Tales Over Trophies: How Thought Leadership Outshines Traditional Awards

The awards landscape in India has never been more crowded, mentions Gupta

A few days ago at the airport, idly scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, something peculiar caught my eye. Every other post that I encountered from a company or brand was an announcement for an award that they had recently won. The first couple of times I saw such posts, I was impressed. Clearly, there were teams of people working very hard to win these honours and awards and get listed among the Top 10 in their industry. 

By the tenth such post, I simply could not keep up. If you asked me to recount which brand had won which award, I’d fail that quiz. Not to belittle or diminish anyone’s effort, but I’m certain I am not the only one. The awards landscape in India has never been more crowded. As we wade through a sea of professional honours—from celebrated awards to an array of highly specialised industry commendations—and the social media validation that they inevitably bring, it is fair to ask: How many awards are too many awards? And by extension, what are they doing for your brand? 

I am old enough to remember a time when companies or agencies would participate—or, rather, could afford to participate—in just a couple of annual creative, marketing or professional awards. These were big deals: preparations would begin weeks in advance, someone was in charge of keeping track of application dates, and entries would be carefully mulled over and edited multiple times. It used to be a heady affair. Winning one such award meant a brand could keep citing it for years to come. 

No doubt, this current awards boom signifies an expansion and maturing of our markets. However, the flip side of this is that somewhere, the essence of true achievement begins to blur. And while I can understand that most brands feel the pressure to bask in the afterglow of these awards, I wonder if it translates into actual authenticity for the brand’s consumer or audience. 

In today’s post-pandemic, AI-driven world, marked by 'revenge spending' and 'brand loyalty disruptions', authenticity is currency. Consumers, especially Gen Z, have never been more aware, conscious, or spoilt for choice. And the only way to reach them is through personal storytelling and genuine engagement. 

The writing is on the wall—organic reach for brands has been declining for years. Ask yourself: When was the last time you followed a brand’s social media handle? 

This is the gap that I thought leadership and personal branding could fill. The route to consumer attention—and perhaps loyalty—is via personal narrative. The CEO talks about her struggles in her quest to break the glass ceiling. The WFH dad quit a high-paying job to start a small business to be more present with his kids. It’s human nature to be invested in stories, and stories are what humanise brands. And it brings the consumer several paces closer to the brand. 

A wonderful example of this is writer and media mogul Arianna Huffington, who transformed her personal struggles with sleep and wellness into a global conversation with Thrive Global. Huffington has been open about her collapse from exhaustion owing to sleep deprivation. In turn, the behaviour change technology company she has built aims to improve health and productivity for individuals and organisations through values like compassionate directness, which promotes open communication and feedback within organisations. What sets Huffington apart is her vulnerability and commitment to a cause that resonates on a personal level with her audience. This is thought leadership in action. 

Another leader I deeply admire is Alexandra Palt, who until recently was the chief corporate responsibility officer and CEO of Fondation L’Oréal. Palt’s work in steering an industry behemoth like L’Oréal towards greater sustainability went beyond mere CSR; it reflected a genuine passion for change. Beyond climate action, she has led several of L’Oréal’s initiatives, including one that recognised women in science and took a serious look at gender-based harassment. 

What sets both Huffington and Palt apart is their commitment to transformative leadership (and shining in industries traditionally dominated by men). It’s turning personal convictions into universal conversations. It’s clear to me that both of these leaders are building legacies, and all of this reflects positively on the brands that they lead. 

Today’s hyper-digital world means that personal branding is not just for vanity metrics but platforms for genuine storytelling and brand building. It’s about crafting a narrative that’s uniquely yours, sharing your failures as openly as your successes, and, above all, ensuring that your professional journey resonates with others.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not the trophies you collect that your audience will remember you by. It will be the tales you tell and the impact you make that truly define your legacy.

(The author is Ruchika Gupta, Marketing Director, Beam Suntory India)

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