thought leader is one of the most popular terms among the buzzword police.
But What is thought leadership? How do you combine the experience and talent of your team with humility and authenticity that today's audience demands?
Let's get on the same page.
What is Thought Leadership?
I define thought leadership as a form of content marketing in which you tap into the expertise, passion, and talent within your business to answer the most pressing questions of your target audience about a topic.
It is not your pedigree. It doesn't matter where you went to school. Thought leadership means that you give the most relevant and profound answers to your customers' greatest questions in the format your audience prefers.
The Unique Point of View Trap
Content marketing is only as good as the thought leadership. Brands should avoid the “unique view trap”, as I refer to it.
There are many executives who delay pursuing thought leadership because they don't want to be seen as unique. Our content must be unique and differentiated to compete.
Your audience doesn't need your content to be different all the time. They just want the best answers to their questions. Bryan Rhoads, the former Head of Content for Intel, once stated, “You have to win internet every day.”
My advice is to differentiate your point of view when necessary. Your visual design should be different. You can also differentiate your visual design by being an authority or helping your customers with different content every day.
Also, we need to be cautious with thought leadership. Wikipedia calls it “business language” and defines it as information that others recognize as being innovative. It covers topics and trends that have an impact on an industry.
Why should you consider a Thought Leadership Approach?
Deep research is one of the best ways you can establish authority in your field. It is important to share a depth of knowledge with others.
It is also important to identify all the challenges your customers face and determine the best solutions. This is a great opportunity for brands to discuss their products and what they offer.
This approach is not recommended. If you promote yourself too much, your audience will stop listening and you will lose all the trust you have earned.
Who Should Use Thought Leadership Marketing Content?
Both B2B and Consumer companies need thought leadership. B2B Content Marketing is complicated due to the amount of decision-making involved in B2B.
Leadership content that is thought-provoking can be used to help business leaders achieve alignment with their peers. This is often a difficult task.
Thought Leadership is also useful for marketers as it allows us to describe the solution we offer or the purpose of our brand in terms of customers. Even consumer companies can effectively use thought leadership to support their overall mission, and establish authority in their industry. Branding is about being associated with the needs of your customers.
Where does thought leadership come from?
Thought leadership can come from anyone – customers, executives, product managers and designers, as well as salespeople, customer service reps and customers. All of us have knowledge, experience, and a point-of-view.
However, your thought leaders must inspire your customers to take the next steps in their journey.
I advise you not to force it. It is impossible to MAKE people share their knowledge. You can create programs to support and highlight those who have the expertise. Call me. I can help!)
What are the Benefits Of Thought Leadership?
Brand affinity is the first step to Thought leadership. Communicating thought leadership allows you to be part of the conversation early in the consumer journey. Your audience will get to know you.
Thought Leadership is the ultimate outcome of a solid Content Strategy. Marketing is not the only thing that content can do. Leaders are everywhere. You can expose your thought leaders to start the process of becoming social business. Real people talking to real customers and real buyers.
Thinking Leadership Content From Subject Matter Experts
Thought leadership can reduce your sales cycle and give credibility to your brand. Research shows that B2B leaders pay attention to this. Nearly half the C-suite say they evaluate an organization based on its thought leadership, and 81% of them believe that engaging in thought leadership content increases their trust.
Similar results have been achieved by many companies. They have become thought leaders in their field by creating a steady flow of thought leadership content. They can use the content we create with them to build relationships and show their knowledge in RFP responses.
However, it takes serious skills to develop thought leadership. We have worked with subject matter experts and leaders at many companies, including fast-moving startups as well as global corporations. This is how we maximize each interaction with an SME.
Get to Know Your Audience
This applies to all marketing activities. Before you can begin to strategize, write or design for your audience, it is important that you get to know them. It's unlikely that they will read it if it isn't written for them. Before you speak to an SME about thought leadership, it is important to know some details about your audience. This will help you frame your questions and create the content that you ultimately create.
Sometimes we come up with ideas and pitch them to clients. Other times our clients throw an idea our direction and suggest someone who might be able to serve as an SME. Understanding the topic is key to having a productive conversation. To help us shape our research and interview, we ask clients to send us some bullet points or sentences about the topic. There is no need to create a formal document. This is a way to get the thoughts of an SME on a specific topic.
Do Your Research
It is crucial to do research before speaking to an expert. Although you might not be able do extensive research on the topic, it is important to understand the basic principles and concepts of your topic.
This means that you should:
- Find authoritative sources online by researching your topic. While content from competitors may provide context, you can still find useful resources for your topic.
- Start to identify industry publications and to begin to own your industry. You can find places where thought leaders are speaking and where your audience is hanging out. This will give you an indication of the opinions of your audience on the topic and any recent developments.
- Scour social media. LinkedIn groups might be suitable for a B2B audience. There may be a lot of conversation on Twitter or Facebook depending on your topic.
Take a look at some great examples of thought leadership to see what you can learn from them.
Ask Many Questions
Ever tried to interview someone but it felt like you were pulling teeth? This is a terrible situation to find yourself in.
You can write as many questions as possible, just in case. You will likely find that you can manage with just a few questions, and then the rest of the conversation flows naturally. Don't rely solely on this. Always be prepared.
Infuse yourself with the habit of asking SMEs questions before you interview. This will help them prepare (if possible) and it will help you avoid procrastinating.
It is crucial to be precise during interviews. This is especially important if you don’t fully understand the topic. It is important to ask specific questions and provide follow-ups in order to understand the content and make it interesting for your audience.
This is not always easy. This may require your SME to be clear about the topic and avoid industry jargon. When I speak to SME's about insurance funding strategies, I ask them for examples from real clients. This allows me to confirm my understanding of the SME's message and is often helpful to include in a piece.
Think on your Feet
Interviews can be difficult. You need to ask the right questions, listen attentively and take notes. It's important to ensure you get the right information from your SME. This may mean rephrasing questions or asking them in a different way. This is what we call “thinking on one's feet”. It involves digging deeper into a topic, or offering creative suggestions quickly. Practice is the best way to improve.
You might not discover everything even after spending time researching and planning for the interview with an SME. Ask your SME to share any additional information. This question can often add context or provide an opportunity for discussion about other pertinent information that could help shape the message. These open-ended questions often lead to new topics that can be discussed in the future.
The Problem With Thought Leadership Strategies
Thought leadership can be a powerful tool. Though some might argue that the term is now jargon, the true value of thought leadership done well is not to be underestimated. In fact, genuine thought leadership is still a key factor in the success of companies in almost all industries.
Though the future of thought leadership looks bright, there are still many obstacles. Many leaders who create and execute a solid strategy for thought leadership fail to succeed. Many people think that thought leadership means a large following on social media. In reality, though it is an ongoing process of building trust and education with your audience through engaging content of high quality.
However, even the most valuable content needs to be accompanied by a driver and instructions. Many brands make the mistake of believing that any content will help them reach their goals, even if it isn't good enough.
Too many strategies fail to connect all the content assets of a brand in an effective way. Your content assets, including guest posts and blog posts, press mentions as well as whitepapers, awards and speaking engagements, should all work together to help you reach your thought leadership goals.
If there are misaligned strategies, it can lead to a lack of harmony between assets. This leaves thought leaders with little content and little influence.
How to Harness The Power of Your Thought Leadership Strategy
A well-written content will help you grow and reach your audience, establish relationships with them at scale, and increase your credibility as an authority and influencer in your industry. These objectives can only be achieved if you create each piece of content according to a strategy that aligns with your thought leadership goal.
You can build trust and keep it going with the people who are most important to your company and you. You do this by using multiple content assets that are compatible with each other to reach new audiences, engage them in valuable resources, and keep you top of mind so they remember you when a need arises.
These steps will help you create a thought-leadership strategy that achieves your goals and builds your influence.
1. Learn how to build trust.
Everyone has an agenda. Your audience members will be well aware. You can defy their expectations by offering them something for free. You're giving people reason to trust your expertise and sharing it with them without strings attached. You'll gain their trust when you stop promoting yourself and your company. Instead, focus on providing real, tangible value to those who are most important to you.
Focus on education and providing valuable information to your audience about the topics that interest them. If they find that the content is useful or solves a problem for them, they will be more inclined to look out for future content. People are naturally skeptical so don't waste their time explaining why they should believe you. Show them.
2. Make content that will take you on your journey.
Once you have a better understanding of the role content plays in building trust, it is time to develop specific types of content to address specific points within your audience relationship.
First, you need to reach new people. This goal is not as easy as it sounds, no matter how amazing your company's blog. It's a good idea to pitch guest posts and get press mentions in the publications your audience reads.
Engaging, educational content is the best way to keep their attention once you have attracted their attention. These could include blog posts, case studies and videos, downloadable resources or books. All of these help you to strengthen your industry expertise.
Thought leadership is not about how many pieces of content you create, but how you use them over time to keep your audience engaged and your brand top-of-mind. Use your email newsletter campaigns and social media accounts to provide the right content at just the right moment.
3. Be consistent in putting your best foot forward.
Although you've done all the work to create the content, it's not enough. Leadership content is a tool. You must make it work. Consider your most important contacts and relationships and then share the relevant information with those who could benefit most.
Your high-quality content will help you create an online presence that other professionals in your industry can see when they are looking for information. You can reuse your content in creative ways to book speaking engagements, get a place on a podcast or win an industry award nomination.
Thought leadership is not possible without content. However, all content won't guarantee thought leadership. You need a strategy that is specific to your goal. To create your strategy, you must first craft each piece of content with an unwavering goal in mind. Next, arrange them so that they are harmoniously combined, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of their parts.
Business leaders are actively looking for thought leadership content.
Thought leadership, when executed well, is the ultimate expression a B2B company's authority. By highlighting your expertise, it can help to cement your reputation as an advisor. It can help you close deals and generate sales leads.
The good news is that business leaders desire it. Grist surveyed 84% of FTSE 350 executives and found that strong thought leadership content enhances their roles.
It is important for them to keep up with business issues (79%), inform their decision-making (76%), and help them to look ahead (76%).
It is encouraging to see that two-fifths of leaders will contact the company behind thought leadership pieces if it meets their expectations.
Is Your Thought Leadership Content Really Thought-Leading?
These senior executives are passionate about thought leadership but only 31% of the material they receive is actually read. Only 28% of the material actually impacts their decisions.
Hence, why do so many people fall for it?
When asked why they don't like it, the C-Suite stated that their top three complaints were:
- It's too generic (cited 63%)
- It lacks original ideas or insight (58%)
- It promotes the company that made it (53%) rather than meeting their needs.
The Audience Test
Thought leadership allows you to get under your target audience's skin and address their concerns. This requires a collaborative planning process that includes subject matter experts, clients-facing teams, marketing departments, and your target audience.
Original ideas that are strong and impactful – these ideas resonate with prospects, clients, and the media. These audiences can tell you how insightful your thought leadership is. If your idea fails to get traction, you will need to rethink the way you generate them.
Thought leadership is essential to bringing your clients back to sleep at night. Your content may not be appealing to clients if it is too focused on your company's offerings and not enough on the problems of your clients.
It's not about the problems of today. Clients need to be able to understand your content. 66% of Grist respondents identified keeping up to date with emerging trends as the number one reason they read thought leadership.
B2B companies often find that their content doesn't generate conversations with their target customers.
This is often because the report lacks originality. It's the third or fourth article, blog, or report they've read about the same topic. It's not thought leadership; it's thought followingship.
It is your responsibility to find the “white space”: emerging themes that are not being covered elsewhere. You may need to have a different take on already existing themes. What unique insights are you able to bring to the table?
B2B companies, who are often risk-averse, face this problem. This is a common problem for businesses that want to promote content in a safe environment.
You must also make sure that your content is in line with the expertise you provide. It is important to avoid a sales pitch. However, it is not a good idea to produce and research innovative ideas that don't align with your proposition.
You're not able to incorporate expert commentary into your research findings if you do. It will not serve its purpose, no matter how brilliant your idea was.
When choosing content themes, think about the capabilities of your company. Research shows that only 42% of B2B companies involve their client-facing staffs in the content development process.
Journalists can be a great way to gauge the quality of your work. Journalists won't publish anything if they don't have a new perspective or insight and it doesn't help the debate.
Think big. The key is to think big. Start by looking at the headlines that you wish to create and then design research that will get them.
While developing your ideas, you might also be able to share your ideas with a friend journalist. They will they be able to generate the kind of stories that the media wants?
Why does B2B Thought Leadership fail?
First, you must admit to your failures if you want to create compelling, useful, and brand-enhancing content. In other words, you need to understand what didn't work, and why readers are left underwhelmed, or worse, uninterested in the content. Grist's B2B Thought Leadership Survey provides a definitive guide.
Grist surveyed more than 200 executives from FTSE 350 companies with expert assistance from Coleman Parkes. This was to find out when, how, and why they accessed thought leadership material from their advisers. Three reasons stood out when they were asked why thought leadership is not appealing to them. Respondents said they don't like content.
- Too general – not directly relevant for me (63%)
- Lack of original ideas or insight (58%)
- Promotion of the advisor rather than solving my problems (53%)
The best way to alienate a targeted audience is to create generic, unoriginal content that is written from the supplier's point of view, rather than the client's. This should be a part of “content marketing 101”. This is something every marketer needs to know instinctively. However, those who receive thought leadership are clearly experiencing it every day.
These areas are highlighted by the survey which asked respondents to identify the most important qualities in thought leadership. These are the top three responses.
- Fresh thinking: Using new perspectives to view issues and challenges (46%)
- Forward-thinking: Analyzing emerging or important trends (32%)
- Evidence-led: Containing solid data (29%)
In other words, original and specific.
It's also worth looking at the reasons senior executives may be turned off by thought leadership. Material that was:
- Too conceptual without any recommendations (47%)
- Unsubstantiated Featured Opinions (40%)
- 38%) Boring/difficult to read
Although these responses were not as numerous, they are still relevant.
All six responses, and the top three in particular, should be treated as a checklist. Every piece of thought leadership that has been commissioned and submitted to the list should be tested against it. Don't publish if it fails to pass the test.
How To Create Thought Leadership that Drives Results
First, identify the topic closely related to your brand. Is your authority on the topic? You can answer this question by simply doing a Google search.
We often find that brands are competing with more than their direct competitors. Everyone is competing. Everyone who publishes content within your space is competing to be the authority and mind share.
It is also important to identify the most frequently asked questions by your customers. You need to identify them all and then make a list. Then prioritize them. Next, find experts within your company that can answer them.
These questions can be answered in multiple formats and on multiple channels to add value to your audience. Begin with the most important questions and work your way down. Find the best answer to these questions.
Your thought leadership content must be engaging. Although viral cat videos and listicles can be great, you should not dismiss other content types that might interest your audience.
While you need to educate them, we all have our own personalities and can appreciate a bit of humor. Use lots of examples, facts, and quotes. Interviewing customers to create or curate content is a great idea. You can also add your perspective by adding your own perspective.
Your audience needs your help. Do you want to help them? Tell me, what do you think? What does Thought Leadership look like to you?
Do you want to be one of the thought leaders in your company? Let's discuss how we can work together.
My personal branding, constant social audience building, as well as support in creating authentic, ongoing thought leadership content, are all part of my approach. It's something I have done for myself. I have done it for companies that I have worked for. I have helped to activate hundreds or even thousands of thought leaders. It's something I have done for many clients. It's possible for me to do it for your organization.
Get in touch with me today!
The post What is Thought Leadership? What is Thought Leadership? And When Should You Use It? Marketing Insider Group published this article first.
By: Michael Brenner
Title: What Is Thought Leadership? And When You Should Use It?
Sourced From: marketinginsidergroup.com/content-marketing/what-is-thought-leadership-and-when-you-should-use-it/
Published Date: Mon, 03 Jan 2022 05:00:00 +0000
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