Thought leadership topics 2022: The inside track from our editors in the know
Emily Taylor Gregory
The pace of change of the past two years has blindsided many companies, and predicting how businesses, brands and their leaders need to transform to survive is not easy. That makes choosing the right topics and themes for thought leadership even harder than it usually is.
As marketers, it is our job to steer everyone in the right direction. So here is our take on four of the most important themes for B2B thought leadership in 2022 courtesy of FT Longitude’s most experienced editors – specialists in corporate leadership, emerging tech, sustainability and responsible business.
1. The future of leadership: The ethical CEO
Business ethics is by no means a new topic, but it has become an urgent one. Society’s expectations of corporate behaviour are changing, and companies today have to earn their social licence to operate. Hyper-transparency and a more diverse media landscape have heightened scrutiny of ethical lapses in companies, and ethics is a core component of the Governance pillar of ESG. Investors and regulators are paying ever closer attention to behaviour and culture.
How do we change how senior leaders think and listen? Part of the answer lies in diversity of thinking.
Peter Elkins, group editor
And the ethical buck stops with the CEO, so this topic will be an increasingly important leadership issue. But the debate needs to move beyond ‘tone from the top’ and values statements, and demands for leaders to ‘walk the talk’. It needs to go deeper – into how people think.
The CEO often operates in an echo chamber, where people tell them what they want to hear and their strong convictions are seen as a strength. So the question becomes: how do we change how senior leaders think and listen? Part of the answer lies in diversity of thinking.
Take the complex issue of technology ethics. In the UK, the Ada Lovelace Institute convened a ‘Citizens’ Biometrics Council’ to bring the public’s voice into the debate on technologies that collect and process biometric data. Members of the public debated these issues with experts, bringing their diverse perspectives into the conversation.
The way in which CEOs bring these perspectives into their decision-making will become a critical topic for research and a thought-provoking platform for clients focusing on both broad issues (such as ESG, trust, risk management and integrity, and governance) and narrower topics such as leadership development and CEO selection and succession.
Companies that can articulate new ways to rethink CEO issues and help these leaders to navigate a different course will earn the trust and interest of those who support them.
Peter Elkins, group editor
2. New perspectives on the energy transition
In the past few weeks, ExxonMobil, seen by many as the last oil and gas company standing without a meaningful net-zero target, committed to a 2050 net-zero target.
The energy transition is progressing quickly. Shell and Eni committed to reducing ‘indirect emissions’, and even early converts such as Danish company Ørsted reap the rewards from their renewable initiatives (despite the recently placid skies). With this huge increase in activity in the past few years, it’s unsurprising that thought leadership on the issue is hard to avoid.
But with such a vast topic, many companies fall into the trap of trying to cover every angle, viewpoint and sector and end up with content that’s too broad and insight that’s stretched too thinly. The impact is lost and readers are left unsatisfied.
But there are some outliers – organisations that have built credibility and command authority through the depth of their insight and a sustained approach. Companies such as DNV and IEA produce wide-reaching reports on the energy transition every year, demonstrating their own expertise and incorporating outside perspectives that build trust.
So how do you have an impact without the resources or capabilities to cover all corners?
Brands that can articulate their view on the energy transition will need to keep their fingers on the pulse and respond to changing situations quickly, or they risk being left behind. The question that now needs to be answered is ‘How?’ rather than ‘What if?’. Talent and technology, meanwhile, will become vital lenses through which to view this time of change as companies readjust their business models, according to FT Longitude editor-in-chief Sean Kearns.
“Gaps and grey areas will emerge as we strive for net zero. Just as many leaders look to their peers for best practice on net-zero strategies, they will also need to update their risk radars: on talent, technology and climate.”
Sonja Caymaz, senior editor, in her recent article
How do firms hire talent for roles that don’t yet exist? Is carbon capture and storage a viable investment in the transition to a greener future? Are firms that are striving for net zero making themselves vulnerable to other changes? These are the questions that business leaders will be asking themselves in the months to come.
3. Cybersecurity and cyber strategies
“Expect more of the same” may seem like a mundane prediction for cybersecurity in 2022, but it is anything but when ‘the same’ is ransomware, cyber espionage and the hacking of the kind of everyday devices you’re probably sitting next to right now.
The pandemic has pushed us more and more towards our devices. We’re shopping, ordering food, socialising and working online. So much so that the Pew Research Center claims that a third of American adults are online ‘almost constantly’. These are perfect conditions for cyber criminals, whose activities have thrived since the onset of the pandemic.
Cyber isn’t just an issue for tech.
Hannah Stubbings, senior editor
Brands are rushing to include an element of cybersecurity in their campaigns because it touches almost everything: technology, the future of work, and risk exposure to name just a few. It also has a major impact on company culture, as Kaspersky explored in its recent campaign with the FT.
So cyber isn’t just an issue for tech. Companies across all sectors must recognise and respond to the risks surrounding cybersecurity and the threats it poses within their own industries, to their clients and partners.
Consider where and how this continuing theme fits into your broader thought leadership strategies now, and it will put you a step ahead in showing that your brand also has a voice on this pressing – and perennial – topic.
Hannah Stubbings, senior editor
4. Putting the social back in CSR
The latest Edelman Trust Barometer lays bare a new reality for businesses. As faith in government dwindles, corporates are expected to fill the void. But what does that responsibility look like and how far should it go?
When does a sense of purpose become too political?
Sean Kearns, editor-on-chief
We know that businesses are expected to make commitments on climate, to improve diversity and equity within their workplaces, and to contribute to the communities in which they work. We also know that some are further ahead than others, and that ‘purpose-washing’, especially in brand communications, can be problematic.
But when it comes to societal issues such as wealth inequality, access to education, and human rights, when does a sense of purpose become too political? When does robust policy become something more partisan?
These are fine lines to tread, but this year we expect thought leadership to embrace a wider definition of responsible business and tackle some of these topics. Looking beyond ESG and climate strategies, these campaigns will explore how businesses talk about and act upon their beliefs and values.
If company culture and principles are as important to employees as much research suggests, businesses will need to say and do more about their new-found responsibilities.
Sean Kearns, editor-in-chief
Which of our thought leadership topics for 2022 stand out to you? Drop us a line to let us know, or find us on social media and tag us in your comments. If you’d like to read more about thought leadership topics, read what we thought would stand out post Covid-19.
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