Whether you’re a business founder, an executive, or an entrepreneur, you’re likely aware that thought leadership is more than just a buzzword. Sure, anyone can call themselves an industry thought leader, but a true industry expert has put in the time and dedication to earn the name.
Being a thought leader in your industry means that you’re seen as a go-to expert when others need guidance. You’re a trusted source of inspiration, knowledge, and change. A thought leader is a trailblazer paving a path for others to follow.
This level of expertise comes from years of learning your trade through trial and error. But you've got to be willing to go one step further and prove that you're an authentic thought leader. But how can you do that?
A great way to prove your distinctive thought leadership is to showcase it in your content. At Influence & Co., we work with a lot of industry experts, and we’ve found that the problem is rarely a lack of expertise. More often, the struggle is proving that expertise with unique insights rather than rehashing content that's already been covered at length. With some encouragement and direction, subject matter experts eventually find their voice.
Figuring out what sets you apart from other industry experts can be challenging. That's why we’ve put together a step-by-step guide to help you find your unique voice and develop a strong thought leadership strategy.
You most likely aren’t a leading expert across your entire industry. So right off the bat, take some time to narrow down where your true expertise lies. What subject do you know like the back of your hand? What topics could you talk about for hours without breaking a sweat? In what areas do your peers and employees seek out your advice? If you're not sure, go ahead and ask them! That, my friend, is your thought leadership.
Take our client, Tania Fiero, for example. She understands that her unique voice is best showcased on topics that are tailored to her personal experience and role, not just her industry. As VP of human resources at an employer of record, it behooves her to share her expertise on topics she sees in action on a daily basis. Her article "How to Manage Risks and Maximize Rewards of Co-Employment" allowed her to do just that. Because she is a true expert on this specific topic, she was able to showcase her voice in an informative yet impactful way.
Organize and manage your thought leadership content with this customizable knowledge bank.
Here's a piece of advice we can’t emphasize enough: Google is for inspiration, not regurgitation. The last thing you want to do is restate what others have already said a dozen times.
Once you determine your expertise and the general topics you want to write about, you should look to see what's already circulating on the web. The best places to start are the publications you'd like to pitch your own articles to. Say you're an artificial intelligence expert dreaming of getting published in Wired. Well, Wired has no shortage of AI articles on its site. While this shows that the audience is interested in the subject matter, it also means the site has plenty of thought leaders competing for a byline. You're going to have to bring something new to the table to capture the editor's attention with your guest-contributed article pitch.
Look for gaps in the discussion that you can fill with unique thought leadership insights. Read some articles related to your own skillset. What do you disagree with? Maybe you have an interesting perspective that hasn't yet been considered. Or maybe your experience has led you to learn a hard lesson that contradicts another expert's opinion.
Find out what's trending in your industry, what’s projected as the next up-and-coming shift, and what people aren’t yet talking about that you know deserves some attention. Keep track of these ideas as they come to you — they'll be helpful in homing in on your angle.
You’ve narrowed down your area of expertise and attained some Googlespiration. Now it’s time to start brainstorming your angle. Consider what questions stakeholders, clients, and leads often have about your industry or company.
If you’re unsure, ask your sales executives what questions they’re most commonly asked. If you can ease or even solve these issues, chances are you’ve already found a valuable angle.
At Influence & Co., we’ve gotten a lot of client questions around how to measure marketing success without a marketing automation platform. That prompted our client engagement specialist to write a blog post explaining "How to Measure Content Marketing Success Without a Marketing Automation Platform." The article not only highlights her particular area of expertise, but it also aims to resolve a common client pain point.
To determine a useful topic angle, think through best practices, strategies, and common mistakes. If you don't work directly with clients or prospects on a regular basis, it might take some digging before you experience that lightbulb moment. To get the wheels turning, you might start by listening in on a sales call to hear what questions prospective clients are asking. Or consider talking to your customer service or account service team to get a better understanding of what confuses existing clients. When you've got the solution to someone's pain point, you've got their ear.
Once you’ve determined your angle, you’re ready to start crafting your thought leadership content! As you get started, ask yourself how the reader will benefit from it. Your audience should be top of mind throughout the entire content creation process.
Readers don't just want to know why they should do something; they want to know how it's done. If you’re advising readers to improve efficiency, for example, you should include tips that they can implement. Maybe you suggest that they start with the most daunting task first thing in the morning and stick with it until it’s done. Or maybe you suggest that they take frequent short breaks throughout the day in order to avoid burnout. Instead of throwing out clichés or suggesting the obvious, think through what specific action steps have worked for you. What have you learned via trial and error that your guidance could help someone else avoid?
Whatever your advice is, readers should feel more informed by the time they finish reading your article. Encouraging readers to take action in a way they haven’t thought of before is a sign of true thought leadership.
Understanding the difference between sharing your expertise and overtly promoting yourself is vital to the success of your thought leadership. Readers can smell an advertisement from a mile away, so if you spit out 800 words about how great your company is, readers will most likely tune out and search for valuable insights elsewhere.
Your authentic voice can build trust and show readers that your content is here for their benefit — and coming from a real person, not just a corporate entity. If your advice is backed by personal examples of your own successes, failures, and lessons learned, you're more likely to hold readers' attention and form a relatable connection. They'll understand that you've been in their shoes.
You might be an industry expert, but if you don't showcase your unique voice, your peers and prospects might not see it. Once you’re ready to start on your thought leadership journey, following these steps will put you well on your way to executing a content marketing strategy that will authentically resonate with your audience.
This blog post was co-written by my wonderful team: Kara Shobe, Michelle Smith, and Lauren Tellman.