Follow the Thought Leader: How Thought-Provoking Research can Build your Reputation

Creating public awareness of a company or brand can be a formidable challenge. One of our clients who is a Marketing VP of a mid-sized company reflected that it would cost them one million dollars for each percentage point increase in awareness, and this does not address the challenges of educating the public about their products and building trust in their name. How does a company that lacks a budget for Super Bowl ads get out the word about its brand?

Many Rockbridge clients have chosen to sponsor public research as a strategy for establishing their organizations as a “thought leader” for a particular marketplace. This form of research differs from proprietary research in that the content is shared freely with the media, bloggers, researchers and the public. Properly executed, such research will be widely quoted in the media and will drive web traffic as it gets quoted and linked on sites associated with your realm of expertise. A secondary bonus is that your organization can make a real difference on important issues by providing useful data for academia, think tanks and policy makers.

Case Study: The Small Business Success Index
Network Solutions, a provider of technology services, wanted to reinforce its reputation as a leader in the small business market. Working in conjunction with our academic partner, the Center for Excellence in Service at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, Rockbridge designed the Small Business Success Index to measure the competitive health of small businesses. After 5 waves of telephone surveys that captured trends, the study has contributed valuable insights such as the growth of social media by small businesses. A search on Google by the name of the study identifies 400 thousand results on the web and 36 thousand results in blogs that mostly talk about small business success issues.


Elements for a Successful Thought Leader Study
To have a meaningful impact on your reputation, you cannot simply toss a few leading questions into a low budget omnibus survey. Journalists are experienced in vetting the validity of surveys, and major outlets have standards for the types of surveys that are acceptable for publication. A truly successful public survey has the following elements:

  • A rigorous methodology that is well documented and can be defended
  • An interesting and perhaps provocative topic – for example, Rockbridge received a lot of publicity when its National Technology Readiness Survey revealed that deleting SPAM cost the economy $22 Billion per year
  • A meaningful metric, such as an “index,” that conveys an important trait that can be tracked over timeRepeated and consistent measurement over time which gives the study traction
  • A partnership with an organization that specializes in the area of interest, such as a business school, prominent blogger, or non-profit
  • A skillful and well planned publicity campaign around the release of findings

Another suggestion for a successful study is to make it genuine. An honest effort to provide timely, unbiased and valuable information to the public will be recognized for its true value by the most influential media outlets. Ultimately, a well designed thought-leader study will position your organization as a credible authority in your area of expertise, translating into higher awareness and trust in your name.

Written by: Charles Colby, Chief Methodologist