When it Absolutely, Positively Takes a Thought Leader to Get There

by Britton Manasco | Nov 02, 2008 | Thought Leadership

Fred Smith's thought leadership transformed a marketplace and continues to reverberate through the global economy.

As the founder of FedEx, Smith is famous for having pioneered a new market for overnight package delivery. But his innovations go far beyond that -- changing the way business thinks about logistics. Now, his company is engaging top decision makers with thought leadership programs that continue to open doors and drive business.  

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“All C-level executives are looking for ways to reduce costs yet continue to provide value to their customers,” said Laurie Tucker, senior VP-corporate marketing at FedEx Corp, in a recent issue of B2B Magazine. “It is important to provide the C-suite with thought leadership content and messaging that resonates with the leaders of corporations.”

Tucker points out how FedEx continues to differentiate itself in a highly contested market by providing a visionary view of where the market is headed. "While our key messages are about our products and services, probably more important is communicating how FedEx is leading the way in innovation and social responsibility,” she adds.

FedEx's thought leadership marketing program, known as “Access,” is targeted at the C-suite. It is designed to show FedEx's leadership role in the global economy. The program illustrates how the company connects its clients to customers and business partners throughout the world, while highlighting its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and act in socially responsible ways.

Grounding its point of view in solid research, FedEx commissioned the independent, nonprofit research firm SRI International to study and measure Access around the world. Each year, the company releases a new report that examines the scope and importance of Access. It featured the first Access Index, ranking 75 nations based on nearly two dozen indicators of physical and information Access.

FedEx's overall thought leadership program relies on executive events, web site initiatives and direct mail to reach its prospective and existing clients. It also publishes a custom magazine, Access Review, to reach C-level executives and other decision makers. Finally, Smith actively promotes these messages in keynotes and other events.

Smith's thought leadership has been crucial to the company's success all along. Not only did he testify on several occasions as the company sought regulatory relief in the 1970s and 1980s, he has, over the years, become an admired leader who can present a visionary view of where business is headed.

So what made the FedEx we know today possible?

Deregulation was certainly critical. In the first decade of the company’s existence, government regulations that prevented the overnight delivery of documents and the development of a hub and spoke transportation system were eliminated.

But the company was also tapping into a deep unmet need in business. The government’s postal monopoly was, unsurprisingly, seen as unresponsive and ineffective. It was holding back growth, productivity and innovation in all sectors of the economy.

FedEx, however, offered individuals and companies a powerful alternative to the post office’s slow, unresponsive service. The company would go on not only to pioneer the overnight delivery of packages but tremendous advances in logistics as well. Smith now proudly points out that the share of GDP tied to logistics costs fell from 16.5% to 9.5% in 25 years, generating enormous gains to corporate bottom lines in the process and giving us all vastly more purchasing power.

Fred Smith saw that new approaches, new technology and a commitment to customer responsiveness could transform the way business is done and generate enormous economic benefits.

Just as important, he knew how to articulate this vision in a way that would win converts and promote free enterprise. When it “absolutely, positively had to be there overnight,” you knew FedEx would come through for you.