Companies become true “thought leaders” when they generate ideas that get picked up and repeated, driving conversations in the marketplace and, in particular, among their prospective clients. The objective is to create a persuasive and compelling narrative that catapults you ahead of the pack  –- always a challenge in marketplaces overwhelmed by the sound of undifferentiated marketing messages.

As the value of thought leadership becomes increasingly clear and you are ready to explore it more deeply, here are three “winning practices” to consider:

1. Launch a Thought Leadership Initiative. Some companies are taking this concept so seriously that they are assigning high-level executives — even teams — to the task of generating and communicating compelling ideas. They’ve recognized that there is value in creating a formal structure of some kind in order to pursue the goal of becoming thought leaders. You may not hire a VP of Thought Leadership, but you need to commit to building, managing and leveraging your thought leadership in a disciplined fashion.

2. Invest Smartly in Thought Leadership. If such activities are to have value consistently over time, then it’s important to take them seriously and invest in relation to one’s business objectives. You are unlikely to create a powerful vision and compelling story without investing considerable resources into its development and articulation. You are going to have to reach out across the organization — to senior executives, marketing leaders, product managers, market reseachers, media and analyst relations professionals and the sales force — if you hope to truly capitalize on the promise of thought leadership marketing.

3. Merchandise and Promote Your Thought Leadership Everywhere You Can. Stand-out companies are tireless and relentless communicators. They are always exploring new ways to engage in market and customer conversations. Companies truly capitalize on thought leadership when they actively leverage the content, tools, perspectives they have created in many different media and many different situations. It’s not enough to produce a white paper and then, bury it on your web site. Don’t go through the trouble of creating a compelling e-newsletter only to store it away in “archives” (another word for “crypt” in my opinion) that no one will ever read again. Make it once, communicate it many times in many places.

Customers are no longer simply buying our products. They are buying our vision, our frameworks of the future. They are buying our stories, particularly when we give them an opportunity to “co-create” these stories — letting them envision themselves as (and later become) the heroes.