Thought leadership has become a common phrase in our marketing vernacular. The hottest social media app on the planet right now is Clubhouse. There’s no written content on the site, nor can any conversation be recorded. But one of its key selling points is that it enables brand execs to establish themselves as thought leaders.
- What is a thought leader?
- Why has thought leadership content become so important?
- How do you become a thought leader?
- Is it worth your time?
What is a Thought Leader?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a thought leader this way:
A thought leader is an expert on a particular subject whose ideas and opinions influence other people, especially in businesses.
A thought leader is an individual who has established himself or herself as a respected authority in a particular industry or sphere. Colleagues and consumers seek out the knowledge, opinions, and advice of this person and are influenced by him or her.
In addition to being an expert, a thought leader must be skilled in articulating original ideas and unique points of view. He or she must be able to provide something of value to his or her audience.
So how is this relevant to your marketing goals?
What is the Purpose of Thought Leadership?
The e-commerce marketplace is crowded. No matter your brand, you are swimming in a sea filled with competitors. Establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry can help you leap over the competition. By providing unique insights and perspectives on topics of interest to your consumer base, you set yourself apart from the competition.
Consumer trust in brands has fallen. Surveys reveal that consumers don’t trust the content brands publish, especially ads. They want to know who is the person or people behind the brand name. When you consistently publish valuable and unique content that is helpful to your audience, you’ll become an authentic brand in their eyes.
“A thought leader recognizes trends before they happen and applies insight to achieve actual business results.” (Numaan Akram, founder, and CEO of Rally)
Thought Leadership Marketing
Unlike your website copy or social media content posts, thought leadership is about establishing you as an expert in your field. It’s not about selling your service or product.
The purpose of thought leadership content is to develop a personal bond between you and your audience, not just brand awareness.
Your goal is to build trust with a global audience, become the go-to person on a given topic, and be accepted as an experienced, knowledgeable, helpful leader in your lane.
Is Thought Leadership Marketing the Same As Content Marketing?
Thought leadership marketing and content marketing share common goals, and the execution of each looks similar. You’ll need a strong content marketing strategy to build a solid foundation for developing yourself as a thought leader, but it’s not the same end goal.
Thought leadership content is:
- educational concepts
- fun and entertaining
- clarifies subject matter
- provocative to encourage audience engagement and discussion.
Thought leadership content focuses more intensely on a narrowly defined audience. In contrast, content marketing tries to reach the largest audience possible (not that you skip over the part about identifying your target audience).
Thought leadership marketing is about building a personal bond between you and your target audience. Content marketing builds a relationship between your target audience and your product or service.
The voice you use as a thought leader will be different from the voice used in your content marketing materials. Your thought leadership voice is infused with your personality. Making a connection with your persona serves as a magnet to keep your audience engaged. They’ll want to hear about the latest industry trends or happenings worldwide from you rather than another source.
What’s the Difference Between a Thought Leader and Social Media Influencer?
Social media influencers rely on their fan base. They enter into a contractual relationship with a brand to produce creative and engaging content. The objective is to influence a targeted consumer base to purchase that brand’s product or service. They don’t need much knowledge about the brand’s industry.
How Do You Become a Thought Leader?
“Establishing a firm or individual as a thought leader requires consistent, diligent effort. Thought leadership is cumulative…Thought leadership should be about a big idea that changes how people perceive the world.” Daniel W. Rasmus
Becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and effort. It requires more than blog articles, networking events, and social media posts. However, all of these are tools to use in your journey to becoming a thought leader.
1. What is your expertise?
Avoid the temptation to speak out on everything that’s happening in your industry. Creating a niche identity will help you build brand awareness and credibility among potential customers.
2. Define your audience.
- Who is your audience?
- What are they interested in? What kinds of questions are they asking?
- Where is your target audience?
3. Listen to your target audience.
As mentioned earlier, thought leadership is about building a personal relationship between you and your followers. Ask for questions and feedback. Learn the interests and concerns of your audience. Listen to other thought leaders too. Learning from others helps you grow and stay connected with a vast network of professionals.
Remember that you’re a resource and not a salesperson.
4. Continue to learn and stay current with developments in your niche area.
Your audience will come to rely on you to share the most important trends. By continuing to learn and advance in your field, you’ll be able to produce thought leadership content that grows your reputation.
5. Be consistent.
Consistent posting of unique, value-laden, authentic content related to a specific set of topics solidifies your reputation as a leader in your space.
Thought Leadership Content Strategy
Developing a thought leadership strategy follows the same steps as your content marketing plan. You’ll use many of the same channels.
- Blog posts
- Guest posts on other websites and niche publications
- Vlogs (video blogs)
- Zoom workshops
- Publish books
- Speak at industry conferences and workshops
- TV and radio interviews
Regardless of which channel or channels you choose, thought leadership content has to be factually correct. Mistakes or gaffes will follow you around the digital world for a long time.
Is it Worth Your Time?
Establishing yourself as a thought leader does require additional effort. If you’re a small business or solopreneur, you might be thinking that you don’t have time for this. But as mentioned earlier, thought leadership marketing is one way to separate you and your brand from the competition. This is particularly true if you’re a startup.
You don’t have to be Tony Robbins, Dave Ramsey, or Arianna Huffington to be a thought leader. You simply need to be an expert in your industry.
For example, let’s say you started an online fitness coaching business. You want to take advantage of the great leap into online learning over the past year. But you’re not the only one who came up with this idea.
How do you set yourself apart?
You provide more than how-to fitness videos. You share with your audience your expertise in all the areas that impact their fitness goals, such as
- recent nutrition guidelines
- the relationship between exercise and productivity at work
- how to leap over the mental block that stops you from achieving your fitness goals
- and other value-laden, informative and trending topics.
Your audience will get into the habit of following you to learn how to achieve their goals. As they share the information they get from you with their friends, you’ll grow your online consumer base.
- Thought leadership marketing could be one of the most powerful ways to advance your business goals.
- The purpose of thought leadership content is to develop a personal bond between you and your audience, not only brand awareness.
- Developing your status as an expert in your field builds trust between you and your consumers.
- Becoming a thought leader helps you compete in a crowded marketplace.
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