What started out as a movement may now well be a buzzword, but thought leadership is no such thing. Becoming a thought leader, especially in a world where everyone is speaking, is now more important than ever for entrepreneurs who want to make a deep impact and leave a legacy.
Becoming a thought leader is no simple task. It’s not something you can put on your to-do list for tomorrow. It is, however, completely attainable for entrepreneurs and small business owners alike – all it takes is a bit of focus, clarity, discipline, innovation, humility, empathy, and consistency.
Oh, is that it? Yeah, thought leadership requires a lot, both in practice and development, but the payoff is more than a successful business. The result of strong, effective thought leadership, especially in your content marketing, means changing people’s lives for the better and staking a claim in your industry territory.
At its core, thought leadership is a risk. It’s about taking a stance, making a prediction, sharing an opinion, making connections and comparisons, and saying something of substance. The goal – to be the catalyst or magnet for conversation, action, and a movement.
“Thought leadership is the action of introducing and promoting convention-breaking ideas that cause people to change how they think about marketplace or societal issues” (Van Halderen & Kettler-Paddock, 2011)
There is inherent risk in creating content and speaking in such ways – you could be wrong. You could be rejected. You could be opposed. Thought leadership has the highest risk, but it also has the highest potential to propel your brand to the highest heights.
And, ultimately, in a world where everyone is chattering and making incessant noise, becoming a thought leader is the only way to become more than a business – to become a brand your audience knows, trusts, and loves.
“A thought leader is someone who looks at the future and sets a course for it that others will follow. Thought leaders look at existing best practices then come up with better practices. They foment change, often causing great disruption.”– Shel Israel, writer, Forbes.
Are you ready to “foment change” and “cause great disruption”? If so, you just might have what it takes to become a great thought leader.
At its core, thought leadership does several things. Thought leadership:
As an entrepreneur building your own business from the ground up, you have nothing but thought leadership to share. Your mind is your greatest asset, biggest differentiator, and largest value proposition.
However, you can’t stop at just expertise if you want to build a brand, not just a business. Expertise will produce a job well done and get results for your clients, but thought leadership is how you showcase that in your content.
Your audience is looking for thought leadership content that proves your ability to not just do your craft, coach, or deliver the results you promise. Your audience is wanting to place all their trust in you – they want an end-all solution.
They don’t just want a designer for a project, they want a designer they can partner with for life. They don’t just want a coach for today, they want to trust your expertise and credibility and leadership so much they want to partner with you for ages to come.
So, your content should do more than drive traffic and win a sale. It should nurture trust, showcase the depth of your leadership, and show that you’re not just a player in your industry – you’re helping pave the way forward in your industry (i.e. you’ll help them stay relevant in an ever changing world).
Creating thought leadership content builds awareness, trust, and credibility and puts you above the chaos that is content marketing today.
For many content marketers today, creating content means churning out keywords and keeping up appearances to stay relevant. Thought leadership means directing and influencing your entire industry, from shaping audience behavior and giving your competitors a path to follow.
It may require more research, work, effort and strategy, but with a thought leadership strategy you’ll only grow as a person, a brand, and an organization. Your ideas and thoughts will make a difference – share them!
What impact does thought leadership have on your business? The ultimate goal is to generate conversation, movement, and action around your topic and influence.
Yes, an end goal is to drive sales – sales are the lifeblood of your business and without them your business would die. But the larger picture of thought leadership is to drive your mission into your vision and change the world, or someone’s world, for the better.
You’ll change someone’s world, yes, and you’ll also impact your business for the better. Some of the benefits your business will see from having a thought leadership strategy in place can look like:
Just like every human has creative potential, every human has the potential to be a thought leader. How you fuel, feed, and challenge that leadership inside you will directly impact the influence you have, or don’t have, as a thought leader.
Here are several characteristics, traits, and behaviors that are commonly found in thought leaders. They:
Of course, this list can go on for miles, but the above list gives a good overview of the character profile of thought leaders. No one is perfect, and each of the above characteristics can be practiced, honed, and applied.
If you have identified that you want to become a thought leader, one of the biggest impediments you’ll find on your journey is the amount of input we consume.
Your job will be to quiet that input, discover and rediscover your own voice, identify the direction you want to take your leadership, and curate the input you consume going forward while making time to create, think, and just be.
Your first steps toward becoming a thought leader are:
I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of “Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,” and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.– Marissa Mayer, former President and CEO, Yahoo
Thought leadership content marketing differs from plain-jane content marketing in its goal and makeup.
While traditional content marketing focuses on generating content that drives traffics and sales, thought leadership content is viewed as a brand asset and product. No, this doesn’t mean you lock your thought leadership behind a pay gate. This means that with every piece of thought leadership content you create, your brand should get richer, your mission clearer, and your insight deeper.
In Building a Storybrand, author Donald Miller outlines the seven-part framework helping business owners clarify their message and craft messages that deeply connect with their audience.
Outlined below, these steps prove that thought leadership is an underlying theme and key motivator for brand-building.
Sharing advice, guidance, predictions, comparisons, breakdowns, strategic visions, and strategies that can not otherwise be found on a competitor’s website. This means you have to get clear on your own opinions, your unique value proposition, your core values, and increase your knowledge and expertise.
A great thought leadership strategy turns ideas into brand equity that connects with your target audience, builds relationships and creates community, generates demand, and creates new opportunities. Thought leadership is one of the key elements of brand strategy. It’s an idea that people will associate with your company because they believe in its mission, values, and goals.
A vision statement is a short description of what your organization stands for. It should be written in the first person, so it sounds more personal than corporate. You might use words like “we” or “our” instead of “I” or “my.”
A mission statement is an organizational statement that describes what your company does and why it exists. It’s often used as part of a business plan, but it can also serve as a guide for employees and customers.
Think about how you would describe your organization’s values. What do you stand for? How do you want people to feel when they interact with your brand? These questions will help you develop a mission statement that reflects who you are and what you believe in.
A unique value proposition is what makes your company stand out from competitors. It’s the reason why people choose to work with you instead of another business. It’s also the reason why people buy your products or services.
Define your content value proposition, which is the sister to your UVP. Connect your expertise to your audience’s need, how your knowledge benefits them, how you differentiate yourself from your competitors
Define thought leadership goals in alignment with business goals. For example, do you want to primarily establish credibility among prospective customers, position yourself as an industry leader, build a new audience, or recruit top talent?
Once you have defined your values, think about the people who will use them. Who are your customers? Do you serve different audiences? If so, how does each group differ? You should consider the needs of each audience as well as the demographics of your market. Content interviews and audience surveys are great tools for this step.
Don’t let great ideas fall flat. Create a process for turning new ideas into content. For example, you have an idea while out on a run – what next? What is the process for getting it out of your head, onto the screen, and into production? Outline this process step-by-step, even if it seems menial or obvious.
Stay updated on world events, market developments, and industry innovations. Subscribe to your local paper, read the New York Times, subscribe to industry-leading blogs.
Keep learning, keep practicing, keep growing with an apprentice mindset and attitude. Stay humble, stay open to learning new things. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become a master – the same applies to becoming a thought leader, too.
Don’t just wing it. Create a solid content marketing strategy that marries your audience’s questions with your innovative ideas and excellent keyword and competitor research.
You’re ready to ideate and start writing! Writing for thought leadership is hard. It takes time, effort, and practice. Here are some tips that will help you become a better writer.
You need to understand your subject matter before you start writing. If you don’t, you’ll end up with an article full of jargon and buzzwords.
Think about what makes thought leadership articles different from other kinds of articles. They’re usually longer than others, and they often contain more opinion and less fact. This means that you need to make sure that you’ve done enough research to back up your claims.
You should also keep your article short and sweet. Don’t try to cram too much into one article. Instead, focus on providing readers with just enough information so that they understand your point.
If you’re going to write an article, make sure you only cover one topic at a time, otherwise you’ll end up confusing your readers. This will help you avoid having multiple topics within one article.
You should also link out to other sources of information, such as websites, blogs, or social media accounts. This helps people find more information about the subject matter.
Becoming a thought leader means that people will listen when you speak. To become a thought leader, you need to learn how to communicate effectively in different situations.
If you want to become a thought leader, start by learning how to communicate effectively with others. You’ll also need to develop an understanding of what makes people tick. This includes knowing how to connect with them emotionally as well as intellectually.
Think about who you’re talking to when you’re communicating. Are you speaking to a group of people or just one individual? Do you speak to a wide range of people or only those who share similar interests? These questions will help you determine whether you should use different communication styles.
If you want to become a thought leader, you need to be consistent with what you say and how you say it. You also need to make sure you’re saying things that others agree with. This means being careful about what you post online and where you choose to publish your thoughts.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to become a thought leader is thinking that quantity is more important than quality. While there’s nothing wrong with posting lots of articles, tweets, and blog posts, you should only share high-quality content.
If you want to become a thought leader, you need to provide value to others. You need to help them solve problems, learn something new, or gain insight into an issue. This will allow you to build trust with your followers and establish yourself as a trusted source of knowledge.
You’re on your way to successful thought leadership – I can’t wait to see what you think up next.
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