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Thought Leadership: Making It a Development Tool

Here’s your situation: Your franchisor looking to develop its domestic business, build a global business or expand its global footprint. The franchise business takes stock of the tools at its disposal.  They include a first-rate development team, a solid development strategy, a reasonable advertising plan and budget, great working relationships with the International Franchise Association and the U.S. Commercial Service, a well-earned reputation, a workable level of brand awareness and a solid track record as a business.

That’s a great start, but is something missing?

When it comes to developing your business, one powerful tool rarely top of mind is thought leadership. Savvy franchisors would be well-advised to make this tool a resource for growth and expansion, not an afterthought.

Businesses recognize that the challenges associated with expansion are substantial. Creating awareness and interest in target territories and countries rises to near the top of these challenges, especially if your franchise company is a new concept or just one among many in a familiar concept.

In view of these challenges, it would be wise to recognize how a thought leadership initiative adds momentum to your expansion plans and company vision. A well-designed and well-managed thought leadership program can produce four important outcomes for your business:

  • Generate leads of franchise and master franchise candidates;
  • Generate leads for your master franchisees;
  • Create client awareness and engagement for an existing business; and
  • Create fallow ground for public policy initiatives important to expansion and growth.

Defining Thought Leadership

Before going further, having a common understanding of thought leadership is important. Here’s one definition: Thought leadership is about rising above business-specific issues to address the broader and bigger themes and seeing these issues early and calling attention to them before others see or are aware of them. It’s about providing industry or national leadership in areas of specific importance to your business. Thought leadership involves offering informed and thoughtful solutions to problems and bringing new information, insights and perspective forward. It includes leading others and building common cause with other individuals, officials or organizations. Thought leadership is about thinking long term and recognizing that your work as a thought leader may not produce immediate solutions, but is always moving the discussion and the work forward. Ultimately, it’s about advancing thinking and policy that will benefit those served by your business and doing so in ways that will help your business.

Business Advantages

Obviously, some franchise concepts more easily than others fit a thought leadership model, but all can. When identifying your thought leadership focus, there are many business advantages.

Thought leadership can:

  • Provide a platform from which to introduce important ideas;
  • Lift perceptions about your business;
  • Put you in contact with other influential players in businesses, academia, public policy or not-for-profits;
  • Build alliances that may otherwise be difficult to accomplish;
  • Demonstrate the genuineness of your intention (as a business leader and as a business) to engage in solving important social, cultural, economic, environmental and other challenges;
  • Allow you and your business to be positioned in such a way as to influence thinking about the nature of your business;
  • Shape public policy in ways that are beneficial to you; and,
  • Result in solutions to challenges facing your business.

By now you are probably wondering about examples of thought leadership.

Take Al Gore for example. He emerged as a global thought leader on environmental issues, specifically global warming. He used his position, popularity and the information he developed to champion this topic. And, by the way, he used his position as a thought leader to make a very successful business. Along the way, he shaped public opinion and public policy, both of which worked to his advantage. The result: A greater awareness, commitment to the environmental issue and, most importantly, a great business proposition.

Closer to the senior care business where I work, at least two very important thought leaders have emerged. Ken Dychtwald is a name with which you are no doubt familiar. As an author, consultant and public speaker, he is recognized globally as a thought leader on aging issues and his expertise is widely sought after for his knowledge and insights.  His books, articles and speeches have challenged conventional thinking about aging and his organization, Age Wave, has prospered along with his status as a thought leader.

Paul Hogan, founder and chairman of Home Instead Senior Care, emerged as another thought leader on aging and is working at the national and global level to change perceptions and advance solutions. While his home care franchise business flourishes in 16 countries with nearly 1,000 local franchisees, he is playing an important influential role on the global stage. As vice chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Ageing, he is in an influential position to shape world opinion and public policy relating to senior care around the world.  His recent book, “Stages of Senior Care,” became a USA Today bestseller within weeks of publication and goes far to position him and his business as a thought leader on aging issues which has netted interviews with many prestigious publications such as The Wall Street Journal and national network broadcast media in the United States and around the world.

Becoming a Thought Leader

So we come to this question: Just how does one become a thought leader for your concept?

A well-designed and well-managed thought leadership program can produce important outcomes for your business.

It begins with two important presumptions:  First, that you’ve demonstrated competence and understanding within your business sector as a result of building a successful business; and, second, that you genuinely want to play a beneficial role that goes beyond providing direct benefits to your business.

If so and you are willing to make substantial commitment of time and resources, you may be ready to begin the journey to becoming a thought leader.

I have said many times that “To become a thought leader, you must have some thoughts.”  You can’t borrow thoughts from someone else or some other organization.  You simply must have a comprehensive understanding of your business and know what questions to ask. You must have some clearly defined, deeply held and culturally beneficial objectives that really matter. And, they must be firmly established. Then you will need to be prepared to relentlessly pursue them.

It will help to have a good public relations firm supporting you as you step into the thought leadership arena. But there is one essential element:  You must support your thought leadership initiative with ongoing research that deepens your understanding, explores the issue and continues to build your own thought leadership role.

You will know you have succeeded when the national media has you in its Rolodex; when you get invitations to speak–and not only because your business is successful, but because what you have to say is both important and indicates you are well informed. And, finally, you will see the benefits accrue to your business when your master franchisees, franchisees and clients recognize that what you have to offer is the product of a leader who is genuinely committed and involved. ⎯

Jim Beck is director of public affairs for Home Instead Senior Care and a member of the IFA Marketing and Public Affairs Committee.  He can be reached at 402-498-4466 or jbeck@homeinsteadinc.com.

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