Thought leadership has gained significant importance in the last decade. Much like digital marketing and content marketing, it has evolved over the years. It has become a key factor in establishing an individual or an organization’s presence in their chosen industry as a leader instead of a follower.
Organizations are actively leveraging thought leadership in strategic ways to drive industry discussions and innovate.With their feet firmly planted in the present and eyes looking into the future, thought leaders are looking to redesign visions to benefit their audience.
The term thought leadership became popular after Joel Kurtzman published his influential book, “Thought Leaders: Insights on the Future of Business,” in 1997. Kurtzman defined a thought leader as someone who ‘possesses a distinctively original idea, a unique point of view, or an unprecedented insight into their industry.’
There are several other definitions for thought leadership. Below are a few.
“Thought Leadership is a process of exercising knowledge, skills, and expertise to increase awareness, elevate perceptions and drive preference related to key issues that audiences care about.” – Forrester
“Educational content, produced by an expert or business, that identifies new trends and is supported by research. It challenges the thinking of the target audience and drives marketing outcomes.” – Mantis Research & Orbit Media Studios
“Knowledge from a trusted, eminent and authoritative source that is actionable and provides valuable solutions for stakeholders.” – Journal of knowledge management
Whichever definition one chooses to read, the common thread that binds them all is to provide expertise, knowledge, insights, and ideas that add value to individuals and organizations. It is about creating a positive change and helping others find meaning, purpose, and success.
“Thought Leadership positions a brand, organization, or individual as a visionary who motivates people to think differently.”
At its core, thought leadership amplifies a brand’s differentiated point of view. It is meant to educate, inspire, start a conversation, and motivate people to act. Thought leadership content is less about the organization’s products or services and more about the issues that audiences or buyers face. And in the process, it builds brand awareness and brand affinity, thereby establishing the thought leader as a trusted source for advice.
Did you know that a study by Edelman and LinkedIn found that 54% of decision-makers spend more than an hour per week reading and reviewing thought leadership content? Another study by McKinsey confirmed that 70-80% of decision-makers prefer to take their decisions digitally.
With so much information available online, buyers are carrying out their research before engaging with sales teams. They want to hear and learn from those they can trust and respect, who will provide them with solutions to their problems. Thought leadership becomes the organic route through which this knowledge can be provided.
“By sharing research-filled, insightful, and authentic content that stems from experience, leaders, and organizations can add value, educate, and inspire others.”
The strategy and program for thought leadership are about building brand equity, which over time, will bring in leads for the business. When implemented effectively, thought leadership can feed directly into your public relations activities. Magazines, newspapers, and other media outlets would seek you out for interviews and quotes. One can argue that this is the final goal of thought leadership, where you cement your position as an authority and go-to person in your niche.
Thought leadership does not have to be directly tied to the product or service that an individual or organization is selling.Many years ago, Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings published a 126-page slide deck on how he hires, fires, and retains employees. His deep insights led other companies to follow in Netflix’s footsteps.
As the pandemic spurred more people to consume content, marketers have focused on generating more content centered around thought leadership. However, along with the good content came some low-quality ones that diluted people’s perception of the value that thought leaders can offer. Thought leadership is not –
Even after a decade, thought leadership remains critical, but breaking through the noise and earning trust and credibility will be a challenge.
A study by SEMrush shows that thought leadership content increases organic traffic by 81%, social media following, and engagement by 65%, and generates actual leads and/or sales of 47%.
Having a good thought leadership strategy can have a ripple effect. Some of the benefits of thought leadership include:
Investing time to identify a good thought leadership strategy is key to providing value for your audience, which in turn builds brand awareness. To read more about the benefits of thought leadership, click here.
Now that you know what thought leadership is, its importance, and what the benefits are, let us look at what is required for you to become a thought leader.
Thought leaders are experts in their field. These could be individuals in the C-Suite (or C-Suite minus one), founders, entrepreneurs, consultants, coaches, authors, or organizations. These leaders usually have strong opinions, viewpoints, and ideas. Great thought leaders are ahead of the game and are eager to share their thoughts with the world. They do this by talking about complex ideas in simple language. They are constantly reading and keeping themselves updated on their niche/industry and do not mind taking risks.
Experience is required for you to be recognized as a thought leader and to sound credible. So, choose your niche accordingly. In order to build authority, you must educate yourself on the latest trends and business news in your niche/industry. Have a clear view of what you would like to say.
Self-reflection builds self-awareness, which helps you see the big picture more clearly. By positively questioning everything, you can identify a better and more efficient way of doing things. These thoughts then help you zero in on stories and inflection points that you can share with your audience.
“A thought leader is an individual or an organization with a really good idea that they have an unending curiosity for. They now wish to create an impact by scaling their idea.”
Social media is a great way to start sharing thought leadership content. There are different platforms that allow you to post short and long-form content. Identify where your audience will be and choose the relevant channels. Also, remember that to become a thought leader, you need to be consistent by posting a steady stream of high-quality content.
like-minded individuals where you can learn and help each other grow. Knowing the right people can open up more opportunities to share your thoughts. You could be invited as a keynote speaker, be interviewed for a podcast, or be requested to write a guest blog.
To learn more about how you can become a thought leader, Click here.
The next step in the thought leadership journey is to identify a good strategy that brings together the individual or the organization’s best thinking to build brand equity. It is a game plan for how you will execute your thought leadership. There is no one size fits all strategy for thought leadership. This will vary according to the goals, size, and existing content marketing structure. Below is a general strategy that you can use as a starting point.
The first step to setting your thought leadership marketing strategy is identifying what you wish to achieve. Do you want to increase brand awareness? Or get more traffic to your website? The answers will help align the strategy and content to the end goal. With a lot of content around, it is necessary to set clear objectives that are also measurable.
An essential part of content strategy is defining your audience. Identify who will benefit the most from your thought leadership. Ideally, your audience pool should be wide, so it includes current buyers and potential buyers. Aligning your audience to your buyer personas will help if one of your goals is lead generation. Also, think about what your audiences want. What are they talking about? What are their pain points?
This step is twofold. First, identify what type of content you are currently sharing with your audience. What are the different types of assets that you have? What platforms do you share them on? An audit of your current process at this stage would be useful. Secondly, do some research on what kind of thought leadership currently exists in your niche. Explore different channels such as online forums, industry magazines, trade publications, social media, etc. This will also help you identify who the current thought leaders in your industry are.
Pay attention to what your competitors are doing in this space. What does their thought leadership marketing plan or strategy look like? Examine their content to discover new ideas. Identify your competitive edge and areas for improvement. Also, think about whom your audience is currently getting their answers from. You can use this information to fill in the gaps.
“Thought leaders share the what, why, and most importantly, the how of their idea with their target audience in a way that is easy to understand.”
Social media posts and articles are the most common ways in which thought leaders get started. Other types of content include videos, webinars, podcasts, white papers, research, etc. Keep in mind what your audience would want and which channels or platforms they visit. Content ideas can come from your distinctive experiences, unique opinions or viewpoints, stats and data, in-house research, industry research, and even learnings from your personal story or the organization’s history. Once the type of content has been decided, have a clear process on who will create them.
Once the content has been created, you can publish them on your chosen channels or media. If you have a budget for paid promotion, you can boost your post or blog, so it reaches more people. You can also distribute your content by pitching it to journalists and publications. Make sure that you engage with your audience by responding to their comments and creating a conversation. Track your content and use metrics based on your goals to measure its performance. This will help to make the required adjustments to your content strategy.
In the digital age, everything we know about business is changing. Before we decide where we want to go, we must first understand where we are. This is what digital maturity is. As part of your thought leadership marketing and strategy, you first need to assess where you are currently in your journey.
Maturity models are tools that are used to check the effectiveness of current processes. It shows how capable a business is of growing and what adjustments they need to make to evolve and improve so they can reach the next maturity level. By matching current resources with future requirements, organizations can realistically assess if the next level can be achieved and, if not, what changes and investments need to be made.
Vajra Global’s Thought Leadership Maturity Model is used to assess the current practices and resources that clients have and determine the most appropriate approach to migrate them to the next level.
The Novice is irregular with their thought leadership. They either don’t have a social media profile/page, or it is incomplete. They struggle to put their thoughts together and share them in a meaningful manner that will provide value.
The Apprentice has recognized the importance of thought leadership and has started to experiment. But their content and posts are not structured, and there are no goals or strategy that ties their content, posts, and campaigns together.
The Journeyman has a decent content marketing program and has identified the need to make thought leadership a part of that program. Although they publish good content, many of these do not include the views or opinions of the organization or thought leader.
The Intellectual is a thought leader who adds unique insights to the content and is keen to share them. Organizations may have started collecting data, and individuals might have given a few keynote speeches or interviews. However, their perspectives are still considered ‘safe.’
The Visionary reimagines his world. Their ideas are inventive and innovative and are backed by research. Individuals could have authored books. Organizations and their thought leaders are frequently quoted by the media.
Where are you in your thought leadership journey? Take the quiz to find out and download the complete thought leadership maturity model.
The battle for attention has never been more challenging, and the rate of disruption is getting faster. In order to stand out, leaders need to position themselves, and in turn, their organizations, as authorities in their industry.
True thought leadership is impossible without extending support for the big thinkers, so they can take calculated risks, identify new approaches, and think outside the box. Leaders want to build their brand and gain more visibility but do not have the time. Many do not know how or where to start. Others might lack the skills to create content.
Our Value Proposition
Helping leaders and organizations build their thought leadership while they focus on what’s important – their business.
We will work with you to identify your niche, audit your current thought leadership strategy and content, and build a strategy that will showcase your capabilities.
Vajra Global’s thought leadership engagement is drafted with the utmost care by keeping you and your audience at the center. We approach thought leadership with the belief that your unique ideas, knowledge, opinions, and insights should be shared with the world.
We blend deep research with social media expertise and creative storytelling to create customized solutions that will establish you as an expert in your field, enhance your reputation, open new markets, and distinguish you from your competitors.
Our versatility, expertise, knowledge, and use of smart digital tools will establish the thought leader and their organization as an EXPERT in their field.
EX – Explore
We begin with a discovery call to identify your vision, goals, and what you want to achieve. We will also audit what you have done in the thought leadership space so far. Obtaining answers to these and other questions helps identify a good strategy while zeroing in on your niche.
P – Plan
We conduct deep research to gain more knowledge about your industry, trends, and competitors. We use this information and your goals to draw up a strategy. Thought leadership programs can vary from a few months to over a year.
E – Execute
During the execution phase, we will work closely with the thought leader to obtain their views, thoughts, and opinions. We set the plan in motion by producing the necessary high-quality content and working closely with internal teams to publish and distribute them.
R – Review
Every thought leader is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. With the help of metrics and analytics, we will monitor the performance of the published content and gather data and insights. This will help us tweak the existing plan and identify new content ideas.
T – Transform
Building brand equity takes time. Our thought leadership programs are built to provide the thought leader with a long-term plan to establish them as an authority in their field. We aim for sustainable transformation, which is Vajra Global’s key differentiator.
To learn more about our 5-step thought leadership framework, Click here.
Through thought leadership, we bring together an organization’s best thinkers to strategically build brand equity, enhance customer relationships, increase competitive advantage, generate demand, and create new opportunities for sales and partnerships.
Whether you are an individual or an organization, you do not have to be a star to be a thought leader. But thought leaders must commit to the long haul and think outside in.
“Start by chiming in along with the chorus until you find your own voice to lead the choir.”