Thought Leadership: How the Big Players Do It

03 Aug 2021


Amid the sea of content out there nowadays, thought leadership constitutes an immensely powerful communication tool between brands and followers.

Effective thought leadership goes beyond merely regurgitating common knowledge. True thought leadership is about investing the necessary time to actively engage followers.

Brands that effectively use thought leadership position themselves as authorities in their specific industry.

That is no easy task. However, it is made easier when brands develop high-quality opinions and provide original insight. This type of insight stems from an insider position that only real thought leaders can deliver.

Thought leadership is a highly effective means of exposing a brand to the right people.

According to a LinkedIn paper, roughly 60 percent of decision-makers read at least an hour’s worth of thought leadership content weekly. Moreover, over 60 percent of these individuals indicated that thought leadership content influences them to try new products and services.

In this article, we will explore the way three major brands use thought leadership to position themselves as industry leaders, and the valuable lessons we can learn from each case study.

American Express

Image by Republica from Pixabay

American Express (AMEX) is one of the leading players in the world of financial services. Beyond its advertising on traditional media, AMEX leveraged its digital presence to improve communication with its customers.

This newfound communication took shape in the form of a blog. The Business Class Trends and Insights blog “…provides a modern business education through insights, tips, and inspiration to help your business adapt to changing times.”

The blog predominantly intends to provide up-to-date information to individual and business customers. Therefore, the blog does not seek to serve large corporations. It focuses on small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The most striking characteristic of the Business Class blog is that it does not attempt to drive sales. Instead, it aims to provide useful and actionable information on a myriad of topics. These topics range from personal finance to human resources strategy.

The content on the blog comprises four main areas: managing money, getting customers, team building, and growth planning. Certainly, these are all areas relevant to virtually any business.

What makes AMEX’s blog truly unique is a section entitled “Small Business Stories.” This section provides a space in which small business owners can share their success stories.

While AMEX seeks to provide expert opinions, it also balances content by including real-life success stories.

There is a common thread among all success stories. The stories underscore how these businesses were successful thanks to AMEX’s products and services. As such, these stories are not shameless puff pieces. Instead, they seek to provide credible examples of real people succeeding in the business world. Consequently, the featured business owner shows how they can be successful by adapting to “changing times.”

The “Small Business Stories” section enables real people to pen their stories in their own words. This strategy allows for an unbiased account of what it takes to be truly successful in the business world. This approach provides a truly authentic touch.

Furthermore, AMEX does not rely on a writing staff to produce generic content. The authenticity of this content aims to strike a chord at a profound level with current and potential customers.

Originally, AMEX started with a solely text-based approach. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, AMEX has started a video series called “Office Hours.” The series highlights small business owners’ journey navigating the pandemic. It intends to provide other small business owners with useful and actionable insights. Moreover, the business owners featured can show how AMEX’s products and services have helped them throughout this trying time.

Lesson Distilled:

Thought leadership is not a one-way street. Effective thought leadership must provide two-way communication between brands and customers. This communication needs to empower customers through relevant and actionable information.

While AMEX aims to do this through its blog, it takes it one step further. By allowing customers to showcase their stories, they empower their customers.

AMEX positions itself as a leading brand by showing how its products and services enable business owners to succeed. This type of content is much more relatable than abstract content from a professional writing team. Customers can see themselves in the real people featured in the content. Therefore, AMEX becomes a thought leader as it leverages its influence on a wide range of users. Moreover, it can influence potential customers to come aboard.

The real-world approach AMEX fosters with its “Office Hours” segment also builds a sense of community. Consequently, followers can embrace the feeling of belonging. In particular, followers can see they are not the only ones facing the same dilemmas. Once again, this approach empowers customers to be successful. In the meantime, AMEX portrays itself as the means facilitating customers’ success.

Ultimately, the underlying message is one of community and support. AMEX supports its customers through its community. As such, anyone who joins the community will receive the same support. In turn, they too can become successful.


Image by Tawanda Razika from Pixabay

Microsoft is a renowned brand in the world of tech and computing. Its ubiquitous Windows operating system is a must on PCs and tablets. For decades, Microsoft has fostered a positive relationship with its customers. Microsoft has attempted to create products based on its customers’ needs and expectations through its various Windows versions.

As a major player in the tech industry, Microsoft has continued to foster its relationship with customers through effective thought leadership. Nevertheless, Microsoft has moved away from the conventional information-dump approach. Instead, Microsoft has leveraged the use of storytelling.

Storytelling is an important component of thought leadership. After all, theoretical information is not fully helpful unless it has a practical application. This example shows where Microsoft has used thought leadership to stand out from the rest of the competition.

Story Labs” has become Microsoft’s thought leadership workhorse. It is a long-form blog that aims to provide deep insights into various topics surrounding the tech world.

Like AMEX’s Business Class blog, Microsoft’s Story Labs looks to use palpable stories to highlight how the tech world is evolving. As such, Story Labs looks to present relevant information on the tech world users can actually use.

It is worth noting that Microsoft does not advertise its brand. Story Labs’s content comes from both users and professional writers. Thus, it is not marketing material disguised as thought leadership.

This content genuinely intends to provide followers with savvy content. Its material source is what makes it stand out. After all, Story Labs looks to frame developments in the tech world through the people making it possible.

The most interesting feature of Story Labs is called “People.” This section features Microsoft’s collaborators, and the stories depict the work those collaborators do routinely.

The People section looks to gain recognition for innovative contributors. Their stories become the content. Hence, it is not a section in which collaborators contribute. Collaborators are the section itself.

Storytelling is thought leadership on steroids.

Thought leadership is extremely valuable when it comes from the people who make things happen. Industry movers and shakers are the most appropriate individuals to share their experiences and insights.

Also, Story Labs features stories of ordinary businesspeople. Stories of successful entrepreneurs make up a considerable amount of the content. The entrepreneurs featured reflect how new trends in the tech world apply to actual businesses.

The key element in these stories lies in Microsoft not actively pushing its brand. Therefore, it is not a plug for Microsoft’s products and solutions. It is a means of showcasing how entrepreneurs use technology to solve their business’s challenges.

On the whole, Story Labs provides useful content followers can contextualize in their personal realities. Microsoft’s brand of thought leadership looks to embrace contributions from the individuals on the front lines of the tech world.

Lesson Distilled:

Storytelling is a major component of effective thought leadership. Unfortunately, brands often fail to position themselves due to sterile content. This type of content is not relatable to real users. Content that does not embrace true applications falls into a generic categorization.

Microsoft’s Story Labs avoids this pitfall by providing followers with relevant content that comes from the true movers and shakers. As such, Story Labs is not an attempt to extol the Microsoft brand.

Moreover, it is not a platform intended to feature Microsoft products. It is a platform that Microsoft uses to show how people behind the scenes contribute to advancing technology.

Storytelling provides thought leaders the opportunity to contextualize content. Brands that believe thought leadership is about sounding smart have it wrong. Thought leadership is about showing followers that the brand “gets it.” Brands show they “get it” by offering content wrapped within a story. When the story highlights real people building real solutions, the brand’s positioning as a thought leader soars.

General Electric Healthcare

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

In the healthcare industry, thought leadership often revolves around generic wellness advice. While providing followers with practical health advice is useful, this type of advice is generally impersonal. General Electric’s healthcare division has sought to change that perception.

General Electric (GE) has invested a great deal into diversifying its product offering. Within its portfolio, the healthcare division has provided both individuals and companies various products and services. Nevertheless, GE has attempted to take its relationship with customers one step further.

Overall, GE’s attempts to position itself as an industry leader have focused on becoming a thought leader. As a result, GE’s content offering has focused on delivering compelling materials. In particular, the GE Healthcare Insights blog provides relevant information with a completely different spin.

First, GE’s healthcare blog looks to provide technical information on industry advancements. In particular, the blog delivers up-to-date information on the latest healthcare-related developments.

This information is often technical in nature. As such, the articles look to make the content much more compelling than a mere technical rundown of specifications and futures.

Second, the breadth of topics ranges from medical technology to personal health and wellness. As such, the blog intends to provide something for everyone. For instance, a reader interested in radiology technology can browse personal wellness content. This approach leads users to spend more time interacting with content.

Third, the blog provides a high degree of customization. Readers first find content specific to their region. The site automatically detects the user’s IP address, thereby redirecting them to a regional site.

For example, readers based in Europe can choose between English, Spanish, French, or German sites. Also, users in America may choose from the English United States site or sites in other languages. Therefore, readers can consume relevant content in their language.

The most notable aspect of GE’s healthcare blog is the human touch behind each story. The content presented in the blog is not a dry, clear-cut description of how medical technology works. Moreover, it is not a mere presentation of specifications wrapped within a great narrative. GE’s blog aims to present how its technology helps real people improve their health.

Additionally, GE’s content looks to underscore the role individual contributors play in developing new technologies. This type of content accentuates the importance of every person in GE’s organization.

This approach is akin to Microsoft’s Story Labs. Followers can see the human side that leads to life-saving technologies. Ultimately, GE can paint a human dimension onto an otherwise unengaging topic.

Lesson Distilled:

The high degree of customization in GE’s content makes it more relatable to its followers. Undoubtedly, generic content will fall flat with most users. While certainly informative, generic content will not position a brand as a thought leader. Consequently, thought leadership must strive to offer a highly personalized experience.

In GE’s healthcare blog, its use of customization through regional content makes a significant difference. Unlike other brands, GE offers content in various languages. This approach opens the door to virtually every person in the world.

Users do not need to speak English to access its content. Therefore, healthcare professionals and individuals around the world can access its valuable insights.

The most successful brands in the world are those which offer a personalized experience. Brands that offer a one-size-fits-all approach do not connect at a personal level with their followers.  GE’s blog further enhances this personal touch by showcasing the individuals related to their products. For example, stories of people who have recovered thanks to GE’s technology resonate at a deep level.

Indeed, thought leaders must understand their target audience as best as possible. This understanding would enable them to produce content that is pertinent to them. This type of content demonstrates that brands care about their customers. Through customization, thought leaders can position themselves as true innovators in their field.


Thought leadership is a highly effective means of positioning a brand amid endless content offerings. And brands that offer a singular experience can distinguish themselves from their competition.

Ultimately, thought leadership is an investment in time and effort. When this investment yields high-quality and relatable content, brands can position themselves as unquestionable leaders in their industry. Consequently, this positioning transcends sales and market share. This positioning entails making the brand the go-to choice in their customers’ minds.

Zach Richter 

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