The Power of Thought Leadership in Expansion-Stage Tech Companies

January 26, 2011

Research suggests that excelling as a thought leader can be a key indicator of success at the expansion stage.

Perhaps nothing is more important than thought leadership when it comes to companies forging their future. It’s an indispensable commodity. Without thought leadership, most companies would be rudderless ships.

What exactly is a thought leader?

Source of Data

This report combines data from an analysis of websites from 50 software and technology companies with annual revenues between $5 million and $25 million from the 2010 Inc 5000.

It’s a term meant to denote a company or a person that, by the standards of their industry, is considered to have innovative ideas. Research has shown that having a strong thought leadership foundation is going to differentiate the average company from the few that distinguish themselves. In other words, it’s an inherent competitive advantage.

Where does the research point? A poll conducted by OpenView Venture Partners on thought leadership indicated that, out of 60 respondents, 40 percent believe that regular blogs are most vital to companies looking to establish themselves as thought leaders in their industry. Therein, a number of publication options can be used to execute the marketing strategy. This includes whitepapers, bylined articles, newsletters and other formats.

Scott Maxwell, the founder of OpenView Venture Partners, has maintained that thought leadership is able to take companies to new milestones.


“Thought leadership is an incredibly powerful tool that every expansion stage software company should harness. It’s relatively inexpensive and, if done right, can brand your company as a market or industry expert.”

— Scott Maxwell, Senior Managing Director and Founder

One of the most intriguing qualities of being a distinguished thought leader in an industry is that such positioning will often be accompanied by a favorable perception from your customer base (both realized and potential). OpenView’s research of websites from 50 different software and technology companies with revenues between $5 million and $25 million in 2010 has supported the idea that thought leadership is important to companies.

The term “thought leader” was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz, Allen & Hamilton magazine. Since then, it has been adapted for more general usage within the business community. But the word has done more than just expand the business jargon lexicon. Thought leadership has turned into a movement; one where companies try to distinguish themselves by the quality of the information and innovation they produce. With this, they’re increasing their clientele organically.

New avenues of delivery are also being readily created. While a blog may be the foundation, there are many offshoots to consider. Your distributions can be made through newsletters, whitepapers and other direct mediums.

Applying thought leadership is a matter of putting in the necessary effort to develop a plan of attack and executing it. Larry Chase, a marketing advisor, has made some observations on the matter.

“So what’s a marketer to do?” asks Chase. “You still have to reach your target audience, right? You now need to put useful and relevant information in that ad space you buy. Your ads can’t just talk the talk, they must walk the walk. Some would argue this can only be done in B2B marketing, not B2C. I disagree. Look at the leadership role Apple has taken with iPod. In 1960, the American Dental Association recognized Crest as effective in preventing tooth decay, and Crest quickly attained U.S. market leadership. It can be done, even in a low-involvement category such as toothpaste.”

Where does that leave marketers that are looking to adopt a thought leadership strategy?

First and foremost, it’s vital to not take a superficial approach. Companies need to immerse themselves in the spirit of innovation in order to truly harness the potential of thought leadership. Additionally, an in-depth approach is necessary because it’s rather easy to see when a company is peddling useless advice. In such a scenario, it’s unlikely that the thought content that’s being produced will be given a second look.

Valuable as a content strategy may be to a business, it’s the heights that the content can reach (namely, thought leadership in a market segment) that constantly fuel its utilization and adoption.

For an in-depth look at the power of thought leadership in tech companies, read the full report.

Photo by: WGSI Equinox Summit: Learning 2030

Content Marketer

Josh is a Content Marketer at <a href="">Ambassador</a> which gives marketers the tools they need to grow customer relationships and drive revenue through word-of-mouth, referrals, and recommendations. Previously, he was an Account Executive at CBS, Inc.