If “thought leader” is just another buzzword you’re sick of hearing, then you’re just like the rest of us.
Setting aside the cliché nature of the term, however, it still holds plenty of value for brands.
Being highly regarded in your industry is often an intangible differentiator. The product a company sells is one component of a brand; but the identity of that brand extends beyond products. It is often projected by the brand’s CEO or chief creative (aka thought leader).
The mere mention of Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, for instance, immediately conjures up a certain image and carries a level of value. Of course people want to buy from them.
You don’t need to be the next Elon Musk to carve out your own space within your niche.
You just need to know how to get started.
What Is a Thought Leader in Today’s World, and Why Do You Want to Be One?
A thought leader is a person with a high level of authority and influence whom others respect or recognise as an expert.
Thought leaders tend to be businessmen and women with proven experience in their respective industries and a demonstrated track record of, more often than not, being correct or successful in their opinions or endeavours.
A thought leader is what Warren Buffet is to investing; Jeff Bezos is to supply chains; and Dave Ramsey is to personal finance.
When they speak, others listen.
In an increasingly digital world where most interactions occur online, today’s thought leader is likely to have a significant web presence, typically through social media and video.
A LinkedIn study of 1,300 business executives and decision-makers found:
-82% of respondents felt thought leadership content increased their trust in a brand.
-35% spend up to three hours a week consuming thought leadership content.
-47% stated thought leadership content had a “direct impact” on awarding business to a vendor.
With these stats in mind, it’s clear that there is a strong, causal relationship between being a thought leader and attracting new followers. And today’s public wants to be served high-quality, relevant pieces of information from those they trust.
That’s where you come in.
What Does Your Business Gain by Being a Thought Leader?
Thought leadership confers a number of advantages, especially for B2B firms in highly niche markets.
In new industries, in particular, few competitors may exist, or, there is virtually no differentiation between products and services across all providers, other than price or branding. Thought leadership is able to slice through these marketing challenges and provide companies with unique opportunities they may not have otherwise had.
These may include:
-Better publicity: If you don’t define yourself, others will. Putting you or your brand in the spotlight by being vocal on industry news or starting conversations online is necessary for those looking to gain a competitive edge.
-Credibility: Thought leaders are more likely to be cited online and on social, meaning more backlinks and brand mentions for your organisation.
-Customer retention: Trustworthy brands are better at winning and keeping business and 89% of US consumers are loyal to brands that share their values.
-Bigger audiences: Shareable content is shareable content. If your thought leadership pieces strike a chord with readers, the positive social impact is likely to follow.
Here are several ways to position yourself as a thought leader:
1. Start With a Very Specific Purpose, Then Build Outward
You can’t be everything to everyone.
You need to be the very best (or close to it) at one thing.
People need to associate your image and your content with a single idea. Maybe that’s the “guy who posts all the great stats about account-based marketing” or the “software engineer who shares the latest machine learning research.”
If you’re able to engage others and answer their questions on a narrow set of topics, then they know who to turn to the next time they need information, or a quote or a service.
Once this foothold is established, you can then expand into other topic areas that are similarly related to increase the scope of your reach.
2. Write or Guest-post for a Relevant Publication
No one who is actually a thought leader refers to themselves as a thought leader.
So you can’t expect to just list “thought leader” on your LinkedIn profile and wait for people to find you. You’re going to have to be present and be public.
One of the best ways to inject yourself into industry conversations is to write your own blogs or guest-post for relevant publications.
If your readers closely follow Harvard Business Review, securing a post there could lend newfound credence to you and your brand’s message.
The key is to understand the different persona profiles of your customers and prospects: what do they read? How do they consume content?
The more you appear on other channels, the larger and more pervasive your presence becomes. That allows you to become a true influencer in your space.
3. Keep a Consistent Online Presence (Across all Mediums)
Maintaining brand consistency is important for obvious reasons: You need a single identity that’s easy to understand.
Changing up your message or using different branding cues based on the platform you’re using at that moment leads to a mismatched user experience.
If on Wednesday you give a TED Talk on commercial adhesives of the future, but then on Friday you’re using Twitter to comment on geopolitical strategies, what are you a thought leader of?
To build your brand, remain consistent in all facets of digital media.
4. Speak From a Position of Authority and Intent (aka Take Strong Stances)
Anyone can write a blog post, but can you make a statement that no one else has?
You’re not going for shock value, per se, but, the key is to be a leader, not a follower.
That likely means making predictions on the future of your industry, interjecting your opinion on a hot topic or offering first-person insights into new ideas that others may find useful.
In addition to using data to back up your claims, personal anecdotes and relevant experiences can be great ways to connect with readers or viewers on their level.
For example, sharing a whitepaper loaded with statistics is great, but showing how others can use those stats is better. The more actionable you can be, the more practical your content is.
5. Network With Influencers
Thought leaders are known for attracting hordes of followers, but, starting out, you’ll need to network with others to establish yourself.
That is to say, unless you’re about to release a groundbreaking product to the adoration of millions, your brand will need to be built the natural way: through connections.
Target influencers and micro-influencers within your niche, start conversations with them on social media, offer to host joint webinars, solicit publishing opportunities and so forth.
You can also take a page out of the playbooks of other industries. What lessons can you learn from how the healthcare sector engages others online? Or the manufacturing industry?
Mirror those brands or individuals with larger, engaged followings: what types of content are they sharing? How do they incentivise subscribers?
As your prominence within your industry grows, your company should see a brand lift. You might see more engagement on social, more brand mentions, stronger link equity, greater web visibility, etc.
Lastly, these things don’t happen overnight.
In fact, someone who skyrockets to the top of an industry with limited credentials may not last long. You want to be rock solid from the start, with the background and expertise to churn out insightful, authoritative content that makes a difference.
And as more people view you as a thought leader, the easier it is to transfer that reputation over to your core business. That’s how you convert recurring site visitors or blog readers into paying customers.
You win and so does your organisation.