Thought leadership must produce thought followership

Real thought leadership is about developing thought followership. This week I was speaking with a fellow Manchester Business School alum, Utpal Ghosh from Ipsos Mori, about our rare dual perspectives on the thought leadership space: we are both generators, as well as users, of data for market research. Utpal has seen this space evolve quite rapidly unlike any other. For him, two major schools of thoughts have emerged: Either generate of large data banks, or tap into the large amount of unstructured data and provide real time research outcomes.

I think this way of framing the question hints at the real challenge: is insight mainly about structured data, or it is mainly about making sense of unstructured data? Big data is discussed now in the same way data mining was in the 1990s, and it has the same weakness: it delivers insights about the past, but the future can be discontinuous. That means that thought leadership is supported by research, but it’s not a research activity.

Utpal posed some interesting questions: “What are the key ingredients for success in the current thought leadership space? With the emergence of Big Data and social media in a big way in this space. Do you think organizations who own Big Data can be agile enough to co-exist with organization specializing in scalable products based on real time social media analytics? I think the latter have a better chance of survival than the former.”

That’s a very interesting set of questions, especially when we look at industry analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester. Industry analysis is relatively independent from the use of large-scale structured data. Most analysts are not working like statistical market researchers, who use Excel and SPSS to see trends and clusters. It’s a more qualitative approach.

I think we have to avoid a false division between social media analytics and big data. Big data approaches can be used almost as easily on free text social media as on more relational data. Right now, I think organisations are finding it easier to monetise their own transactional data than they can develop insight from social media, which is why there’s a positive opportunity in both market segments.

Successful thought leadership is about developing a bridge, a set of ideas that have a solid foundation in the present, but which also point convincingly enough towards a destination. That’s about persuasion, not about the volume of data.

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