The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 4 Issue 5   May 2008

And welcome to Spring (for those of you in the Northeast, you know what we mean when we say: finally)! This month’s edition of Research with a Twist takes a look at “Thought Leadership” research and its many benefits. With the economy tightening, there’s no better time to stand out as an expert!

As always, please click here to send us your thoughts and comments.

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Marketing with Market Research

Most of the time, when companies (ourselves included) use the term “market research,” we’re referring to research studies that attempt to uncover the answer(s) to specific business questions:

Should we develop this concept? In what ways and to whom do we market this service? What do our customers really think about the service provided by our phone reps?

In these cases, the research is done to solve an internal question and the results are (generally) not for public consumption.

There’s a different type of market research, however — often referred to as “Thought Leadership” — which takes an entirely different approach. Thought Leadership research is typically more “issue oriented,” and is conducted with the deliberate intent of being publicized and shared with the world (see Mixology below for more on ways to do this).

An example of a Thought Leadership study (Warning: CSR horn-tooting in road ahead!) is the one we conducted recently for our client CompTIA, on the subject of the current and potential future skills gaps in hiring in worldwide IT. The issues aren’t specific to CompTIA; however, having observed the problem anecdotally, and knowing it was of importance to its membership and the industry in general, CompTIA brought us in to help clarify and quantify these trends. In this instance, Thought Leadership (i.e. “Let’s provide a service [information] to the public and discuss what we learned”), not “What’s our best course of action regarding a specific product or service?”, was the goal.

When done well, the benefits of publishing a Thought Leadership study are many:

  1. Thought Leadership studies build your brand. When you publish fresh, new research on a topic of relevance in your industry, you hold yourself up as an expert. You move beyond simply delivering a product or service and position your company as one that weighs in on important industry trends and operates at the leading edge of the (often anonymous) pack.

    In addition, and thanks in part to the “expert aura” associated with this kind of research, it’s quite effective as a means of both breaking into a new field and solidifying your position in an existing one. Similar to researching and publishing a book, Thought Leadership studies present an opportunity to immerse yourself in a particular topic and demonstrate expertise on a particular subject where you may be less well known.

  2. Thought Leadership studies have legs. Another of our clients completed a Thought Leadership study over a year ago. Since that time the client team members have used the results to conduct invitation-only webinars with clients and prospects, deliver presentations at industry conferences, and create customized reports to address specific requests. They’ve also used the results of the study to help their clients benchmark their own performance and make appropriate adjustments to follow “best practices” trends uncovered in the research.

    The point is, the Thought Leadership study itself is only the beginning. As its originator, you have the ability to repackage and reuse the data in a number of different ways, all of which, again, contribute to the strengthening of your brand.

  3. Thought Leadership studies attract the attention of the press. When you conduct firsthand research of this kind, you’re likely to uncover interesting stories or trends… two things the press tends to care about. In the CompTIA study, for example, the press picked up on the notion that the IT skills gap was most acute in the area of mobile/wireless technology, and the study’s findings led to stories in Information Week, ComputerWorld, CIO Magazine and others.

    When your company makes the news in this way, not only does it put you in front of your target audience, it does so in a much more high profile way than do sponsorships or paid advertisements (to name just two common marketing tactics).

No Time to Be Invisible

For many executives, tough economic times suggest a need for battening down the hatches and tossing all “discretionary spending” overboard. Unfortunately, this often means shelving plans for Thought Leadership projects.

In our opinion, however, it’s precisely the wrong response. When the dollars, projects and clients are scarce, the competition intensifies. It’s at this critical time that the need to stand out from the pack becomes most urgent. Strengthening your brand and staying visible are two strategies — both of which benefit from conducting Thought Leadership research — which can carry the day.

— Julie

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When conceiving a Thought Leadership study, it’s important to begin with the end in mind:

  • Identify themes. Think about where your industry is headed and what today’s most salient points of discussion or controversy may be. If you can tackle a topic that’s already on people’s minds, there’s a good chance your results will gain attention.
  • Develop a distribution strategy. In addition to considering the time, talent and resources you’ll need to get the word out (should you engage a PR firm, for example?), you’ll need to decide on the format of your findings. Will you give the study away (i.e. maximize distribution)? Charge for the report (i.e. generate revenue)? Or offer some hybrid, such as summary results for the general population and a more robust report for clients and other VIPs?
  • Solidify client relationships. Beyond offering clients the detailed one-size-fits-all report, you may be able to use your results to create customized information for them, based on their particular needs. Taking your clients’ particular circumstances into consideration before the fact will help you craft a research project that is of maximum benefit to them when it’s completed.


Marketing with Market Research

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

Late last year, we announced in this space that Prudential Financial had retained CSR to conduct its annual Thought Leadership study: Benefits and Beyond (2007): Insight into the Next Generation of Employee Benefits: A Prudential Financial National Research Study.

This is an annual study involving online surveys of benefits plan sponsors and participants, and explores current and future employee needs and how employers plan to respond to those needs. CSR is currently conducting the 2008 survey.

“Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions.”

— Oliver Wendell Holmes

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The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data.

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