What is thought Leadership, and why does it matter?
Let’s address the second question first. If you or your brand is thought of as a thought leader, you already have a leg up in negotiations, sales pitches, and at conferences and trade shows. You are more likely to book speaker opportunities if you are viewed as a thought leader. The perception of thought leadership makes small and medium companies appear bigger.
So, what is a thought leader? Well, sometimes it’s easier to know what it is by looking at what it isn’t. A thought leader doesn’t need an Ivy League degree on the wall. Thought leaders don’t need to be grizzled Industry veterans. A thought leader is simply someone who brings something essential to the table and isn’t shy about sharing it.
Basically, if that is an approach you take to your everyday work, you are halfway to being viewed as a thought leader. Still, for many people, just getting started down the thought leadership path can seem imposing. Here are some steps you can take to get you on your way.
It’s All About the Content
Often there is the feeling that there is so much content out there, that what you say – especially in your first few attempts – needs to be earth-shattering to make any impact at all.
This is simply not true. Yes, your content needs to address issues that are relevant to your industry. And, yes what you say needs to include an interesting point of view. But your first few attempts do not need to upend the established order. They do not need to shake the industry to its very foundations.
You just need to make someone go, “Huh…” If there is a moment in your content that will give the reader or viewer a reason to pause and contemplate what you have said, you have achieved your goals.
The vast majority of people do not approach a thought leadership piece with the expectation that it will reinvent their industry. They are just looking for the best answers to common questions that they face every day. They want a difficulty in their life smoothed over.
To achieve this goal, you need to answer two questions: what are the issues that need to be addressed in your industry and what can you bring to the table to address these needs?
How Well Do You Know Your Peers or Customers?
You can’t answer questions without knowing what they are. And you can’t know what the questions are going to be without knowing who is going to ask them.
So, who is the audience for your thought leadership pieces, your peers or your customers? Create an amalgam of the ideal person or people you wish to speak to: who they are, the role they fulfill within their company. For example, Stacy Sommers is Vice President of Sales. Next, fill in her life. What are her daily, monthly, and yearly objectives? What hurdles and barriers will she face across those same timespans? What are her decision-making processes and what does she have to go through to achieve her directives?
Once you view your audience as a person or small group of people, you can speak to them directly and approach their needs and wants in a thoughtful, effective manner.
Types of Content
When approaching your content, remember that the intent of these pieces is not to sell. The products and services you provide do not make you a thought leader. Attempting to insert sales talk into a thought leadership piece may be tempting, but it is a temptation you need to avoid. Even a slight whiff of an unexpected sales pitch is usually enough to turn people off.
You will also need to research the type of content preferred by people in your industry. Recent research by the marketing association ITSMA found that reader’s content preferences were split almost equally across short-, medium-, and long-form content.
- 39% want short-form content (quick summaries and infographics)
- 31% want medium-form content (articles of approximately three pages)
- 30% want long-form, in-depth content (white papers of eight or more pages)
Blogging achieves two goals: it puts your content into the world, and it improves your website’s search engine optimization. Initially, you may find that you will need to promote your blogging efforts. However, as your content increases and your SEO improves, more and more people will find your information – and website – through organic searches.
Blogging and SEO optimization can be equated with fishing. The more content you create is like adding more baited hooks in the water – everyone increases your chance of catching a fish. This means that not only are your thoughts generating discussions, but more visitors’ first impressions are of you as a thought leader.
Webinars are useful because they allow you to present your content and then engage with viewers in real time through chats, while your audience is sitting comfortably at their desks anywhere in the world. Also, webinars can be recorded and archived, so the content is available long after the live presentation has ended.
Try to avoid scheduling webinars at the beginning or end of the week. On Mondays, people are usually too busy to attend, and on Fridays, they are too checked out. So, it is best to schedule your presentations Tuesday through Thursday.
Also, anything longer than 20 minutes tends to feel like it’s dragging, even if the content is engaging and people are asking questions. It is highly recommended to go no longer than 20 minutes (this helps the archived files as well; a recording that’s longer than 20 minutes can seem cumbersome).
Visitors like prerecorded video content because it allows them to view your educations sessions at their own pace. Which also means they are able to pause content and (hopefully) come back even days later.
However, video comes with some expectations. While there are a lot of shoddy videos online, most viewers expect corporate videos to look good and professional. So, while you can shoot these videos using your phone (those cameras are pretty good), you need to find an area with nice lighting (or even better, have someone set up some studio-style lighting) and a professional background. No matter how much content is offered, videos that appear amateurish will be quickly skipped.
Speaking Engagements at Conferences or Trade Shows
Speaking at conferences or trade shows before an audience of your peers, customers, or both is one of the best ways to gain creditability as a thought leader. You and your company are given a great deal of visibility and promotion.
There is a downside, however. Like a snake eating its own tail, to gain this status as a thought leader, you may need to establish yourself as a thought leader.
Ultimately, what this means is that before you land some of the better speaking engagements, you may need to speak in front of smaller crowds. Think of these as practice runs. You should also engage in some of the above activities to build your thought leader resume.
Building your credentials as a thought leader will go a long way toward increasing you and your company’s reputation within the industry. For more thoughts on creating professional content and exhibitions, give The Trade Group a call at 800-343-2005.
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