The strategic advantages of establishing that your business is replete with thought leaders are almost too numerous to detail. Being seen and, most importantly, trusted as an individual or company that really understands a market and has a visionary view of its future – confirmed through being proven correct on several occasions – goes a long way toward shaping and influencing not only the course of the company but in some cases, the course of an industry sector. The conversations and trends within their respective domains.
What many non-visionaries don’t fully grasp is that thought leadership is much more than traditional marketing. It requires the generation and dissemination of content that is judged to be both valuable and original. Not a simple repetition of known facts or opinions. Although, you use them in juxtaposition with new ideas. Ultimately, thought leadership is about inspiring others, whether they be customers, colleagues, or industry peers. Loyalty and trust are often byproducts of thought leadership that pay dividends far beyond the original discourse.
Are there ways to gain positive public perception?
There are many ways to establish, demonstrate and maintain a public perception of thought leadership skills through writing articles, publishing white papers, presenting keynote speeches, being a panelist at industry conferences, hosting webinars, or appearing in media interviews, to name a few. They all, however, have an endgame in mind, and that is to build a respected brand, establish credibility, and be seen as a catalyst for positive change within an industry.
However, thought leadership doesn’t necessarily come naturally. It requires a genuine and deep-rooted knowledge of an industry, a thirst for knowledge about current circumstances, near- and longer-term trends, and a desire to help shape that future. Not everyone has this overt interest. But, there are almost always individuals – or even groups – of employees deeply invested in an industry’s future and their company’s place in it. For B2B purposes, mining and leveraging these people’s knowledge is essential. It’s essential to enhance their reputation, attract new opportunities, and gain a competitive advantage.
But does thought leadership work?
If completed properly, absolutely, but the degree of its effectiveness varies depending on the industry sector, the target audience, and, frankly, the perceived quality of the information and opinion posited. The introduction of screw caps? Not thought leadership. It was just a good idea, albeit a good idea born of someone who originally thought of and championed its well-executed implementation.
What do you stand to gain from establishing a reputation for thought leadership?
First and foremost, thought leaders gain hard-won credibility. Established thought leaders – with an emphasis on “established” – enhance their reputation and acquire credibility in the form of increased trust from peers, fellow professionals, customers, and stakeholders.
Thought leadership helps individuals and organizations be more consistently recognized in a crowded market. Being sought out from amongst that crowd to share perspectives expertise and ideas is even better and increases brand recognition and differentiation.
Thought leaders draw a crowd. An engaged and loyal following increases visibility and presents numerous new opportunities for collaboration and partnership. This visibility is a cornerstone of generating new business opportunities with potential clients, customers, and investors.
Coupled with their credibility, thought leaders have influence. You can never underestimate the power of an influential thought leader on your team. Nurturing their ability to connect with decision-makers, policymakers, and other stakeholders can profoundly impact a specific organization, broader industry, or even global perceptions.
So, just become a thought leader and everything will be OK, right?
No. Thought leadership is not a quick fix. Establishing a good reputation and gaining credibility takes a sustained and consistent effort over time. Moreover, that consistency must be coupled with verifiable content through multiple engagements over time. Credibility and reputation are hard won and easily lost. So, being proven to have consistently useful and broadly accurate insights are essential to be taken seriously.
Can I quantify what qualifies as thought leadership?
Well, yes and no. It’s true that the availability of masses of data and the ability to analyze it has changed the game in terms of traditional B2B marketing. Plus, a great deal of information is now almost immediately available to determine what will resonate with a target market. But that doesn’t directly equate to thought leadership or credibility. “Because the data said so” lacks the human insights that people look to thought leaders for. Thought leadership is subjective and is therefore a “soft skill” intangible that must be developed and, frankly, earned through the consistent dissemination of high-quality, eventually proven insights.
You can, however, become a thought leader. It’s (not so) easy if you try.
Becoming a thought leader requires a dedicated, consistent effort over time. But the sooner you make a start, the sooner you’ll make a difference.
Start by precisely defining your area of expertise and study it religiously. Your deep understanding and individual interpretation will be what differentiates you from all the others studying that field.
You do this by being a perpetual student. Staying across the latest trends, the newest research, and the most interesting developments in your field – some of which you may have introduced – will establish respect for you as an expert. Try never to miss a conference, webinar, or workshop and, ideally, expand your knowledge. Additionally, seize the opportunity to share your vision.
Use your presumably unique insights to identify areas no one is talking about but should be. Your fresh perspective, which should, whenever practical, include being provocative – even counter to the prevailing trends – will make you a sought-after speaker or panelist.
Once you get a position behind a podium or a seat on the dais, illustrate your expertise with equally professionally prepared visuals. Even the best articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, or whitepaper presentations diminish by amateurish supporting material. If you want individuals and organizations to perceive you as an expert, look like one.
The road most traveled
The thought leadership journey is an ongoing and highly rewarding pursuit, but it requires dedication and genuine passion. Augmenting those personal skills with an equally professional agency to help capitalize on the many formats and platforms available for reputation and influence building and shorten that journey and make it even more enjoyable. But it will still require patience and persistence.
Additionally, it takes communicating deeper levels of understanding. These will set you and your organization apart.
Featured Image Credit: Unsplash; Thank you!