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Why thought leadership matters (and where to start)

photo-of-a-woman-sat-on-a-mountain-thinkingWhat is thought leadership?

There are many different definitions for the term ‘thought leadership’, and to make it more confusing, some thought leaders create their own definition for the term.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary: “A thought leader is an individual or a firm that is recognised as an authority in a specialised field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.”

Now, let’s mull over the word ‘authority’ for a moment. Authority is about knowledge, credibility and value. When used as a marketing tool, thought leadership is not a case of describing your products and services. It’s not content marketing. And while it might be a buzzword in marketing and PR, it’s nothing new.

A history lesson on thought leadership

1876

Ralph Waldo Emerson was said to manifest “the wizard power of a thought-leader” back in 1876. The American essayist, lecturer and philosopher is still recognised for his thoughts and essays today, including his 1836 essay ‘Nature’ which introduced the transcendentalist movement.

1887

Henry Ward Beecher was an American minister and said to be “one of the great thought-leaders in America”. He’s probably best known for being a social reformer – especially speaking out against slavery and for his Christian views on God’s love.

These are just two examples of many. Thought leaders and thought leadership existed long before content marketing, so how has the term evolved? And what does it mean today?

photo-of-a-raised-hand

Today

There is no shortage of self-proclaimed thought leaders or thought leadership content. In fact, if you search ‘thought leadership’ in Google, a whopping 728 million organic results generate. And that number will increase daily. But how much of this is high-value content?

Last year, LinkedIn with global PR and marketing consultancy firm Edelman, released a brilliant study on the impact of B2B thought leadership. They asked 1,164 US business executives for their views on thought leadership.

Graph of views on thought leadership from 1,164 US business executives

Interestingly, while almost all of those surveyed believe that thought leadership enhances brand impact and over half spent between one and four hours a week consuming it, very few ranked the quality of that thought leadership as either good or excellent.

If you are a brand, marketing agency or content creator, this creates a very interesting opportunity. In a world saturated with poor or average quality thought leadership content, your high-quality, genuinely valuable content will stand out.

“While the market for professional services firms wanting to be thought leaders is quickly becoming saturated, the market for stellar thought leadership is not.”

Profitable Brilliance

Russ Alan Prince and Bruce H Rogers

What makes excellent thought leadership?

Data for what is believed to make excellent thought leadership

High-quality thought leadership starts with deep thinking and intellectual rigour. This is essential if you want to position yourself, your views, or your brand at the top of the pile. Next, you absolutely have to secure buy-in from senior leaders. It takes time, commitment and resources to get this right, but is invaluable in the long run.

Once you have ticked both of those boxes, you need a targeted marketing plan that will deliver your thought leadership to the right people. we have worked on many programmes where the focus remained on the first point for too long. You do end up with a brilliant piece of work. But everyone is exhausted, there’s no time allocated to create a successful launch, and it limps out into the market to be lost amongst the noise of everything else.

Thought leadership promotion and marketing takes time and commitment, but it is absolutely essential in making sure your story is heard.

Communicate

Thought leadership is an excellent revenue generator. It has an incredible ability to build brand authority and connect you with your market. Make sure to include a call to action whenever you promote your thought leadership content and remember to follow up and close.

“Thought leadership when done very well is one of the most sophisticated and sublime business development strategies existing today.”

Profitable Brilliance

Russ Alan Prince & Bruce H Rogers

 

To find out more about how we approach thought leadership, here’s a recent example of a thought leadership campaign created for one of our financial clients.

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