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The Importance of Primary Research for Thought Leadership


Thought leadership engagements are a very niche category of research undertakings that not only require sensitivity, but also the infusion of an awe-inspiring quality that carries gravitas. For this, primary research is often used as a source of developing the concepts and ideas behind that underpin the campaign. However, it is often the case that the importance of primary sources to fleshing out a thought leadership campaign is not properly understood. Towards this, we’ve advanced several arguments in the following, for the various aspects in which primary research adds value to thought leadership campaigns.



Thought leadership campaigns are built on the ‘wow factor’ of ideas and their potential to transform. Thought leadership generation requires coming up with these ideas, qualifying their validity and applicability, quantifying their impact, and packaging these ideas into thought provoking campaigns. The whole process is based in the inventiveness, freshness, and originality of these ideas. At various points of a thought leadership generation process research support is required for meeting various odds and ends. Owing to the unique and, in most cases, unprecedented nature of ideas that are converted into thought leadership campaigns, substantiating them with research becomes somewhat challenging due to the general unavailability of published sources, databases, and references. Here, primary research becomes invaluable in triangulating the right sources, creating access to them, and extracting the required information. For this reason, primary research becomes indispensable to the process. Moreover, the common universality of secondary information sources presents its own set of difficulties. They can be challenged, disputed, and refuted with relative ease. They also fall short of providing true differentiation to the campaign, precisely because they are known knowns, i.e. things/facts/pieces-of-information that are known. Often times, they provide a confusing account, which can be detrimental to creating the kind of clarity that is needed for convincing some of the smartest people in an industry of the new ideas being professed through the thought leadership campaign. On the other hand, primary research provides a direct window into hard-to-access information and insights from some of the most knowledgeable people in a given field.


One of the most abiding aspects of any thought leadership program is that it seeks to develop and relay concepts that are wholly new and unique. Since thought leadership, by definition, involves a novel concept, it is difficult to source relevant information for validating and supporting these ideas through sources that are already in the public domain. The novelty of thought leadership concepts and ideas can only be tested, validated, supported, and brought to fruition by reaching out to subject matter experts, key opinion leaders (KOL’s), and industry veterans. It is only first-hand knowledge acquired through discussions, brainstorms, and open ended conversations with thought-leaders that can help crystalize and ensure the acceptance of these concepts. Secondary research is not only inadequate but, pragmatically, the wrong approach for this.

In so doing, it is vital to engage a research agency that not only has exclusive coverage across pertinent hard-to-reach audiences, but also has an understanding of the means and methods for engaging them. Furthermore, the vendor must have a demonstrable capability and maturity to grasp the novelty and sensitivity of the concept behind the thought leadership campaign itself.


The ideas and concepts hatched for establishing any agency as a thought leader in its industry, need to be packaged into tangible messaging. These can, then, be projected to validate the organization’s proprietorship of these novel ideas and cement influence for them to command in the market.

The projection of thought leadership calls upon the organization to engineer and discharge a powerful campaign that would garner attention from targeted audiences. Such a campaign would necessarily involve:-

(a.) Launching a marketing drive to popularize the idea,
(b.) Crafting a publicity push which creates spontaneous association of the idea with the organization, and
(c.) Launching platforms that inspire the imagination of targeted audiences with thought-provoking content and resources.

The production of content that embodies the unique and novel nature of ideas behind the thought-leadership campaign is central to projecting them in the market and seeking acceptance. This is important for:-

(a.) Establishing credibility, applicability, and viability of the ideas professed through the campaign,
(b.) Inviting and engaging targeted audiences in discussion around these novel ideas,
(c.) Cultivating communities dedicated to further exploring these ideas and developing them into concepts with business applicability, and
(d.) Creating talking points for exploring business opportunities, among others.

This content is meant to encapsulate the inventiveness, freshness, and originality of these ideas. Developing such content involves exploring various aspects of these ideas, from the perspective of multiple agents. Moreover, the content needs to mirror the originality of the ideas themselves. In order to do so it is imperative to consider the opinions of industry veterans, think tanks, influencers, KOL’s, business elites, etc.


Thought leadership is a highly intellectual undertaking, which requires conceptualization of novel ideas, exploring various facets associated with them, and deriving business use-cases from these ideas. It requires an intellectually charged research input, in the form of in-depth discussions, brainstorms, and open-ended conversations with key and hard-to-reach audiences. This, moreover, is amply reflected in the campaign’s output products, viz. the quality of the content published. The audiences targeted with any thought leadership campaign comprises individuals who appreciate the value of novel ideas that push the envelope. This is the reason they participate and share their mind, towards developing these concepts into viable business concepts. This is the reason that thought leadership campaigns need to be, not only of sound logic, but feasible. The nature of thought leadership is modular. It’s akin to a platform, which allows for others to build on the fundamental idea and come out with new solutions, concepts, applications, and use-cases. This makes it all the more important that these ideas be well grounded, qualified, and thorough. This downright reliability can only be achieved by engaging subject matter experts, KOL’s, industry veterans, and other key hard-to-reach audiences.


Thought leadership is an exploratory activity and conducting research to flesh out any campaign requires an understanding of the how’s and why’s of the concept itself. Diving deep into the subject and asking these fundamental questions is the key to tease out arguments to support the ideas and concepts professed through the campaign, in addition to developing the concepts themselves. Primary research is a dynamic way of addressing these questions, in consultation with KOL’s, thought leaders, etc. It probes these questions from the perspective of these hard-to-reach audiences, leveraging their expertise, experience, and network. In comparison, secondary data is static and only provides otherwise accessible facts and figures, but has no access to thoughts and ideas, from an individual’s point of view. So, while primary sources can provide foresight into emerging and upcoming trends, secondary data can only give hindsight. Moreover, primary sources are the best avenue to explore answers to very specific and targeted questions. Its dynamic nature allows for capture of thoughts, as they are being formulated. In this way, then, primary research allows for the best possible means to understand the why’s and the how’s associated with any thought leadership concept.


Primary research is an indispensable instrument to piecing together an impactful thought leadership campaign. It provides for developing an evidence based and in-depth understanding of the ideas and concepts that comprise the thought leadership campaign, through an open-ended exploration of the subject. It is in the nature of any thought leadership engagement that the ideas professed are novel and unique. This is why the proprietary and hard-to-reach information gathered from primary sources makes all the difference to a thought leadership campaign.

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