Founder/ core team of the startup. A Founder with established thought leadership will help him/her get a headstart in investor conversations, as thought leaders can be seen as the ones who are well-versed with the business and have the right knowledge to build their brand.
  • Builds trust on the brand: A socially active CEO who talks about the community, his business and at times, his own journey, works very well in today’s times. The content generated as a part of thought leadership campaign could be in the form of blogs, op-eds, video content etc., and it helps to build brand transparency and helps strengthen relationship with the audience. 
  • A consistent communication channel: Thought leadership helps to create a consistent communication channel for the audiences. A robust thought leadership and content strategy helps a company to put out good quality content and create a differentiated communication channel from very early days-  without getting into expensive marketing mediums like SEM, advertising buys and tradeshows. It also helps the Founder/ brand to reiterate their business commitment, vision and mission.
  • A platform for Founders to share their view point: A post on Medium by a Founder of a startup can be written the way he wants to. He can then choose to share it across other social channels like LinkedIn and Twitter. A single post can reach millions across the world and communicate the Founder’s or the business’ view point. This is the power of thought leadership and comes in handy in case of crisis or a scenario that needs the company/Founder to communicate their view point well.
  • Thought leadership has the power to generate more press than average PR: A well-written piece posted on thought leader’s social profile can grab the attention of the audiences, including media persons. An announcement in the form of a simple post has the power to reach millions and make a huge impact.

Founders can be role models

Founders who are effective thought leaders emerge as role models for millions. They inspire the youth, as they dream about successful future and hence, are closely watched. Hence, it is also important to be begin with the right strategy in place and also start when the time is right. 

In the Indian startup world, we have seen a number of Founders who have emerged as business thought leaders and trend setters. They define the future of the community. They have millions of audiences that they can reach out to, with one single post. 

However, there is a hindsight to this. There have been instances in the past, with brands like Uber, Facebook and Housing, where unusually proactive CEOs/Founders and there not so ordinary personalities had a negative impact on the brand reputation. 

In Conclusion

According to a study by BrandFog, 64 percent of consumers say it is ‘extremely important’ for CEOs of companies they patronise, to take positions on social issues. Today, CEOs are exploring newer ways to communicate with their audiences- like videos, podcasts, live chats. 

Thought leadership is expected to become increasingly important with the rise of digital and the internet and with the increase in the number of customers who are well-informed. A well planned thought leadership campaign can help increase brand awareness, boost traffic and increase sales. There is no ‘one strategy fits all’ approach. One will have to make tweaks to the initial plan, as he/she moves along, depending on the successes and failures. 

To conclude, it will be right to say that a well-planned thought leadership campaign has the power to reach millions across the world, by one single post. It can also help leaders understand what is working well for their brand and what has a room to grow. A thought leadership campaign takes time to build. It is not something that can be achieved in a few weeks or months. The good side is that a good thought leadership campaign can have a long lasting impact on the brand.

Akanksha Jain
Akanksha heads PR and Communication at BharatPe. She has over 15 years of experience in working across global/digital public relations, corporate and brand communications, crisis communications, brand and market communications domains.

In the past, Akanksha has successfully planned and executed public relations/brands campaigns across India and over 30 other countries. She is a start-up specialist and has extensive experience of working with emerging brands. She has been associated with brands like Pine Labs, MobiKwik, VLCC and Power2SME and spearheaded their PR/brand/communication campaigns.

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