In a world where traditional marketing can feel gimmicky and forced, authenticity is key. By now you’ve likely heard of thought leadership, you may have even been tasked with creating a strategy, but what is it? Thought leadership is about educating your audience, focusing on their needs, and establishing yourself as a reliable source of knowledge.
It has evolved as a strategy for building a business and brand awareness as well as a personal brand. Being a thought leader means your views are trusted, and you get to be the go-to person or subject matter expert in your respective field.
With information constantly flooding the Internet, providing resources that are actually relevant and contain the information audiences need can set you apart and put you top of mind for consumers. You want to start your thought leadership strategy by looking inward at your own values and ideals, rather than outward where you’ll likely end up repeating current trends.
With that said, why is it important and how do you implement a successful thought leadership strategy? What are the benefits that come from this type of strategy? Keep reading.
What is a thought leadership strategy?
Thought leadership can be difficult to understand, as it means something different to a variety of people. As a strategy, it’s a scalable way to influence people outside of your organization, and it’s key for building a strong brand. According to Semrush, “Thought leadership is the delivery of authentic and genuine content that uses the expertise, insight, and experience of the author, with the goal of sharing that wisdom with others.”
As part of a content marketing strategy, thought leadership focuses more on information that establishes your company as an expert in your field rather than selling products or services. You can leverage your company’s knowledge. In short, the goal is to answer questions that those in your target audience are asking.
Rather than educating buyers on what you want them to know; thought leadership focuses on sharing information that audience members gain value from knowing. It helps to ask whether or not your content focuses on messages you want to send or information that is useful for clients to hear. If you provide helpful information, your target audience will turn to you when they need help finding a product, service, or answers, and you can be the one they think of first. When done well, thought leadership is a key component of an inbound marketing strategy.
What resources do you need to implement a thought leadership strategy?
While some thought leaders create and distribute content on their own, your organization can benefit from a team focused on improving your thought leadership strategy. If you have the resources to hire in house, here are some common skill sets to look for:
Strategist: Basically someone who can align thought leadership with other business strategies. Somebody who can align content or think how it affects the bigger picture and your overall content marketing strategy. Also someone that can be the quarterback for keeping track of all the content and how it all aligns with each other.
Content Creators/Editors: Sometimes you can find someone that is both a content writer and editor, but ones that are amazing at both are somewhat unicorns. A keen editorial sense is a rare skill. These creative people are fantastic at finding a new angle on popular topics. Sometimes you have to hire both a content creator and an editor then scale up, depending how big your company is.
PR/Media/Blog Relationship Manager: People are switching jobs in media all the time so it’s hard to maintain relationships. Having someone that is consistently focused on managing these connections is invaluable. They have to focus on staying in touch, rather than traditional public relations cold pitching. A good intern could make a cold call. This manager isn’t just someone that can maintain relationships with publications because these days brands that you partner with need a more personal approach.
SEO Expert: Since SEO is such a massive part of how people find thought leadership, having someone on your team that makes sure the site is set up well and manages aspects like keyword research, intent research, and has the relationship to get natural placements to compliment the PR efforts above is necessary. If you have both PR related placements happening at the same time as SEO placements then you can really move the needle on your thought leadership.
The elements above are important if you are building your own team. If you want this taken care of by an agency, then they should have all the above covered. You don’t have to have them take over everything though. If it’s a good agency they will look to compliment your efforts and fill in gaps. Book a call with a Relevance strategist here, and they can help you identify the best resources for your company.
Launching a Thought Leadership Strategy
The first step with any strategy is defining your goals. You have to establish why you’re pursuing thought leadership in the first place, and you should make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Effective thought leadership strategies build trust and share new ideas.
An effective strategy also requires bold content. If you or someone on your team is an expert in their field, they can’t be timid in their perspective. Media is full of articles and interviews where individuals avoid being portrayed as biased one way or another. If you take a stand and are confident on a subject matter, people will see you as a thought leader and come to you for your expertise.
Once you’ve determined your goals and embraced your values, you want to create content to push out ideas and ideally get others thinking. Review existing thought leadership within your company to make sure you stay consistent and authentic. If previous ideas don’t align with your business’s current values, address that. As much as you appreciate honesty and transparency, so do consumers and your clients.
Most thought leadership content consists of articles or blogs, but video content, presentations, and research are other options you could consider, like a webinar or whitepaper. Different information benefits from different presentation formats. If your thought leadership area of expertise focuses on artistic concepts, visual formats will likely prove beneficial. However, if your ideas can be expressed relatively easily in words, articles and blogs are accessible and work well to spread information.
Remember once you’ve created a thought leadership piece, you need to distribute it to a wider audience. As great as your information is, it can’t make an impact without reaching other people. Promoting on your own website and social media channels is a great place to start, but you also have to direct people to your owned media before they’ll read that content.
This distribution stage is where those resources mentioned earlier, specifically a relationship manager, come in handy. Utilizing relationships with publications and different media outlets can help you get your message across to more people. Pitch your ideas to journalists, offer to be a guest speaker for related events, collaborate with other thought leaders who share your values. If you have the budget, you can also consider paid promotions and sponsorships.
Thought leadership is about engagement and creating a conversation, so once you’ve distributed content, make sure you check how it’s received. If additional topics come up as consumers respond, be there to answer questions and offer new ideas. Part of being a thought leader is providing your audience with your perspective. Measure your engagement. As with any strategy, it’s important to see if the steps you took successfully met your initial goals.
If your goals are met, keep looking for ways to improve and continue offering unique perspectives and valuable insights. If your ideas were not well received, reevaluate your goals and strategy. It may be useful to talk with other thought leaders or reach out to industry experts.
What Executives Should You Include in A Thought Leadership Strategy?
When deciding who to include in your thought leadership strategy consider who aligns with your company values, has innovative ideas, impactful knowledge, and is willing to publicly share their thoughts. Aside from asking those foundational questions, it’s important to take into consideration a couple aspects:
- Do these executives have time to spare for these initiatives?
If they are too busy, they will be unresponsive, and it can be like pulling teeth to get their thoughts down. While you can look at their schedules to try to judge if they have capacity, it’s usually best to ask people directly whether they have time for these plans.
- Does the executive seem to cooperate, and are they easy to work with?
Time is one barrier, but so is the executive that is so controlling you can never get approval or every word published will be picked apart. When executives function as thought leaders that needs to be their number one priority. Nit-picking every comma and colon is a job for an editor, and strategists should be allowed to focus on the big picture.
Benefits of Thought Leadership
Thought leadership can help you increase your brand positioning, enhance your market visibility, and improve brand loyalty. Delivering authentic and genuine content can also boost your brand credibility and authority. Incidentally, it can also strengthen your SEO profile.
The thought leadership approach is typically considered effective when an organization earns loyalty from consumers, that encourages them to advocate for a company to the people in their social circles. This often stems from a shared value, not simply a product or service the business provides. This action can ignite a chain of positive reactions.
While it isn’t an SEO strategy, thought leadership can often unintentionally generate backlinks and increase shares and mentions. It’s clear that Google and other search engines are rewarding real thought leaders rather than the SEO hacks of old. While you have to earn these days, it is an amazing opportunity for companies to lead their industry in the long-term. If you are successful with your thought leadership and align it with the right SEO strategies, it will show up in the right places and bring revenue in the door.
Contributors and journalists don’t have the same time on their hands they used to. Newspapers and other publications are often working with smaller budgets. Nowadays, they are searching around for existing articles to source. If you are viewed as a thought leader in your industry, then you can consistently get free press, and it’s a compounding effect that can consistently grow. Being able to offer quotes and provide information for articles will continue to help you be seen as an expert in your wheelhouse.
People want to work for the companies they believe are the best and treat employees well. Thought leadership can be used to nurture recruits and connect on a human level. If a leader of a company uses thought leadership to promote their way of thinking and core values that will likely attract like-minded people to join their team and their audience base.
Take a moment to think about this: If you see a company showing up in a search result as a leader in the space are you more likely to click on their ad? Absolutely. Also, if you click on the ad and go on their site and engage in the content, are you more likely to spend? Definitely. Companies that have higher trust scores and thought leadership convert well on paid campaigns.
In B2B thought leadership is a massive asset. Your sales people can send articles where your leaders are quoted. One of my favorite magic tricks is for a sales person to ask a potential customer to search in their phone and see that there’s an article from your site ranking for the keyword they type in. Thought leadership shows potential clients that you are an industry leader.
Specific Niches of Thought Leadership
Thought leadership can be slightly different in different verticals, but here are common niches that use thought leadership as a consistent strategy. Really every niche should be investing in thought leadership since it builds trust and can enjoy the benefits listed above, but here are a couple examples:
Thought leadership is consistently used as a strategy to differentiate from competitors, and this is no less true amongst financial services. There are opportunities for financial services firms that can equip their clients with the insightful, well-supported, and timely content. Finance is a unique industry for thought leadership because those generating new ideas here can influence investing choices, guide clients through uncertain financial times, and use specific content to outshine competitors by gaining trust.
As technology is continuously seeing advancements and the digital world we live in evolves, leaders in the technology industry can’t simply recycle what others are saying. Technology influences every other industry, as companies turn to tech to understand emerging trends. So original ideas are crucial. Identifying and articulating new ideas in technology influences consumer’s trust, which is especially important in tech, as consumers consider the security of their personal information and how to avoid cyber attacks.
Going back to the problem of being too gimmicky, the marketing industry can be especially guilty. Marketing is all about ensuring your organization stands out, so it makes sense that fighting the herd-mentality through thought leadership positively influences this sector. The content you publish can elevate your brand in the eyes of your target audience. Additionally, genuine thought leadership can drive traffic to your site, convert leads, and build brand authority.
Similar to tech, healthcare is an industry that is constantly seeing updates and information is always changing. Consumers often feel confused and intimidated in these types of spaces, so there are many benefits that come from making yourself a trusted resource. Utilizing thought leadership in healthcare can be difficult, as professional standards and expectations for credibility are high. However, if you can be successful, you’ll see returns.
B2B vs. B2C
Thought leaders influence the marketing world from idea generation to purchasing power. In fact, it can even generate business. According to a 2021 LinkedIn-Edelman report, more than half of company decision makers say thought leadership provides proof that an organization genuinely understands their specific business challenges. This trust, in turn, often converts to sales.
B2B Thought Leadership
In the B2B marketplace, if your brand has nothing to say, it often means you’ve lost the race. You likely didn’t even make it to the line up. Since a lot of B2B sales are based on trust, to be considered, you have to broadcast your knowledge. Buyers conduct a larger percentage of their research on a company before they reach out, so it’s important your message reflects well. There are a lot of opportunities to spend big dollar amounts in the B2B world, so people want to work with the best and people that they feel are experts.
B2C Thought Leadership
Is a bit more qualitative initially because you are focused around building a brand from which people will want to buy their product. However, it can make a massive difference on sales conversions, SEO results, and PR opportunities, so it’s important to make some level of investment.
Ready for Next Steps?
When you’re just starting your journey with thought leadership, it can be a lot to consider, and it may even seem overwhelming. Gathering information to learn more about thought leadership is a great way to prepare to create your own strategy. Remember to be genuine and recognize the resources you have available within yourself and within your business. Big ideas can have a big impact. If you’re ready to get started putting this information into action, download your free simple thought leadership template here!