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 his or her eyes roll back into her head.
(Unless you are, of course, a potential prospect and then the eye rolling won’t be evident.)
But, 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 really mean?
How can it be effective?
Three Steps to Build Thought Leadership Content
The external goal of most business leaders is to make a crap ton of money, but the drum beat consensus for the internal goal is to change the world.
(Joseph Campbell would be so proud.)
Content marketers who understand how to get client buy-in for both the external and internal goals are leading the charge.
The goal is to dazzle ‘em with your smarts, then give them the behind-the-curtain view.
Thought leadership is fairly easy to understand if you follow these three steps:
- Have a clear point-of-view and present a unique perspective in your industry. Joe Thornley and I had this very conversation just yesterday. While it’s good to be objective and present both sides of a story, human beings prefer to “side” with people they agree with and who have similar interests. When I started this very blog, we stayed too much “on the fence” when discussing important issues. It wasn’t until I got angry one day and got up on my soapbox that we began to gain traction.
- Reach your key audience. Of course, you can’t gain traction if no one knows where to find you. Susan Cellura is working on something really important (you’ll hear more about that later!) and one of the things she discusses is how many business leaders take a shotgun approach to marketing and promotion and social media and, therefore, don’t reach anyone. A clear thought leadership approach starts small—it crawls, then walks, then runs, and then flies. When you do that, you’re able to reach your key audience(s).
- Understand what you want the audience to do with the information. When I speak to Vistage groups, I always do my homework the night before and look at attendee’s websites, newsletters, downloadable content, and social media accounts. From there, I pull out examples of things done really well and things done not so well. You know what is missing from 99.9 percent of every site I review? A call-to-action. Every, single piece of content I review is missing this, which means their audiences have zero idea what to do with the information they are give. That’s not good (and we spend a lot of time talking about how to change that).
These are simple enough to understand but, as always, the magic is in the execution.
The Basics of a Thought Leadership Strategy
There are a few basics you need to master to help someone garner respect and recognition with a thought leadership strategy.
- A firm commitment to the long game. Thought leadership isn’t established with one well-written position paper or the presentation at a single industry conference. (And wishful thinking won’t make it so.) As you well know, managing impatience is a big part of what we do and it’s not easy to work with executives who want it all right now. For some reason, they look at what we do as though they don’t ultimately know that overnight success takes 10 years to achieve. You have to be very clear—and continue to communicate—that nothing will change short-term.
- The willingness to share ideas and concepts in a meaningful way. True thought leadership means a level or openness so the audience can see how it might affect them and what kinds of results they’ll have if they work through what the expert is offering. I am reminded of Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk. In it, she says, “The shift begins with something simple, but it’s not easy. We need to return to a long-held value of compassion—compassion and empathy. Online, we have a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.” Even though she’s not a though leader for business, you can see how her ideas are shared in a meaningful way that shows people how and what they can do to change the world. Clarity wins. Every time.
- Ability to apply focus to a singular concept. World-changing ideas don’t have to be complicated; rather the best are simply communicated over and over again until mass recognition is achieved. Think about Steve Jobs when considering this: He always got on stage and repeated his key message over and over again until you knew exactly what he wanted you to think.
- Be the go-to resource for others looking to expand ideas in your space. I have a rule: We don’t turn down a single interview opportunity. Ever. For some, that means we are helping out a new podcaster by bringing them a ready-made audience and, for others, it means we’re continuing to build our brand and live the vision of changing the way PR professionals are perceived. It always makes me shake my head when a client says they don’t want to talk to such-and-such publication because they don’t have a big readership. That is so short-sighted.
The client or executive wins (which means you do, too) when they realize they’re not just in whatever business they are in, but that they’re in the business of defining what their industry will look like 20 years from now.
When you can help them get there, the content—and the thought leadership—comes much more easily.