Four Steps to Build an Effective Thought Leadership Strategy
For any brand to succeed, your audience must trust you. Companies that establish themselves as leading experts in the eyes of their customers tend to have a leg-up in the race for their interest — it’s just human nature.
However, as the digital landscape quickly grows more competitive, differentiating yourself as a credible authority is getting more challenging!
That’s where thought leadership strategy comes in. This content marketing approach is one of the most powerful ways to establish your brand’s profile, helping you stay relevant in the mind of your audience. With Semrush estimating that nearly 95% of brands are actively building out their thought leadership strategy today, it’s time to demystify this buzzword.
In this article, we’ll explore what thought leadership is and why it matters for brands today. Then, we’ll outline four steps you can take to start developing your thought leadership strategy today.
Thought Leadership: At a Glance
At its core, thought leadership is simply an individual or entity expressing authentic and thoughtful insights that demonstrate expertise and solidify brand equity. By offering reliable, unique, and relevant content to their audience, effective thought leaders can generate a wealth of social capital within their industry. This eventually translates to bottom-line growth for thought leaders — whether it be via more traffic, purchases, conversions, or virtually anything else.
Quick Question: What is an example of thought leadership?
IBM is a great, real-world example of effective thought leadership. Since it was founded in 1911, the company has consistently been trusted as an insightful resource for all things tech-related.
Whether it was through innovative products, cutting-edge research, or diverse content, IBM never stopped establishing its expertise in the technology space. Today, the firm is respected as a true thought leader, both by consumers and competitors alike.
What Drives Thought Leadership?
Let’s dig a bit deeper into thought leadership and understand what drives brands to pursue this tactic. In other words, we’re going to explore the central goals that characterize thought leadership. Although there are countless different approaches to it – each with its own motivations – we’re going to focus on the commonalities shared by a variety of thought leadership strategies.
This is arguably the most fundamental thought-leadership objective across any approach: building audience credibility. As we mentioned earlier, a big driver of brand success is the ability to generate trust — how well can you convince your audience to trust you? In other words, why should anyone buy into your brand and not the next one over?
Successfully answering this question is a universal goal in thought leadership marketing. By delivering authentic content to your consumers, thought leaders position themselves as credible resources that can be trusted. This perception of authority opens the door for brands to capture a variety of other benefits, none of which would be possible without their underlying credibility.
Once you establish enough trust to win over a single consumer, it’s not quite enough. Trust doesn’t matter if your brand is only reaching a handful of people; that’s why another core objective of thought leadership marketing is to generate visibility and awareness at scale. You want that same message of trust and credibility to reach the entire audience and cement your brand as a true leader.
While the previous goal was aimed at inciting buy-in on the individual level, this one focuses on replicating that effect throughout an entire industry. Consistency goes a long way in achieving this kind of visibility. The majority of consumers might not see your insightful article from last week, but what if you’ve published over 100? People will notice when a brand consistently demonstrates its subject expertise, and that’s how thought leadership can enhance brand visibility at scale.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, thought leadership – like any form of marketing – is interested in the bottom line. Improving audience credibility and brand awareness are both intangible objectives; they don’t generate any value in and of themselves. However, fulfilling these intermediaries is critical in successfully capturing brand value through thought leadership.
Recap: What are the goals of thought leadership?
- Differentiate yourself as an expert
- Generate trust with your audience
- Enhance your brand’s awareness
- Drive bottom-line growth (new customers, subscribers, followers, etc.)
Why Thought Leadership Matters
Now that we’ve explored the basics of this tactic, as well as what it tries to accomplish, let’s take a step back and understand why thought leadership strategy matters. After all, there are dozens of other marketing tactics that a brand can use to generate growth, right?
While this is true on some levels, thought leadership strategy unlocks one valuable benefit that’s unmatched by other marketing initiatives.
- It creates uniquely sustainable growth.
A brand with effective thought leadership is a huge step closer to cementing its status as an expert, an authority, and an industry leader. With consistent and high-quality execution, your brand’s thought leadership content can blossom into a competitive advantage that can be sustained over time – just like IBM went from just another company in 1911 to a name that’s synonymous with digital excellence today. Very few present-day marketing tactics can relate to that level of potential, making thought leadership an especially unique opportunity for modern brands.
Building Your Thought Leadership Strategy
With all that out of the way, let’s dive into how you can go about developing thought leadership in your own niche. Keep in mind there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe to guarantee thought-leadership success; many of the strategic elements used in this tactic depend on the unique nature, size, and industry of your brand. Nonetheless, we’ve distilled four universal steps that you can take to effectively build out your thought leadership strategy.
1. Understand your audience inside and out
The first and most critical component in developing a thought leadership strategy is understanding your audience. This should come as no surprise – knowing your audience is foundational for success in any marketing strategy.
However, given how integral consumer trust and awareness are effective in thought leadership, it’s even more important to understand your audience when curating thought-leading material.
It all starts with your target audience: who would benefit from reading your content? Once you identify your ideal target segment, start defining their persona.
- What inspires, motivates, and fascinates this group of people?
- What are they curious about? What are they asking?
- Where can my brand align with those qualities?
Remember, the essence of this strategy is to create and capture your audience’s trust, and that means meeting them in their digital space. Our goal here is to identify a meaningful set of connections you can make with this audience through the vehicle of thought leadership.
2. Brainstorm topics that align with your audience
Once you’ve painted a clear picture of your target audience persona, it’s time to start fleshing out your unique thought leadership. Dive into content strategy and identify what topics you can offer original insight on; consider how those ideas might add value to your ideal buyer segment. A great tip to keep thought leadership content fresh and relevant is to do your research! New and exciting trends are constantly emerging in every niche, and your audience is almost certainly keeping up with them.
Don’t assume one thing – any one of these new ideas could end up being the next big deal in your space. Leverage keyword research tactics to help gauge where your audience’s interests are currently. Then, stay agile and be ready to capitalize on any topic that could turn into an enormous marketing opportunity.
3. Create your thought leadership content
Now that you’ve studied your ideal buyer persona and generated high-value content ideas that engage your buyer interests, what’s next is to write, publish, and repeat – the bread and butter of content marketing.
When it comes to drafting and curating the content itself, make your work stand out of the crowd.
Some tips on how to do just that are
- Focus on deeply exploring one topic at a time to highlight your subject expertise
- Highlight the impact that your authentic perspective has on your insights
- Constantly question the boundaries of your niche to differentiate content
Ultimately, the objective is to become a constant source of thought-provoking ideas that motivate readers to trust in your expertise. Showcase that original nuance, and especially how it empowers you with an authenticity that can’t be found anywhere else.
4. Distributing and promoting your work
After you’ve set up and iterated your thought leadership content pipeline, it’s finally time to establish a network to distribute that work. After all, if no one reads your article, then you’ve wasted time and energy.
All jokes aside, while this step of the thought leadership marketing process might not require as much creative input, it’s just as important as the rest. A great distribution network can help your strategy blossom into fruition, while a lack thereof can cripple your growth before it even begins. That means going beyond the standard consumer channels like your blog and weekly newsletter.
Here’s some actionable advice on how to maximize your content’s surface area:
- Diversify your content across platforms (social media, guest blogs, collaborative posts, etc.)
- Experiment with different content mediums (podcasts, short-form videos, speaker events, etc.)
- Repurpose and redistribute past content frequently
Recap: How do you develop thought leadership?
- Deeply understand your target audience and their interests
- Investigate where your unique expertise aligns with them
- Craft fresh and engaging content highlighting your unique insight
- Distribute the content throughout the digital ecosystem
Thought leadership strategy has been solidifying itself as one of the most sustainable approaches to modern-day marketing. If it’s consistently executed with audience and content considerations in mind, thought leadership can become a limitless source of long-term brand equity and competitive advantage, evidenced by the time-tested success of countless individuals and organizations.
By prioritizing the quality and impact of their content and how it relates to readers, thought leaders like IBM have positioned themselves as trusted experts in their subject matter. This boosts audience awareness and promotes consumer buy-in, ultimately translating to bottom-line growth.