Contextual Ownership is a state that is achieved when Thought Leadership is transcended by an individual or organization to such a degree that they are recognized as being inseparable from the thought. Discussions of the principles and origins of the thought cannot be properly addressed without recognition of the contributions of the entity. Examples of Contextual Ownership include Henry Ford and assembly lines, Tesla and AC power, and Edison for DC power.

Contextual Ownership can develop organically, but it can also be orchestrated by focusing on a previously unknown or ignored query stream. A variant of Blue Ocean Strategy, it is acting on knowledge of where markets are developing rather than simply dealing with past and existing client demand, or tactical responses to a competitive set.

Search engines need to identify context and authority in order to provide the best result for the user. Perceived authority results in top as well as multiple positions within search results. The practice of Contextual Ownership establishes and maintains your position of authority.

IBM achieved Contextual Ownership in 2008 with their “Smarter Planet” initiative, a term that they introduced. The initiative highlights forward-thinking leaders in business, government and civil society who are capturing the potential of smarter systems to achieve economic and sustainable development and societal progress.

Outlined in a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations, IBM followed up with an advertising campaign that ran through 2009. The campaign included “op-ads” in publications such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. In 2010, the initiative continued as a video displayed on a 12-foot globe at Epcot’s Innovations exhibit and through support of TED Talks. Further, they launched a film series at London’s British Film Institute telling the stories of smarter cities. These spikes in interest over time are documented in the following Google Trends graph:

As a result, IBM had established itself as the undisputed authority in the area of the “Smarter Planet”. An online search on this concept immediately places IBM at the top of the results.

Contextual Ownership is a nurtured state – one that is designed to elevate a company from leader to the “go-to authority” status of an area of thought.