So you think you have a thought leadership programme. How do you know it is heading in the right direction? Based on 5 years’ worth insights built from coaching subject matter experts and marketing leads, we have distilled 12 steps that will help you to review and revitalise your efforts.
Do you have clear rules that govern all your thought leadership efforts? Consistency is essential in thought leadership, especially at company or brand level. This means a clear set of rules that govern all thought leadership work. These should include a clear ‘no selling’ understanding: thought leadership is about ideas, not direct sales.
Are you generating ideas? Thought leadership requires ideas. You can, of course, spend time curating the ideas of others, and this is valuable. But strong, consistent thought leadership means generating your own ideas, as a company. You need an ‘ideas factory’ of some sort within the organisation.
Are you still clear about your audience? Thought leadership needs to address a very specific audience or audiences. It is no good broadcasting at random, and hoping that someone likes it. Thought leadership should speak to specific people within your target organisations. If you are struggling with this, you might want to think about creating some buyer personas.
Do you know what value you can add for your audience? As well as knowing your audience, you also need to know what they want. Thought leadership is at its best when it asks and answers questions that your audience was only just beginning to articulate for themselves. At business level, this means understanding your audience’s business needs, and being able to address them tactically and strategically.
Do you have a unique perspective? Without a unique perspective, yours is just one voice among a cacophony. To stand out from the crowd, you need to be able to articulate a clear understanding of what you bring to your readers that is different and, above all, useful to them. The question to ask is ‘what do my customers need me to interpret for them?’
Have you identified a clear focus for your thought leadership efforts? Individual thought leaders may be ‘quirky’ and ‘original’, bringing ideas about all sorts of areas together. Thought leadership programs as a whole, however, need to hang together. They need a clear focus: a lens through which the organisation will be seen.
Are you doing your own research to support your thought leadership? Fact-based decision-making is essential for any business. If you are doing your own research, and disseminating it via your thought leadership program, you are providing those facts for your audience. Reliable research will be a resource to which people return time and time again, increasing your influence and reach.
Are you marketing your thought leadership strategically? This does not mean selling your product as part of your thought leadership. Instead, it means understand that good thought leadership pieces will not go viral on their own. They need help to spread, via social media posts, blogs, and other publicity. The best thought leadership organisations treat their content itself as a product, and market it effectively.
Have you got the balance right between idea generation and information dissemination? We have talked about both generating ideas, and disseminating your content widely. Both are important, and therefore so is the balance between them.The best thought leadership organisations are spending roughly half their budget on each.
Are you ‘doing’ as well as ‘saying’? Thought leadership is not just about words. It is also about leading by example. If you, as a company, care about something, you should be doing something about it, not just talking about it. This means, for example, attending events, sponsoring courses and academic research, or getting involved in bodies that set standards. It also means the marketing needs to be visible on digital channels, supporting core messages with their personal perspectives.
Are you open to change, and new ideas and possibilities? Thinking shifts. New information becomes available. Thought leadership programs need to be open to admitting this, and to discussing possibilities, not certainties. Make sure that you can admit to uncertainty in your thought leadership work.
Do you have sophisticated metrics to measure your influence Measuring thought leadership is a challenge. Instead of thinking about it as one element, you may want to split it up. For example, you could think about your influence on revenue, or creation of new leads, or how well you are building relationships with potential customers, and reinforcing your brand’s reputation as a thought leader (for example, are you being invited to speak at conferences?). Both qualitative and quantitative information is important.
Image credit: Robert Lukeman