People are more intelligent than marketers think.

H.L. Mencken’s maxim, “nobody went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public” is elitist rubbish. Broadcast and TV advertising have gone into decline because people don’t take unsubstantiated claims seriously. People are now growing equally dismissive of inept attempts to manipulate them via social media.

So how do you grab their attention? Thought leadership (TL) is one approach. It involves taking a stand. You must say something new, something controversial, something counter-intuitive. Sometimes you will get it wrong but that might even be a plus, like when Larry Ellison famously stood up in 1995 and declared, “The PC is a ridiculous device”. His bold speech gave Oracle a new lease of life.

Tell your audience something they have not heard before. If what you tell them is useful, they’ll be grateful. I found that to be the case when I published many SAS Institute white papers on topics such as data mining and analytical CRM: they helped SAS to sell software licences.

In the business-to-business arena, the objective is to gain status and recognition within your particular field. In 2011 I helped Eric Everard, the President and Founder of both Artexis and easyFairs, to develop and execute a TL programme for his year as President of UFI, the global association of the exhibition industry.

Effective thought leaders are above all good listeners. If you want to be a thought leader, be prepared to revise your opinions based on what you hear: yesterday’s thought leadership is today’s commonplace.

“It has always been a pleasure working with Ed, but in particular during my year as President of UFI. Ed helped me to communicate my vision and priorities for the organisation succinctly, consistently and effectively. He has an excellent grasp of the issues faced by the exhibitions industry and he is unfazed by time pressures.”

Eric Everard, Executive Chairman, Artexis Group