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Describing what your firm does is always difficult, but getting it right has never been more important. Could thought leadership help?

Many of the conversations we’ve been having with professional services firms over the course of the last few months have ended up focusing on the issue of propositions. In a changed market—in a changed world—offering clients the same thing you offered them before the COVID crisis struck seems increasingly unwise. Your underlying capabilities might be every bit as relevant as they ever were, as might your values and your purpose. But if all of that is packaged up in a way that doesn’t acknowledge how the world has changed, or address the issues that clients are facing right now, there’s a serious danger of it missing the mark.

It’s the difference, for example, between telling the market you offer organisation design services, and telling it you’ve got a new way to help retailers create omnichannel organisations to support omnichannel customer experiences in a post-COVID world. Or, more simply, between saying you do supply chain management, and saying you create resilient supply chains. Done well it involves reconfiguring the way a firm works, so that propositions are built on strong but flexible foundations rather than being exercises in window dressing, but that’s not to say the way propositions are described isn’t important. Indeed, it may be one of the most important things of all.

But it’s a tricky business, this. Breaking long-standing traditions around describing what you do might not be as hard as breaking organisational structures to make a firm more responsive to the market, but it still involves changing the status quo, and that’s never easy. However, in thinking about how to approach the issue, we wonder if thought leadership might be a help. Compare, for example, the language used to describe “featured services” on Capgemini Invent’s* website, with the “Latest publications” section of its “Insights & news” page:

Featured services & Latest publications
Business services: Adopt an automation-first approach to make your collections strategy more dynamic
Digital services: Touchless planning – how to get there
Intelligent industry: Data-powered innovation in COVID times
Perform AI: The retail renaissance
Technology operations: How to scale your big data solution with an industrialised approach
Transformation & innovation: Telemedicine and the way forward

To some extent the comparison is unfair, because the “featured services” are being presented at the highest possible level. But they’re the ones that have been picked out as featured services nevertheless, and our question is this: In which of the two columns are you most likely to click on something? The point is that in thinking about thought leadership, the best firms are already finding powerful ways to engage clients and potential clients, whereas that thinking isn’t yet finding its way through to the ways in which firms describe what they do. Indeed, very often the direction of travel is the other way round: Firms have a tendency to try to present service marketing as thought leadership, usually with fairly dreadful results. Perhaps it’s time for practice leaders to start learning a bit more from thought leadership creators.

*We’ve picked out Capgemini Invent only because it topped our latest thought leadership rankings, but other firms are doing exactly the same thing.