Jeanine Moss, the cofounder of AnnaBis Style, believes that thought leadership is the ability to aggregate followers around ideas to educate, influence, and inspire. That remains one of the most succinctly expressed definitions of what all true thought leaders should aim to achieve.
This definition covers the necessity for not only sparking up intriguing conversations but having enough influence to get these views to the desired audience. Without that, thought leadership is not taking place. From years of doing thought leadership and curating working trends in the industry too, we have provided an ultimate guide to cementing your authority in your chosen industry.
The Numbers Behind Thought Leadership
Marketers are calculated in their every move. Now that marketing has become more of a science than it is an art, checking the numbers behind every decision is very important. The same can be said for thought leadership.
A lot of shiny things come and go in marketing. Thought leadership might recently have gained a lot of attention but it has been here for long.
Within that time, the numbers support the following benefits.
CMOs are tasked with getting in front of decision-makers with the content that they put out. This audience is not one to stick around with mediocre content. They are looking for the content that will wow them, challenge their ideologies, and present solutions that they never even thought about. They are looking for thought leadership content.
A LinkedIn study found that more decision-makers are getting increasingly engaged with thought leadership content. Sampling a survey space of over 1,200 respondents across Europe and North America, more than 58% spent multiple hours weekly reading thought leadership content.
The average top exec does not have a lot of time on their hands. They will not spend the little time they have on a below-par content. Once they identify your thought leadership stance, though, they know they will be spending that free time intuitively by dwelling on your content.
That leads us to the next point on this list.
Better Prospecting with Leads
It is one thing to solve the problem of getting in front of decision-makers. It is yet another thing to convert them. In the marketing business, ROI is key at the end of the day. Thought leadership also plugs into that mindset, facilitating the obtainment of more leads among C-suite executives.
The average consumer is wary of sharing their personal information even on a lead magnet. That cautiousness is multiplied higher when we go up the ladder to C-suite executives. Surprisingly, about 47% of these execs felt comfortable sharing their contact information after reading a thought leadership piece.
Conversely, 49% of B2B buyers claimed to have had diminished opinions of a brand after reading poor thought leadership content from them. This creates the delicate balance that means thought leadership should be done right if it is to be done at all.
Greater Sales Returns
Marketing ROI is not only a factor of the leads converted. While it is great to have all that new contact information coming in, a sale would have to be made at some point. Again, thought leadership handles this part of the business just fine. When done right, that is.
The LinkedIn study found that more than half (60%) of decision-makers awarded a decision to a firm based on the thought leadership they read from that firm. It gets more interesting. These decision-makers will sometimes invite companies that were not normally on their radar to bid on projects. This is common with about 45% of these C-suite executives.
A piece of content that is getting your brand into the meeting room with clients that were not previously considering you should be ramped up on.
Commanding Higher Value
Value comes in two ways. You can go for a premium on your pricing packages or just work towards the inherent value of the firm. With thought leadership, you don’t have to pick.
The last thing to worry about is how the market will react to a change in pricing due to the impact of your thought leadership. More than 60% of CEOs, CMOs and CFOs claim that they will pay a higher premium to the brands with a solid, clear thought leadership delivery. They value what they are getting more than the numbers attached to the dollar sign there.
Inherent value is not left out either. 83% of B2B buyers will have a deeper trust in your organization when you churn out authentic thought leadership content. Brand loyalty is everything, and this value-creation process gets you a ton of that. That leads us to the next point.
The cost of acquiring a customer differs by industry, but it can range from $7 (for the travel industry) to about $22 (for the consumer goods sector) or more.
Brands focus on retaining acquired customers so that they can keep getting more business from them without having to spend on acquiring them again. The margins from the existing consumer’s patronage – and the goodwill that the brand generates too – is often enough to offset the initial cost of acquisition.
Statistically, retention makes sense. A total of 65% of a company's business comes from its existing customer base, leaving a relatively meager 35% to the newer acquisitions. Suddenly, it all comes together that thought leadership helps a business retain at least, 55% of its consumer base – making it important yet again.
We could go on and on about how beneficial a good thought leadership presence can be for you. The numbers above are comprehensive enough to decide from, though.
Without expending more of your time, it’s about time we got into the process of gaining the brand authority that you deserve.
The Thought Leadership How-To
It is not every day that we come across thought leaders we want to emulate. The process to get to the top of that ladder is often an arduous (yet rewarding) one that many people do not take. Putting the right effort into the right places, though, the results will speak louder in a few.
We have distilled these processes into the following points:
1 Establish an Area of Expertise
Expertise creep is a serious problem facing plenty of industry big names today.
Being the face of a brand does not mean that you are expected to have an in-depth knowledge of every department within such an industry. Failing to see that results in venturing half-baked information, undermining any good thought leadership work leading up to that point.
Denise Brosseau, the CEO of Thought Leadership Lab, opines that thought leaders are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas.
That alone tells you all that you need before venturing out. Know what your strengths are, usually aligned with the industry and company goals. Establish that you have enough resources – both human and otherwise – to support this area of expertise.
2 Choose a Champion
Thought leadership thrives well on the back of authenticity. Following the section above, it is also an important tool to build the brand’s value and purpose into the hearts of its audience. That is why you should have a champion who not only embodies the expertise but is also authentic.
A common mistake to avoid is automatically designate the CEO as the thought leader. Not all CEOs are as deeply knowledgeable about their brands as they should be – and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Steve Jobs was a great CEO, but he could not have spearheaded a thought leadership campaign focused on the software aspect of what the Apple company does. Steve Wozniak would be best suited to that. Likewise, more than 63% of global citizens do not have vested trust in CEOs. It is also very likely that CEOs assume this role and champion it from a place of ego. That goes against the very core of thought leadership in itself.
In the words of Sam Fiorella, no one should ‘become thought leaders by trying to be one [as] that’s an external focus that only satisfies ego and blocks true enlightenment.’
3 Create a Strong Online Reputation
In the opening statement of this piece is a quote from Jeanine Moss. For emphasis, she explains how thought leadership itself works on the aggregation of followers. Otherwise, who are you delivering the content to?
You are not expected to build a following of ALL your possible target audience before you start. Having a sizeable number on hand before putting out your content, though, is a good way to go.
Creating a strong online presence will be helped by #1 on this list. Your followers will be attracted to you based on your area of expertise. Another wave of followers will come from your interaction with others in the social space.
No thought leader can get to the top of their game by not interacting with the desired audience steadily. Leveraging trends and news to spark conversations, join debates, and advance discussions will also get you a lot of followers.
4 Work with Influencers
This is not much of a deviation from the point above.
Your platforms (blog and social media) will only go so far in reaching your desired audience. We are not saying this to make you feel bad, but not everyone you want to reach even knows that your platform exists. That is not a bad thing – unless you let it remain so.
You should reach out to the platforms that your target audience is visiting and spread your content there.
Guest posting for these authority figures puts you out in front of a bigger audience. The best thing about this move is that you get to leverage the trust that the influencer’s readers have in them to push your brand. After all, hosting your content is almost a badge of trust that these influencers have put on you.
Work with influencers in the social media space too. These will help you to establish an even wider reach among a different set of audiences, boosting your social followership too. With more followers comes more shares. With more shares comes an even bigger reach – and the ripple effect just keeps on giving.
5 Get Personal
Reaching out to B2B buyers via thought leadership often leads the thought leader to adopt an impersonal tone. This makes it sound like a brand is talking to another company. That is not a bad idea, but it is not exactly great likewise.
Once in a while, show the human side of the brand and the face behind all that thought leadership. Get into relevant discussions on a personal level and let the audience see you for yourself.
A recent wave of protests supporting the BLM movement spread across different countries around the world. Some companies also took a stand with these protesters, and one of them is Amazon.
The CEO of the company got an unprintable email from a disgruntled buyer who was not happy with the company’s decision, and Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) took the opportunity to get into the discussion.
His succinct response to the email he got, followed by his professed support for the movement, could have all been done from the company’s official social accounts. Taking it into his own hands, though, Jeff was able to show the human side of the business.
We have known Jeff to be a laudable thought leader for a while, and this just takes that to a new level.
When getting personal, though, always remember that you are still acting in the best interests of the company. Never let personal ideologies cloud logic in these instances.
6 Solve Problems
Deloitte created the Insights thought leadership program to not only draw attention to the current trends and emerging changes in different markets but also offer dynamic solutions to problems too.
Globally, the company has a list of more than 250,000 professionals who support the Insights movement. In there, problems are solved for a range of companies from finance to technology. That is why their clients stay with them – and that is why the company remains trusted.
Deloitte can never be unseated from that position from a thought leader who only talks and never gets anything done. After all, it is easier to present hypotheses than tested and true theories. Going the entire mile to find a solution for your target market draws them closer to you over those thought leaders that only have something to say.
Everything that we have said so far makes it look like the thought leader is only one person.
The thought leadership champion can be one person, but there are a lot of people making that project work in the backgrounds.
A thought leadership program is as successful as the effectiveness of the team behind it. No matter how amazing a thought leader is, they can never do it all on their own.
There are also a series of things that they will miss when putting out their content. Our amazing editorial team at iResearch here save us a lot of headache with their amazing work before our thought leadership content goes out. Without them, we cannot do what we do properly.
Identify those that you will need. From social media experts, graphics design gurus, and editors to researchers, a solid team will make life very much easier for the thought leader. In fact, that means they can focus on their part of the job while leaving other things to the team to handle.
Start Working Today
Even with all of the above, the path to becoming a solid thought leader is not always rosy. Jessica Northey, the Director of Postgraduate Research at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University has this to say: “a thought leader is true to themselves even when others might laugh, disagree, or nay-say. They actually walk their talk. Be an original, share your enthusiasm, educate yourself on your industry, make enough room for others, be open to criticism, and don't get short-sighted.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
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