How to be a true thought leader

When it comes to content marketing it’s the thought that counts

Posted by Greg Farrett on October 1, 2019

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The changing face of marketing in the internet age has forced a rethink at both B2B and B2C marketing communications teams. There is a growing role for content marketing that educates rather than proactively sells a brand. In order to truly take advantage, you need to claim a thought leadership position within your field of industrial technology.

This is only logical. Both consumers and industry buyers want to ensure that they are purchasing from a trusted and reputable source who knows what they are talking about. This becomes even more important in industrial technology B2B, where the role of the supplier has become one of a proactive product development partner. If your (potential) customer reads a case study where you have overcome a significant industrial technology technical challenge, they are more likely to call you up to help them solve a similarly complex issue that their product development team is currently facing. 

It’s clear that thought leadership is key to future strategy. A 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B survey of 1,200 US business decision-makers, content creators and salespeople found that consumption of thought leadership has grown from 50% to 58% over the past year. More than half of decision-makers surveyed (55%) reported to be using thought leadership as an important way to vet business. Furthermore the survey found that 58% of decision makers say they choose a business based on its thought leadership, with 26% of sellers believing that thought leadership is directly responsible for closing business. The study also found that 61% of decision-makers were willing to pay premium prices to work with a brand that articulates a clear vision through thought leadership.

So who then should become the thought leader within your organization and how can they be positioned in that way? Which platforms should you use to get their profile noticed?

Who’s the leader of the pack?

Identifying a single or multiple thought leaders within your organization is the first step towards success. It is about embracing their niche and area of expertise.

Some thought leaders are obvious. Your CEO will likely bring years of experience from within your specific industry and offer a comprehensive vision of the current business environment and strategy. He/she will be the first person that trade and business media turn to for their update on the state of the market. They will also likely be a regular speaker/panelist at industry events. Likewise, your COO will have a unique insight into the day-to-day challenges and opportunities that are currently shaping the product development agenda.

Other thought leaders require more thought at your end. Your Head of Research, Head of R&D or Head of Innovation will also be regularly tapped by the trade media for insights into your product development pipeline. However, they may be more restricted in what they can say and be left to only offer vague trend statements rather than specifics. On the other hand, they will likely have been involved in several technical projects that provide examples of how they overcame a true NPD challenge. So consideration and messaging partnership is key.

The key steps to winning in thought leadership:

  1. Identify your niche area

  2. Join the communities associated with your area of expertise

  3. Communicate regularly

  4. Be consistent in your message and area expertise

  5. Take a multi-channel approach which could include i.e.:

    • Speak at conferences

    • Media interviews

    • In-depth articles

    • LinkedIn posts

    • Tweets

But there are multiple factors that can impact your choice of an internal thought leader. If there is a particular new business field that you are targeting, the head of that specific business unit could be a valuable thought leader. But you may also have a newer employee within your organization, who brings a vast experience and network through their prior expertise. What about a tech savvy younger employee who brings huge knowledge in social media or has a unique take on how to address millennials and Gen Z?

Willingness and support

One factor that should unite your choice of a thought leader relates to their personality. They need to be willing to take up such a role and outgoing enough to claim it. The concept of becoming a thought leader for your organization will need to be sold to them as a great opportunity for their own development.

The benefits will need to be clearly outlined, as will the explanation of what their exact role will be and the message that you are aiming to convey.  The firm backing of the company is essential here. The larger benefits that a thought leader can bring to the fold must be understood internally. It needs to be clear that a thought leader delivers true information and not only generic, non-revealing commercial speak. This is why interference should be minimized, since general counsel influence and editing usually turns good stories into forgettable content that will lead your thought leadership strategy to falter. You need to have full confidence in your thought leader and let them get to work, rather than redacting their output.

Once the thought leader has been identified and they have been given some freedom to position themselves as such, great opportunities can lie ahead for boosting the prominence of your business.

How to gain exposure?

There are multiple routes that could be followed to help position yourself/a prominent colleague as a true thought leader within your field.

The most obvious is media exposure through an interview or editorial. Think about who the key trade publications are within your space and the message that you want to convey to industry. Some media outlets will reach out to you directly, but leveraging a marketing communications partner like EMG can effectively help to set this up too. Again the onus on this type of editorial should not be on the sales pitch – rather it is about overcoming a problem or offering your take on a challenge that your entire industry is having to deal with.

Also important is getting your name on the conference agenda. If you are asked once and impress, there’s a good chance of a snowball effect where you will be regularly approached by that specific event, or similar platforms from other organizers. It’s important to stress that the key is to keep your talk interesting and general enough so it doesn’t become a promo. 

The importance of social media can no longer be ignored. Your LinkedIn profile is effectively becoming your bio in the social media age, so make sure that it is nicely up to date and gives a great reflection of you as a thought leader. Stay active on your profile and respond and comment on the key themes shaping the day in your field of industrial technology. Make sure that your profile image and description carries you across as approachable, engaged and informed. 

Webinars and online videos are becoming an increasingly important tool for companies and offer a great opportunity to present the innovative work that you and your colleagues are involved in, with relevant commentary on the trends at large. 

But it is important to stress that success in thought leadership demands a “long game” approach. One occasional interview or blog post will not work. A winning strategy will include a continuous flow of information – e.g. a quarterly in-depth article, a monthly blog post, a weekly LinkedIn post and a daily tweet.

Food for thought

The notion of thought leadership is more than a mere buzz phrase. Your customers want a proactive and informed industrial technology partner. The knowledge likely already exists within your organization, it can just be a matter of tapping it for the outside world’s consumption. 

But do remember to be patient. A thought leader is hardly ever created overnight – it can require months of work to build up their network and writing & speaking schedule.

EMG can help you through services such as updating your social media strategy, working with influencers and identifying the thought leaders within your organization. After all in the new era of content marketing, it really is the thought that counts! For more information on how EMG can help your thought leadership strategy contact us today.

 

Industry Trends Strategy CommsTech Marketing Communications