The term “thought leadership” is everywhere. And by everywhere I mean roughly 49 million places (according to my recent Google search). Still, just because a term is ubiquitous doesn’t mean the concept itself is obsolete.
When it comes to B2B marketing, for example, thought leadership remains a crucial differentiator and a powerful asset—as long as it’s the real deal. In the marketing world, thought leadership denotes a type of content published by an author or company with deep expertise in a given subject or category.
Sadly, too much of today’s so-called thought leadership content is sorely lacking. Some of it lacks thought, some of it lacks leadership, some of it lacks both. One reason for this is because everyone in marketing is looking for an advantage, a way to beat the competition in terms of brand visibility and audience engagement. If a company can bang out some half-baked content, slap the “thought leadership” banner on it, and grab a bit of attention, they’re more than happy to do it. But it’s a lousy practice. The attention is short-lived once the audience sees the content for what it is: vapid. Even worse, this practice can work against a brand trying to build a reputation for thought leadership. A few consistently poor content pieces can sully a brand’s reputation quickly.
Another reason for the sorry state of thought leadership content is that some marketeering pundits are telling businesses, “Anyone can be a thought leader!” (I’m not making that up. You can find these articles online pretty easily, if you’re interested.)
Let’s be clear: no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Not anyone can be a thought leader.
Yes, lots of people can write decently. Yes, they can share worthwhile information and provide useful observations. But thought leaders go beyond this. They inspire their audiences to think in new ways … to innovate and conduct business differently. Thought leaders address their audience’s most pressing needs and their most crucial questions. This requires a level of experience and knowledge that many of us simply don’t have.
That’s what makes thought leadership so special.
The Good News
This doesn’t mean thought leaders are one in a billion. Your organization probably has a few individuals who serve as its thought leaders. These are the people who should be authoring (or at least helping to guide the creation of) your company’s thought leadership content.
Your company might produce quite a bit of intelligent content but not all of it will live up to thought leadership standards. If you want to develop a reputation for thought leadership, create content that aims for the targets noted above:
- Address your audience’s most pressing needs.
- Help them answer their most crucial questions.
- Help them anticipate the future and navigate their way there more effectively.
- Inspire them to think in new ways and to innovate.
Thought leaders achieve these goals by writing from a deeply personal space—and yet they’re not shining the spotlight on themselves. They shine the spotlight squarely on their experiences and ideas. And therein lies the beauty of thought leadership content. By focusing on the audience’s success, the content brings success to its author as well:
- In the short term, the author wins the audience’s attention and interest, which is no small triumph in today’s crowded marketplace.
- In the mid term, the author is rewarded with the audience’s trust. They return time after time to read, download, view or listen to the author’s latest content.
- In the long term, after having produced a steady stream of content that provides real business value, the author may win the audience’s business—the ultimate reward.
Of course, the content has to deliver real business value to achieve these levels of success.
To sum up … thought leadership content remains a crucial differentiator and a powerful asset. The phrase itself might be getting a little played but the concept is as vital as ever.
In his Forbes article, “3 Reasons Why Thought Leadership Matters,” SAP’s global senior director of enterprise analytics, Kaan Turnali, writes: “Thought leadership matters because stretching old ideas beyond their traditional boundaries creates new perspectives. More important, it can serve as a foundation for others to expand and innovate, inspiring conversations that would have been otherwise lost or never started.”
None of that will ever be obsolete.
About the Author: Michael Civiello is a communications strategist and senior writer at fisher VISTA. He collaborates with clients every day to develop messaging, content and PR campaigns that build brand awareness and marketplace credibility.