The New Thought Leadership
A thought leader is essentially a trusted resource - and in an information economy - a trusted resource is extremely valuable. A thought leader can be an individual or a company with a thorough mastery of its business, its customers and the dynamics of the broader operating environment. The bottom line is that a thought leader has a significant industry edge.
In order to resonate with decision makers and influencers, a successful thought leadership campaign must have quality intellectual capital that is well exposed to the market. And-- to be a thought leader – that intellectual capital must have the following attributes:
It’s reader-friendly and technically excellent.
It has fresh ideas.
It makes a sound argument.
It’s thoroughly researched.
It has rigor.
It’s packaged in a polished presentation.
As information proliferates, it’s getting harder to find reliable information. This information-seeking environment is a prime opportunity for those who want to become thought leaders. And in most sectors, the position is still wide open. Turning an individual or company into a thought leader is surprisingly easy—there’s only one problem.
It’s this: the very people who need to devote the most time and effort (usually C-suite executives and upper management) are the ones with the least time. Not only does thought leadership require a significant time commitment, but it requires large blocks of alone time—something almost no C-suite exec has. Because of this, thought leaders tend to be successful executives that have either cut back on their workloads or retired.
A good marketing communications consultant with excellent writing skills, the ability to conduct high level research, and fully leverage the final product is the answer—basically cutting an aspiring thought leader’s time commitment down by 95%.
The 3 Big Benefits of Being a Thought Leader
There are many benefits. Here are the top 3:
Having a Dominant Search Engine Presence
Incoming links are one of the key ways to increase search engine optimization. Thought leaders who take advantage of online opportunities such as blogs and forums and develop a following increase their company’s online visibility.
Being Recognized as a Central Source of Information
When customers, prospects and the media need to know something that involves an industry, they’ll think first of the company they perceive to be the thought leader. They’ll go to the website first, call the salespeople first, prioritize the marketing materials, etc. People invite thought leaders to speak at high profile functions; participate in debates; present at tradeshows; and write articles, opinion pieces, and books. This gives that company an enormous advantage.
Being the Company Prospects Prefer
The more expensive the products and services, the more prospects will seek out recognized leaders. They want to know that the leaders are well established and can demonstrate expertise. They want someone who can provide reliable answers and someone who will continue to solve problems and provide cutting-edge information long after the purchase.
Ways to Demonstrate Thought Leadership
Success is about mastery and visibility. And they are equally important. Consider all the experts who toil in obscurity and the number of undeserving highly visible “experts” who are popular just long enough to be discredited.
Assuming the client already has a deep knowledge of the business, industry, and environment and is churning out valuable information, the client still needs to be recognized. This is where marketing and especially public relations expertise is important – developing a strategic thought leadership plan with visibility-increasing elements. Those elements might include:
Creating a forum or blog for industry professionals – or at least include an ask the expert option for website visitors.
Creating cogent opinion papers on highly visible and timely issues and distributing them to prospects, clients, legislators, and the media.
Writing objective white papers that clarify important issues and distributing them to clients and prospects.
Writing industry articles and distributing them to trade magazines.
Developing and regularly booking 20-minute speeches.
Writing, self-publishing, and distributing a short resource book to clients and prospects (if the thought leadership campaign is well planned this will be the logical result of the material that was already created).
Creating or contributing regularly to a newsletter.
Participating in a public debate – either literally or through the media.
Building a relationship with the media through media kits, releases, and online and offline contacts in order to become a preferred source.
In short thought leaders are smart, visible, communicate, and publish.
Once the client is established as a thought leader, there are only four ways for someone to take away that position:
If the expertise proves either short-sighted or shallow.
If the client’s integrity is called into question.
If the client gets complacent about communicating and publishing.
If the organization ceases to exist.
Pay careful attention to the evolving public perception and maintain a regular schedule of communicating and publishing. Once the momentum is going it will be very difficult for a competitor to take it away.