What does ‘thought leadership’ mean to you? 5 myths debunked

Posted By Emma Dodd on 30th May 2018

Thought leadership is among the marketing solutions that we get asked about most frequently here at Axonn Media. And while it’s great that our clients are keen to make use of this dynamic element of content marketing strategy, there remain a lot of myths surrounding the subject.

Most clients are interested in thought leadership as they have heard it is an effective way to become known as an authority within their industry. Other benefits include creating brand awareness and additional trust.

At Axonn Media, our editorial team has a vast amount of experience when it comes to thought leadership and has delivered it for many clients across multiple industries. This means we are abreast of the current developments and are continually trained in this evolving area.

Now, we’re pleased to share our expertise with you and bust some of the myths surrounding thought leadership content. Once you’ve got to grips with the principles, you can follow our advice to ensure your content is hitting the mark every time.

Myth #1: One big idea is enough to make you a thought leader

People often think that thought leadership is all based around one big idea, but to use a popular analogy, it’s more of a marathon than a sprint. Thought leaders are seen as experts in their fields and therefore need to have a broad knowledge of a number of subjects.

You may get noticed with an original, attention-grabbing idea, but this needs to be followed up with the next stand-out thought. If it is a one-off, then it will not sustain your reputation as a thought leader in the long term.

Tania says: “Thought leadership works best when it’s reacting to big industry issues that are happening then and there – and this changes all the time. For example, right now in marketing you might be writing about GDPR or AI or account-based marketing, but in a year’s time it will be totally different.

“You need to capitalise on that moment when people in your industry are unsure or concerned about how some new update is going to impact them and give them some expert answers they can rely on.”

Myth #2: Thought leadership is a one-way conversation

When you’re an expert on a topic it’s very easy to see yourself as a teacher standing in front of a lecture hall full of people, imparting your knowledge. But like all good learning experiences, this is just the beginning of the process, and many of the most pertinent points are developed as the students contribute their own thoughts and understanding of the matter.

Being part of a multi-person conversation in no way diminishes your expertise, but instead builds a community around your ideas, strengthening your concept and increasing its reach.

Pete says: “You might publish your original thoughts on an issue, and then after other experts have had their say or the issue has developed further, you can respond to what others have said, or update your stance based on the developments.”

Myth #3: You just need to take a look at your industry and comment on it to be a thought leader

Nothing in this world exists in a vacuum, making what has gone before and what will come next relevant to contemporary events . Knowing your stuff means evaluating the relevance of the past and predicting future trends to put current happenings into context.

Thought leaders know their industries inside out, which is why this type of content is so effective. It is also not a quick-fix solution to get conversions on your site. It is a way of building trust with your audience and setting yourself apart from competitors due to the genuine additional value you bring to the table.

Alice says: “Considering the state of the industry is a large part of being a thought leader, but to impress people who already know a lot about your industry, your opinion needs to be truly expert and talk to them on their level, while also offering them viewpoints they might not have considered before.

“This means your experts need to have all the context of the history of the industry when speaking about present issues. In addition, using the history of the industry and what’s happening now, thought leaders should be able to make informed predictions for the future – this is often an effective and headline-grabbing approach to thought leadership.”

Myth #4: You can become a thought leader in an afternoon

As is alluded to above, thought leadership content is not a quick fix and takes a lot of work. You can be a thought leader if you are genuinely interested in a subject and are prepared to put the hours in to gain the knowledge, understanding and experience of an industry and its many angles.

Content creators who have access to a thought leader can show off that individual’s expertise without them having to do the writing. This is usually done via an interview and allows the thought leader’s arguments to be put across in a comprehensive fashion without taking a lot of time out of their working day.

Joe says: “A thought leader will need to have racked up at least a few years in the industry, have researched the subject a lot and spoken to their peers to gather other opinion, will often read content pertaining to their industry, and may also have qualifications to back up their authority.”

Myth #5: If your competitors have got there first you must abandon a topic

Thought Leadership Hurdles

A lot of brands aiming to become thought leaders fall at the first hurdle, as they think that topics covered by their competitors cannot also be theirs. This is totally untrue, as if an area is relevant to your industry then it is more than likely that other people are already talking about it.

Add your voice to the argument and make sure it is distinctive. Your competitors may have done you a favour by starting the conversation, but you can show your expertise by moving it along further and developing their ideas. Just because you weren’t there first doesn’t mean you can’t join the party.

Tom says: “Join in the conversation! Just make sure you’re presenting an original angle.”