Thought Leadership In the PESO ModelThe last piece of an integrated PESO Model program, before you get to measurement, is authority—or thought leadership or reputation or expertise.

Whatever the heck you want to call it, it’s what happens when you’ve built a reputation for an individual or an organization—and that people inside the industry know of them. 

If you integrate the PESO Model as has been discussed the last several weeks (and you learn how to implement it through the certification), you’ll inevitably build authority for your organization and its executives. You do have to put some work into it, but some of it will happen organically, too. 

There isn’t a single piece of content out there about marketing that doesn’t extol the virtues of thought leadership. In fact, it’s so prevalent, thought leadership, itself, has become a word most marketers hate to hear.

Test it out. Tell a marketing friend that you want to be a thought leader and watch their eyes roll back into their head.

Even though most hate it, thought leadership is a very important part of a content strategy in today’s business world. But what does that mean? How can it be effective?

According to research by Edelman and LinkedIn, 58% of 1,200 respondents read one or more hours of thought leadership per week. 

Additionally, 55% said they use thought leadership to vet the organizations they may hire. The research continues to prove that thought leadership is one of the most valuable tools when it comes to making purchase decisions—and that it drives growth with existing customers. 

The challenge is that not everyone can be a thought leader, nor can they pretend to be. Being a thought leader requires a person to look at things a bit differently than most—a new idea on an old process, a new category, an innovative pursuit, or even just the opposite side of the way most look at something in the industry.

Thought leaders include people such as Brene Brown, Oprah, Elon Musk, Dave Ramsey, or Warren Buffett. They say something and we all hang on their every word. Even if they’re wrong, we forgive them because they are right so often. They set the stage for new ideas, new industries, new products or services, or out-of-this-world (quite literally) technology. They also tend to be (mostly) very likeable people, full of charisma, charm, and insight. They’re people we look up to and people we often emulate. 

You don’t, however, have to have a large, global stage like these people do. You can be a thought leader with a strategic PESO Model program to build your expert positioning. Of course, you do have to have a different thought, but the charisma, charm, and insight can be created if you’re willing to spend the time and brain power.

What Is Thought Leadership?

Before we continue, let’s define thought leadership. It is someone who has ideas, opinions, and meaningful insight—AND others deem you a leader. Just like you can’t exclaim you are the smartest person in the room and have everyone believe you, you can’t claim the leadership yourself.

That’s where expert positioning comes in. This is a tactic communicators use to build credibility for the experts inside their organizations (or for their clients). The main goal is to become recognized as a go-to resource in your industry so you can enjoy some of the statistics found in the Edelman and LinkedIn research. 

It’s not for the faint of heart, however. Becoming a thought leader—truly one that is recognized by their peers and even recommended by their competitors—takes consistent content that allows you to stay top-of-mind. You want to be there when a prospect is ready to make a decision, which could be tomorrow or it could be two years from now. The point is you’re there, you’re credible, and the sale is easier to make because you’re well-respected and trusted. 

How to Build Thought Leadership

To build that level of trust through expertise, one might create and promote educational, helpful content, become active in the industry communities—both online and off—and/or build an exclusive community where people can get the information they need to build their organizations or careers.  

As you begin to think about how to build thought leadership—either for yourself or for an executive with whom you work—there are some good rules of thumb to use. Answer the following questions.

  • Who would make a good thought leader? This might be the CEO, a subject matter expert, a client, or maybe it’s you. This person (or people) should possess a wealth of industry insights and experiences, tell stories authentically, and enjoy teaching and helping others learn
  • What topics would it make sense for us to write about (or craft videos or podcasts around)? Effective content, no matter the medium, is something that is educational, non-promotional, and helpful and engaging to readers.
  • Where would we publish our thought leadership content? The answer to this is, it depends. But there are a few things to consider: newspapers and magazines, online publications and blogs, LinkedIn Pulse and Medium, the company (or personal) blog, speaking at industry events and conferences, Facebook or LinkedIn Live, or Instagram Stories.
  • Can we outsource our thought leadership? Do you have a team internally who can help you produce the content? In some cases, that might be talented writers, video editors, podcast producers, and copy editors. If the answer is no, you can outsource the work, but not the thinking. The team that is responsible for the thought leadership execution should be able to follow a PESO Model program

Are Thought Leaders Individuals or Organizations?

We’ve already talked about how a thought leader extols certain ideas and doesn’t repeat what everyone else is saying in their own words. But is a thought leader an individual or a corporate brand? The answer is both. 

The thought leader, of course, is an individual. Someone who is recognized as a leading authority figure in an industry—and someone who most likely profits from that position, either for their organization or for themselves.

Corporate and personal thought leadership can stand alone—or together. The corporate side involves an organization made up of multiple thought leaders. Think about organizations that have subject matter experts along with charismatic leaders. 

One good example that comes immediately to mind is GE. Starting with Jack Welch and then Jeff Immelt and now Larrry Culp, GE has always been an organization with charismatic, smart, and thoughtful leaders. 

In the past decade, they’ve added subject matter experts to their thought leadership program. People such as Beth Comstock (former chief marketing officer), Bill Ruh (chief digital officer), and Azli Mohamed, (Malaysia chief operating officer). 

They also train and promote the presidents of each of their business units as thought leaders in their specific industries, such as healthcare, financial services, education, aviation, and more.

It’s a gigantic example, but shown to prove that even a multi-billion dollar company can figure out how to have corporate thought leadership, which is far more challenging than those organizations that have less than five experts to promote.

The Ultimate Goal of Thought Leadership

Personal and corporate thought leadership are distinct…and similar. The corporate side involves an organization made up of multiple thought leaders who agree on the same values and beliefs—and can tow the company line and live the values, no matter where they are, who they’re speaking with, or what they’re asked. 

Corporate thought leadership is far more challenging than your typical personal thought leadership, but it has the potential for even more beneficial results. When it’s properly executed and fully supported, it can set your organization apart from the competition. It shows brand consistency, industry authority, attention to detail, and pride. 

You will know that you’ve reached the ultimate goal when your competitors look at your organization as the leading figure on thoughts, ideas, and implementation. They will begin to recommend people buy from you, which seems completely counterintuitive, but they’ll know where their strengths lie—and where you put them to shame.

Prospects will tell you why you need to work with them, customers pride themselves in working with you, and vendors are happy to provide top-quality work for you. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Give Away Your Secret Sauce

When you implement the PESO Model, thought leadership will happen organically, but it’s not going to come easy. It takes time (so much time), energy, resources, and discipline. It requires you to share what your organization is known for, but more importantly, it requires you to be transparent and willing to share your “secret sauce” with the world.

At this point, everyone gets a little nervous. You are probably thinking, “You just told me competitors will send us business. If we share our secret sauce, won’t they be able to do the same?” The short answer is no.

The secret sauce isn’t really in the “recipe”, so to speak. It’s in the humans who execute it—and the leadership that allows you to properly do so. Your competition doesn’t have the human resources that allow you to be at the forefront of the industry. If they did, they would be the industry’s thought leaders.

A few years ago, the McDonald’s lead chef in Canada recorded a video of himself making their special sauce at home. 

Combined with the knowledge that a Big Mac is two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun, Wendy’s thought they’d launch a Big Mac of their own. Can you name the Wendy’s look alike? I thought not. That’s because, even when armed with the exact recipe, their Big Mac lookalike failed. 

Questions to Guide Your Thought Leadership Plan

To create thought leadership, either for the organization or for an individual, it requires you to do a few things:

  • Let go of the past and focus on the future.
  • Think differently about industry standards.
  • Accept that the traditional way of doing things may no longer be relevant.
  • Collaborate with clients to solve for the future together

Now that you’ve determined who might be the thought leader or leaders, what types of content you’ll produce, and where it’ll be housed, it’s time to start to develop the plan.

The first thing you want to do is establish the position of the thought leader. If this is going to be for your organization or for a client, this will require a meeting of the minds with leadership. If it’s for yourself, you can have the meeting of the minds with you and your dog. 

To figure out what the position will be (for now—it can always evolve), ask the following questions:

  • What do we want to accomplish with our thought leadership? 
  • What differentiates our company? 
  • Who is our target audience?
  • What do we want to communicate to them?

With the Ultimate Goal of Creating Expertise

With the first question, what do we want to accomplish, you want to try to get some measurable goals here. It might be to attract talent, boost loyalty, gain paid speaking engagements, convert leads, start to build an audience for a publishing deal. Whatever it happens to be, the end goal should have a metric. 

What differentiates our company (or the person whose thinking you will boost)? This is true differentiators so it may take several conversations to get there. I accidentally created a thought leader out of myself when I got very vocal about why media impressions and advertising equivalencies were not the right metrics for PR campaigns. So your thought leadership could be company differentiators or they might be a new or opposing or different stance on how things are done in the industry.

Your target audience question will be easy because you probably already know who it is. But if you need to renew that thinking, now is the time to do so. Or, it might be that the audience is different for the thought leadership program. We have a client who runs communications for a university. You would think her audience are students, alumni, and parents. Nope! For this specific program, we’re focused solely on journalists with some very specific attribution goals. So don’t stress if the audience varies slightly.

Lastly, if you’re not the thought leader, but you’ll be developing the content on behalf of them, it’s important to have a process for getting the thoughts and ideas from them. We have one client who reads voraciously so I started asking him to email or text me a link to what has him fired up  and then record some of his thoughts while he’s driving into the office. I get multiples of these every day and it’s easy to throw them into a Google doc to start the content development. His ideas. His thoughts. And hardly any time involvement from him. He’s doing the work anyway—now he’s invited me into his brain.

Another way to get inside the thought leader’s brain is to interview them once a month. Using Temi or Rev, you can have the conversation transcribed and create your content from there. They need to spend one hour a month with you, which is far better than asking them to create the content themselves.

I’ll give you some inside baseball: that will never, ever happen. Do yourself a favor and get into their brains another way.

As you do this work—and combine it with the other media types as we’ve discussed during this series—you’ll find expertise will be created both online and off. It helps with search engine optimization, it helps with reputation and, most importantly, it helps with revenue.

The Rest of the PESO Model Series

That’s it for the thought leadership portion of our PESO Model series. If you missed earlier parts of this series, you can find the overview, paid, earned, owned, and shared by clicking those links. 

If you want to learn how to implement this for your clients or for the organization for which you work—and become certified, which tells everyone you know what you’re doing and have done the deep work to put theory into practice, you can click that beautiful button below.

And, of course, I’ll answer any and all questions in the comments below or in the Spin Sucks Community.

I’ll see you next week for measurement.

Don’t groan! It’ll be fun!


Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich