Focus, Corporate Reputation: It's the Thought that counts

Now in its fifth year, TLG's Index of Thought Leaders (UK) provides an illuminating view of the firms that are inspiring opinion formers, finds Jonathan Walsh, chair of TLGinsights.

An innovative new cloud service and the saturation coverage of Steve Jobs' sad demise have helped ensure Apple remains top of this year's Index of Thought Leaders (UK) for the third year in a row.

Opinion formers tell us once again that the consumer IT giant is the top corporate Thought Leader, a term we define as a business that changes attitudes and behaviours.

Apple scores highly in every single metric. However, underneath the top spot the tectonic plates might be shifting.

John Lewis Partnership, the department store and owner of Waitrose, moves up to second.

It is a striking achievement for the company that in reputational terms now eclipses rivals such as Marks & Spencer (eighth this time) and Tesco, which failed to make the top 20.

John Lewis has captured the zeitgeist thanks to its value and service promise, and in particular the employee-owned model, which is now being imported by the Government into the public sector.

Challenge for Google

Google, which topped our indices in 2007 and 2008, slips to third place. Its push into social networking through Google+ has been seen as a catch-up product rather than an example of the true Thought Leadership that characterised old Google.

A different challenge for Google is managing citizen concerns about privacy. It is too early to tell whether the new campaign, including old media advertising, will make a positive impact on the brand.

Our index this year celebrates its fifth birthday. We originally conceived the product as a way of codifying and measuring Thought Leadership. It is a concept much discussed in boardrooms, but we felt was poorly defined and understood.

Each year, in the UK, we survey our panel of opinion formers, drawn from the commanding heights of business, media, politics and NGOs, to rate corporate brands according to their success as a Thought Leader.

The results not only produce a rolling index of brand leaders, they provide important insights about how to build corporate reputation, which informs the advice we offer to our growing family of clients.

However, our findings also hold a mirror to the astonishingly fast changing corporate landscape of the past five years, which has seen the credit crunch, the commercialisation of web 2.0, and FTSE 100 brands and their bosses struck down by corporate scandal.

Damaged reputation

The first clear trend has been the collapse in the reputation of the financial sector. Back in 2007, Goldman Sachs charted at number seven. This time, the investment bank squeezes in at 20.

The only financial business that has consistently made our top ten since the crash has been The Co-op, whose bank has carved out an impressive niche by defining itself against the rest of the sector.

It will be interesting to see whether the Virgin brand (number 14 in 2011) can survive its move into high-street banking with the acquisition of Northern Rock. Will Virgin Bank become a Thought Leader or challenger brand, or will it instead drag down the reputation of the overall group?

In a London Evening Standard column last year, journalist Chris Blackhurst, noting the lack of UK brands in our top ten, bemoaned the inability of British business to produce international power brands to rival the US giants. This trend could continue.

We believe the next few years could see more digital upstarts such as Foursquare and Spotify entering our top 20. There is also an opportunity for established tech giants such as Cisco, IBM or Britain's BT to revive their reputations and profiles as Thought Leaders.

The third point to make is that Thought Leadership status can never be taken for granted. A single exogenous shock can seriously undermine a firm's carefully built up credentials.

In 2007, BSkyB was in the TLG top ten. Now the satellite broadcaster's record of innovation is probably more powerful, but the hacking scandal at sister firm News International probably contributed towards its 2011 placing - a relatively lowly 33.

Expanding markets

Similarly, in 2008, BP - still reaping the benefit of its Beyond Petroleum campaign that won plaudits from opinion formers - came ninth. A year after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it failed to reach our top 100.

This year will be important for TLG-insights' research, as we take the model that we have already successfully transplanted to the US and India to new markets, notably Russia, Brazil and Turkey. Our work in these markets will enable TLG to understand different perspectives and establish global reference points for strong reputations.



  • 85% of opinion formers think Thought Leadership status means greater 'permission to grow'

  • 83% of opinion formers believe that being established as a Thought Leader leads to being 'the most admired'

  • 82% of opinion formers think Thought Leadership status leads to increased 'licence to operate'

How the Index works

Methodology The TLG Index of Thought Leaders (UK) surveys the attitudes of the 1,000 people on Populus' Opinion Leader Network panel by asking them to consider which companies have been the most successful in any given year.

The audience for the survey consists of senior stakeholders from four key groups: City and business; political and NGOs; media and comms; and the public sector.

This audience is given a longlist of firms from which to select their top Thought Leaders. They are also asked to nominate any firms that are not listed. From this exercise a top 20 is compiled. They are then asked to assess the Thought Leader top 20, on a 1-5 score, according to the five key behaviours of Thought Leadership (see, TLG/Henley 2008).

TLG then creates the Index by aggregating the average scores for each behaviour. It can also identify which of the five behaviours is the most important and what the four audiences think of the companies according to these behaviours. This rich data set and the resulting insights inform and drive strategic recommendations for clients.

The five key characteristics

Pioneer Challenges the established wisdom to create new ways of thinking

Rigour Develops rigorous ideas, either original or a new combination

Objective Delivers benefits for stakeholders, financial and non-financial

Authenticity Output accurately reflects what it stands for and how it behaves

Clarity Clearly communicates positive motivation, mission and product/service.


From PRWeek’s ‘What is a Thought Leader?’ supplement

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