Of all the buzzwords and phrases surrounding marketing—unlike the desire to “go viral” or an obsession with “growth hacking”—”thought leadership” remains a concept of great potential (and confusion) for brands.
A joint Edelman and LinkedIn study reinforced the value of thought leadership and showed that thought leadership could have a significant impact on a company’s long-term viability:
- Nearly half of business decision-makers spend one hour or more a week reading thought leadership content, with almost one in four spending four or more hours
- Based on the quality of this content, half of the decision-makers say it is useful in influencing their purchasing decisions
- 42% are willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that produces thought leadership versus those that do not
However, the issue is that 74% of teams have no way to link sales or wins to their thought leadership. And simply producing thought leadership content does not guarantee success, as poorly crafted content can even decrease a company’s reputation.
So, what exactly is thought leadership, and how can brands engage in these activities in a successful way? Let’s explore the essential elements of a thought leadership platform and the activities that your team can pursue.
What is Thought Leadership?
An individual or brand reaches “thought leader” status when they become commonly associated with a specific topic or area of interest. Thought leaders are trusted voices in their space, and people look to them for their take on the latest trends, predictions, and cross-industry implications of the thought leadership topic of interest.
Many immediately recognizable thought leaders also happen to be C-suite leadership at global companies. For example, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is praised as a thought leader in cloud computing. IBM Executive Chairman and former CEO Ginni Rometty is a thought leader in quantum computing. But any person can become a thought leader regardless of their title or the size of their company.
An important thing to understand is that thought leadership is built through a series of consistent and calculated efforts that enmesh your brand and spokesperson in whichever space you target. It is not a finish line to cross or a box to check off your to-do list. Further, you should not expect to become a thought leader overnight. Thought leadership activities take several months—if not years—before they translate into ROI.
Can Brands Be Thought Leaders?
A quick point of clarification: thought leadership requires a spokesperson driving the activities. There are a few reasons for this. First, thought leadership involves an element of trust and respect that is earned, and people more readily trust other people, not brands. Second, thought leadership requires a person whose experience has given them a unique point of view. Further, contrary to the author’s byline on some company blogs, a brand doesn’t create content—people do!
Your brand needs to claim its unique position in its industry. A successful thought leadership strategy hinges on having a trusted and engaged thought leader to embody and give a face to your brand’s thought leadership position.