In tune: How to create thought leadership harmony with a unifying message

Sean Kearns

Brands that apply a unifying message to their campaigns will build a lasting connection with audiences

“The best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they are and what they do reinforces everything else.”

That is Wally Olins, who the FT describes as the “world’s leading practitioner of branding and identity”. His critically acclaimed books on corporate identity tell us about the importance of trust, consistency, emotion and promises – about why we should care about a business.

His thinking on what constitutes brand has never seemed more relevant. According to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, business is the most trusted institution globally – and the only one seen as both ethical and competent.

Stay in key

When companies are expected to speak clearly and authentically to investors, customers, employees and suppliers, coherence is a prized commodity. But the blurring of lines between company profit and wider social purpose can lead to confused thinking: companies trying to project an image while saying and doing the opposite.

As an integral part of a company’s brand, thought leadership can often fall into the same trap. Campaigns are conceived from all corners of the business to serve a particular short-term interest – but are not cumulative. Too often, they launch with a mild fanfare but fail to leave a lasting impression. And in the absence of long-term consistency, thought leadership campaigns can drift. Instead of reinforcing the brand’s identity, they become another missed opportunity.

This is why many volume producers of thought leadership have trimmed their portfolios. They have jumped off the production treadmill and taken a step back. Not only does this help them to question the purpose and consistency of their thought leadership, but it also helps them to look for connections between their outputs – intentional or otherwise.

Join the dots

In our recent webinar, we played a clip of the Fairey Brass Band playing the KLF’s dance anthem What Time is Love?. An unlikely combination of acid house and brass band music, Acid Brass was the idea of Jeremy Deller, inspired by his artwork: The History of the World. This is a flow diagram showing the social, political and cultural connections between musical movements from very different eras. It makes you smile, and it makes you think.

That kind of creative dot-joining is only possible with a deep understanding of context, and it is context that helps brands create a unifying message for their thought leadership.

  • What is the context of our expertise?
  • What is the context of our customer’s needs?
  • What is the marketplace of current ideas?

Context is what helps you create a unifying message, something which bonds your team of writers and creatives.

By building your campaigns around a persistent message – the word on your stick of rock, if you will – themes and topics can take many flavours. Some pieces will naturally coalesce, others will find a more circuitous route back to the centre.

In times of misinformation, we all want to believe in something. We want to trust that the brand behind the communication has taken care to craft the message and think about who it is for and where it fits. The real challenge for thought leadership is to do that not once, but every time.

Is your thought leadership lacking a unifying message? Get in touch with our thought leadership strategy experts to book a free strategy meeting today.

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About the author: Sean Kearns

As FT Longitude’s editor-in-chief, Sean helps ensure that we create thought leadership campaigns with influence and impact. As well as delivering high-profile programmes for our clients, he advises on thought leadership strategy, helping brands reach the audiences who matter.

Sean has 20 years’ experience of creating strategic content across a range of sectors and senior editorial roles.. Before joining FT Longitude, Sean was Editorial Director of communications agency Bladonmore.

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