Thought Leadership How-To

Thought Leadership: How To Do It

You’ve made a decision to take your business game to the next level. You know a thought leadership campaign will get you there. So, how do you do it?

How to Develop a Thought Leadership Campaign

If it’s a sales pitch, it’s not thought leadership.

“True thought leadership starts with empathy,” said Brian Solis, a principal analyst at Altimeter Group and author of What’s the Future of Business (WTF). “Can you tell me the top ten problems your audience has at any given time? How about the top ten aspirations? Are you thinking through where your audience wants to be, compared with where the market is going? That’s what inspires me. Someone who is honestly trying to better understand the people they are trying to help.”

To establish an effective thought leadership campaign, follow these five simple steps:

  1. Know your audience—as it relates to your business and beyond, what’s on their minds?
  2. Consult the experts—ask the most knowledgeable people on your team for their advice. Keep asking.
  3. Structure a thought leadership content strategy map—what are your goals? What expectations are realistic? What topics should you cover that matter to your audience and fall within your team’s expertise?
  4. Write it. Publish it.
  5. Continue the conversation—how did your audience react? If they didn’t react, where did the distribution fall apart? Tracking emails, downloads, retweets, likes, etc. can help you learn more about your audience’s thoughts and needs.
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Continue the conversation: How many people is your content reaching? What is the audience saying? What can you do to further distribute your content through reshares and backlinks? Credit: firstsiteguide.com

Writing and publishing may be the shortest item in that list, but will require an ongoing commitment. Maintaining a blog can be an extremely effective way to get your whitepapers and infographics to your audience.

Caption: Look at the bright side! Firstsiteguide.com shows blog posts, case studies, and long form copy (printed or posted articles around 1,200 words) are both effective and relatively easy to produce. That makes these forms of content especially attractive whether starting or maintaining thought leadership campaigns.
Look at the bright side! Firstsiteguide.com shows blog posts, case studies, and long-form copy (printed or posted articles around 1,200 words) are both effective and relatively easy to produce. That makes these forms of content especially attractive, whether starting or maintaining thought leadership campaigns.

 

How to Write a Thought Leadership Article (Whitepaper, Blog…)

An effective thought leadership article needs to have perspective, content, and a path forward. Remember, if it’s a sales pitch, it’s not thought leadership. But if your content fails to connect your company with value to your audience, you’ve missed the mark.

Perspective means having a deep, well-researched understanding of your target audience and customer base. Who are you trying to reach? What do you know about them?

The content is the article itself. It should showcase your company’s understanding of its customers, show how products and services benefit those customers, and build relationships with them for the long term.

A path forward is an action point for the reader to seek solutions to business problems through your company.

A 2014 study showed 85 percent of B2B (business-to-business) marketing leaders did not connect their content to business value (2014 Forrester Research/Business Marketing Association/Online Marketing Institute study). The study found that while nearly 75 percent self-reported using customer stories and case studies in their content, only three percent said it was a primary focus. Just 12 percent said publishing research and expert perspectives was the main focus of their content marketing. And only five percent said frequent communication with their customer base was a priority.

These marketing leaders were missing huge opportunities to utilize their case studies, a type of content both highly effective and easy to produce—or even already produced! With attention and focus, a minimal amount of effort disseminating the case studies could have reaped huge rewards in achieving thought leadership goals.

Ready to write? Let’s get started.

Good research, excellent writing, and unforgettable style are all components of an effective thought leadership article.

Start your research by gathering available information. Does your company already have research or experts on your subject? Past brochures or interviews? Take it a step further: Could you interview sources at a business closely tied with yours, or satisfied customers who can speak to realistic results of working with your company? And please remember that while, yes, everyone loves Wikipedia, no, you may not use it as a source.

When it comes to the actual writing, there are plenty of sources available to help improve your craft. If you love your subject, all you may need is a helpful editor to lend a second pair of eyes and clear up any rough spots. Not up to the task of the actual writing? You can always outsource it. But if you’re comfortable with grammar basics and able to fluently translate your industry’s jargon, great! Get writing!

Now the big question: What type of content do you write? As you start brainstorming articles, papers, or posts that will matter to your audience, think about what type of content will further your business goals.

  • Is your goal branding? Your content style is presence.
  • Is your goal trust and transparency? Your content style is window.
  • Are you marketing your expertise? Your content style is currency.
  • Are you interested in joining together like-minded people? Your content style is community.
  • Are you providing customer service? Your content style is support.
These brands are nailing their content strategies. Credit: Altimeter@Prophet
These brands are nailing their content strategies. Credit: [email protected]

Now, think about the style and tone of your piece. What publications do you admire and want to emulate? Is the writing formal or conversational? Crisp or punchy?

And always include a simple infographic, video, even a photo—anything to engage with your audience at a visual level and increase shares on social media. A meaty, fact-filled whitepaper is great… unless it puts your audience to sleep. Consider resurrecting dense prose into logical infographics when appropriate. Make it simple, and make it memorable. If you can deliver information more simply in a crisp diagram, you probably should.

If you can get a lot of information across more simply with a simple, crisp infographic, you should. Credit: H-57 Creative Station
If you can get a lot of information across more simply with a simple, crisp infographic, you should. Credit: H-57 Creative Station

 

Stand Out from the Crowd

With many companies vying for position as thought leaders, keeping an eye on the competition can mean the difference between emerging victorious… or irrelevant.

First, identify a handful of competitors in your specialization, companies or people trying to reach your same audience. What are the most effective thought leaders doing differently from the rest of the competition? Analyze their audience’s responses. What are they doing well? What could they do better? Learn from them.

Scoping out competitors can help you structure your own thinking and goals. Take what you learned from the above exercise and put it to work:

  • The Step Strategy—Model your work off the competition, but do it a little better.
  • The Superiority Strategy—Boldly challenge competitors by branding your business solutions far superior within the same field.
  • The Innovative Strategy—This strategy side-steps conflict with innovative intellectual capital.

 

Social Media: Do I Have to?

You really do. And why wouldn’t you? The only cost associated with social media is the time and staff to stay engaged. That can lead to a huge return on investment (ROI). Follow these five pointers to promote your thought leadership through social media.

We’ll talk more about social media in the conclusion of our thought leadership series. Until then, we’re Socially Devoted to You! Credit: Demandforce
We’ll talk more about social media in the conclusion of our thought leadership series. Until then, we’re Socially Devoted to You! Credit: Demandforce
  • Target your audience—knowing your audience is crucial in every aspect of thought leadership and business, especially social media.
  • Provide solutions—social media users are seeking answers to their problems. Use your thought leadership to provide what they need.
  • Convert visitors to customers—this is that critical link between presenting information to your target audience, and providing your readers with an action point. They’ve come to you for a solution, so here’s an opportunity for you to provide what they need through your business: a discount or free product, a special offer for social media users; something to inspire them to hitch their wagon to yours.
  • Transparency—this is key for building trust. You want your readers to see your genuine concern. Dealing with people honestly and with integrity, in social media’s ever-public setting, can showcase trustworthiness.
  • Responsiveness—your customers, whether individuals or other businesses, need to feel heard. Knowing their concerns matter to you leads to their loyalty to your brand. This is another area where social media’s real-time involvement can make or break your long-term customer relationships.

Starting a social media campaign—much less a thought leadership initiative—may seem overwhelming to the uninitiated. But the proven return on investments from social media can’t be ignored. Scary or not, social media should be an integral part of every thought leadership campaign.

Up Next: Selling Thought Leadership to Your Team, featuring an exclusive interview with Brian Solis, Principal Analyst with Altimeter, a Prophet company.

Also See: Why You Need a Thought Leadership Campaign Now

Think It Through: Why You Need Thought Leadership Now

You’re thinking about retirement. You pick up a magazine, read some articles, and then call an investor.

You’re looking for ways to better manage your team at work. You get an email about team management with a link to a blog post. It has some great ideas that will work for your situation.

You are researching IT solutions for your company. You find plenty of articles online and quickly find a company that can help.

These are all examples of encountering thought leadership. Whole Foods, Ford, Vanguard, and J.P. Morgan are all companies investing in thought leadership to connect with businesses and customers on a relational level and turn business transactions into an ongoing conversation. Thought leadership builds trust with customers and turns one-off transactions into a lifelong company loyalty.

What is thought leadership, exactly?

A thought leader is, simply, an expert. It can be a single person or an entire business, so long as their expertise is recognized by others in their field. The term dates to the late 1880s, when abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher was described as one of America’s great thought leaders, but it has become popularized in contemporary business jargon over the past 30 years. And there’s an added component: published works.

David Rosenbaum is Editor-in-Chief for The Bloom Group. Since 1998, the company has helped businesses establish themselves as thought leaders with articles published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes.com, Sloan Management Review, and more. The Bloom Group counts consulting firms, Big 4 accounting firms, IT companies, and others among its clients.

“Thought leadership is simply demonstrating expertise in an area by publishing articles about it,” Rosenbaum said in an exclusive interview. Before working with The Bloom Group, Rosenbaum was a senior editor at CFO Magazine and editor-in-chief of Boston Magazine. He broke down the necessary components for true thought leadership into four categories.

Articles need to:

  • solve business problems in a new way
  • say something novel
  • be realistic
  • be supported by data and real-world examples

“That’s why it’s so hard,” Rosenbaum said. “It has to be novel, it has to be supported by real world examples, it has to be realistic. It’s not advertising.”

By publishing articles in a specialized field, thought leaders can emerge as experts in that field. By identifying problems and proposing solutions, thought leaders prove themselves to readers, who then seek out these thought leaders for future business.

Why is thought leadership important?

With effective thought leadership, a potential client will read about an innovative idea in an article published by a thought leader. Then, the client will seek out the thought leader’s expertise to solve that problem. That article could be in any field: banking, information technology, or manufacturing.

Rosenbaum shared an example of one of his client’s real-world successes. After a life science company published a series of articles in a specialized field publication, the company’s chief marketing officer reported the articles led to more than a million dollars in additional sales. Establishing itself as a thought leader – illustrating how to solve business problems with novel, realistic ideas, supported by real-world examples – directly impacted the company’s bottom line.

While important in business-to-consumer relationships (B2C), thought leadership is especially critical in business-to-business (B2B) relationships. Thought leadership can lead the way for innovative content marketing, an area many businesses are expanding.

PieCharts

Thought leadership is crucial in today’s business environment. As the business climate transitions from a knowledge-based to a wisdom-based economy, emphasis is placed on trust, transparency, and collaboration, and adding value in every aspect of the client relationship.

Thought leadership yields different rewards at each stage of the process. In early stages, corporations expand their reach, and can expect more inbound inquiries from clients seeking solutions to business problems. After early stages of development, a thought leadership campaign might encourage faster sales cycles and larger deals, expanding the company’s depth. The later stages of thought leadership produce established relationships, with increased customer loyalty and enduring lifetime value.

Who can be thought leaders?

Thought leaders can be executives, subject-matter experts (SMEs), or a corporation as a whole. To become a thought leader, qualified individuals or businesses should:

  1. Define their brand: What is the brand’s enduring idea? How will it differentiate itself from competition? Who is the brand’s target audience?
  2. Possess legitimate experience and insights in their subject matter.
  3. Manage a thought leadership profile by identifying: subject-matter expertise, methodology, audience, industry pain points, industry opportunities, ideal media goals.
  4. Write: Publish a blog or articles in the field.
  5. Seek out speaking opportunities: Offer to participate in discussion panels or give a keynote address, and provide information the audience needs and can use.
  6. Blog and use social media: Use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media to interact with the community. Post information about publications, speaking engagements, and interviews.
  7. Build trustworthy relationships with the community: Publish honestly and truthfully.
  8. Initiate and cultivate media relationships: Get to know journalists and editors and provide them with leads, stories, insights, and quotes.
  9. Control their online identity: Use social media platforms carefully and consistently to maintain the brand.
  10. Commit to thought leadership: Making a commitment to generous and transparent knowledge-sharing can set thought leaders apart from the competition, and is another form of corporate social responsibility. Committing to ongoing thought leadership can help businesses stay relevant.

What are some examples of thought leadership?

The financial services firm J.P. Morgan brands its expertise as “Institutional Asset Management Thought Leadership.”

Here’s how the firm meets Rosenbaum’s criteria for thought leadership by 1) saying something novel, 2) giving proof through data and real-world examples, 3) solving business problems in a new way, and 4) being realistic.

 

1) First, the firm says something novel by inviting readers to delve into its compelling insights and discover the firm’s best thinking on money markets.

 

JPMorgan-Graphic

 

JPMorgan-Graphic2

White papers, insights, survey reports, market guides, and the retirement-focused Journey Magazine educate and draw in, further establishing the firm as a thought leader.

 

Publications

 

2) Next, the organization supports its authority within its specialized field with real-world case studies.

 

Whitepapers

 

3) The firm makes a case for leading the way in solving business problems, like retirement saving.

 

LTC

 

4) Finally, the company stays realistic, like this report on oil’s relationship to the market.

 

InvestmentPro

 

These examples show how J.P. Morgan has established itself as a thought leader by publishing a unique, informed perspective and authority on industry issues in order to play a guiding role as experienced professionals sharing insights.

The information is useful and relevant, packaged for easy consumption, applicable and useful, and speaks to its audience’s daily reality.

Honest and truthful publication that draws in clients can establish businesses or individuals as thought leaders in their specialized field. With commitment and time, thought leadership can help propel brands to success.

“All big businesses tend to use thought leadership to market their expertise,” said Rosenbaum. “If companies keep spending money on it… it’s working.”

Up next: Thought Leadership How-To

Secrets for a Successful Blogger Outreach Campaign

by Isabella Woods

The internet is packed with information on a whole host of topics, much of which comes from the countless bloggers across the world. Blogging has now become a genuine source of news, information and entertainment, and there is an almost limitless supply of blogs out there. But with this saturation comes a certain difficulty: namely being able to generate solid and reliable traffic. One of the key methods to achieve this is via a blog outreach campaign. The concept revolves around networking, and the fact that being linked to from other blogs will boost your popularity, and bolster your SEO. Let’s look at the top secrets to launching a top-notch blog outreach effort.

Do your research and know your audience

Key to boosting the popularity of your blog is knowing who your readers are. Armed with this crucial information, you can then set out to discover blogs that may be suitable for linking to your own. For example, if your blog is on the topic of a certain video game, you may want to reach out to a blogger who runs a blog on a similar game. You can then share links with one another, and essentially share relevant traffic. And that’s what a blog outreach campaign is all about: increasing the amount of relevant traffic to your blog. If you can find a steady source of people who are interested in your topic, you’ll see your blog’s popularity soar and (with any luck) stay there. This depends on the quality of your content, of course, so make sure your posts remain as good as they can be. Before sending out requests for backlinks and such, you’ll need to do your research: find out which blogs have the best quality traffic, and reach out to the people that run them.

Reaching out

Connecting with bloggers can seem like quite a lot of work to the uninitiated. And because it’s a fundamentally social system, there’s the etiquette and protocol which might seem impenetrable to outsiders.

One of the first things you need to do is comment on their blog posts. It’s courteous, and (as long as you post some content) it’s going to add value to their blog. If they like the cut of your jib, they’ll come and visit your blog and comment on one of your posts. A connection is born. Be very clear about who you are, where your website is and what the blog is about, but remember you’re in their domain and as such you should be focusing on what to add to their blog.

There are other ways of getting in touch. You’ll have heard of social media? Look on their blog for links to other profiles and ways to communicate. This is another excellent reason to have prominent Facebook and Twitter buttons on your site – it’s all very well being good at outreach, but you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you’ve made it difficult for others to find you.

It’s always right under your nose

Ever spent half an hour looking for something, only to find it right where you were sitting? The same is true online. No amount of clever searches and outreach strategies will match the benefit of checking your own blog, Twitter feed and social media profiles for enterprising bloggers who have found you. If you’ve been engaged by a blogger, it demonstrates their marketing prowess and probably indicates that they’ll give your online presence a great deal of coverage.

Always be patient

As with most web-based ventures (specifically SEO), a blog outreach campaign is a long-tail game. It requires that you plant seeds, so to speak, then wait to watch them come to fruition. Whether that’s in the form of a backlink from a fellow blogger or a featured on your blog, it’s a great feeling when your work starts to pay off. Just remember that it won’t happen overnight, just as your blog probably took quite a look to pick up steam, so too will its promotion. All you have to do is sit back, put your feet up on the sofa, and wait for your hard work to start paying dividends. A blog outreach campaign is most certainly worth your time, just as long as you’re willing to put the work in (and be as patient as possible at the same time).

Social networking can be your secret weapon

The world of blogging is inextricably linked to the world of social media. In fact, many people assume they are one and the same. In this way, social networking sites can be a real godsend when it comes to blogger outreach. You can use the search function on Twitter to do all sorts of things; from discovering bloggers who are looking for guest posts, to finding out exactly which blogs are being talked about most.

Twitter’s search function is a surprisingly powerful piece of software. It functions in a very similar way to Google, so you can make enquiries in a very specific way. For example, if you’re looking for a blog in York, England, any search for “York” will be polluted with blogs from New York. Adding “-New” to the search will eliminate this problem. It seems simple, but along with using the “near:” function (which adds a geographical element to your search) it’s an invaluable tool in social networking.

Obviously if you want to write relationship articles for blogs in York, England, searching for “relationships York + guest post –New” will be a good search string and will give you only the relevant results. It’ll only take a few moments too.

If you’re serious about social media, there are some powerful tools which help you get the most out of Twitter. They’re too numerous and complex to list here, but services like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck give you the ability to use Twitter in ways you never imagined. Another blog post for another day.

This kind of ‘market research’ is not really possible with any other media, so make the most of it. You can also use sites like Twitter and Facebook to make direct contact with the bloggers whose sites you like the look of. This will give them a chance to check out your blog before making a decision about whether or not you can help each other out.

Blogger outreach is not unlike traditional networking in the world of business. It’s all about making connections and sharing valuable traffic (whether that be clients for a business or visitors on a blog). If you dedicate a good amount of time and effort to finding bloggers who are relevant to your topic, and who are willing to trade links, you’ll find that blogger outreach can be one of the most useful tactics in the world of online content publishing. So what are you waiting for? Get on those search engines and social networking sites, and find yourself a fellow blogger who shares your passion for the web!