A Strategy for Your Thought Leadership Journey
By Cara Sloman, CEO, Force4 Technology Communications
Though it’s simple to dismiss the term “thought leader” as mere marketing speak, when used properly, it has enormous benefits for both leaders and their businesses. As a matter of fact, according to two-thirds of marketers, thought leadership is a “top priority” for their company.
But what exactly is thought leadership? It is the dissemination of content that benefits others by sharing your knowledge, perspective and experience. It sometimes means articulating a strong opinion, as well as bringing value to the larger industry debate about a certain topic. Some say that the key is to be an authority on the subject and use your position to persuade others in your field. In reality, it combines all of these factors.
I have worked in PR and marketing for more than 25 years, and over that time I have work with a variety of interesting startups, mid-tier publicly traded businesses and industry titans to define industry agendas, create new market categories, and identify category makers. In all of this, thought leadership has been a significant factor. Additionally, 65% of buyers think that reading thought leadership content greatly enhanced their opinion of a brand.
What it takes to be a thought leader
The next question is: What does it take to become a “thought leader”? A lot of company executives and leaders want to hold this title. With the right techniques—and a little patience—you can establish yourself as a reliable source of information and insight.
Genuine thought leaders bypass trendy terminology and tired language. They:
- are naturally adept at joining in the conversations going on right now and foreseeing what will happen tomorrow.
- Discover what’s on the horizon and use that information to influence an industry’s agenda on a specific subject.
- Can combine their enthusiasm and knowledge with subjects that assist their customers’ and prospects’ efforts to solve problems and find answers.
- Hold a viewpoint, yet this need not be one that is divisive or political. It can be as easy as using powerful, declarative sentences at the beginning of an article or blog post. You want to bring a fresh viewpoint to an industry topic that readers haven’t seen everywhere else.
Laying the thought leadership foundation
Leaders who can combine facts and trends from various sources are well placed to come up with ideas that lead the market. This calls for preparation, effort and time.
To begin this process, be relatable and create credibility. Readers are looking for timely stories that offer a distinctive point of view and insight. Using examples from the real world, preferably from your own job and experiences, is a great approach.
Using customer anecdotes is also powerful. The lessons learned from these experiences are crucial because they show that you are not just making things up or sounding off; rather, you have lived and are still living out the concepts you are discussing. According to the Value of B2B Thought Leadership Survey, 53% of respondents want to hear from business professionals, while 55% want to hear from customers.
You should develop a narrative as a thought leader. Talk with your readers rather than at them. You aren’t delivering a speech; you’re telling a story. You must define (and maintain) your area of competence. Concentrate on your area of expertise and return to it time and again.
Additionally, keep in mind that thought leadership is a vendor-neutral space. You must understand the issues that your readers are dealing with and base your advice on this understanding. Building your reputation and credibility as a thought leader requires demonstrating to your audience that you are a well-rounded professional who isn’t just promoting your business.
Listening to others is essential to this process. Thought leaders are ever-evolving learners who are aware of their limitations. It’s critical to maintain the humility necessary to hear what other people are saying. Stay up to date with other thought leaders and broaden your knowledge by continuing to learn from experts in your field.
Increasing your visibility
I recommend these steps and to any leader who wants greater industry visibility:
- Interact with mentors and influencers. Tell them about your motivations, fears, aspirations and future goals. Also, you can watch how their institutions were created and run.
- Consistently work toward getting published. It is important to develop a loyal audience; you can start by writing posts for your own blog or guest blogging on websites that are pertinent to your field. Once your reputation begins to grow, you can start sharing or making more bold claims and predictions about your sector.
- Create a social media strategy. The popularity of live streaming and video, especially short-form, extends beyond YouTube to all social media platforms. Discover the power of the omnichannel strategy, which enables the conversion of a single article or white paper into blog posts, infographics, tweets and other formats that are suitable for each channel.
- Attend live networking gatherings. With a larger network, your chances of becoming an authority or influencer rise.
Take the lead
Thought leadership benefits your company. Buyers prefer to hear from industry leaders about issues that pertain to their organizations and their particular needs, researchers have found. That is why it’s crucial to many businesses’ marketing strategies.
However, careful planning and execution are required. Although decision-makers still read thought leadership content, 71% claim that only around half of it offers them insightful information. Some decision-makers have lost faith in “thought leadership” as a result of today’s avalanche of poor-quality examples.
As you set out on this path, tainting your organization’s integrity is the last thing you want to do. Use the best practices described above to pursue excellence, propel the expansion of your company, and foster a sense of community. This will help you gain the mindshare that significantly affects market share.