Aaron Agius is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of the award-winning global marketing agency Louder.Online.
When cheesy sales pitches stopped working online, marketers adjusted. Savvy communicators learned to provide their audience with more depth, more meaning and more content.
Thus, the thought leader was born. But simply having a low-effort blog or video channel is no longer considered thought leadership as it once was.
So is thought leadership dead? Yes and no. Thought leadership as we once knew it is certainly six feet under.
However, if you embrace the new paradigm of thought leadership, it’s still very much alive (and worth the effort).
Let’s talk about how thought leadership has evolved, and how to succeed at it in 2022 and beyond.
What Thought Leadership Is Not
When defining a term as ambiguous as thought leadership, it helps to start with the process of elimination. With that in mind, thought leadership is not:
• Just any piece of content that offers value.
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• Obvious information.
• The same recycled opinion as others.
• A sleazy sales pitch.
If your idea of thought leadership has any of the above characteristics, toss it out. The old-school strategy of churning out a million random blog posts as a way to build your subscriber list is dead.
So then what does real thought leadership look like?
5 Ways To Do Thought Leadership Right
In essence, thought leadership is unique, insightful content that helps your audience move forward.
So how do you create content like this that positions you as the ultimate authority? Let’s talk about five strategies to implement right now.
1. Keep The Buyer’s Journey In Mind
Thought leadership is not for you (or your brand). Thought leadership is for your audience.
Leadership content should guide your audience through their buying journey. However, this does not mean that you are using thought leadership as a funnel to make more sales.
When done correctly, your content should first build trust with your market. A survey by Edelman and LinkedIn found that 64% of buyers said thought leadership is more trustworthy than mere marketing materials.
You build trust by providing incredible value and asking for nothing in return (not even an email address).
Of course, you’ll have sales funnels and calls to action in other places across the web. But focus first on simply being seen as the expert in your niche. This will create the credibility necessary to monetize your brand later on.
2. Create More Valuable Content
If you’re not sure whether your content is thought leadership, here’s a quick and simple three-question test:
• What’s the purpose? Does your piece end with a sales pitch, a sign-up form or a similar sales-oriented call to action? If so, it’s not thought leadership.
• Does it have substance? Does your content offer some new or different insights into your industry? Does it translate something complex into something simple? Don’t share just for the sake of sharing—make it matter.
• How unique is it? Does your point of view mirror the exact thoughts of other leaders in your field? If your ideas are unoriginal, it’s okay, but that’s not thought leadership.
If what you’re sharing with the world passes this test, you’re off to an excellent start.
3. Go Deep In One Niche
Imagine your roof has a leak. Who would you rather ask for advice—a roof repair expert or a jack-of-all-trades?
It’s tempting to cover every topic in your industry. But no one can be an expert in everything.
Choose a lane and stick to it. It’s much better to be known as the premier thought leader in a very narrow niche than someone who kind of knows a little bit about a lot of things.
4. Keep Up With Industry Trends
To stay at the top of thought leadership in your space, you need to constantly evolve and embrace new ways of communicating with your market. What are your largest competitors doing? Why do you think they’re doing that? A little competitive research goes a long way.
Regardless of what others say or do, use industry trends to guide your future content plans. For instance, web searches using the term “metaverse” jumped by 7,200% in 2021.
Even if your competitors are slow to adopt new platforms, you should stay on the cutting edge and take risks. After all, a customer who doesn’t like to read may very well watch a virtual speech of yours. Some people want to read plain text, and others may prefer to put on a headset and watch their digital avatar sit in a 3D arena filled with sound and colors.
5. Remain Consistent Across Various Platforms
It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to create one piece of thought leadership and blow up overnight as the leading expert in your field.
Like any true leadership, it doesn’t happen overnight. Half-heartedly creating a blog doesn’t cut it anymore.
What’s more, limiting yourself to one platform is a big mistake. With phones in their pockets, your market may switch from reading tweets to watching YouTube videos to reading a blog post, all within seconds.
Take the B2B space for instance, where the average buyer uses 10 or more channels to communicate with suppliers (up from five in 2016).
You need to have something significant to say, and you need to say it everywhere you can—and you need to do it more than once.
Leave no doubt in your audience’s mind that you know your niche, and that you’re going to be around for the long haul.
Thought leadership as we once knew it is dead because it wasn’t focused on serving people at the highest level. People today have too many choices, so you simply must do better to stand out.
Luckily, human beings have a great sense of what’s real and what’s not. So if you put the time, effort and authenticity into your content, you can create true thought leadership with the strategies above. That way, you can influence, inspire and impact as many lives as possible.
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Author: Aaron Agius, Forbes Councils Member