You don’t have to look far to find self-proclaimed business and marketing gurus offering up unsolicited advice about the ‘secrets’ to business success. But perhaps one of the most important factors is an intangible that often goes overlooked: trust.
Your brand could have the best product or service of its kind in the world. You might have the biggest ad buys, the largest social media presence, the greatest sales people. But if buyers and consumers don’t trust you or your brand, you’ll never quite hit the mark.
Beyond having great products and services, how does a company build trust? One way is to engage in a long term strategy of thought leadership.
At its core, thought leadership describes a person, brand, or organization that has established themselves as an expert in a particular field. Through speeches, white papers, blog posts, videos, and other custom created content, thought leaders have demonstrated leadership and unique vision. They are someone others look to for interesting takes on relevant topics, and ideas for the future. Better yet, they’re someone people trust.
How does becoming a thought leader benefit you and your brand?
- You get noticed by people in your field.
- Consistently disseminating well thought out custom content to your target audience will drive traffic and make people take notice.
- You become an industry authority.
- The more you demonstrate knowledge and unique insight, the more you establish credibility among your peers. You become an authority in that arena, are seen as someone with their pulse on a particular subject, and even as someone with vision for the future.
- Get written about by others.
- While the process of becoming a thought leader through custom content will certainly help you and your brand get noticed, it’s what comes after where the true benefits start to accrue. People seen as thought leaders will be contacted by bloggers, reporters and others who create content and write and talk about your field of interest and they will quote you. (This has happened to us dozens of times over. Like the time we got contacted by Cheddar to be interviewed on national TV about the Tide Pod Challenge.) You will now become someone not just selling a product or service. You will become a much sought after expert in your field.
- It forces you to become a forward thinker.
- By committing yourself to becoming a thought leader, you will instinctively seek out new knowledge and unique ideas. This will lead to true beneficial change to you and your company.
- As a thought leader, you will naturally gain access to people and companies that may not have paid attention to you otherwise.
A word of caution is in order here. It’s often said we live in an age where content is king. But simply churning out content for the sake of views, clicks and to get noticed is not a viable strategy to becoming a thought leader. In fact, this type of approach can backfire.
Becoming a thought leader in a particular field takes time, patience, and a well-planned, laser-like focus on what messages and profile you want to convey. You need to be real, and you need to be patient. Case in point – by carefully cultivating our thought leadership strategy, and working at it consistently for several years, we were able to make it to the top 3 national search results for several of our keywords on Google, without ever hiring an SEO firm. And it’s still a huge source of traffic for us, to this day. But it took time, and consistent effort.
According to a survey on thought leadership and trust conducted by Linkedin, 86% of the decision makers surveyed said quality thought leadership can drive trust in an organization for them.
However, the survey noted, “it is imperative that the organization has an authentic culture of thought leadership which takes time and consistency to build. It’s important that the producers of thought leadership build this culture by having a willingness to invest in thought leadership to drive deep thinking and intellectual rigor. Finally, there needs to be full participation from executives and across the organization.”
How does one become a thought leader?
- Know who you are.
- Take the time to understand what it is you or your brand are experts at. What is it that makes you a natural authority about a particular subject?
- Answer the questions that your target audience might be asking.
- Do keyword research on what people in your field are searching for. Comb through social media groups and online forums related to your field to understand the latest topics and questions people have. Tailor your content to addressing people’s needs and pointing them to a solution.
- Make it personal, but don’t show off
- Always offer up your own experiences and original research first. There is nothing more compelling than someone offering their own experiences in a field. However, keep in mind that you are doing this not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to genuinely help people.
- Be forward looking.
- Thought leaders aren’t stuck in the past or the present. They are always looking to the future. They have the ability to condense the ideas of the past and the present, and present a coherent rational view of where your industry is headed. Thought leaders are able to provide people with vision and to see the future.
- Don’t be afraid to share the limelight.
- Thought leadership does not always have to come from the CEO. It can be anyone in your organization or company. A sales manager or content producer within the organization can offer valuable insights into issues and trends.
- Create great, lively content and make it digestible
- Making a speech? Video the speech and post it on Youtube. Pick out highlights of the speech and produce short form segments. Busy executives still consume business related content but they may not have an hour to spare. The same goes for written content. Did you produce a long thorough white paper? You can cut it up and post it as individual blog posts on your website and social media channels.
- Develop contacts in media and throughout your industry
- Media who write about your industry are always looking for new and fresh content. Seek them out and let them know what you are doing. Build relationships with like-minded people in your industry. Word of mouth and personal endorsements are the strongest form of advertising.
Andreas Velling, Chief Marketing Officer at Fractory suggests, “Connecting with other thought leaders is a fantastic method to improve your abilities and expand your knowledge.”
While your ultimate goal of embarking on becoming a thought leader may be to increase sales, money should not be your primary consideration when formulating a thought leadership strategy. It’s all about establishing yourself as an authentic expert, as an authority, as someone who can condense complex ideas in an entertaining way, and present a clear and exciting vision for the future.
That’s how you go from being another company selling a product or service, to a brand people can trust.