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The Complete Guide to Thought Leadership for SMEs

The Complete Guide to Thought Leadership for SMEs

Small and medium scale enterprises do not have the goodwill and standing of the more prominent players to drive sales. These big brands are not giving up on seeking higher market penetration, making the task even more daunting for SMEs.

There are a series of ways to get your products and services out there.

The traditional marketing approach is to go for email marketing channels, invest in PPCs, boost your SEO, and improve your content marketing channels. One prospect that is rarely discussed in SME circles, though, is thought leadership.

We already know that 58% of decision-makers in your target audience will choose a business based on thought leadership. That tells you all you need to know about why you should also get started today.

What is Thought Leadership?

The answer is well in the name, but we need to do a little bit of more prodding into the topic.

Let’s see it this way.

There are services, products, and offerings that are crucial to your business too. Those services/ products are particular to different industries. When you want to learn more about them or find an unconventional approach, there is most likely someone whose opinions you trust.

Such a person/ brand is a thought leader in that niche for you.

Thus, thought leadership is the series of steps and processes towards establishing yourself/ your brand as a force to be reckoned with. Thought leadership separates you from many other vendors and marketers by bringing fresh ideas and insights to the table.

Thought leadership does not answer how you can sell more – although it brings sales in the long run . What it does, instead, is ask the question of how you can help your clients more.

This looks to mean that a thought leader would be an expert in their field from all indications. After all, that is how they can better understand their industry for the required results. However, expertise alone is not enough.

A true thought leader will be passionate about what they are doing. Starting well is not as laudable as sustaining effective thought leadership for long. This is not a sprint, but one marathon that requires intentionality.

The thought leader knows that they are responsible for a set of audience that looks up to -them for insights and fresh content. They are not expected only to be there some of the time and disappear at will. Without such commitment, the thought leadership campaign is dead on arrival.

The Benefits of Thought Leadership

As an SME, you have no business putting hands in cookie jars that will not generate ROI. You do not have the luxury of time and resources that the more prominent brands do. If it doesn’t contribute to short-term growth while setting a template for long-term expansions, we don’t recommend it.

On that basis, how does thought leadership compare?

1. Reach

Already, 35% of all decision-makers concede that they spend at least an hour (and up to three hours) consuming thought leadership content daily. This must be some vital hours from their day, and we are sure they won’t leave it out for some mediocre content.

The internet space is awash with a lot of content, and the information overload problem is growing. Helping these decision-makers combat that problem is giving them something worth their time to keep coming back for more.

With effective thought leadership content and campaign, you establish yourself as a go-to resource for these decision-makers to spend their hour better.

2. Filtering

Buying is an emotional decision that has logical sides to it too.

The logical aspect boils down to filtering out many options until you find which one works best for you. Thought leadership gets you a foot in the door here also.

Up to 55% of decision-makers claim to use thought leadership content in their vetting process. Even if your business is doing fine, you could still always lose profitable business to competition with better thought leadership.

This is one situation where you cannot afford to sit on the fence either.

With poor thought leadership, you are most definitely going to lose profitable business to other brands. You can choose to avoid lousy thought leadership by not doing it at all. Unfortunately, you would still be losing business to brand with good thought leadership.

3. Exposure

Do you know how hard it can be to generate B2B leads? Have you taken the time to study the rigor to get your target audience’s contact information in the B2B market, either?

When you, thus, find something that promises to make 47% of C-suite executives willingly share their contact information with you, it’s worth pursuing. That something is thought leadership.

The clause to this, though, is that the thought leadership has to be of quality. This encourages the C-suite players to want to know you more and learn more from you.

We don’t know about you, but that sounds like the beginning of a beneficial business arrangement.

4. Premium

Thought leaders are not scared to place a premium on the products and services that they offer.

They have shown their workings time and over, so they know their clients are getting value from every financial commitment they make.

It is one thing to place a premium on your offerings – and another thing for your clients to be willing to pay that premium. This is where the disconnect happens in most market scenarios. That is one go-to-market strategy discussion for another day.

A research piece uncovered that 61% of decision-makers wouldn’t mind paying a premium to work with brands that have demonstrated a clear thought leadership vision.

Read that again: your clients will be delighted to pay you more than you might even be charging to have a shot at working with you.

It doesn’t get better than that.

Creating a Thought Leadership Strategy

We have maintained two constants from the beginning of this piece.

  • That thought leadership holds a lot of promise for your brand; and
  • That effective thought leadership takes planning and being intentional.

It would be best if you did not get started with any thought leadership without a strategy. As an SME, you don’t have to pull out all the stops to corner an audience, build authority, and start getting paid the dividends of thought leadership.

The first thing to know is that you don’t have to be the thought leader for the brand, even if you are the brand owner.

For example, Elon Musk is a serial entrepreneur who has investments in the space business and the electric vehicle market. Mr. Musk does not indicate having undergone any particular pieces of training in any of both niches.

Thus, it would be wrong for him to discuss rocket science and technology when there are more capable hands on board.

That does not make the brand lesser than it is. It just shows that you have the right talents to handle the needs of the client.

Furthermore, there is a need for agile teams  behind the thought leadership process. The thought leader might be the campaign’s face, but they cannot do the work alone.

Effective thought leadership comes with research, data analytics, outreach, social media management, and more. While the thought leader can wear multiple hats sometimes, they should not have to.

Create a budget for the thought leadership team and get the hands to make it happen on board.

The place for an agile team becomes more prominent when you consider:

  • The need to always stay on trends and put out timely content to generate conversions; and
  • The need to conduct in-depth research to uncover insights for the target audience.

None is more important than the other. They have to be done alongside lest you lose standing on one side of your thought leadership, creating an imbalance that upsets the entire wheel.

Finally, choose where your content will be published for the best effect. That takes significant market research to identify where the bulk of your target market is so that you get to reach them better and faster.

Identifying the Right Content Types

Everything rests on content.

On the one hand, you know that you have to put out quality content.

However, that is just a blanket term for all the kinds of content out there. You can as well deliver quality content that will be useless to your target audience later.

So, what kind of content makes for effective thought leadership?

We have done an extensive piece on the right content mix for thought leadership on this blog. We shared unique insights into the modes of content to go for, leaving you to choose the content vehicles (video, text, images, etc.) that best resonates with your audience.

As long as you have your content delivery channels and vehicles set, you can leverage the content mix guide to know what to put out per time.

Troubleshooting Thought Leadership

The path to success in thought leadership marketing also involves knowing what to avoid.

To recap from the above points, choosing a wrong thought leader can undermine the entire project.

The thought leader needs to have a passion for the niche and industry.

They should also be experts with critical problem-solving skills, able to ask and answer questions that the clients have not even thought about. They should also be willing to advance discussions while possessing the right analytical skills to provide unique takes on trends and news.

That sounds like a tall list, but it is the barest minimum that natural thought leaders embody.

Consistency is also a mistake that we have seen with many thought leaders.

If your content mix requires blogs and research-based reports, establish a comfortable timeframe to put such out. If your blogs are going out twice a week and your reports get published once per quarter, keep to that.

Never introduce your audience to an energy that you have no plans of maintaining. If anything, the only place that energy should go is up.

Finally, do not get into thought leadership for the wrong reasons.

We have seen a series of thought leaders go on an ego trip with this. Instead of making the message about their audience, they explore every opportunity to center the narrative around themselves. There is nothing wrong with proof of work and process, but that is not what will help your audience solve their unique problems.

In the same vein, define what you want to get out of your thought leadership before you start at all.

Is your goal to woo new clients? Do you want more reach and exposure? Are you planning on replacing your relative newness to the market with proof of knowing your craft, using thought leadership? Are you only interested in the sales it can bring you?

It would be wrong to lie to yourself about your goals for starting. This leads to conflicting deliverables and metrics, causing the entire strategy to implode.

As we have said before, this is a marathon. Following the templates here, you are well equipped to see that marathon to the end.

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