Why 2021 wasn’t a good year for thought leadership

“Thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They become the trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality and know and show how to replicate their success. Over time, they create a dedicated group of friends, fans and followers to help them replicate and scale their ideas into sustainable change not just in one company but in an industry, niche or across an entire ecosystem.” – definition by thoughtleadershiplab.com

In my previous post, “Are you ready for a post-pandemic narrative?“, I made a plea to stop whining about COVID-19 related challenges and start seizing new opportunities. Which is extremely relevant for corporate communicators, content marketers, and thought leaders.

In a September 2021 survey by Edelman and LinkedIn, 3600 global business decision makers and C-suite executives across a wide range of industries and company sizes were asked about the impact of thought leadership, how it influences their perception and buying behaviors, and what attributes B2B audiences want to see from companies.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a global cancellation of corporate events and conferences. With the absence of physical meetings and face-to-face networking opportunities, many companies and individuals have turned to delivering their messages using digital means, such as webinars, downloadable white papers, email blasts, and LinkedIn posts.

Photo by Kotivalo (CC BY-SA 4.0)

As a result, the pandemic has resulted in an excessive quantity of (often) lower quality content and, more recently, also a growing fatigue for virtual events. According to the report, almost 4 in 10 decision makers said there is more thought leadership content than they can manage or that the market is oversaturated with such material. This flood of digital content has also diluted its perceived value: 71% of decision makers concluded that less than half of the thought leadership material they consume gives them valuable insights.

On the positive side, more than half of the executives said that they spent more time-consuming thought leadership than before the coronavirus started its global spread – more than an hour per week. They still value quality content because it allows them to understand the trends affecting their industries and helps them generate new ideas for their businesses.

You may remember an article I wrote a few years ago about the sometimes thin line between a thought leader and an entertainer, in which I listed a few dos and don’ts for aspiring thought leaders. Some of these were confirmed by the respondents of the Edelman survey. When asked about the predominant shortcomings of low-quality thought leadership,

  • 46% answered being “overly focused on selling or describing products rather than conveying valuable information”,
  • 40% of them get bummed by “unoriginal thinking, or a lack of new ideas”, and
  • 31% don’t want content “authored by people who are not true experts on the subject matter”.

Building upon the definition I quoted higher on this page, thought leadership will need to start serving as an engine for change again. That’s why I believe that the 2022 secret code for pundits will include words like purpose, meaning, and engagement. And that true opinion makers will have to demonstrate insight, authority, and trust for being credible to business decision makers.

You may download the report here:

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Are you ready for a post-pandemic narrative?

During the corona crisis, companies had to change their way of working, cope with on-site staff shortages, and deal with supply chain disruptions. Marketers were forced to reinvent their messaging and engagement strategies.

The past 18 months, we changed the way we told stories as well as the stories we told. Virtual events and webinars became the rule rather than an exception. The majority of business articles and remote presentations  started with an obligatory statement about COVID-19 and the obvious need to ensure business continuity. 

Excuse me for being too optimistic but, with more people getting vaccinated, our (new-) normal life is slowly taking up again.

And so, it’s time now to stop whining about pandemic related challenges, and start seizing post-pandemic opportunities: better balancing work and life, bridging the digital divide, reinventing education, building an inclusive society, becoming carbon neutral, … 

Photo by vperemen.com (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Let’s start creating this post-pandemic narrative today.  Let’s change our tone from comforting people to inspiring masses. Let’s promote hope. Let’s advocate change. And let’s metamorphose from COVID-era storytellers into post-corona thought leaders and storymakers!

Related posts on this blog:

Anthem

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

– Anthem by Leonard Cohen

In his song Anthem, the late Leonard Cohen sings that there is a crack in everything. But that that’s also the place where the light can get in. Cohen’s lyrics are often highly philosophical and subject to different interpretations. For me the phrase means that not everything works out, not everything is great, not everyone is perfect… but if you look at people, things and events with a positive attitude, there’s always something good in everyone, everything and every situation.

I already used the crack-and-light metaphor in another post on this blog, about champagne corks and factfulness, when I wrote about (unfortunately, also the late) Hans Rosling’s book in which the Swedish thinker iterates ten reasons why we’re wrong about the world, and why things are better than we think.

Photo by Sarunas Burdulis (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Today, most of us are locked down and locked in because of the COVID-19 virus and our daily news is dominated by the grim statistics of infections and deaths, by stories of heartbreaking personal tragedies and by gloomy economic forecasts.

But, this dark pandemic cloud has also a silver lining – a crack where the light gets through. Just look at the positive things people are doing today. The heroic dedication of health care workers. How neighbors are taking care of each other. How some (no, not all) governments and employers have become empathic leaders. How (again, some) virologists and scientists turned out to be great communicators. The (temporary?) positive effects on traffic jams and on air and water quality. The growing acceptance of tele-working and home working…

We’ll never live in a perfect world, so let’s not make perfect the enemy of good. We must learn to accept setback and imperfection. It’s all about taking the right perspective. Being positive about the post-corona future. Ringing the bells that still can ring. Thinking opportunities rather than challenges. Actually, the new normal may not be that bad after all.

Flatten the curve

A well-thought mantra or a well-designed visual may have many uses.

Today’s Twitter feed presented me with an inspiring variant of the ‘flatten the curve’ chart. The double bell curve, which is known by almost everyone today, visualizes the key rationale for keeping social distance in tough corona times. The chart explains why slowing the spread of the infection is nearly as important as stopping it and imposes a country’s health care capacity as the target upper limit for the epidemic’s growth.

The graphic I stumbled upon was attributed to the Sustainable Fashion Forum and promotes a new way of doing business that contains climate change risks by limiting natural resource consumption and carbon emission to the earth’s capacity.

The sustainable business curve does not only hold a clear message, but from a marketer’s perspective it also shows an effective way of capitalizing on a hot and widely discussed topic. What else could a casual blogger wish for writing a new post about, while staying at home to help flatten the COVID-19 curve?