Seems like nowadays, around every corner, another thought-leadership marketing campaign wants to inspire us. And yet almost everything these campaigns talk about we have heard already.
The reason is that, although insanely popular, thought leadership may be greatly misunderstood.
What Is Thought Leadership?
Thought leadership is the ability to see things from a different perspective and inspire others to believe in you and to follow you.
To succeed in such a field, you should be an expert on the topic, have experience, a clear vision, and a deeper understanding of the matter at hand. You should also be truly passionate about it.
Thought leaders are often driven by a controversial point of view that comes from their unique experience and industry expertise. Leveraging these assets, they are able to change the paradigm and influence others with their ideas. Thus, they can offer their clients something more than just knowledge – they offer value.
What Is Thought Leadership Marketing?
Thought leadership marketing is a way of making your expertise and knowledge available to those who are interested in your industry. However, the goal is not to promote your products and services, but to establish yourself and your brand as an authority in your field.
As a matter of fact, mentioning your products could even hurt your credibility. Your followers may think you are trying to advertise to them, and begin to question the motives behind everything else you are saying.
Regardless of whether you are trying to build up a personal or a corporate brand, you should promote your know-how, expertise, and values. Once you’ve shown your worth and people know and trust you, they may consider your products and services.
In a way, with thought leadership marketing, you are reverse-engineering an advertising strategy. You are providing people with new perspectives as well as helping them solve their own issues by identifying needs they didn’t know they had or couldn’t solve themselves.
Content Marketing Vs. Thought-Leadership
While many marketers believe that thought leadership and content marketing are the same things, they actually aren’t.
Content marketing is, indeed, an important part of an effective thought-leadership marketing strategy. However, it is far from enough to consolidate your position of authority – anyone can write content and many can do it well, but this doesn’t mean that they are thought-leaders.
There are thousands of good-quality articles online that help you solve various issues. And yet, most of them say relatively the same things over and over again. This doesn’t diminish their value in a company’s content marketing strategy – if the audience enjoys them, they serve their purpose and bring in traffic and leads.
However, to be a thought leader you should be able to say something that’s both exclusive and interesting to your customers.
How to Demonstrate Thought Leadership
We already briefly covered what it takes to be a thought-leader, but let’s break it down again, and elaborate further.
Be an Expert in Your Field
Industry expertise is at the core of thought leadership marketing and the key to success. The knowledge you’ve gained from real-life cases and personal experience is unique and provides insight that your customers can benefit from. By sharing this information, you don’t just give them the basic know-how that they can find elsewhere on the internet, you give them access to the pro toolset.
There are, generally, two types of expert brands – person-centric and company-centric.
Person-Centric Thought-Leadership Marketing
To be a thought leader as a person, you should be an insightful professional in your field and, preferably, have a strong and captivating personality that people can’t help but follow.
While it is possible to be the face of the campaign with little actual knowledge, and have a team of professionals to back you up, this is still very risky.
When you build a brand around your persona but lack the actual skills, you risk compromising your position and may come out as a fraud that will discredit both you and the people who support you.
Company-Centric Thought-Leadership Marketing
If you do have an eye for talent and a vision for a business, along with a brilliant team of experts, you should consider putting the company forward as a thought-leader and not yourself. This way, you build credibility but minimize the personal risk. Also, this way you show yourself as being a company leader who is both strong and humble.
As Steve Jobs once said:
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
By going beyond your personal ego and relying on teamwork, you empower your brand. This way you achieve better results, come up with more innovative and inspirational ideas, and, ultimately, deliver more value to your customers and followers.
Don’t Be Afraid to Have An Unpopular Opinion
You shouldn’t be afraid to come forward with an unpopular opinion and go against the current. If you are simply repeating the same things everyone else is, even if it’s true, that’s not leadership thinking.
What makes you stand out is the ability to see what others don’t. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should deliberately contradict any status quo just for the sake of it. But you should keep an open mind and be on the look for change and innovation.
Innovation is valuable both in product development and forward-thinking. People crave new ideas and are willing to support them. All you have to do is convince them that what you’re selling is worth the investment.
Base Your Statements on Facts and Data
In business, however inspirational a message might be, it doesn’t matter if it is not based on facts. When money is at stake, people are less likely to take a risk on even the most lucrative idea, especially if it doesn’t involve a degree of veracity. Because that’s what data is for.
If you want to be accepted as an industry thought-leader, you should adopt a data-driven approach and back your statements using solid information that has been researched. Discuss ideas with other trusted experts in your field, and make sure your arguments are bullet-proof before going public with an idea.
Talk From Experience
Although expertise can come from both theoretical and acquired information, applied knowledge gives you far more credibility than academic knowledge.
People find real-life experiences more trustworthy, especially when the concepts you present are alien or different from what they have always known to be true. Thus, the information you’ve discovered through trial and error, experiments, and practice, will be more convincing to your customers if they are presented using real-life examples. People will also find value in it if it’s based on facts and data, and shows tangible results.
Have Passion for What You Are Selling
If you want people to follow you, you should have a passion for what you are selling. You should care deeply about your ideas and the values you promote.
People are more likely to follow someone who is involved in their work because they know that person strives for perfection, is diligent, and is eager to learn and improve. This is the kind of business customers love to be associated with.
Also, strong emotions are contagious and are a great way to maintain engagement.
Stand Behind Your Values
When the world around us is rapidly changing, running a socially conscious business can make you an industry thought-leader that inspires both your customers and others in your field to change.
Brand ethics, sustainability, and vision for the future can be what differentiates you from your competitors and makes you the reason why people choose to do business with you instead of them. You should stand behind your values and make them a part of your public personality.
However, make sure that you are genuine in your aspirations and are not only promoting values as part of your thought-leadership marketing campaign. Otherwise, you may achieve the opposite effect.
Thought Leadership Marketing Plan
As already mentioned, it’s not enough to have groundbreaking ideas and a captivating personality to become an industry thought leader. To convince people that you are worth following and consolidate your position as a figure of authority, you should create a thought-leadership marketing plan.
Lucky for you, publicity is not a big problem in today’s world. What’s important is that you know what to say when to say it, and how.
Here are a few ideas to help you out:
Build Up Your Brand
Regardless of whether you are building a personal brand or trying to position your company as an industry leader, your brand and its persona should be easily recognizable, have a clear path of development, and provide a valuable experience.
This goes for the quality of the information you provide as well. Don’t send mixed signals as this can portray you as not being trustworthy enough.
Also, brand recognition ensures that people will easily recognize you and know that you are credible and dependable, making you their first choice.
Create Insightful Educational Content
Insightful and helpful educational content will increase your credibility and consolidate your expertise in your industry and niche. It will also make you more discoverable online and contribute to your image and reputation. People may choose you over competitors simply because they know and value you as a reliable source of information.
Furthermore, well-optimized content along with a consistent SEO strategy will place you among the top-ranking positions in SERPs. This will not only improve your page’s visibility in organic searches, but it will most likely boost others’ opinions of you.
Speak At Industry Events
Having an effective digital strategy is great for your thought-leadership marketing, but in-person appearances are next-level stuff. This is how true thought-leaders have gained popularity among their followers since forever.
Nothing compares to the personal connection that people form when they are in the same room with someone. And even if the event is a digital one, the audience can see the speaker’s passion and fall under the spell of their personality.
Also, this is the best way to go viral. At events, people are charged by the excitement and the emotion of the experience. They discuss their thoughts and feelings with others and share them online. This tactic creates valuable word-of-mouth marketing and, if what you said was worthy and inspiring, it can boost your reputation from zero to hero.
Think of TED Talks. The whole concept was built around creating thought-leaders. The events that have impressed people the most continue to circulate online years later.
Be Active on Relevant Social Media Platforms
The greatest gift social media platforms give is that anyone can join the conversation and speak their mind. And while the competition is crazy, these platforms can be valuable to your strategy.
An important part of being a thought leader is to stay in touch with your audience and be ready to respond to their needs.
By engaging with your followers, you can help them with their issues, offer solutions to their problems, and show your expertise in real-time. And don’t be afraid that you will be giving advice and professional knowledge for free. Your worth as an expert should go far beyond the tips one can provide during a social media conversation.
Moreover, these interactions show both your goodwill and your knowledge. They also build brand awareness and publicity. And this will, ultimately, bring in paying customers who need more than just a piece of simple advice.
Thought-leadership marketing has been all the rage over the last few years, but in many cases, it has been missing an essential element – a strong figure, be it a person or a brand, who really has something new to say.
To be a thought-leader means to inspire others and bring forward innovations to the industry. These may come in the form of new products, an original perspective, or groundbreaking industry expertise. Whatever the case, there are those who can change the paradigm and those who follow it. And to be in the first group, you should really have something new and interesting to say.
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