Becoming an industry thought leader and employing thought leadership marketing are things that many organizations aspire to. Granted, not everyone wants to be a thought leader, however, it’s safe to say that nearly everyone in a given industry would love to sit in the coveted position that the thought leader enjoys. The thought leader is certainly not always the market leader, but they are often very profitable and occupy a differentiated and defensible position in the industry. The question is, how do they get there and what sets them apart? Why can’t everyone be a thought leader?
First, few companies have the discipline and commitment to fully execute and sustain and thought leadership marketing strategy. In a recent conversation with an organization seeking to employ thought leadership, it was evident that they had many of the makings of a thought leader, but they were inconsistent in their application of thought leadership principles and hadn’t realized the full benefits of seeking to occupy the thought leader position in their industry. However, with just a few tweaks, they could occupy the spot of the thought leader. How? Let’s look at the first elements that you should look for if you’re seeking to be a thought leader in your industry.
Let’s explore these concepts of Assets, Attitude, Acceptance, and Alignment further.
Admittedly, I believe that Assets are not the most important part of the equation here. That said it’s the first thing that most organizations need to look at when exploring thought leadership marketing. You must have a sufficient base of assets or be able to develop these assets in order to be a thought leader. This is not an exhaustive list, but here are a few important assets.
Do you have the required assets to leverage as a thought leader?
- Intellectual capital
- Innovation & intellectual property creation
- Unique insight and expertise
- Cases & results on your products & services
The most important aspect that we find in the making of a successful thought leader is their attitude. I know, it’s a bit of a soft factor, but if you don’t have a value-first mentality and a proclivity for educating your market and customers, all of the greatest assets in the world will never see the light of day. These are but a few of the attitudinal elements that make up the thought leading organization.
What are the attitudinal markers of a thought leader?
- Desire to educate clients; the market
- Willingness to share real value (this makes it easier to use social media as well)
- Ability to control your “urge to sell”
- Long-term mindset on contributing to the industry dialogue
You could also call this the ‘market research’ portion of thought leadership. Having a raft of assets and a sharing attitude are nothing if it will fall on deaf ears. Not every industry is right for thought leadership marketing, but there are few things you can look at to determine a fit. Studies by ITSMA, The Economist Intelligence Unit and MarketingSherpa have all pointed to the efficacy of thought leadership content in gaining the attention of and persuading buyers.
How will our thought leadership be accepted?
- Are clients persuaded by thought leadership?
- The industry is in need of fresh perspective
- We’re credible, or at least neutral in our industry
Alignment could very well be the glue that holds this all together. If your CEO is not on board (nothing is worse than coming up with a great marketing strategy only to have your CEO on a different planet) or if your front line teams are not on board, thought leadership marketing is not a viable strategy. Being a thought leader takes an entire company’s support to succeed.
What does the thought leadership aligned organization look like?
- Clients embrace ideas & engage in dialogue
- Front-line teams embrace and leverage thought leadership
- Thought leadership is aligned with industry challenges & conversations
- The point of view, channels and tools work together to deliver results
The so-called “Four A’s” of thought leadership marketing are just the beginning, but being such, they are a great place to start as a self diagnostic to determine how well your organization could do by pursuing a thought leadership position in your market. If you have the required assets and attitude to start down the road of being a thought leader gaining acceptance and alignment within the marketplace, you’re on the way!
The following is a sample of a radar diagram of how an organization might look if they assess their thought leadership ability on a 4 A scale. You can see that the organization has almost everything but the right attitude to get started.