Five Essential Thought Leadership Guidelines


Establishing your company as a thought leader provides benefits beyond what a marketing or advertising program can deliver on its own. As a thought leader, your company will gain credibility in the market and become a trusted adviser and partner. Potential customers will gravitate toward your products and services. Journalists will seek you out for quotes. Analysts will call you for your expert opinion. Industry websites will link to you. 

Thought leadership requires a substantial portfolio of content to support your leadership position, and therefore thought leadership is realized through content marketing efforts.

Follow these five guidelines to give your company an opportunity to earn a successful thought leadership position in your market.

1. Develop a point of view

What is happening in the market today and why? What is the best approach to overcoming challenges? What changes or advancements can we expect over the next 3-5 years? Answers to these questions represent your possible points of view.
Another way to approach point of view is to think of a Venn diagram. One circle represents what your audience cares about. The other circle represents your unique expertise. The overlapping area—where you have knowledge and expertise that your audience cares about— is likely to inform your point of view.
Your point of view needs to be original, but nothing too extreme. It must be respected and you must back it up.

2. Follow the thought leadership hierarchy
The hierarchy of thought leadership marketing looks something like this: Point of view>Themes> Stories. You embrace only one point of view, but may use a number of themes that reflect it.

For example, if your point of view is that your market is moving toward deeper collaboration between suppliers and customers, the supporting themes might be trust, transparency, and technology sharing. Each theme should represent an area of value you bring to your audience.

Stories are the content you create to support your point of view and themes: the white papers, articles, webinars, videos and more that you distribute to your audience.

3. Choose a thought leader
An individual or a company can be a thought leader. Furthermore, any company can become a thought leader; you don’t need to be big.

If there’s an executive who has the passion and the ability to articulate your thought leadership point of view, have them become your spokesperson. Conversely, you can position your entire company as a thought leader by instilling your point of view and themes in all of your content and messaging.

4. Focus on your audience
Recently, a contributor to the Marketing Maven participated in a webinar hosted jointly by two companies partnering in a thought leadership initiative to help customers solve problems. However, fifteen minutes into the webinar, they were still talking about themselves, with each company getting time for introductions and for sharing their successful histories.

What came after in the webinar remains unknown, since the Maven contributor dropped off. The mistake these companies made? The webinar was about them, not their audience. Always spark interest and relevancy from the beginning by diving into what the audience cares about.

This is an important guideline to follow when developing thought leadership content: make it first and foremost about your audience. That alone demonstrates real leadership.

5. Be patient
Positioning your company as a thought leader requires a long-term commitment. Unlike marketing campaigns that often have an established beginning and end, thought leadership is an ongoing process. It takes time for the word to spread and your reputation to grow.

However, the results of your thought leadership strategy can and should be regularly measured—especially your online efforts, which easily lend themselves to measurement.

You can track whitepaper downloads, web page visit, video views, and webinar engagement, blog post comments, social media mentions, and more. You can use tools such as Google Alerts to notify you when online media mentions your company.

By tracking the results of your efforts, you will discover what type of thought leadership content your audience finds most relevant. What is downloaded the most? What gets clicked on most often? You can use this data to help guide future content creation and media choices.

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