Delivering on thought leadership

Most, if not all, of you reading this have clients that want to be a "thought leader" in their respective industry. We also all know why it's worth it. But do we all know how to successfully make it happen?

Most, if not all, of you reading this have clients that want to be a “thought leader” in their respective industry. We also all know why it's worth it. But do we all know how to successfully make it happen?

No matter how you look at it, the people or businesses that lead with regular advice, useful information, and provide helpful tips get more traffic and more business. These thought leaders set themselves apart from the competition and provide true value – like Michael Lazerow, Steve Rubel, or David Berkowitz, for instance. And notice, you don't even have to mention the place of employment for these thought leaders since they've achieved name brand recognition.

The point of thought leadership is to cultivate it. It is a title that you do not claim yourself; rather it is given to you by your target audience because you have earned it.

Thought leadership is often a team effort and results in ideas that can be marketed (e.g. content marketing) and used with clients.

There is no denying that developing a thought-leadership position is worthy in today's socially connected world. It delivers:

  • Authority - positioning your client as an expert;
  • Social proof – demonstrations of expertise, evidence through reviews, and other social commentary;
  • Scarcity - can position your client as the only person to talk about a topic and therefore a rare commodity for media or journalists;
  • Influence – it is what persuades people to like or follow and buy, and for that reason it provides commercial value

The key to remember is that unless you try, you will never get there. Therefore, you need to start somewhere and recognize your specialty (or cultivate those that have it within the organization). In these best cases, thought leaders are often but not always the innovators, the ones that take a different or contrarian point of view.

Now this all sounds grand, but how do you actually apply it to clients and their business, their content and their audience.

One of the core principles of marketing is to differentiate. If you have a passion for your clients' business, and you know who you are targeting, then you will attract those that want to hear what your client executives have to say. Businesses that clearly define their audience and their purpose perform better than those that simply fudge it. If you have read any of the books by Jim Collins such as Good to Great, he talks about defining what makes brands great. One element is understanding your difference and being good at it.

Your clients have thoughts and opinions that make them unique. I have been amazed at how some people really under-value their expertise, yet are clearly way ahead in terms of their thinking and provide real value to their clients. Being a thought leader takes time and involves developing and marketing ideas through content and communication channels.

Here are some ways you can develop a plan to position your client's business or CEO as a thought leader:

  1. Provide insights and generally be highly creative in spotting and solving problems – some of the best bloggers and thought leaders do both.
  2. Take a view on a popular trend and create a unique angle on it – i.e. own it. Back it up with a logical argument, contrarian POV, or data.
  3. Work with clients, customers, and users to co-create new ideas and foster innovation - plan it and make it a part of what you do.
  4. Curate content but make sure to include a stamp of identity on it – i.e. your client's unique personality and thoughts.
  5. Sponsor research in your client's market or conduct original research.

This main thing to remember is to lead with ideas. These ideas should often be experimental and involve others in your community to gain feedback and build on them.

Working in a bubble rarely works for people; it is often through discussions and being open to others that ideas take shape.

The important part to remember when it comes to thought leadership is how to harness what everybody else sees and may already know and make it your own.

Harrison Wise is president of Wise Public Relations.

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