thought leadership

How to be a thought leader


This is the first in a four-part series of blogs that explore what it takes to become a successful thought leader.

Using opinion and ideas to stand out from the competition sets thought leaders apart from other business executives.

What is a thought leader?

Thought leaders are recognised as authorities in their specialised fields. Thought leaders often write books or blogs, and present to interested groups regarding their area of expertise.

Thought leaders are therefore likely to be quoted in the media, giving positive exposure to their personal and corporate brands.

How do I become a thought leader?

Thought leaders tend to play a larger role in B2B organisations because these businesses typically sell complex, high-value products and services. Educating the buyer is, therefore, a key step in the sales process.

Of course, B2C organisations also have thought leaders; think Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and their ilk. However, they don’t talk about their products. They are considered thought leaders because they invent new categories, turn outdated thinking upside down, or communicate visions that far exceed the obvious.

Thought leadership requires you to be outward-looking rather than inward-facing. Navel-gazing doesn’t often provide the kind of insights that help businesses transform. Instead, industry thought leaders have their fingers firmly on the pulse of their industry.

Start by framing the objective

There’s no point taking a scattergun approach to opinions; that’s not thought leadership, it’s just random communication. You need to decide what you want to be a thought leader about, and why.

So it’s important to complete this sentence: “We want to be the ____ so we ___.”

For example, “We want to be the most credible and recognised accounting firm so the largest organisations in Australia seek our services and we achieve our growth and profit targets.”

There are seven key areas in which you can take a thought leadership position:

  1. People: we are the leading experts in this field and are known for the quality of our people, who will be your experts when you hire us.
  2. Process: we perform a function better than anyone else because we have a superior understanding of how to deliver quickly and efficiently.
  3. Product: our product is better than the competitors’ because it fulfils customer needs more neatly and completely.
  4. CEO: our leader defines the industry due to their vision and passion, which leads them to predict future trends, disrupt the marketplace, or create new categories.
  5. Societal: we are the most powerful and important voice on this issue.
  6. Political: we shape the kind of nation/region/community we live in.
  7. Cultural: our culture is what defines us and why we matter.

Setting the strategy

Before setting forth with a thought leadership strategy, it’s important to understand how your thought leadership aligns with your business. This means understanding how the business will grow and achieve profits, which products or services are important now and into the future, what the business has promised shareholders, and, perhaps most importantly, what feels like a natural fit.

It’s important not to force thought leadership. Doing so means you’ll risk failing to generate enough momentum and the initiative will devolve to tactical marketing campaigns that won’t receive long-term support.

It’s also important to make sure you’ll be supported by the resources you need within the business. If you can’t get the support you need, it will be difficult to sustain an effective program. To that end, you should make sure you coordinate your efforts with your marketing or communications team to ensure all messages are on target and there are no conflicting messages.

Ask yourself these questions before embarking on a thought leadership initiative:

  • What will drive our business objective most reliably?
  • Does this support our brand values (and will these be changing)?
  • Does this support our company positioning?
  • Does this correctly support a product or other initiative?
  • What other marketing and communication is already going on?
  • Does this reflect our entire organisation?

For more information on how we can help you execute a successful thought leadership campaign, contact us today or register to attend our thought leadership events in Sydney and Brisbane.

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