Thought leadership is the lifeblood of your marketing strategy, especially your content marketing strategy. If used right, it can help businesses shape the perception of their target audience. It is therefore no surprize that businesses, both small and large want to become thought leaders in their domain. But before we get into how this can help you improve your marketing results, let’s take a deeper look at the concept of thought leadership.
Thought leadership is typically defined as a method of marketing to establish and solidify your expertise and authority in your industry. Instead of focusing on sales heavy content, the goals of thought leadership is to brand yourself as an industry expert so that you can gain an entry point to your targeted market. While the focus is on placing yourself as a knowledgeable industry expert who is willing to help, there are enough opportunities to speak about your products or services.
But the secret lies in addressing the actual customer pain points. For example, a thought leadership study by the Association of Management Consulting Firms, Rattleback, Bloom Group, and Research Now found that Search Engine Optimization is the best topic for a B2B or consulting company to establish as a thought leader. This is, therefore, the pain point you need address with your expertise.
In fact, thought leadership can take many forms, ranging from strategic differentiation to a demonstration of differentiations. You must be able to stabilize and improve the corporate voice and dialogue with your people instead of distracting them. You need to prove yourself as a true thought leader to highlight the value of your brand and the products/services you sell.
You cannot gain industry prominence overnight as thought leadership requires diligent, cumulative and consistent effort. Most importantly, it requires strategic efforts that can take an idea from concept to an implementation stage. True thought leadership is all about how a big idea can change people’s perception of the world.
If you are leveraging thought leadership to improve your marketing results, the first thing you need to know is what you want from people consuming your ideas. If it is solely leads, sales and revenue, then you might like to reconsider your approach.
Thought leadership is all about gaining respect and recognition within your industry, although it does fulfil your greater revenue-related ambitions in the long run. The goal, however, is to inspire, challenge and intrigue the people so that you can enhance your existing business relationships and start one where none exists.
A recent report by Forbes Insights and Profitable Channels points out three things that you need to understand clearly. First, thought leadership marketing is a relatively new term, pioneered by market leaders like IBM, McKinsey, and the Gartner Group. And in the past few years, it has become a priority for most B2B businesses.
However the Forbes Insights and Profitable Channels report further indicates that most marketers don’t have the structure, process and necessary in-house resources to develop original ideas that can redefine and shape people’s perceptions of value. Worse still, even the marketing agencies that businesses traditionally look to for support lack the depth of insight and the ability to create quality content that is required for thought leadership marketing.
Many confuse thought leadership with content marketing. But in reality, it is more than that. The Forbes Insights and Profitable Channels report suggests to follow these 3 steps to create and execute a thought leadership program:
The focus, however, should be on quality over quantity that can shape buyer perceptions of value. So if you want to elevate your thought leadership to shape how people perceive your brand, here are a few ways to do it right.
When it comes to thought leadership, the only thing you should try selling is your ideas. Trying to sell anything else during a thought leadership post, presentation or discussion is a big ‘sin’. So the number-one rule is “not to sell” your products/services or brand directly with thought leadership.
It is important to understand that your target audience includes sophisticated and informative consumers. They are aware of the fact that you represent a commercial firm and making money is your ultimate bottom line; you really don’t need to tell them that. In fact, they don’t even want to listen that you have the best solution to a problem that is yet to arise.
Your target audience will only affirm your leadership position if they find your insights and ideas are valuable, meaningful and address what they are looking for. It is only then they will trust you and come to you to purchase your products and services even without you rattling about your offerings.
They will look up to you for solutions to problems you illuminate. This, in turn, will automatically transform your thought leadership conversation into a pre-sales conversation which eventually helps you get into a sales relationship.
People look up to thought leaders as industry experts, someone who can solve the pain points or challenges they face on a regular basis. Your content should, therefore, be of high quality and at the same time it, must align with your buyer personas, keeping their needs and pain points in mind. What are the questions your target audience is asking? Start answering those questions through your posts, discussions and presentations.
There are several tools and sites to help you find out what questions your target audience is asking. Some of the top places to look for are Yahoo Answers, Quora, Google Keyword Planner, Twitter, Google Analytics and UberSuggest. Additionally, you can also ask your customers and create your content to answer those questions to the best of your ability. Begin with the problems your product/services solve and what could be the potential questions that one may ask related to those problems.
Whatever you do, your content must evoke curiosity and pique people’s interest. And your headline is your secret weapon, here and there are several ways you can use the headline to your advantage. For example, you can create super specific headlines like asking questions to grab the attention of your readers.
Let’s take a look what we did in this particular post: How Can You Improve Marketing Results by Building Thought Leadership. The pain point here is ‘improving your marketing result,’ something almost every marketer is asking about. The answer we have is through ‘thought leadership.’
“How to” posts and number oriented headlines also work quite well. And if you can your buyer personas into the headlines people can hardly resist clicking them.
Another way is to start up a conversation with your target audience directly and add a teaser to evoke their curiosity. Forums and communities like Quora, Yahoo Answers, Facebook, and Twitter etc. perfect for this. Tell people “why” you are creating the content or sharing it with them. This is perhaps one of the best ways to build community trust as well, especially if you are fairly new to it.
Also ask open-ended questions such as feedback and suggestions that spark readers’ involvement. Make sure your approach must fit the needs and interests of the community members.
Of course your company blog is the hub of your brand building efforts but when it comes to thought leadership, consider extending your efforts beyond your blog. To establish yourself as a thought leader you need to discover more number of audiences apart from those visiting your company blog. One of the best ways to do it is by publishing your thought leadership content on other third-party platforms. Guest blogging allows you to find relevant audiences who are interested in your thought leadership content.
In addition, leverage social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other niche communities to direct your audience there to your blog posts to answer their questions. This is one of the best ways to show people that you and your company is an industry expert and is there to help them with your knowledge and skills.
Thought leadership is all about being a thoughtful leader. You need to be thoughtful about the need of your target audience. How you create perspectives with your content defines how people view you and your brand. And it is your content consumers who ultimately decides whether or not you are a thought leader. Besides, you need to be patient as it will take some time to improve your marketing results with thought leadership.
It is a strategic process to build trust and a loyal following, which in the long run will also help you boost your sales and revenue. And how long it will take depends on a lot of factors, including your industry, the time and effort you invest into thought leadership marketing and the real value of your ideas. It therefore requires your dedication and perseverance to establish yourself and your company in a better position within your industry.
Image source – Forbes Media