The Marketeer

In Defense of the Thought Leader

Christopher Penn proposes deep sixing the term “Thought Leader”

I agree that the term is lame (it really doesn’t involve leadership – much like podcasting not requiring an iPod), but I think it does define a very specific role: a person in a company who is an expert in the field who blogs, speaks, and presents about the industry and future trends in general rather than just pimping their product. These actions give their company credibility and increase the perception that they are truly experts at what they do now, and will continue to be experts into the future.

These types of people generate a competitive advantage over companies that don’t have any thought leaders.

With this definition there are no thought quarterbacks or generals leading on the field, but there are experts on football who have their own shows that give out in-depth analysis about the sport and get paid for it. There are retired generals who speak on news shows and write about what war really means, and they usually get paid to consult.

I think the bottom line is that the terms consultant and analyst are overused, tired and worn out. Thought Leaders are New and Improved!

3 replies on “In Defense of the Thought Leader”

I agree with Penn; thought leader is a bit too much consultant speak. Standing in front an audience for a presentation, which sounds better:

I am Dr. Smith and I am an expert in brain surgery.
I am Dr. Smith and I am a thought leader in brain surgery.

I prefer expert.

While at Eli Lilly the term thought leader was used constantly so I have grown to not like the term .

In customer facing communications I would never use thought leader, expert is much better. But when describing that person as part of your marketing arsenal, thought leader is much more descriptive than expert. It’s quite common to have experts that you would never put in front of a customer or on a podium, the thought leader’s purpose is to communicate and ultimately move people to do business with the brand that person represents.

It’s a better substitute for what was commonly called “the founder or senior executive who likes to watch the big picture and the staff is more than happy to keep them out on the speaking tour”

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