Deloitte has long been a leader in developing and promoting thought leadership. Competing for clients at the highest levels of consulting and professional services, firm leadership has remained committed to significant investment in thought leadership for more than 20 years.
When Jonathan Copulsky took over Deloitte’s thought leadership program five years ago, however, the effort had lost its edge. Expert-led publications and initiatives were still a priority, but, in some cases, quantity overwhelmed quality. Broad coverage across the firm’s industry markets and buyer types had become more important than strategic direction.
“We were trying to place chips on every spot on the table,” Copulsky noted in a recent interview. “We had role-based programs, industry programs, and functional programs. But you can never win that kind of a coverage game. There’s too much competition and thought leadership isn’t even necessary to be successful in all areas.”
Thought Leadership Shift
Shifting course, Copulsky decided to focus on a smaller number of topics that highlighted Deloitte’s capabilities through a more integrated approach. “We needed to concentrate on the specific topics that we wanted to own and then amplify our work across the different perspectives that mattered most.”
At the same time, Deloitte began investing more heavily in platform innovation, looking for new and more creative ways to bring its thought leadership to market. As Copulsky notes, “We were living in a world where everything was a PDF. There’s still value in that type of format, but we needed to think about new forms of engagement.”
Five years later, Deloitte has made enormous progress with a more focused and innovative approach to thought leadership. Client engagement has improved dramatically, as has the level of industry recognition.
Five Keys to Success
As Copulsky explains, there have been five keys to programmatic success:
- Strategic Focus: Rather than trying to cover every relevant industry, role, and function, the program shifted to a tight focus on core topics that are most likely to drive reputation, differentiation, and growth. “The idea is to take a central idea and then amplify and adapt it by sector, role, and geography. Additive manufacturing is a good example. IoT, Behavioral Economics, and Industry 4.0 are other important focus areas for us.”
- Research Beyond Surveys: “Lots of firms are doing survey research. We still do it, but we need more than that. So we’re focused different kinds of research, such as on data analytics and visualization.”
- New Platforms: Deloitte University Press, a recent and very successful publishing imprint is one example of platform innovation; the creation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is another. “We were the first professional services firm to do a MOOC with our course on additive manufacturing. We developed three and a half hours of interactive material with quizzes and tests. More than 15,000 people enrolled in the course. It’s a whole different level of engagement with our material.”
- Strategic Partnerships: Partnering with universities or other organization is nothing new for thought leadership programs, but Deloitte has pushed hard to elevate the partnership approach in recent years. An interesting example is Data USA, a data visualization site for U.S. public data with the MIT Media Lab and Data Wheel. “We do a lot of public sector work, so this is a great opportunity to do show thought leadership around data integration, harmonization, and visualization.”
- Test and Learn: “We’re very focused now on doing executable tests. Don’t study something to death; do a test, learn, and then scale. Podcasting is a great example. We did podcasts years ago and they were not very successful. But podcasting overall has become very successful. So we tested a new approach with a former reporter from National Public Radio doing interviews vs. just having our experts talk into the microphone. Now the pickup has been tremendous so we’re expanding quickly with this new approach.”
The journey is far from over, according to Copulsky. “We’ll never find an issue that a competitor isn’t writing about. Focusing on an issue, bringing a multi-functional approach to content development, innovating platforms and research techniques, and partnering strategically are the ways that we will differentiate ourselves as a firm.”