Defining Thought Leadership

Thought Leadership is the practice of influencing and directing the thoughts and actions of others through the power of ideas.

Thought leadership is the ability to create a distinctive voice and articulate an innovative perspective on topics that matter to your audience. This definition can be broadly applied to companies and individuals alike, providing that they are able to effectively share ideas in a way that resonates with their target audience.

Over the years I've personally gravitated towards podcasts as a powerful tool to create thought leadership. You see, content marketing is a choice between which marketing channel to push your message through (eg twitter, blog posts, facebook etc). But Podcasting is the Message. Many of the clients I work with in podcast guesting at Pikkal are already creating content across multiple channels. They challenge they have isn't lack of content, but a need to harmonize that content strategy.

Podcasting, in particular the more agile expression of podcasting - podcast guesting - is a great way to consistently generate new and fresh content that you can repurpose and distribute through your network.

How has Thought Leadership Changed?

Today, thought leadership isn't about your title, expertise or qualification. Thought leadership is about attention.

If you have your audience's attention, you are by definition a leader. In modern communication, attention is your biggest cost. If you can't command it, you can't influence it.

In the old days, you could write one article, one paper or one book and you could become a thought leader for life. Remember Ken Blanchard's "One Minute Manager?" Those days are over. It's so hard to earn the attention of your audience that unless you're constantly on their radar, your brand as a thought leader can easily revert to zero.

So, Why do You Need Thought Leadership Today, Anyway?

Before we talk about how, let's look at why.

People don't read marketing pages anymore; they skim them. Most people don't take seminars. So your marketing team needs to get your value proposition into people's heads against the backdrop of intense competition for that attention. No longer can we rely on outbound interruption, we need to flip that funnel on its head and reverse the direction to inbound marketing with create thought leadership.

Inbound Marketing has changed the way we think about marketing, especially the role of thought leadership in driving inbound marketing. According to HubSpot research, more than 80% of buyers rely on online content to make purchasing decisions.

A significant portion of that content is created to position companies as thought leaders in their industry. In fact, companies that excel at thought leadership are twice as likely to generate new leads as those that don't produce any.

The payoff for successfully leading the discussion in your industry is major: A recent study from Salesforce found that customers who were referred by content they read were nearly three times as likely to purchase than customers who purchased after being referred by a salesperson.

Who are Thought Leaders?

Thought leaders are expert commentators who become the go-to experts on a specific topic, sharing compelling content to shape the thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of your target audience. When you occupy a space in the consciousness of your audience for being "that guy" that does "that thing", you occupy a very valuable piece of real estate.

The most important truth about thought leadership is that YOU are, or YOU could become a thought leader. Yes, that's right, YOU. If you understand the pain points of your audience and aren't scared of stepping up to the microphone, you are already in an elite 5% of your industry. That means you occupy a unique vantage point to effect change - most people are too fearful of criticism or being different. They need you to speak for them.

Don't edit your beliefs and ideas to meet the expectations of other people. A thought leader is someone who possesses strong beliefs and perspectives on a particular issue or subject that they hold strongly enough that they become viewed as credible authorities on that issue or subject. Thought leaders risk rejection. Thought leaders take the path of most resistance; they are prepared to do what's needed and unpopular rather than what's popular and easy. The first bird takes all the arrows.

How to Become a Thought Leader

First, define your audience avatar. Who are you speaking to? Make sure you are speaking to "YOU" not "you guys" or "the audience".

Who is that "YOU"? What is her name? What is her job function? Think broadly about your industry and company demographics as well as the specific job function you're targeting. Is your audience comprised of CEOs? How about mid-level managers? What about people outside of your company?

Lean into the customer's problem. Like every good startup pitch deck, Start with the problem. What are their frustrations? What keeps them up at night? By demonstrating empathy and understanding of their problem you become a thought leader. Make sure your content is solving a real problem for your audience, not just "sounding good" to them.

Be useful, be generous: give your content away. Content is free, Access is invaluable. Content is a great trust builder. Show your audience you are willing to give first before you get. Curate relevant resources. Identify the top three to five publications your target persona reads regularly and ensure you are guest blogging on those sites.

Key to success is defining your talking points and an overarching narrative. Be prepared to present your story succinctly and with ease. Practice your presentation skills. Become a better storyteller. There are many resources online aimed at helping you sharpen your storytelling skills. To get started I recommend these following podcast guesting interviews where I cover storytelling:

Storytelling Technique

Storytelling for Entrepreneurs

Data Storytelling

The Psychology of Storytelling

Brand Storytelling and Brand Love

And stories always need a hero. Leadership means stepping up and not ducking for cover when audiences want to know your back story.

Too often potential leaders shy away from telling their story because they believe it will place an unnecessary focus on their personality or detract from the wider value of the business. But the opposite is true.

Unless we know your story; we don't care about the wider value of the business.

Leadership is storytelling; storytelling is leadership.


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About The Author Graham Brown

Graham Brown is the founder of Podcast Guesting Pro. Graham is a published author on the subject of Digital Communication and Personal Branding (Amazon titles include "Brand Love: How to Build a Brand Worth Talking About" and "Mobile Youth: Voices of the Connected Generation). He has produced, project managed and guested on over 2,000 podcast episodes.