Each company strives to achieve sustainable competitive advantage to stay ahead of its competitors, but in order achieve that, companies need to understand what differentiates them from their competition.  According to Barney (1991), an organization obtains sustainable competitive advantage if its resources hold true towards the four aspects of the VRIO model: Is the resource valuable, rare, difficult to imitate and organized in a way the firm can exploit it to obtain value through it?

I am a firm believer of Human Resources being the key to a company’s success. Each member of an organization has its own specific skillset, experience and expertise in order to successfully contribute to the success of his or her department and thereby to the overall company success. For me, it is therefore a shame that many companies do not try harder to utilize the unique skillset of their employees, but instead leave them in their pre-defined position without seeing the whole potential an employee brings upon entering into the company.

The concept of positioning a company and its employees as thought leaders and experts in the field is one way for firms to gain (sustainable) competitive advantage in the digital age, in which most resources are easier obtainable by competing organizations and competition is fierce.
Unfortunately, Thought Leadership is still a relatively new – and oftentimes abstract – concept, with many companies being skeptical towards it. I am not discussing that thought leadership is some sort of magical solution that will explode sales over night, but rather a concept to be incorporated into a company’s culture, by including open communication, knowledge sharing and employee engagement as primary values of the organization. By empowering employees to share their own knowledge, as well as the company’s vision to their own social network the advantages of Thought Leadership become clear.

Creating a Culture of Thought Leadership

Savy organizations already know that thought leadership is the key to establishing long-lasting and valuable relationships with customers, delivering value throughout the entire buying process. Sharing educational content that supports the brand’s marketing and awareness goals, employees turn into the human face of an organization and thereby build valuable connections with prospects. Numerous studies show how the humanization of companies/brands leads to increased trust and loyalty between the consumer and the company. A recent study on social media within the travel industry for instance indicated that 92% of consumers trust earned media (such as word-of-mouth from friends or colleagues) over all other forms of marketing efforts.

As mentioned, thought leadership is rarely a concept that is simply to be implemented within an organization, but needs to first and foremost come from within the corporate culture, allowing employees to engage with the company, their colleagues and their wider social networks in a new way. Chances are, that engaged employees are already working for your firm, eager to turn your company into an industry leader. Those engaged employees come with their own networks, skills and expertise that you can tap into to grow your reach and to build influence. As important resource and face within your organization, employees are the key to showcase industry expertise towards their own networks.

As a Gallup research indicated, only 41% of US employees actually know what their company stands for and what differentiates their brand from its competitors. For organizations that do not realize that employees are standing in between the brand and the outside world, bringing their message and vision across, it becomes increasingly difficult to position themselves in the markt place, as social media has changed the game when it comes to branding.

Creating a culture of thought leadership ensures that each and every interaction with partners, new hires, leads or the general public can be enrichened and inspired. At the same time, employees develop a sense of pride and connection to the organization. That – in turn – increases employee satisfaction, their feeling of being valued as well as having a bigger impact on the company – effectively decreasing turnover within the company and helping firms to keep their competitive advantage in the long run.


Providing a Framework for Thought Leadership

In order to gain access to all of the hidden potential and knowledge from employees, it is crucial to allow knowledge sharing. Giving employees an easy-to-use platform to store, organize and to share their information, as well as to add their own thoughts and ideas to shared content, while effectively communicating with their peers, can go a long way to turn employees into experts. Employees that are motivated to share content to gain exposure, and for whom it is easy to contribute, create and distribute content, will increase the company’s visbility.

If every employee has the ability to contribute, everyone has the potential to become a thought leader – no matter if that person is a low-level salesperson speaking to prospects on the phone, or a Marketing Manager, holding a keynote speech at an international tradeshow.

All employees within an organization can be seen as a mosaic of perspectives, experiences and ideas with their unique voices and access to a distinct professional network and social network. Training them all to become well-informed educators, creating spaces for employees to contribute to the company’s social media presence and knowledge-sharing, your brand’s expertise reaches a far wider audience than by solely relying on your company’s social media accounts.

Thought leaders trigger new ways of thinking – they can change industries, business models and consumer behavior in their own favor and lead to higher customer loyalty, as they turn themselves and their company into go-to-sources of information, new ideas and solutions.

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