Thought leadership. It’s often lauded as a marketer’s hole in one that will solve all your business problems – and for good reason. According to Edelman’s 2020 Survey, thought leadership can make THE difference in your brand, influence, and overall success:
- 90 percent of C-Suite executives rate thought leadership content as important or very important;
- 42 percent of thought leadership creators confirm that it helps with lead generation;
- 48 percent of execs and 45 percent of business decision-makers said that consuming thought leadership directly led to them doing business with an organization.
Over the years, thought leadership has changed. What was once restricted to long-form articles in trade publications has now expanded to videos, blogs, infographics, white papers – just about anything your company produces. But the question is–what sets thought leadership apart, and how can you effectively use it in today’s changing world?
The Changing Consumer
Whether you’re in a business-to-business industry or dealing with the consumer directly, COVID-19 has changed the way your customers interact with you. Simply put, they’re behaving differently. They’ve been through trauma – the past six months has changed them in ways that they never expected, and as a result, it’s changed what they’re looking for.
Management firm Bain & Company recently surveyed 162 people in seven countries, who shared their priorities and essentials as we move into a post-COVID-19 world.
- People want to feel less anxious.
- People are more mindful of their spending, reflecting on what is essential and what is frivolous.
- People are seeking a more balanced, healthy lifestyle.
- People want to feel more connected.
- People are seeking out kindness and purpose.
How does this affect you, and what does it have to do with thought leadership? In many cases, your customer is only interacting with your business online, through social media and other outlets. It also means that they’re looking for more than a product from your company – they’re seeking assurance that your company stands for kindness, unity, and purpose.
Reaching Customers in a Distanced World
Consumers are looking at your online presence and making decisions about what you and your company stand for. This means that your website, social media channels, and any other online press you’ve been able to garner, is coming under intense scrutiny.
So, how can thought leadership – this online presence – help build your brand as it comes under consumer scrutiny?
Thought Leadership Humanizes
Consumers struggle to trust brands: according to Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer, only 62% of respondents felt that they could trust businesses, and only 29% of respondents felt that CEOs were doing a great job of responding to the demands of the pandemic. Humanizing your brand is one of the best ways to start rebuilding that trust – and thought leadership is an excellent place to start.
Thought Leadership Improves Your Reputation
Thought leadership is all about telling the story of your brand in your own words. If a customer can Google your business and find a whole host of content in industry-specific publications or on your website, it automatically shows them that your company can be trusted.
Positioning Thought Leadership for Your Audience
Great thought leadership content focuses on the audience. This winter, take the time to think about your current customer. Ask yourself questions such as:
Who Is My Ideal Customer?
This question is so important because, after this year’s upheaval, your ideal customer’s priorities might have shifted. You might have identified new potential client bases. Don’t be afraid to really think about your ideal consumer base in the present and future. By identifying your ideal customer, you’ll be better able to build thought leadership content.
What Problems Does My Ideal Customer Have?
Another easy-to-forget-but-important-to-consider question – what problems do my ideal customers have? Once you identify these needs, you’ll create thought leadership content that really adds value to your customers – increasing the likelihood that they’ll read it and want to interact with your business afterward.
Where Do My Ideal Customers Spend Their Time?
Think about your ideal consumer. Are they young, spending a lot of time on social media? Are they older and read a specific magazine? Maybe they primarily consume trade media. Considering where your ideal customers spend their time is the first step to identifying target media – or where your audience is most likely to see the thought leadership content you create.
Using Thought Leadership to Build Authority
Once you’ve established where your target customers spend their time, it’s time to create content. Thought leadership that builds authority always keeps the customer at the forefront – but with a strategic twist. There are several ways to build authority:
Building Authority With Your Customers
This strategy focuses on your consumer, their problems, and how you can fix them. Usually, these campaigns focus on social media and involve content that adds immediate value to your consumers’ lives. Just think of Spotify’s Wrapped At the end of 2019, Spotify released their standard compilation of user’s most listened-to songs – with a twist. They compiled a summary of the decade’s (2010-2019) most listened-to songs, that showed the ways that users’ tastes and habits had changed. The best part? They created easily shareable ‘summary snapshots’ for users to share. It was a fantastic feel-good campaign and an excellent example of thought leadership content in a modern world.
Building Authority Within Your Industry
Industry authority is similar to consumer authority but involves slightly different strategies. Industry authority can be built on social media (think LinkedIn). Still, instead of adding value directly, your goal with this type of content is the broader picture – commenting on current events and the state of your industry at large. You’re establishing authority by having an opinion, not solving a problem. Take a look at Deloitte’s recent Tech Trends report – the executive summary is a masterclass in combining clean design, simple graphics, and valuable information to industry peers.
Building Web Authority
Online authority is all about search engine optimization and making it easy for your customers to find out about your services. This kind of authority is best achieved by placing thought leadership content in publications with high domain authority and developing your backlink strategy.
Once you’ve established the kind of authority you want to create and combine it with the type of content your target audience wants to see, it’s time to start working. If your audience spends time on social media, create content that’s easy to digest. If you target a certain publication or magazine, reach out to the journalist and schedule a pitch or brief online meeting. You may even want to combine these approaches – it’s all about strategy.
Leveraging Thought Leadership for Leads
How can businesses turn thought leadership content into leads? Raconteur tackled this very subject in a fascinating article about the effectiveness of thought leadership. Their best tips?
Look to the Long Term
Thought leadership is about building your business for the long term. When you write a piece of thought leadership content, whether it’s for your own blog or a publication, the chances are that you’ll get a lot of traffic – however, much of this traffic won’t be your ideal audience. Thought leadership content is, at its core, researched, and insightful information – the kind of information that people who want to buy your services want to read. If your content focuses on that customer rather than pushing other sales messages, it will get results. Don’t lose heart if the leads aren’t rolling in after you publish – one valuable lead is worth more than 50 that don’t go anywhere.
Need more proof? Look at the Business Class blog, published by American Express. In 2007, Amex created a place where consumers could come with questions – and find thoughtful, actionable answers. More than a decade later, it’s one of the oldest and most successful examples of thought leadership content.
Make it Memorable
“The top characteristic of low-quality thought leadership is that it merely repeats what everyone else is saying.” Raconteur is spot on with this one – memorable content inspires potential clients to pick up the phone. This year alone, we’ve seen some tremendous examples of thought leadership content – McKinsey’s Consumer Reports and the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Reports are a few that come to mind. The most successful examples of this type of work are memorable. They present original ideas that surprise you – and might even challenge the status quo. New perspectives are absolutely critical. Our best stress test? When you come up with an idea for a thought leadership article – are you excited? Does it make you want to dive in and read more? Most importantly, can you pull together a succinct pitch that you’d be proud to send to a journalist? If the answer is no, then keep working for the right angle that’s newsworthy or topical.
Thought leadership content has the ability to change your business for the better. If you’re interested in hearing about how thought leadership and reputation management can help your business, get in touch today.