During this period of business uncertainty due to the COVID pandemic, I have spoken and written about the need to do the tough but valuable work to help you and your company come out of the other side stronger and in a better position vs your competition. You can listen to the replay of my Sales Expert Channel presentation on this, How to Grow Your B2B Business in Challenging Times.
This is definitely a great time to embark on a thought leadership initiative. I also refer to this as becoming a “branded authority”. Thought leaders (individuals and/or companies) are those that the marketplace has perceived as having unique, valuable and specialized knowledge about a particular industry, skill or specialty. Business thought leaders command higher fees, experience reduced sales cycles, and often have the luxury of choosing their clients/customers.
There are nine essential requirements to achieve and maintain thought leadership:
- Thought. You are probably thinking, no kidding. But I mean that you can’t take this issue lightly and put out mediocre or even average quality content. It’s a process that requires intensive research and deep analysis.
- Leadership. By leadership, I mean that you can’t just regurgitate what others are saying. You need to bring some new ideas to the table and show that of all the companies/people in your industry, you are one of the few who deserve branded authority recognition.
- Creativity. This requirement goes hand in hand with leadership and benefits from outside-the-box thinking. But do make sure your ideas resonate with the target audience. I advise my clients to stay at the leading edge, but not the so-called bleeding edge, to maintain credibility.
- Persistence. In some industries, it is possible to achieve a degree of thought leadership in six to eight months. In others, it may take as long as a decade. Either way, you must commit to staying the course. Throwing out a handful of articles or blog posts, no matter how well crafted, will usually not get the job done.
- Time. Applying occasional leadership and creativity is great but you still need to put in many hours of research, writing, editing and so forth.
- Audience. Before embarking on a thought leadership initiative, make sure there are enough individuals/companies who have interest in your subject matter. It can be discouraging to write or speak about what you consider important topics and find that you have very few readers or listeners.
- Content. Having written approximately 300 blog posts over the past 10 years, plus numerous white papers, presentations, podcasts and webinars, I know how tough it can be to come up with a steady stream of fresh content. My areas of expertise (revenue growth and B2B marketing) require more content because they are highly competitive but in almost all industries, a steady stream of content will be necessary to rise above the noise level.
- Analysis. Analysis is not a one-time activity. As mentioned above, you will need to research your industry and target market before embarking on your thought leadership initiative. But you then need to stay on top of the marketplace and trends on an ongoing basis and also measure the impact of your content in areas like views, shares, likes, comments, etc.
- Intention. Although there are exceptions, most thought leaders set out on a well-organized path to be recognized as one of the best (preferably the best) in their field. They are not shy about touting their expertise and realize that some degree of self-promotion is usually necessary to rise to the top.
The Role of Content Marketing
There is often confusion between content marketing and thought leadership and sometimes people see these as the same discipline. However, this is not the case. While content marketing supports thought leadership, much of the content a company produces is routine information about products, specifications, reviews, general industry information, and so forth. This type of content is part of the routine marketing and sales process, while thought leadership content should be special, unique and strategic.
As I discussed in the article, How to Use Content Marketing to Establish B2B Thought Leadership, there are seven essential questions about content marketing that need to be answered by you and your team in the analysis phase of the process.
- Can we be industry thought leaders? Perhaps you see the benefits of being a thought leader/branded authority but aren’t sure how to get there.
- If we decide to establish thought leadership, what do we talk about?
- Can we create enough quality content to differentiate ourselves?
- Who is the individual or individuals who will take a thought leader role?
- How do we get people to read our content?
- How do we get people to engage with our company?
- How do we measure results and improve over time?
They say that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the second-best time is today. Exactly the same thing is true with thought leadership.