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Thought Leadership: What Is It and Should You Do It?

Suzy DeLine

Suzy DeLine

April 5, 2016

Last fall, a client contacted EM Marketing to ask what we thought of “Thought Leadership” as a strategy to achieve a certain goal. To best answer their question, we set about looking at all the best practices around this topic.

Let’s start with a definition of what a “Thought Leader” is, exactly. A Forbes article states it well:

“A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

Lightbulb

Yep. A respected, go-to authority figure. Next step: going from being a thought leader to being able to run a thought leadership campaign. I like this checklist from Thinkshift’s blog:

  1. You have thoughts. (Maybe a little snarky, but not a step to be skipped over lightly!)
  2. You have an audience. (Again, not to be assumed!)
  3. You have a platform. (A Facebook page counts.)
  4. You can create content. (Perhaps the most important factor.)
  5. You are committed. (This applies to any strategy, right?)

So, as a content marketing junkie, I’d like to jump to Step 4, but we should look at all five campaign aspects more closely.

Your Thoughts

With a clear idea of your company’s (or product line’s) value proposition and most effective messaging, you have a good start. But take this a step further and think about what your specific focus will be for a campaign.

B2B Digital Marketing recognizes that approaching your efforts as a campaign will help you allocate the appropriate resources to be effective in thought leadership. In particular, I like their concept of “Find Your Jamie,” that is, the face of your company that serves as the primary thought leader for this campaign.

Your Audience

Your current audience — customers, current leads, competitors — may already have a view of you. They are important. But a campaign in this area can help you think of other audiences with which to share useful thoughts.

Your Platform

Your blog and social media channels can be good organizing tools for your campaign, but don’t limit yourself to readers you already have. Platforms could include your partner channels, media outlets, conferences and third-party publishing platforms like Medium and YouTube. Positioning yourself as an expert source for journalists is another avenue — and a whole other topic.

Your Content

You got me. This is why I started researching this topic… I am a sucker for all things content marketing. If you have a content marketing program already in place, odds are you have most of the above sorted out. Specific content, usually custom research reports, help establish thought leadership bona fides. They’re great additions to existing content calendars.

Your Commitment

This to me is the key component for success in any campaign. Start with a clear idea of what success looks like, the steps you’ll take to get there, and of course, the right resources to allocate — this all equals commitment.

The best thought leaders are focused and passionate about their topics of expertise. They share their knowledge selflessly. They ask questions, respond to feedback and exchange ideas. They not only build their business and expand their world, they learn as they go. Think of your program in those terms and you’ll have what it takes to succeed.

In addition to the articles quoted above, if you’re considering kicking off a thought leadership campaign, I found these two resources valuable as well:

  1. The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership has many best practices, examples and a lot of background to help get your team aligned on the process.
  2. Forbes Insights’ Using Thought Leadership to Grow white paper is a good guide to developing content specifically geared towards working with partners on your sales team.

So, to answer the question posited in the title, if you love what your company does and want to make the most of your content marketing — then YES! (And feel free to contact EM Marketing if you’d like to brainstorm how this might work for you.)

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