In many ways, thought leadership feels like a double-edged sword.
88% of decision makers say thought leadership content impacts how they perceive companies. Yet only 17% say the thought leadership content they consume is “very good” or “excellent.”
Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of organizations have no method for tracking the sales impact of their thought leadership content.
Decision makers need thought leadership content from you. You know you must create thought leadership content. But you have no clue how to create effective thought leadership and track the results.
What’s a thought leader to do? Research. Research is the only way to find a niche where your audience needs your expertise and you’ll never run out of topics.
How to Create Thought Leadership That Stands Out from Competitors
Unfortunately, too many thought leaders use the wrong strategy to set themselves apart from the competition.
They study other thought leaders in their industry and try to one-up everything their competitors publish. This strategy leaves you riding your competition’s coattails – not setting yourself apart as an independent thought leader.
Instead, use research to find a place you can truly shine on your own.
1. Take a Stand but Back It Up with Research
Edginess for its own sake is never a good look. Who are you trying to impress?
Taking a stand is fine and good but it must be backed up by thorough research. Who stands to gain from your opinion? Why do they need to hear it? How will it help them improve their business?
Shouting a controversial opinion can be a super shrewd move under the right circumstances. Ten years ago, there were thought leaders many called crazy when they discussed AI, for example, but today we see all their predictions coming true. Those thought leaders weren’t crazy – they used their expertise and research to form unusual opinions.
2. Figure Out What Matters to Your Audience
Your competitors aren’t the ones buying your product or services. Don’t create thought leadership content to impress them.
The only opinion that matters is that of your audience. Specifically, your leads and customers.
Most values are subjective. Your company isn’t the right flavor for everyone and that’s fine. If you try to please everyone in your thought leadership content, you’ll never create material people truly remember.
Figure out what matters to your audience segments, how it overlaps with your company values, and base your thought leadership around those ideals.
3. Study the Current Thought Leaders
You can’t stand out from the competition if you don’t know who the competition is.
It’s also a futile fight constantly trying to outdo your industry’s well-established and respected thought leaders.
Research your industry’s thought leaders. Find out what your target audience loves and dislikes about them. Pick one or two niches that have nothing to do with those thought leaders in your industry. It’s much easier to stand out when you aren’t competing with similar writers for the same space.
4. Find the Right Subject Matter Experts for Podcasts
You know what they say: If you can’t beat them, join them.
Other thought leaders in your industry don’t have to be the enemy. In fact, when you pick a niche they don’t cover, you can partner with them for podcasts and other talk forums.
Subject matter experts are the secret ingredient behind effective podcasts. They help you demonstrate your own knowledge in discussions and explore new audiences.
5. Share Your Own Research
Qualitative/quantitative research, surveys, questionnaires – these are all vital for guiding your topics and creating thought leadership. However, it’s also useful to share this knowledge.
Sharing your own research is a goldmine for backlinks and referrals – both of which boost your credibility and extend your reach to new audiences. Make sure to display your research with stunning visualizations like interactive charts, infographics, and graphs.
Original research shows you’re committed to staying on top of the industry’s changing expectations and environment.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Compare Yourself to the Competition
77% of buyers say their last purchase decision was “very complex” or even difficult. You can stand out from competitors by creating thought leadership content that makes their life easier.
For example, customers are 3x more likely to close a bigger deal with less post-purchase regret when you provide empowering content.
Product comparisons are where it’s at.
Not only do product comparisons highlight your benefits and features, but they also demonstrate your honesty. If your product falls short in one area but makes up for it somewhere else, say so or explain how you’re working to improve.
7. Find Your Thought Leadership Voice
Your thought leadership voice is your own and no one can take it away from you. But as with all other aspects of thought leadership, you should develop your voice based on comprehensive research.
Does your audience want reassurance or innovation? Friendliness or technical? Witty or professional?
Think of your thought leadership voice as an editorial line. It should be consistent enough to build trust but flexible enough to adapt as the industry changes.
8. Publish on the Right Platforms
It’s much easier to stand out from the competition when you aren’t fighting them for space on the same blogs, podcasts, and social media groups.
Developing your own niche allows you to find your place on distinct platforms too.
Consider yourself as a journalist – where will you publish? Outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post all accept op-eds from distinguished individuals. Pick the month’s hottest topic in your industry and become a frequent contributor.
Don’t pick the outlets where you want to see your byline. Figure out what outlets your audience reads and go there.
Prioritize Comprehensive Research Every Time You Create Thought Leadership Content
Every decision you make as a thought leader should be backed by comprehensive research – who you target, the types of content you create, problems you solve, who you partner with, etc.
Research is the only way to find a niche where you can let your expertise shine as an independent thought leader – and you’ll never run out of topic ideas.
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