Hugh Milward, TLG: Shaping the environment

There are several behaviours common to a successful Thought Leadership approach.

Ed or David for leader? Cut or not to cut child benefit? Still or sparkling? Now the immediate dilemmas thrown up by the party conference season are behind us, it is time to take stock and assess the value you've really added: did you meet your objectives? Did your MD secure that elusive meeting with the crucial minister? Was your brand recognised as the leader you know it to be?

Whatever your answers, you probably have a clearer insight into the coalition's priorities. Perhaps you're a step closer to understanding the impact the Big Society will have on your business. You may have successfully delivered your single key message and have reconnected with your network.

The conferences alone are unlikely to have created a fundamental difference to the job in hand: protecting your licence to operate and building permission to grow. Both these will require a level of political engagement in the short or medium term. For the Government to recognise and take them seriously, businesses have to demonstrate relevance to the Government's core social and economic policy areas.

It's common knowledge what the coalition wants to achieve: a stable economy; low unemployment; increased productivity; 'more for less' from the public sector; a low carbon economy; the decentralisation of power, and the Big Society.

Appealing to these and other coalition priorities means: first, identifying shared agendas between the Government and your organisation; second, leveraging business assets, qualities and services that support the delivery of public policy objectives.

Ultimately, politicians will always turn to companies with strong brands that resonate with voters.

The best way to build such a brand is through Thought Leadership campaigning. It demands a closer relationship with consumer trends and a willingness to take a leadership position to forge a 'values-based connection' - both with consumers and politicians.

For B2B companies, alignment is more about UK plc than UK society, but connecting the two is crucial.

A Thought Leadership approach defines what a brand stands for and builds a coalition of advocates by demonstrating leadership on an issue that influences opinion leader and stakeholder opinion. To make clear what this means in practice, TLG has identified the behaviours common to successful Thought Leaders:

Pioneer - challenge established wisdom to create new ways of thinking. Rigour - develop consistent, original ideas. Objective - deliver benefits for stakeholders, financial and non-financial. Authenticity - accurately reflect corporate beliefs and behaviour. Clarity - clearly communicate positive motivation, mission and product.

TLG's Thought Leadership Index - published annually with Populus Opinion Research - reveals a correlation between Thought Leadership and positive corporate reputation.

This year, we've gone further by asking what would be the best opportunities for businesses to lead on a key issue that will improve their corporate reputation. We also put this to politicians and advisers in the lead-up to the party conference season.

The answers they gave point to three conclusions: first, brands need to identify the thought leadership position, using this as an organising principle for external engagement and communications. Second, firms need to think hard about behavioural change: successful campaigns have the power to differentiate a brand, strengthen a business and build deeper relationships with customers. And third, define your brand by what you are for, not what you are against.

Those brands doing this will top this year's Index, shaping the environment in which they operate, rather than being a victim of circumstance.

Hugh Milward is deputy managing director of TLG


- Which public sector budget cut is likely to be the toughest for the Government to push through?

Every department is fighting hard in its own corner. But as the row over child benefit shows, anything that provokes sharp elbows and cuts that are literally close to home will present the biggest challenge for Government to implement.

- Which public sector organisation has made the best case for ringfencing its budget or minimising any cuts?

The MoD has probably made its case in the most unusual way.

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