What is it all about?
According to Wikipedia, being a thought leader in individual terms means a person who has an effect on one or several reference groups. A thought leader can also be a company who has the same effect on its interest groups. To become a thought leader, you need to have the attention of your audience: you have to stand out in some way, so people are taking you seriously. A company needs evidence of your skills and expertise in this field.
From an individual’s perspective, social life in schools might be the best example of this; a leader who stands out from his/her reference group for some reason. Most of us know from our own school times, how hard it was to be cool, to be a leader or hopefully even popular. For children at school age, it is hard to stand out as an individual with opinions, because with great power comes great responsibility. What if one day your reference group doesn’t care about you and your opinions anymore and raises someone else in your seat? For this competition in popularity, Darwin’s “the Survival of the fittest” theory is often applied. To be an outstanding individual, you have to accept this theory; there are people who like you and people who don’t. To become a leader you have to learn how to handle both groups.
For years people have criticised the media but somehow advertising has not been targeted. Why? Advertising can be ethically good, depending of course on the company’s true moral and the products they are trying to sell. If marketing companies are trying to influence a consumer level through thought leaders, is this a thought crime by trying to manipulate or manoeuvr? Is targeted advertising another word for manoeuvring? But because it is preferable to have short ads, the time period for manipulating is not long. In this way it seems to be kind of inefficient to try to manipulate crowds for unmoral reasons, like for making more business. As marketing doesn’t work on me so well anymore, as I worked in the marketing field for years, I ask for an opinion from my friends who love coffee if I want to buy a new coffee machine. That makes them opinion leaders and even with a good marketing it is hard to compete with facts heard from a friend.
One way to influence the thought leader is to influence the reference group, who also seeks the recognition of their leader. With the consumer being immune to a lot of the marketing which has surrounded us in recent years, one good thing to keep in mind is collective intelligence. In underestimating our customers, we do more harm to the effects of advertising. By challenging the customers, we can involve them as part of the brand.
Everyone has an opinion about the clothing they wear, so why don’t we give a chance to our customers to say what they want to buy? This way we make individuals out of everyone and give them a chance to influence, a chance to become leaders. You can call this manipulating, but flattery works way better than underestimating. After all, not all leaders are individual bellwethers, as they might be a confluence of reference group’s opinions. Companies should make thought leaders from customers or trying to become as one. This is way more efficient than trying to find a needle in a haystack.