What is leadership?
One of my favorite definitions is: “Influencing the behavior of others.”
In that context, thought leadership would mean: “Influencing the way others think”—a definition I find quite satisfactory.
Thought leadership should be about influencing the way your target audience thinks
Within a B2B marketing strategy, therefore, thought leadership should be about influencing the way your target audience thinks.
In other words, establishing yourself, your colleagues, and your business as experts and influential voices within your industry or sector.
This involves providing valuable insights, innovative ideas, and forward-thinking perspectives that shape and advance conversations within, and about, your industry.
It’s about inspiring and guiding others, which requires establishing credibility, trust, and authority.
In this post, we’re going to briefly cover eight ways to demonstrate thought leadership in a business context:
1. Publish authoritative content.
2. Speak at industry events.
3. Collaborate and network.
4. Be thought-provoking.
5. Be active on social media.
6. Mentor and educate.
7. Conduct research and analysis.
8. Write a book.
Creating and sharing high-quality, relevant content—such as articles, blog posts, research papers, or whitepapers—showcases your expertise and industry knowledge.
It contributes to thought leadership by offering valuable insights and actionable information that your audience can amplify, apply, and build upon.
This is the most widely used and easiest to access thought leadership tactic, which also means it’s a noisy place where it can be difficult to stand out.
Presenting at conferences, webinars, or industry panels positions you as a knowledgeable authority on your subject.
It allows you to share ideas, experiences, and expertise, with the goal of establishing credibility and influencing industry direction.
While some events accept applications to speak, many are run by program committees that approach potential speakers based on their reputation and peer referrals.
If you aren’t already a familiar face on the speaker circuit, it can be hard to break in.
Start by familiarizing yourself with the events at which you’d like to speak and who is on the respective organizing committees. Then, try to engage relevant individuals on social media.
Once you’ve built an online relationship with someone, it’s a lot easier to enquire about a speaking opportunity, and they’re a lot more likely to take you seriously.
Sometimes, the best way to establish individual and company credibility is by joining forces with others. Engage in partnerships and industry associations to build connections and enhance your visibility.
Thought leaders who actively participate in communities of practice, sharing insights and contributing to meaningful conversations, are much more likely to get invited to the speaking opportunities we mentioned earlier, and can build an online following more quickly.
And there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned networking.
The more people you know, the more people know you, the greater your visibility and credibility become.
When it comes to influencing the way people think, your ideas need to stand out.
By offering a unique perspective—perhaps one that challenges established wisdom within your industry—you can prompt dialog.
Novel ideas stimulate critical thinking, generate discussion, and position you as a visionary
Novel ideas stimulate critical thinking, generate discussion, and position you or your business as a visionary.
However, like all good vision statements, it must make sense to your audience.
You should paint a picture of the future that’s coherent, grounded in current reality, and that describes a viable path from here to there.
The audience will find your vision even more engaging if it overcomes a significant challenge that they’re facing, and if the solution aligns with their objectives and values.
This means you should seek to understand your audience members’ needs and pain points before setting out to influence the way they think.
Active and meaningful participation on social media platforms is table stakes these days if you want to reach a broad audience.
It allows for real-time interactions, where you can build credibility and thought leadership through consistent and valuable contributions.
You must contribute something extra if you want others to see you as a leader
This doesn’t just mean commenting “Great point, John!” on posts that you find interesting. You must contribute something extra if you want others to see you as a leader.
Remember that leading isn’t about telling people what to think or do. It’s about asking questions that help them—and the group at large—reach a higher level of understanding and deliver better solutions.
If you have a point of view, by all means share it, but be open to feedback and discussion.
Thought leaders are influenced by others, just as they seek to influence their audience.
Freely sharing your knowledge with others in your industry demonstrates the sincerity of your leadership.
This can range from offering ad hoc guidance to providing ongoing mentorship as part of a structured program, or conducting training sessions that empower others to succeed.
While this is powerful within your own organization, thought leadership is better served when you mentor or train those in other parts of your industry—including your competitors.
Your ultimate aim is to become known as an expert who can be trusted, which translates to your business being seen as a trustworthy supplier of whatever it offers.
Original ideas don’t only happen in the shower.
Thought leaders invest time and resources in conducting industry research, analyzing trends, and sharing their data-driven insights.
This approach positions you as an expert with a deep understanding of the industry landscape, crafting your unique message from an informed perspective.
Not everyone is in a position to sponsor large-scale research, but don’t let that stop you from gathering and interpreting data.
A simple survey of your customers or contact network can provide unique insights—especially when you write the questions and put your individual spin on what they return.
Having pursued this path myself, I can attest to the credibility that an ISBN number brings.
When you author a book on a relevant industry topic, it both establishes your expertise and confirms your commitment to the subject. Writing books is a labor of love and represents a major investment of time and effort.
That said, be wary of hiring a ghostwriter or done-for-you book service to short circuit the process. If you aren’t intimately familiar with every word that’s written, your audience will eventually sniff it out and your credibility will be jeopardized.
Compared to other tactics we’ve discussed, writing a book provides the greatest opportunity to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of your subject, and allows for in-depth exploration of the ideas that you are contributing as a thought leader.
Flipping the coin, here are five things to avoid when trying to position yourself as a thought leader:
> Lack of originality: Regurgitating existing ideas without offering unique insights diminishes your thought leadership.
> Inconsistency: Consistency is key to building credibility and maintaining an audience. Sporadic content creation is less appealing to both humans and algorithms.
> Over-promotion: Focusing on self-promotion instead of delivering value and insights will erode trust and authenticity. This isn’t about you; it’s about influencing the thoughts of others.
> Ignoring feedback: Failing to engage with your audience or dismissing their feedback undermines the opportunity for meaningful conversations and will inhibit your growth as a thought leader.
> Neglecting your personal brand: A well-defined personal brand will help you create a consistent and recognizable presence. Failing to develop your brand can leave the audience uncertain as to who you are or which version of you is going to show up.
Becoming a thought leader requires dedication, expertise, and a commitment to delivering valuable insights and ideas.
If you can avoid making these mistakes and employ some of the strategies covered earlier, you’ll be able to effectively position yourself as a thought leader within your industry.
This will help your company engage more prospects, earn their trust and respect, and win more of their business.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock