In this article we discuss the importance of thought leadership and their role in business. Many people are familiar with branding, but not with this concept. Although it holds the same purpose, which is to promote your business as the to-go expert in certain fields, many people do not fully understand the importance of thought leaders.
In many cases, a thought leadership strategy is seen as a trivial method in business. Every time this term rises, especially in business practices, people wonder what the actual definition of thought leadership is? Why is it important? Why is this term becoming so prevalent and popular among start-ups and scale-ups?
The concept was made popular in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Strategy & Business magazine, a content marketing publication, who stated that “A thought leader is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in … they have distinctly original ideas, unique points of view and new insights”.
Since its origins, thought leadership has evolved in meaning and connotations. A variation on the first definition exists, however it always refers back to pioneer thinking and expertise in a particular field.
Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Strategy & Business magazine, popularized thought leadership in the 90’s. He defined it as having distinctly original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.
Brand Yourself summarize thought leadership as the
"practice of content marketing strategy where individuals or companies are recognized as the most reliable and trustworthy authorities, resulting in being to-go individuals or companies in certain fields"
Another definition from FINN is
“the act of promoting conventional-breaking ideas that changes how people think about marketplace or societal issues”
Keeping the above in mind, we’ve created our own thought leadership definition, being
“the act of branding your company to be recognized as the best company in the field of your business and to change people’s behaviour and perception towards your company”
From our experience, we’ve come to realize that the principle of being an industry pioneer is quite simple, you want to be the first reference when an audience is looking for information and you want to be considered as an industry pioneer, a credible source who carries the most beneficial industry knowledge. The tricky part is to become a thought leader.
While it is often overlooked, thought leadership is a key component in marketing. When building your reputation as an expert in your field, consider leveraging your opinion as an individual or representative of a company to carry greater weight and boost your influence across the industry.
Think about how many people would look up your product before buying it. Simply saying your product is great on your website won’t do the trick, they need to see you offer real value with a brand that contributes to a bigger discussion. This is where thought leadership steps in to build referral links, with industry involvement building your credibility and making a favourable impression.
A thought leader’s opinion can be leveraged as marketing material to build their personal or brand reputation. This also boosts the influence they hold across the industry.
Ultimately, this practice works really well when building purchase intent. Besides making a positive impact on your audience, being a thought leader also helps earn respect from other experts in the field. According to Edelman, 90% of C-Suite executives referred to strong leadership as an element that increases their respect and admiration for an organization.
Just take a look at one of the most influential thought leaders, the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates. Although he is famous worldwide, he still regularly posts content on his LinkedIn feed, sharing quality content that inspires not only tech enthusiasts, but people from all walks of life. This is a show of how being an authority figure can promote your personal brand, with the benefit of creating a reputable company status.
Thought leaders are actively engaged in their industry. They are regarded as industry pioneers, a credible source who carries the most beneficial industry knowledge. Their opinions can promote their personal brand and/or business, with the benefit of creating a reputable company status.
Firstly, they’re involved in a variety of industry activities. These range from speaking at events, hosting and being interviewed, launching podcasts, syndicating guest blogs and more. Throughout these events, they demonstrate their most important quality: industry expertise.
The expertise of thought leaders gives clear value to their audience. This value helps to build a loyal following, and through participating in your industry’s conversation, a valuable network of connections, collaborations and partnerships that will give you credibility.
A thought leader is an expert in their field, both in knowing and setting the trends in their industry. They display a great deal of market knowledge, which they share with other experts in the field and their own followers.
Thought leaders are actively engaged in their industry. Here, a key characteristic is that they care deeply about expanding and bettering their industry. They offer continuous insights to support their industry and engage with their communities.
Thought leaders have a clear value to offer to their industry. This added value is conveyed through consistent communication. This can be provided through sharing insights, giving guidance and showing support for those in their field.
Thought leaders gain credibility through endorsements from other key parties in their industry. This status is built over time, by offering consistent value and support to your community.
Thought leaders address the needs of their field. Their followers come to value their insights and look to them for guidance.
Industry experts share their knowledge with others to better the future of their industry’s practices. This is how they build a loyal following and gain a reputable status in industry, with credibility and clear value adding insights.
Having a thought leadership strategy in place can return many benefits for your business, as you can leverage from the added press coverage or social awareness.
As a thought leader, your industry presence gathers you increased attention from your audience as you differentiate yourself from competitors. By showcasing a unique perspective with a diverse portfolio of content and engagements, you position yourself as a leader, rather than a follower.
A good PR strategy assists you in becoming a thought leader, in turn, being an established thought leader can elevate your PR’s edge in the market. The more prominent your industry expertise becomes, the more media traction you gain. Once you are set as an industry expert, more news coverage and speaking opportunities come your way.
Reputable companies are likely to be chosen by customers compared to companies that have little to no media coverage. Brand awareness efforts rely heavily on the news happening around your business. Widening your awareness efforts and talking about the bigger picture is therefore crucial.
Attraction and publicity comes from having a prominent figure in the media who represents the company’s prosperity and who is positioned as an industry leader.
A thought leadership program can help startups and scaleups increase their sales and contribute to business growth.
According to research done by the Hinge Research Institute, C-suite executives are willing to pay the highest-profile leaders over 14 times more than a standard professional, further emphasizing benefits of such a strategy.
Moreover, almost 60% of business decision makers said authority figures can directly lead to closed-won deals and that it convinced them to buy a product or service they were not thinking about before.
Developing thought leadership is a key component of building your brand as it efficiently communicates your company’s expertise. Additionally it makes it easier for prospects to identify your unique value proposition (UVP) and unique selling proposition (USP). As a result, it increases your uniqueness, reliability, and authority.
Brand credibility is not achieved overnight. It takes time to grow trust among your markets and niches. As a thought leader, you demonstrate what value your owned knowledge adds to the industry. You display that you understand what you’re talking about, applying your expertise to a particular topic.
When more people start turning to you for your insights and opinions, you become validated as a trustworthy source of information.
In time, credibility is gained when people feel like you create added value for them through the information you supply the market with.
Thought leadership creates a unique business avenue of service offerings that are not necessarily otherwise available. For example, specialist advisory is difficult to come by in many tech sectors.
As a thought leader in this industry, you hold the potential to differentiate yourself from the competition as a holder of valuable knowledge.
In this case, authority can be used as a marketing tool to promote the expert market guidance or advisory services you are able to offer. This gives you an edge above the majority players in your market.
As thought leadership reinforces your brand reputation and creates a unique selling point, investors are sure to take note of the industry moves you can make.
Displaying your specialist skills and visionary leadership can win you great financial benefits.
Investors want to make sure their capital grows, as a thought leader, you give them the security that their investments are secure. This is because you hold greater brand authority, which is greatly appealing to someone listening to your pitch.
In addition to winning over investors, creating and maintaining strong connections with the public is essential to build a positive public image. A good partnership contributes to your company’s success since it will open the door to many potential opportunities, such as promoting your company in the market and collaborating with companies that substantially increase your company’s profit.
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If you are looking to grow your business to the point of being considered an industry pioneer or visionary, you’ll have to cultivate your thought leadership strategy.
As a startup or scaleup, it may be challenging to share your views on a specific topic as your visibility may be smaller compared to the industry’s biggest players. As 81.5 percent of firms receive referrals from people they have not worked directly, it is important to use content to reach your potential clients and customers. If you decide to pursue this approach, it could greatly increase opportunities for creating content that will help build a good reputation and make you a desirable partner.
You cannot become an industry leader without putting great effort into planning and mapping your way forward. A thought leadership strategy will guide your vision and help you to meet your goals.
Thought leadership, like any other marketing practices such as public relations, SEO, and strategic communications, is a fundamental way to obtain customers. By establishing yourself as a referral point for industrial insights, you can differentiate your startup or scaleup from your competitors.
Working on efforts to become a recognized player will help your business to stand out among hundreds or even thousands of competitors. Imagine being the leading company where people undoubtedly choose your service due to thought leadership marketing. In this, you can easily reach customers because your brand is reputable and recognizable.
Despite the business advancing benefits you can gain, a thought leadership strategy can also provide internal processing support. This is because it aligns decision making across the company, providing a clear business roadmap to follow when working towards a common goal.
You want to build your brand reputation and recognition. Having a strategy in place will help guide your processes and direct your vision of how to become a key industry leader.
In many cases, the term has become overused, with many not being able to support their claims of being a thought leader or how they implement a “leading expert” strategy. Due to this, people have rightfully become skeptical of thought leadership marketing.
When done right, thought leadership marketing is a highly effective strategy that can get you great market visibility by sharing your expert knowledge. This can be done in support of your broader marketing goals, to increase the chances of reaching them.
In doing this, your brand can gain a strong reputation as an industry leader or pioneer of your niche. The principle hereof is to publish content that becomes the top point of reference when people search for information. This means that the market starts looking at you as an authority figure with ruling industry insights.
You can enhance the efforts you take in Business to Business (B2B) marketing by implementing a thought leadership strategy in your communications approach. For example, investors and partners look for relevance and trust before undergoing a business agreement. In marketing, this strategy uses the valuable opinions of influential people in the company to sell the brand or business to new prospects. This gives a personal appeal to your business.
Thought leadership marketing can help you gain a strong reputation as an industry leader or pioneer of your niche. This is because it supports your greater marketing efforts. In marketing, this strategy uses valuable opinions to give a personal appeal to the business.
Always keep in mind your customers. Is your content aligned with what you stand for? Could you lose clients for a particular stance or statement you make, or will this further bolster your reputation?
Asking yourself the above questions can help pick the right communication style that will positively influence your audience, and avoid any backlashes. Different approaches to the concept are:
Common among traditional consulting firms such as McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group, this form of leadership implies a strong business rationale. As a knowledgeable authority, their focus is on strong positioning and competitive advantage.
To position themselves as trusted voices on complex issues that matter to them, advocates of this approach share their intellectual ideas and new insights in whitepapers or through other media.
Strategic-driven strategies tend to work well for historic companies who have built their reputations up to the point of being set in industry. This is also of use for companies who follow a traditional business model and are focused on keeping their market position.
Being strategy-driven implies a strong business rationale. Historic companies, with knowledgeable authority, want to stay focused on strong positioning and competitive advantage.
Opposite to traditional companies, advocates of transformation-driven thought leadership focus on shifting paradigms and contributing to societal transitions.
They believe in novel, unconventional ideas that will change the future and are highly-driven in leading this change.
This approach tends to work well in industries that develop at a fast pace. In highly dynamic business environments that break away from tradition, a transformative mindset is critical.
A good example of a transformation-driven thought leader is the electric car manufacturer Tesla. Despite petrol being the primary fuel, the company seeks to establish a future where everyone can drive low-cost electric automobiles.
This strategy can be interpreted in many ways, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to it. No matter what your level of qualification is or the career path you’re pursuing, the goal is to achieve growth in your personal branding.
Your voice, content and messages will depend on the industry you’re operating in. Some industries may be more content heavy and others may require you to innovate on the content you supply to the market. The tools to develop your personal growth strategy will also vary.
For example, a student may focus on building their online reputation to get into college and further their academic career. In this case, thought leadership can be built from a hobby that turns into a niche or showcasing achievements and experiences.
On the other hand, a freelancer would want to clearly differentiate their services and encourage more business. Here, personal branding is critical, as it can contribute to reputation and greater business prospects.
Keep in mind to look for a balance between strategic and transformation objectives in your strategy. This will ideally blend your authority with today’s transformative landscape. Important: always use a communication style suited to your audience and align your content with your values and theirs!
There are a few methods and vehicles available that you could use to get your leading content out in the media. Thought leadership articles are well known for their insightfulness, making them the go-to option when creating content for publishing.
The body of these articles vary, depending on the approach you take. For example, you could write educational articles or trend forecasting pieces. The bottom line is that the article displays why you’re considered an industry leader and that they give guidance in solving problems or answering questions.
Visual content like videos and YouTube tutorials can be used to support your marketing strategy with materials that, for example, explains a difficult topic in your industry or that discusses the future outlook of your market.
Interviews on prime news sites are great for sharing first-hand point of views. From this, more opportunities can be created to be featured as a keynote speaker or to be invited as a guest orator. Once journalists pay you more attention, publicity creates greater press interest in either your personal brand or business.
Platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter are lightheartedly referred to as the “socialites of PR”. Though, the potential social media holds to benefit your marketing strategy should not be taken for granted. These present direct channels to engage with your audience and to build a solid public following.
There are many tools and platforms available to get your word out there. Opinion pieces and written articles are popular, but video and YouTube are gaining traction with the growing interests in Social Media. Building a personal network on LinkedIn and Twitter also enhances your action plan.
Goals to influence thought leadership are ambitious but completely attainable. If you don’t know the correct metrics it can be difficult to measure the impact of some of these strategies. Here are five of the core metrics to measure the quest of becoming an effective opinion leader.
This is the most classic approach to measuring your thought leadership strategy. What’s the first thing you do when you’ve found interest in a company? You check their website.
The more you grow your voice and reputation both online and offline, the higher the influx of people you will see approaching your website. Monitor the website traffic monthly and create reports based on that timeline.
If your company hosts any special events or does networking, make sure to take a look at your website for any spikes in online traffic during those periods. This will help you evaluate your outside efforts as an organization and can also result in time and money efficiency. As you are monitoring the users accessing your website, make sure to pay attention to where they are coming from.
What are the traffic sources and why are they coming to you? Take notice of the amount of traffic coming to the website from your social media platforms. By seeing what webpages are generating traffic you can further optimize them with SEO optimisation or produce similar content to build upon it.
Social media followers are a good measurement of influence, especially in our modern-day media landscape.
Most social media platforms or third-party apps offer ways to track reach and growth.
These statistics can help you understand your following and help you to know which groups are better to target based on their demographics.
If you notice a platform taking off more than others, make sure to put additional time and energy into its growth because those followers will most likely trickle into your other platforms.
It’s also helpful to see what kind of social media posts do better. Let’s say that you obtain more views on your stories on Instagram than you do likes on your feed posts. In that case, perhaps the more important content should be disseminated across your stories. Listen to what your followers are trying to tell you and plan or act accordingly.
Branded queries are when people look for something with your brand’s name through a search engine such as Google. Basically, it is any search result specific to your brand.
They are among the most important keywords to optimize because they represent a brand-aware audience that is more likely to continue searching for your product and tip-off the point of conversion and become a potential customer. In fact, most of the time they are already customers searching to repurchase your product.
Thought leadership and branded queries are intimately linked. An Edelman-LinkedIn survey found that 60% of decision-makers said these kinds of efforts convinced them to buy a product or service they were not previously considering.
By conducting a branded search audit, you can better track the results of your strategy. The more searches you receive, the higher you rank in the search results, thus more people are talking about you/your brand, ultimately meaning that your thought leadership influences more people.
One way you can make note of your branded queries is through Google Search Console who measures your site’s Search traffic and performance, fix issues, and improve your site’s visibility in Google Search results. By taking note of this data you can easily track your branded queries.
Backlinks are links on other company’s websites that reference your site, and therefore redirect people to your website.
Sit with your team and decide upon a monthly or quarterly goal in terms of how many backlinks you collectively want to gain. Backlinks help SEO efforts and help build your brand’s credibility; it helps with credibility because it shows approval and a sort of alliance with other companies. In other words, backlinks are like a vouching system that helps establish authority and affiliations amongst complementary companies.
There are tools out there that help track who has mentioned your site but hasn’t linked it back to you. A highly recommendable tool to provide you with this kind of service is SEMrush. Once you’ve identified who has mentioned your brand but hasn’t linked it, contact that company with a link to a page that you’d like them to attach to their mention of you. This way you earn another backlink for your monthly or quarterly goal.
Google alerts is a great resource that allows you to track specific keywords.
The number one reason you want to install google alerts right away is reputation management. By doing so, you are now on top of every mention your business gets right away. It also lets you check how many events you’re invited to speak at.
It is also a useful way to keep tabs on your industry. By monitoring the web for terms that are theme-specific, you can discover new competitors, potential clients, and keep up to date with everything happening in your field.
While it’s great to know what is being said about you, it’s also important to know who is saying something similar to you as well. Google trends can help you find media outlets that mention your company or that are utilizing specific terms that are related to your thought leadership, therefore giving you the opportunity to make connections and perhaps get published.
As the trends of social media marketing in 2020 skyrocket, many marketers utilize technology, such as social media and AI, to implement thought leadership efforts throughout their business. This is because technology gives us far more options for creating engaging content.
For example, live streaming as a way of sharing content is incredibly engaging, giving the audience the chance to participate and get real-time updates on significant matters.
Besides live streaming, thought leadership benefits from technology as it can adopt a more agile approach to content creation by sharing an up-to-date view on social media. This way, more audience will be engaged on relevant topics, positioning you as a knowledgeable thought leader. For instance, although the thought leader topic should avoid politics, many business thought leaders include political keywords on trending topics. Becoming a thought leader who keeps themselves aligned with current trends or interests, will give you a competitive advantage and help maintain positive relationships with your audience.
Technology leadership also involves the implementation of AI and machine learning to reveal content preferences as the latter can gather large volumes of data at a face-pace. Technical opinion leading efforts can analyze open text responses to AI algorithms that generate follow-up questions, possibilities of data analysis are growing.
As a result marketers can find the right topic that will resonate with their target and helps them differentiate from competitors, based on AI algorithms. By using data generated from AI, tech thought leaders can create the right type of content for their audience because they have a better understanding of what their audience wants or expects from their companies.
Thought leadership can be implemented through social media, AI, live streaming and other modern technologies. Keeping up with news trends as well as technology is essential.
Many people and companies from different expertise, such as technology, politics, and business, claim thought leadership. Although there are lots of thought leaders, only a few people can truly reveal their uniqueness and engage audiences.
Most thought leaders become influencers who inspire other people by their innovation, vision, and merit. In this section, we list the top 4 thought leaders who are not only successful in their businesses, but also play pivotal roles in society.
Elected in 1961, he showed his strong will, courage and endurance to influence others and become one of the first thought leaders. He is well known as the American president who confidently declared the American's plan to go to the moon to defeat Soviet Union in the space race. Within 10 years, his mission was accomplished and it happened because he commanded American educators to adjust course and focus on space programs. As a result, there are millions of people following the course and making his desire come true. Additionally, he built lots of industries, which are related to the successfulness of the space program.
Steve Jobs co-founded Apple, which is one of the largest multinational technology companies in the world. He was not only a CEO and an innovator, but also a thought leader. He strived for creating user-friendly technological products by listening to his customers, iteratively improving the products, and connecting people with his solutions. As a thought leader, he communicated his core values of the business, generated customers’ excitement with upcoming products, and shaped the digital world to promote his brand. Because of his outstanding opinion leading plan, he was able to build a network of loyal and trusting customers, which helped Apple to create a high reputation, outshine the competitors, and increase its income.
Doug Engelbart was an american engineer and the inventor of the computer mouse, hypertext, network computers and GUI (graphical user interfaces), which are essential in the early development of computers. He promoted his vision by establishing The Doug Engelbart Institute. Due to his excellent thought leadership (active persuasion and promotion), he successfully earned funding to modernize Augment user interface. In his institute, he also shared his knowledge on leveraging organizations in business and innovation context, which is known as “the ABCx of Organizational improvement”. He also attained the National Medal of Technology, which is the highest technology award in the U.S in 2000.
Amy entered the scene working for renowned motivational coach, Tony Robbins. From here, her digital marketing profession grew into a business that’s centered around her personal brand. Amy is highly skilled online marketing, sharing tips and advice about how to take your business to the next level via the digital world. She hosts weekly podcasts in which she shares her industry knowledge about how to tap into digital marketing’s growth benefits. Her industry experience led her to start her own digital marketing training business, which aims to educate others in the field. Amy’s top-ranking business podcast, best seller status and 250k loyal channel subscribers is proof of her credible status as a female thought leader.
Michelle Killebrew is recognised by Thinkers360 as one of the top modern day thought leaders. She is the head of Marketing at PwC New Ventures, with 19+ years of industry experience. Known for her marketing knack, Michelle has won multiple awards for her brilliance in taking new media developments and turning them into profitable strategies long before the competition catches on. In 2017, Michelle was recognised as a top tech marketing leader who is shaping the industry. She excels in digital marketing, demand generation, channel optimization and technical marketing, amongst a great portfolio of others. Due to her exceptional marketing skills, Michelle is a leading woman in business, dedicated to delivering a superior brand experience and to scale global pioneering marketing techniques.
Thompson’s expertise lies in experiential brand building. She’s conducted extensive research into corporate culture, diversity in the workplace, customer loyalty and customer experience. As a modern woman in business, she’s sharing her insights about how to deliver branded experiences to make your brand go far. Her work has been published by the likes of Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and Success. Not only is she a well-published industry leader, she’s also an advocate for meaningful brand building. She believes that “business is about belonging”. She’s pioneering her industry by giving a uniquely human touch to branding, sharing stories about how to make the customer feel valued and as if they belong with your brand - as brands should aim to be a comfortable space for their clients.
Hopefully this article helped you to get a grasp on thought leadership. Thought leadership is the act of promoting novel viewpoints of an individual or a company that changes the customers’ perception. In a sense it is a form of branding, because it increases the visibility, authority, and authenticity of the brand. However, it doesn’t talk about your brand specifically, and instead offers industry insights and keeps customers up to date with trends.
Startups and scaleups can greatly benefit from it, as it helps them to build their brand awareness, expand partnership, and increase the companies’ revenues.
Implementing some of the practices might be quite challenging for any company, especially when your brand is lacking a solid PR strategy. Therefore, getting some consulting behind your efforts is a vital process that contributes to the success and reputation of your company. The latter can be facilitated by reliable PR agencies.
Established in Amsterdam, PRLab has become one of the best thought leadership agencies in the start-up world. Are you curious about how PRLab could help you in achieving your success? Book a consultation with us and let’s make it happen!
While often overlooked, thought leadership is considered a core component in marketing. When building on your reputation as an expert in your field, leveraging your opinion as an individual or representative of a company carries a greater weight and boosts your influence across the industry. By becoming an opinion leader, you position yourself as someone who profoundly understands the industry, business, the needs of its audience and the broader marketplace. To be a thought leader means you have the following qualities. You have expertise within your industry, you have continuous involvement in your industry, you have a clear value to offer, and you have credibility through endorsements. A thought leadership strategy is aimed at building and maintaining this involvement and communicating your value and expertise to your audience.
Thought leadership is important precisely because it positions you as a figure or brand with authority within your industry. You are not just trying to get people to buy your products or services, but to get people to buy into your brand. Stakeholders, investors, consumers, they are all more likely to trust your brand if you are viewed as a valued source of information and a leader within your industry. Your voice has weight, and thus people will be more likely to stand by your brand and make the choice to seek it out.
Consider how many people would search your product before buying it, simply saying that your product is great on your website just won’t do the trick. Consumers need and want to see you involved in the bigger discussion with referral links to your site to build that credibility that is so much needed to make a lasting positive impression and that last push to influence a purchase decision.
Like any effective marketing strategy, the first step lies in identifying your goals, realizing what it is you want to achieve and problems you want to solve by becoming a thought leader. For example, you want to improve your differentiation from your competitors or maybe you don’t have enough credibility to secure funding from investors.
You also need to identify what trends are occurring in your industry and be at the forefront of events in your niche. It sounds like common sense, but in order to be a thought leader, you need to make sure you do your research and are offering insights into relevant areas and addressing the needs of your audience.
Once you have identified the trends and pain points of your industry, you need to create content that will engage your audience and communicate your valuable insights to them. There are many different types of content such as whitepapers, reports, blogs, as well as interactive channels such as seminars or events where you can engage with the industry in person. In essence, the steps of a thought leadership strategy is to identify the needs of your industry, develop your valuable insight into helping these needs, and use a range of channels to communicate this with your audience.
Due to the highly specialized nature of tech companies, thought leadership strategies can really demonstrate your expertise within your field if you provide the answers that your audience is looking for. This not only means people have increased trust in your brand, but will search you out for your valuable insights.
As such for a tech company it is very important to be in tune with the needs of your audience, and communicating with them in a way that is suited to them is essential. For example, avoiding jargon where necessary, or offering clear insights and explanations on complex subjects is a common need that arises in tech simply due to the nature of working with cutting edge technology. Focus on giving deep explanations to the big questions within your niche using formats that your audience use. Also keep your brand in mind, are you an innovative high tech company? Then focus on the futuristic side of things that appeals to people who keep themselves up to date with cutting edge technology. On the other hand as a MedTech brand you want to focus on the problems in the healthcare and medical industries, addressing the needs of doctors as well as patients.