I recently attended an event co-hosted by a large, highly-regarded financial services brand and an equally well-respected financial media organisation. The half-day event was on the topic du jour in the City currently – responsible investment – and the agenda looked full of promise.

The high hopes I held for an interesting, insightful event were dashed within minutes of the first speaker taking the stage.

It was instantly clear that the financial services company and the various speakers they had assembled from other City firms had nothing new nor concrete to say about responsible investment. It was a barren desert of actionable insights. Despite earnest probing and encouragement from the journalist moderating the event, people in the audience around me were nodding off.

The sole insight I took away from the event was one the organisers would not have intended: for thought leadership efforts to truly resonate, credibility is king.

And in this instance, credibility was confined to an afterthought, if given any thought at all.

For financial services organisations, grounding their thought leadership campaigns in reality, not rhetoric, is arguably more important than for brands in many other sectors. City executives are a pretty sceptical bunch, after all.

That is not to say that thought leadership campaigns are a waste of time. Research from the Financial Times’s Marketing Services division highlighted that senior decision-makers will not only commit time to consuming thought leadership, but also genuinely act upon the insights shared in a thought leadership platform.

But, when considering spending a hefty amount of money – as high-quality thought leadership platforms demand – it is of fundamental importance that financial organisations choose topics that truly speak to the existing strengths of the firm, not its long-term, lofty ambitions. It is even more essential that they do not choose topics on which they would be found to be severely lacking if anyone turned the microscope on them.

It is worth going back to the ultimate objective of a thought leadership campaign. While many brands use them to generate awareness – the top of the sales funnel – the underlying aim is always to achieve a concrete action on the audiences’ part. This may come in many different forms, whether it is attracting potential employees, landing a new business contract or client, or securing capital from investors, but it is a key ingredient in generating a return on investment.

If your company is encouraging action from stakeholders, it is only fair that the company itself has already acted or is taking tangible steps to act too. Ambition is laudable, but it must be paired with action.

There are a handful of financial services organisations who understand this paradigm, but there are many who do not.

In the research I mentioned earlier, 70% of senior executives said thought leadership improved the way they perceived the brand’s credibility. If organisations want to retain that sentiment, the credibility must be real.

As I discovered at the responsible investment event, financial services firms must beware the bandwagon topic at their peril.

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