The B2B world is flush with thought leadership content produced by companies and individuals trying to leverage their expertise. Their goals typically boil down to three things: drive traffic to their websites, attract and convert leads, and build trust in their brand. Strategy-wise, thought leadership is a good move. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pull off.
According to research by Edelman and LinkedIn, 89 percent of respondents say thought leadership has enhanced their perceptions of an organization while 49 percent say it has influenced their purchasing decisions. However, just 15 percent would rate the quality of thought leadership as “excellent”. With this much thought leadership content falling flat, it presents an opportunity to learn and do better. The best way to start? By remembering to be human.
Whether you’re posting a new blog, joining a podcast or speaking at an industry event, throw out super technical jargon and forget about dazzling people with your brilliance. Instead, be authentic, connect with your audience where they are and deliver meaningful insights they can act on. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Know your audience or lose them.
Have you ever been in a huge convention hall to hear from an industry expert only to realize they tailored the presentation to a 101 level? If you’re a busy executive, this is maddening. It’s also cringe-worthy watching attendees scoot out of their rows and beeline for the exit. This brings us to lesson number one: know your audience and plan accordingly.
There’s no one-size fits all approach to thought leadership. You don’t want to talk above your audience just like you don’t want to talk below them. How you package and deliver your expertise really matters. If you’re invited on a podcast or get the opportunity to write a guest blog, find out exactly who the outlet’s main audience is and craft your message to them. Marketing specialists learning the ropes will have a completely different set of needs than CMOs facing their board next quarter.
Next, consider how familiar the audience is with your topic and how much time or space you have to deliver value. Your goals should be sparking their interest, providing new insights and sharing actionable advice they can apply, leaving them feeling inspired and engaged. And, of course, eager to hear more from you.
Always have a clear point of view.
It’s normal to want to prove your chops as a thought leader, but don’t get lost in the weeds by over explaining everything. Likewise, cut the esoteric jargon and talk like an actual human! To find success as a thought leader, you need to build trust with an audience. In order to do that, you need to be approachable and crystal clear about the value you’re going to deliver. And then you need to be consistent about it.
Thought leadership is not a one off exercise. True thought leadership is built through consistently delivering the goods, no matter what the opportunity is. Over time, your expertise in a niche area will boost your credibility and more people will look to you for insights.
Accomplishing this is both challenging and straightforward –– you need to share a unique perspective and get to the point about it. Let the audience know what you’re going to discuss. Give them some context, make your points and back it all up with meaningful proof. Do this again and again, and it will become a part of your brand.
Practice good storytelling.
Thought leadership often requires using data to back up your perspectives. This is important, as you’ll need people to understand why and how you’ve come to the conclusions you have. Facts and figures can be really compelling, but without setting up the right context, it can feel a little vanilla. That’s where good storytelling comes in.
A great way to distinguish yourself as a thought leader is by –– wait for it –– being yourself. As an expert in your field, you have loads of stories to tell, from positive experiences with executives, clients and vendors to negative ones that you can save others from repeating. Get real about your experiences. We’re only human and your audience will connect to your openness and vulnerability.
That said, storytelling isn’t limited to talking about things you’ve experienced firsthand. It’s about the way you harness narratives in each of your thought leadership opportunities. What are you trying to tell your audience? What are the main takeaways? Think about how you can envelop these in a story. Not only will this help them relate to it, they might even recognize themselves in what you say.
When thought leadership misses the mark, it’s really easy for an audience to click out of an article, hit skip on the podcast episode or step out of a conference hall. But when thought leadership is done right, it can be a highly effective tool to move the needle on your sales goals and boost your reputation. Get off on the right foot by learning about your audience, delivering valuable insights and building connections by being authentically yourself.