Thought leadership as a tech startup strategy

Thought leadership means being recognized as an authority in a particular field. Recognition may come from peers as references in blogs, magazines and other media, and as invitations to participate in expert panels and keynote talks at conferences. The concept of thought leadership applies to specific people rather than technology or organizations. However, people who seek thought leadership indirectly promote their organizations and technology.

Competitive-Positioning Compass

The Competitive-Positioning Compass illustrates the various domains in which one would seek thought leadership as their market matures. Here are the steps:

At first, thought leadership means being recognized for the approach you apply to a problem. It involves promoting the sophistication of the core skills and technology you deploy, which translates into technology leadership.

Next, thought leadership means getting recognition for your product and its full potential, which translates into product leadership.

Finally, your objective is specific to a market niche or industry where you want your tech product or offering to be recognized as the new gold standard, which is the best way for leaders in the market niche to go about their business.

Why is thought leadership important in the technology industry?

Business leaders operating in a world of continuous change look for new and improved ways to approach the strategic challenges their organizations face. People with new, relevant insights are recognized as thought leaders, especially if they create additional strategic options for business leaders.
This recognition is paramount for startups promoting new technology because it provides a credibility that would be difficult to build through normal marketing activities. Thought leadership is a highly cost-effective way to commercialize innovative ideas.

Creating thought leadership

  • As it takes time to develop thought leadership, begin the process from the outset of your venture.
  • Developing thought leadership means helping your target customers approach a strategic choice by providing them with relevant insight. Focus your message on the strategic options to resolve a problem, and explain why your approach matters. By placing strategic options at the centre, you ensure that any new language is placed into a significant context for potential customers.
  • Your target customers make sense of new technology through the language you use to describe your offering. Adapt this language as you progress through the technology adoption lifecycle. For further information on language and new technology, see the article Communicating technology innovations.
  • Create“evidence” of thought leadership. Evidence can take different forms, such as a peer-reviewed academic article, white paper, magazine article, documentary or presentation at a relevant conference.
  • Ensure your evidence reaches target customers. Potential avenues include hiring a direct sales force that can tell the story in person, placing stories in media read by your target customer, sending direct mail or appearing on stage at an industry conference.

Bear in mind that it is key opinion leaders (KOLs) who determine whether you are a thought leader. Your customers consult KOLs when they want to learn more about a field. For more information on this subject, see Marketing to influencers and opinion leaders.