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Investment in thought leadership positively impacts brand value and valuations of unicorns: Mavericks’ Research report

The report titled - “Voices of Influence” includes a detailed analysis of the voices of 65 unicorn founders across 13 sectors, assessing the power and impact of thought leadership on the brand

The power of thought leadership is often undermined and instead is seen merely as a branding tool. Founders and CXOs are increasingly becoming vehicles of communication where they now have the additional power to change perceptions and investment in thought leadership positively impacts brand value and valuations of unicorns, as per Mavericks’ Research report.

The report states that thought leadership is typically seen as a very daunting exercise for many leaders and rightfully so. With business environments across sectors changing by the day, it would be fair to say that founders and their teams should focus on what it is going to take to make their business as adaptable as it can get.

The internet has indeed made the world smaller and social media has made every other unicorn founder as accessible as your next-door neighbour. This is why Thought Leadership matters - to change perceptions, to take one’s story their way and finally to see that shift in perception reflect the way a brand is valued. 

‘Voice of Influence’, a research report by reputation management advisory, The Mavericks India in collaboration with media monitoring agency ConceptBIU, has been curated with the purpose to understand and decode the fundamental principles of thought leadership, and its alignment with a company’s purpose, vision and mission.

This audit has revealed that not everyone survived audience scrutiny through their thought leadership, and though challenging, if done right, a sound thought leadership strategy can result in long term gains for the brand.

Key highlights from the report are:

Cryptocurrency derives gains through their focus on knowledge-sharing

There are certain industries that are required to invest in knowledge sharing about the sector and business in order to establish their credibility and trust, and thought leadership can be an effective tool to achieve this. 

Crypto unicorn, CoinDCX utilises the same principle to educate and involve stakeholders in the industry to build trust and provide useful information, leading to the overall growth of the sector. Sumit Gupta obtained an impact score of 8 owing to the high activity thought leadership and industry-related content shared with prime new customers in the industry. The content is aspirational and relatable in nature, aligning with the brand mission and vision. 

Celebrity endorsements and valuations galore in Edtech

The edtech industry saw the highest volume of funding with sky-rocketing valuations and dazzling celebrity endorsements, however thought leadership is a more effective tool to ensure sustained upward movement in a company’s popularity.

The common thread between BYJU’s and Unacademy were their big-ticket spending on celebrities to advertise the brand as seen during the IPL season. Linking the face of the brand to a popular actor or sportsperson to build thought leadership resulted in the CEOs and co-founders taking a backseat; Byju’s Divya Gokulnath has an impact score of 6 and Unacademy’s Gaurav Munjal scored 5. 

Eruditus and UpGrad on the other hand struck a similar chord by correlating the leader with the brand and vice versa. Ashwin Damera and Arjun Mohan’s impact score of 6 can be credited to their high leadership activity to create impactful content by enunciating the brand messaging for various stakeholders. 

Fintech demonstrates the right balance of thought leadership

Utilising the entire mix of thought leadership - talent, business, and personal branding, both Razorpay and Zeta bear fruitful results. Razorpay enjoyed a growth rate of 20.09% between October 2020 and April 2021 correlating to Harshil Mathur’s impact score of 6, the announcement of the third largest ESOP buyback worth $10 million, in addition to the brand entering the coveted unicorn club. Similarly, Zeta grew at an average rate of 7.42% between July 2019 and May 2021, given the active messaging around their enthusiasm to cultivate and build talent which was largely owned by Bhavin Turakhia as highlighted by his impact score of 6.

NBFCs and Mobility brands win with an integrated communications approach 

OfBusiness witnessed a steep rise in valuation from 17.57% to 51.91% from July to September 2021, which can potentially be attributed to Asish Mohapatra’s impact score of 5, and being vocal about the time and effort put in towards building a sustainable culture in his company. 

Likewise, Bhavish Aggarwal’s impact score of 8, is a result of his determination to establish Ola Electric Scooters as different from others, making it the starting point for India to become a leader in the EV space is reflected across his media interviews and on social media, helping his overall persona development in the public eye. The company witnessed a growth rate of 6.35% from September 2018 to January 2019 - the same time during which Aggarwal was very vocal about Ola’s initiative called ‘Guardian’, a real-time ride monitoring system. 

Thought leadership influences different degrees of valuation for companies in the SaaS industry

The valuation of a company may not completely be influenced by its thought leadership. Vision and mission statements are key factors here, and this often influences brand strategy, and thereby, thought leadership to an extent as well.

75% of the unicorns in the SaaS industry have seen an upward trend in their valuation due to their healthy thought leadership. At the top, Girish Mathrubootham scores an impact score of 8, reflecting the direct impact of thought leadership on valuation as seen in Freshworks’ IPO. Jaspreet Singh from Druva garnered an impact score of 4, BrowserStack’s Ritesh Arora scored 5, while Innovaccer’s Abhinav Shashank and Icertis’s Samir Bodas scored 6. As a part of the central spectrum of companies in the SaaS space, these leaders have witnessed an gradual upward trend in valuation.

E-commerce businesses have it easy when gauging thought leadership impact among customers

Unicorns Lenskart and Meesho have seen the direct impact of thought leadership due to the customer-facing nature of business. Driving their storytelling through the lens of ‘aatmanirbhar bharat’, at a time when it was receiving widespread popularity, delivered well for both the business and internal stakeholders as seen in their valuations of USD 2.5 billion in July 2021 and 2.1 billion in April 2021 respectively.

Peyush Bansal’s impact score of 6 is a result of his active thought leadership in amplifying company initiatives such as Grow at, and Lenskart foundation. Vidit Aatrey’s holistic thought leadership activity across personal, industry and company content creates a perfect template for other CEOs and Co-Founders to follow suit.

Personal branding and consistent communication lead to growth in Foodtech

Food delivery giants Zomato and Swiggy are apt case studies when drawing parallels between the companies and their founders’ branding and messaging, and mapping its effect on growth. Deepinder Goyal’s candid and consistent online presence during the pandemic, its sync with the company’s overall messaging has reflected positively on the brand. With an impact score of 7, Goyal has been a beacon for Zomato’s communications in the last two years with their monthly growth rate in valuation touching 14.8%. On the other hand, Swiggy’s extensive amplification saw limited backing from Sriharsha Majety who obtained an impact score of 3. The company saw a significantly lower growth rate in valuation of 1.4% per month during this period. 

Winning strategies of good thought leadership: The thought leadership framework can seem complex, with many layers, but can be decoded through interactions, engagements and transactions with various stakeholders. Essentially the ethos, pathos and logos of the organisation needs to be reflected in the beliefs and values of the leader. To construct this synergy, there are four factors that define good thought leadership:

  • Defining characteristics of a good thought leader are openness to perspectives; constant drive to innovate; absolute conviction and belief in the company’s mission; authenticity, with a strategic bent of mind. 
  • Positioning brand content is more about the semantics of messaging and the nature of the content, paired with the right medium for the right audience. The understanding of the appropriate medium can result in merely transactional conversations evolving into communicative dialogues with positive outcomes
  • Emphasising on delivering authentic, genuine, relevant, yet topical content, that most importantly reflects theirs as well as their company’s values results in the emergence of a more robust and compelling narrative 
  • Thought leadership emerges through consistency, investment of time, and expression of original ideas from a leader to then ultimately establish themselves as the persona that is synonymous with the brand. 

Chetan Mahajan, Founder and CEO, The Mavericks India said, “Perceptions can make or break the reputation of a brand and we have seen such instances in the recent past. We are often posed with the question of whether thought leadership could be an option and we have never been able to justify its importance backed with data. This truly was our north star when we set out to create this report and with a clear hypothesis to prove or disprove - how crucial thought leadership is to the financial and emotional value of a brand.” 

For a detailed understanding of the correlation between thought leadership and brand equity, the full report can be accessed here.

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