Thought Leadership – The Holy Grail for strategy consultants & the Big 4

Thought Leadership – The Holy Grail for strategy consultants & the Big 4

November 18, 2019

It is budget planning time. It’s what’s causing the calls from the Marketing departments to pile up:

Help – we need new ammunition for our thought leadership. We need attention-grabbing studies for 2020!
BUT: What content do we need? How should we prepare it?
AND: How do we ideally bring it to our clients & prospects?”

Then the search for the Holy Grail begins. The urgency is justified: After all, according to the WGMB Consulting Study, Thought Leadership is the second most important criterion that companies use to select their ‘consultant of choice’. Even before pricing or overall reputation.

Relevanz von Studien für Strategieberater & Wirtschaftsprüfer
Relevanz von Studien für Strategieberater & Wirtschaftsprüfer

Thought Leadership is the tool leveraged by strategy consultancies or the Big 4 auditors to demonstrate the innovative power and future viability of their solutions. Existing and potential clients conclude how effectively the consultant will be able to support them.
This is not only about the individual challenges of the respective company. Thought Leadership also determines how an entire industry, and even society as a whole, thinks about consulting.

Done properly, Thought Leadership is the ultimate expression of a professional services player’s competence.

Excellent Thought Leadership:

  • Solidifies the reputation as a trusted advisor
  • Underlines the expertise
  • Generates leads &
  • Leads to project completions.

First the good news

Studies from Professional Services firms are ‘in’ with executive and supervisory boards. 84% of FTSE 350 executives surveyed by Grist attribute added value to qualitatively convincing Thought Leadership. Almost as many say it helps them stay informed (79%) and take decisions (76%).

Now for the bad news

But decision-makers only read about every third study that arrives on their desks. Only 28% of the studies that make it there at all actually influence their decisions.

Moreover, the attention corridor is tight:
1 hour per week, according to a study by Edelman &LinkedIn.

Why does the majority of consultant studies fall by the wayside?

The criticism of the C-Suite is brutal:

  • Generic instead of specific & creative content (63%)
  • No original insights, no new ideas (58%)
  • The firm primarily wants to sell itself instead of responding to its clients’ needs (53%).

To cut a long story short:

Thought Leaders need to be original AND specific! Clients are looking for experts who think outside the box, know where the journey is headed and are reliable navigators in times of uncertainty and disruption.

And what makes excellent Professional Services studies?
We at #MathonyBrandStrategists have created a Thought Leadership guide for you. It has seven steps!


As trivial as it may sound: Your content needs to be really new! With good reason it is not called Thought Following, but Thought Leadership. Certainly, large consulting players need a point of view on macro issues such as disruption, sustainability, digitisation or China.
But your readers are demanding! Without a specific twist, current hooks and especially without individual insights and findings, your theses are just boring #MeToo.


A really new idea is always something that
a) your clients did not know before and that
b) makes your clients more fit for the future.

As a real “thought leader” you have to dare to be the first and make people think with your innovative content! Only courageous ideas generate their own momentum.

Just as important: Your topic has to be in sync your brand. Plus: You should really be an expert in this field. Otherwise credibility will be thin on the ground.


Please have a strong opinion! Nobody wants to receive pages and pages of purely theoretical scenarios. 93% of decision makers want to read a clear vision of the future from your study. Describe what is really going on. Have the courage to formulate stringent theses, even if they go against the grain. A clear positioning encourages your clients to want to conquer new unknown territory with your support.


Without data everything is nothing. Your database is crucial to war if your future-related hypotheses are to be exact and credible. You can only achieve maximum customer relevance if your findings are well-founded. Beware of drilling too thin boards!
No matter how smart your topic is: If there are only twenty respondents behind it, the C-Suite will opt for “filing P”. Tier 1 media will show you the ‘cold shoulder’. Journalists know the importance of reliable sources too like. Net net: Good bye to your dream of coverage in the business section of Handelsblatt or FAZ.


You have a relevant topic, great data, robust evidence and your own insights. Great! But you will not with that alone. The ‘writing’ also needs to be right. Excellent studies convey very concrete solutions to problems with crisp examples, critical success factors and potential pitfalls.
They provide insights from senior “been-there-done-this” consultants. This type of Thought Leadership beefs everything up with visually convincing infographics (and this does not mean donut charts from your standard template) in dynamic language.
Don’t be a gray Professional Service mouse with “advisor-speak”, but create the desire to read by storytelling!


Unfortunately the best study is useless if it sits on your desktop or your consultants only take it to appointments sporadically. Ask your Marketing team for a multi-channel launch plan including both traditional and social media to build your brand reputation.
Never forget: The medium has to reflect your message. Be interactive and digital: Give your clients the opportunity to engage with your content, your consultants and your business development team. Preferably in real time. And yes: Viral videos and “listicles” might be hip, but your channels and formats have to fit your target audience. Get professional help for distribution! This pays off in leads and sales.


And then – finally:


Thought Leadership at its best is “idea-based selling”!
By outlining a problem or opportunity that your client did not know about before, you generate the decisive “Call to Action“. Your consultants and your business development teams have a relevant hook for direct client contact. Thought Leadership is too precious for anonymous mass mailings from your CRM hub. Use your studies specifically for initiating individualized, beneficial discussions based on your content, for events, lectures and meetings, to deepen your client relationships.

In addition to time and resource consuming studies, think of attractive, smaller formats such as blogs, LinkedIn-Pulse articles or byliner, etc. Rely on professional, value-added content marketing.

And now:


view LinkedIn article (in German)