What is thought leadership?
Like most buzzwords, thought leadership is an often misused and misunderstood term. But what is it really? And why do you need to consider developing and publishing thought leadership.
2013 may finally be the year when content marketing becomes a mainstream discipline in marketing departments. Thought leadership is a key component of content marketing. So let’s nail down what it is, why you need it and the steps to get it right.
What Is Thought Leadership?
To highlight the problem with most buzzwords, Wikipedia calls thought leadership “business jargon.” And defines it as content that is recognized by others as innovative, covering trends and topics that influence an industry.
This post here on Forbes went so far as to define a Thought Leader as a person or firm that is not only recognized but also who profits from the recognition of authority.
And just recently, Daniel Rasmus provided this definition:
Thought leadership should be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.
To me, Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience.
While it can include your unique perspective on hot topics relevant for your customers, the key for me is that the agenda is set by your audience. They determine what the questions are. You simply need to answer them. So your level of authority is really determined by how well you answer those most important questions.
Why Is Thought Leadership important?
Thought leadership is important for both Consumer (B2C) and B2B companies but I think it is especially important in B2B (Business-to-Business). This is because of the complexity and length of the decision-making process in B2B environments and the large number of people involved.
Thought leadership content can help anyone involved in the business decision making process to gain alignment across their company regarding the problems they are facing. It can help them to “name” the problem.
For marketers, Thought Leadership allows us to define the category of our solution in customer terms. I believe branding is all about being associated with the questions our buyers are asking.
Where Does Thought Leadership Come From?
Thought Leadership can come from any source – executives, customers, product managers, designers, customer service reps, sales people. We all have knowledge, experience and a point of view.
But ultimately, thought leaders need to inspire our buyers to act – to take the next step in their journey. Of course, the challenge is in the telling!
What Are The Benefits Of Thought Leadership?
The benefits of Thought leadership start with brand affinity. By communicating thought leadership you become part of the conversation, early in the buying journey. You allow your audience to get to know you.
Ultimately, Thought Leadership is one of the outcomes of a solid Content Strategy. And content is bigger than marketing. Leaders are everywhere. Expose your thought leaders and you begin the process of becoming a social business – real people with real faces talking to real customers and buyers.
How To Create Thought Leadership That Drives Results?
- Identify the questions your customers are asking. Identify them all. Then prioritize them.
- Answer those questions across multiple formats and multiple channels in a way that adds value to your audience. Start with the most important and work your way down the list. All you have to do is have the right content to answer the basic questions.
- You gotta “Give to Get” so do not promote or put registration hurdles in front of your thought leadership content.
- Make it interesting. My SAP colleague Timo Elliott calls this the “Return on Interesting” that you get when your content rises above the noise of all the boring, overly-promotional, gated content that is bombarding your audience. Educate them? Yes. But try to entertain them in the process. Tell stories. Use examples.
- Invite customers to participate: I love the idea of interviewing customers to create content or curating content from other sources while adding your own perspective.