Warren Buffett. Elon Musk. Richard Branson.
Apple. Google. The Wall Street Journal.
Industry thought leaders, all.
These individuals and brands are obviously "top dogs" and world famous, so why should the concept of thought leadership be important to you and your growing business?
The answer: to establish and cultivate trust, the bedrock of any successful brand.
Forbes defines thought leadership in the following way:
"A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise."
You don't have to be world famous or a Fortune 500 company to use thought leadership to build brand equity and improve lead generation. The fact is implementing a thought leadership strategy can benefit any size business in any market.
Here a 4 ways to become an industry thought leader that can be deployed by businesses of all kinds and sizes:
Hit the Road as a Speaker
Get yourself and your key team members out in front of your colleagues and target audience. Whether it's presenting at a prominent conference, sitting on an expert panel or conducting lunch seminars, proactively seek out speaking opportunities wherever and whenever you can find them.
You might need to start small. And you might need to be aggressive, but being out in front of an audience and delivering value in a personalized way can be invaluable to your brand and to generating interest from new leads.
Tip: Industry conference sessions are a great place to start. If you have a great case study, white paper or training approach, pitch it to well-known industry conferences. Building trust within the conference curcuit will get you into their speaker rotation and you can build out your thought leadership opportunities from there.
Tip: Dedicate a section of your website to promote your availability as a speaker, perhaps by including a calendar of upcoming appearances and an easy way to obtain information and schedule an event.
Start a "Think Tank" or Advisory Board
Find a local or regional cause tangentially connected to your industry, or identify an industry-wide pain point, and build a think tank to solve these issues.
Reach out to colleagues, competitors and businesses related to the pain point or topic and get them to join the think tank or advisory board. Set regularly scheduled meetings; make your minutes public; record your sessions; market and publicize what actions you take and their respective results.
You should not place your brand front and center-- this is more of a soft thought leadership strategy. However, as the "background" sponsor, the de facto founder of the organization and a featured board member, your thought leadership positioning will still grow substantially within your local or regional market.
Pitch industry magazines and online publications and get articles published. You can write these yourself or have them ghost written for you. As long as they deliver value to the reader, articles in industry publications are a great way to build brand equity and enhance your thought leadership position.
Guest blogging is another great way to get your name out there and position yourself and your business as a thought leader. Share content for free but make sure the entity you're blogging for is reputable and trusted.
Tip: Always remember: Thought leadership content is different from marketing content. To build trust, you must deliver value and avoid a heavy-handed marketing and sales tone. This tip applies across the board, not just to industry publication articles.
Solve problems. Ease pain. Add value. This approach will translate into new business and ROI over time--don't rush it.
Don't Be A Brand Of One
This final tip applies to businesses with more than just a few staff members. If you have a strong staff with ample experience, get them out there speaking, participating on advisory boards, guest blogging and writing.
Ultimately, the more visibility your team has, the more value they can deliver and the stronger your thought leadership positioning can become. Empowering your team to become thought leaders themselves will strenghten the perception of your brand and your organization's "bench strength."
Tip: An aggressive thought leadership strategy requires being mindful of workload and workflow. It requires a thoughtful strategy. A plan. Otherwise, the burden of building thought leadership can harm your ability to deliver what your clients and customers need. It can also damage team morale. Embarking on a proactive thought leadership campaign requires a systematic approach so you can strike the delicate balance of getting out on the road for exposure while making sure your business continues to deliver on its promises.
If you'd like to learn more about how we can help your business balance thought leadership outreach and internal operations, reach out to us today. We have the expertise to help.
Image credit: “Elon Musk - The Summit 2013” by Heisenberg Media is licensed under CC BY 2.0