Written by Katia Ponnampalam • Published 13th June 2016 • 4 minute read

Thought leadership. Research papers. White papers. All three are terms which are part of the corporate parlance.

But do they have any material benefit to a business? And what if you have never engaged in such a project before now?

The simple answer is a research paper, for want of a better expression, can be of huge benefit to enterprise. It can help a company put a stake in the ground in its own particular industry and beyond.

But the benefit is only as good as the strength of the paper itself – and how it is used. Standing out from the crowd is vitally important.

Thought leadership done properly requires the unearthing of new statistics and trends, and then attaching to it solid, concise analysis. Therefore, methods on how to mine information – and how you go about this – is as important as the presentation of the data itself.

Our latest insight is a helpful guide on thought leadership – and how to maximise its influence.

The power of choice

What will make an impact in your industry? What matters to your business and what is it you are passionate about?

While finding an industry-critical topic on which to conduct research may not always be possible, it certainly needs to have weight. Think about the business issues that you face daily. And why having increased knowledge around those issues would be of benefit both to your organisation and the industry in general.

The planning process is as important as the work itself.

Lead, don’t follow

It seems obvious to say but ask yourself the question: has similar research been published before? It is of course a challenge to be completely original, and there is always a danger of going over old ground. Care should be taken not to simply be a lighter version of what’s already available.

Take an outside view of the project – will the person you are trying to reach feel they’ve heard it all before? If so, brainstorm with your senior team as to what the new avenue could be.

Ensure your foundations are made of solid research

This stems from the planning process but it is essential to pursue avenues to get the best data for the specific project.

Of course, there are several methods – surveys, market research, library research and data mining are some – but sources need to be reputable and checkable.

Research is also a budget issue. Some companies have extensive databases through which to conduct research, but if it is a poll or survey, then the larger the field, the better and more reputable the results.

This is an area The PHA Group advises on regularly and one common mistake firms without advice make is to cut corners. There needs to be an investment in time and resource in order to get it right.

Putting more into a project to get it right is far better than seeing it hit the buffers because of a lax attitude to the basics.

Of course, there are various means by which to go about research – there are a number of companies which specialise in gathering research, with some carrying expertise in various fields.

The art of presentation

white paper doesn’t need to be as dull as it sounds. Making the report eye-catching is vitally important. The long-standing rules of being able to draw in the reader apply here.

A bland, text-heavy report with no graphics or imagination is less likely to have impact. If it is sitting alongside a similar report on the coffee table of a potential client and the rival has a more appealing design, you know which one is going to be picked up first.

Well-designed reports can have gravitas as well as beauty – one should not be forsaken for the other.

Again, investment in this aspect is vital.

Bang for buck

Just how are you going to use this report?

This will breakdown into these main areas:

  • Clients
  • Potential clients
  • Peers
  • Other interested parties (regulators, partners)
  • Media

For clients, the decision should be made on how to send the results – is there an investment to be made in printing the report rather than just sending a PDF?

A vibrant media strategy should also be at the forefront of your mind – it will give you a platform and knowing how best to approach this is vital.

Done properly, solid pieces of thought leadership should yield opportunities across social, print and broadcast media.

Offering media the key, standout pieces of information is important.

Tactics employed in using the research to engage media should not forget social media and what you can utilise in the digital sphere. 

Thought Leadership: The Conclusion

Thought leadership can be a positive, beneficial engagement for any business.

The material produced as a result has the power to straddle various avenues – marketing, public relations, social media and business development.

It encourages industry recognition, credibility within the media, and puts a stamp of serious intent which is visible to current clients and potential future clients.

However, it can be time consuming and in some cases, costly. With this in mind, working to maximise the ROI is essential.