Putting the ‘thought’ back into thought leadership

As a new year begins, there will be a lot of businesses looking to the future and thinking about how they can step up their marketing efforts in 2022.

For many, a key focus will be the creation of thought leadership content. When it’s done well, this can lead to all sorts of benefits, including the establishment of your brand as an influential voice in the industry, which will help you gain customer trust. However, it’s all too easy to get thought leadership wrong, and to end up being more of a follower than a leader.

The leadership challenge

The formula for thought leadership goes something like this: reliable, well-researched facts and figures + unique, illuminating insights + expert views = excellent content. The businesses that follow this are winning the race in this segment of the marketing world.

Take Deloitte, for instance, which has established itself as a thought leader by commenting on industry developments and giving useful insights and opinions on its own research. By being brave enough to put its beliefs out there, it helps to shape the way readers view issues, all while giving the company a real voice.

However, many businesses fail to add the actual ‘thought’ when creating thought leadership content and find themselves simply regurgitating or reinforcing the opinions of others.

This is often the result of a disconnect between wanting this sort of content and actually being able to deliver it. Businesses have heard about thought leadership, they know they should be doing it, but when it comes to giving their opinions, they lack the confidence and conviction to make a real impact.

Sometimes this is the result of an unwillingness to rock the boat and attract ‘negative’ attention. In other instances, companies have a deadline to generate content and don’t have time to get a conclusive answer from executives about what their opinion is, preferring instead to collate the thoughts of others and ‘present a balanced view’.

However, when it comes to thought leadership, there is no room for neutral or beige content. The point is to add something unique to the discourse surrounding a subject, which can then be used to generate debate.

Why does it matter what you think?

Thought leadership is only useful if you have something to say and aren’t afraid to tell people about it. Readers are looking for a reason to care and you have to give it to them.

If you do this, the benefits are plentiful. At a basic level, it will give people a reason to download your whitepaper, read your blog, share your content and tweet about it. You’re also much more likely to be re-quoted by other thought leaders.

This will all help to establish your business as an industry expert, giving it a clear brand and public face that offers customers an insight into your values and priorities. Google will also reward you with better search engine rankings and you’ll find that one opinion piece can be used as the lynchpin of a wider content strategy.

It’s hard work having an opinion

Of course, becoming a thought leader isn’t an overnight process. It takes time, commitment and gradual cultivation of a diverse, compelling library of content.

To do it right takes company-wide cooperation. You need to get everyone on board with a strategy and reach an agreement on what the company’s position is on key issues. Once you’ve got this, you need to tell people about it and justify your claims with facts and other expert views.

What’s more, you can’t afford to drop the ball once your opinion is out there.

The point of thought leadership is to generate debate and engage people, so time has to be dedicated to replying to comments and questions, monitoring social media and encouraging further debate.

Promotion is half the battle, so be prepared to support thought leadership with additional content, appearances at trade shows or even talking about issues with other agencies.

Put the effort in, and you’ll see the return on investment. Do it poorly and you’re unlikely to achieve the full benefits of thought leadership.

If you need support with this or any other aspect of your content marketing strategy, Axonn can help.