Become A Thought Leader

Are you a thought leader? Should you even try to be a thought leader? Nicole Fallon notes that “While the aim of every executive is to run a successful company, many modern C-suite members also have their sights set on another, more esoteric goal: becoming a “thought leader” in their field.” She sees this as a worthy goal.

In her article entitled “What Is Thought Leadership, and Why Does It Matter?” she points out that “thought leadership is commonly discussed in the business world, and to the average person, it may sound like another annoying corporate buzzword. But behind the jargon is the honest and admirable ambition of being viewed as a credible industry expert, one who cuts through the “noise” and offers something worth listening to.”


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Thought leaders are seen as trustworthy, go-to authorities among industry colleagues and peers, said Jake Dunlap, CEO and founder of Skaled, a sales consulting firm.

“They possess an innate ability to contribute to the conversations happening today, while also being able to speculate on what is going to happen tomorrow. Rather than chime in on every topic, they set the pace for the industry and offer intelligent insights and informed opinions,” Dunlap said.

“A thought leader recognizes trends before they happen and applies that insight to achieve actual business results,” added Numaan Akram, founder and CEO of Rally, a company that coordinates crowdsourced event travel.


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As the phrase implies, though, having these insightful thoughts and ideas is only part of being a thought leader. The “leadership” portion counts for a lot, too. So, how do you become a thought leader? One way is to use LinkedIn.

In the article entitled “LinkedIn’s Tips For Creating More Meaningful Thought Leadership Pieces” written by Olivia Atkins, she remarks that content marketing ishaving a moment, with many marketers and brands using various platforms to keep their presence alive online. It’s no surprise then that LinkedIn, the professional social network, is filled with thought leadership and content pieces. What may come, as a shock is how few pieces actually stand out or have something of worth to say, lost in the ether of cyber space.

Speaking at The Drum’s Pitch Perfect conference, KL Daly, content partner manager, EMEA at LinkedIn stresses the importance of knowing a brand’s audience and suggests this will help with cut through as it should feed into crafting the sort of pieces readers want to see. She also reveals what type of content excels on LinkedIn and gives her advice on getting content to rise to the top of the pile.


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Because the web is so saturated with content, many marketers and buyers are disappointed with the quality of most thought leadership pieces published today. In fact, as little as 30% of B2B marketers are satisfied with how their organizations are pushing content marketing. The majority of op-eds are unsatisfactory and struggle with reader engagement. Daly reveals that the industry has a tendency to talk about things we all already know, regurgitating ideas, thoughts and statistics. However, with every year that passes, more content is being released online yet in reality, new and enlightening ideas aren’t being developed and so, much of it remains ineffective. To break this vicious cycle, Daly suggests rethinking the pitching process.

To make your content stand out, Daly puts forward a three-tier process. She highlights the importance of knowing your audience, understanding your place within the market and where your company’s skills sit. Only then will it be easier for you to work out what your organization’s niche is, allowing you then to determine your target audience. The more specific the audience, the better – as it means you can talk about a subject in-depth and avoid repeating information that’s already available online, she advises.

Understanding the right platform to post on is equally important. Daly details which topics drive most engagement on LinkedIn, citing industry trends and news as the most popular subjects, followed by articles on tips/best practices and jobs/skills. Determining these themes will improve your understanding of how to manipulate these platforms and gain most traction. Case studies and infographics were the most engaging content types for tech professionals on LinkedIn, according to Daly, so marketers should structure potential pitches for thought leadership pieces around this information. Knowing this, marketers can defy a client’s expectations should they require a more generic approach to pushing out content. Inform them that this approach has been proven to better engage LinkedIn users as it taps into what readers actively seek out.

There’s a general misconception that pushing out more content will equate to increased engagement. However Daly actually warns against this. Rather than become another voice in an already crowded space, she suggests focusing on fewer things and improving the quality of each, using Hollywood as an example. Take Disney, who in 2016 only made 13 films, four of which became the highest grossing of the year. Disney has also refined its formula and knows what stories now work; they continuously tell the same plotline over and over but disguised as different fictions – something Daly suggests marketers should mimic.

Once you know what your niche within the industry is, you can continue to rehash your idea and look for new angles within the constraints of that very specific perspective. Disney also does a great job of bringing out tangential content alongside the main film, through merchandise and promos. This helps to create a buzz around each movie’s release and Daly recommends that marketers do the same and look for new avenues to entice their audiences. By spending less money on creating content and investing the cash on media placement instead, she believes that these assets will drive audiences back to the original piece irrespective of the fact that minimal creative work has been carried out.

When pitching thought leadership pieces, remember to work out your USP. A strong or controversial point of view might appeal to readers; or the company’s expertise or leaders’ approach may help them to stand-out; or perhaps their opinion on a piece of news or product release could be of interest? It’s about catching a reader’s imagination and selling the company’s unique stamp. Before pitch stage, the client may have a very clear idea of what they want said in the piece, but don’t be afraid to challenge this notion. Sometimes they don’t actually know who their desired readers are or what they want to say with their message, which in that case means the responsibility falls onto the marketer to determine the fine details. By using insights to inform the process from start to finish, there will be less unknown, grey areas and more chance of creating something that means something to the target audience and beyond.

About The Author

Michael Hammond

Michael Hammond is chief strategy officer at PROGRESS in Lending Association and is the founder and president of NexLevel Advisors. They provide solutions in business development, strategic selling, marketing, public relations and social media. He has close to two decades of leadership, management, marketing, sales and technical product experience. Michael held prior executive positions such as CEO, CMO, VP of Business Strategy, Director of Sales and Marketing and Director of Marketing for a number of leading companies. He is also only one of about 60 individuals to earn the Certified Mortgage Technologist (CMT) designation. Michael can be contacted via e-mail at mhammond@nexleveladvisors.com.