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Not yet a thought leader? Here’s how you can start

May 9, 2024 | Advice, Blogging, Marketing

In the second in our series on thought leadership, we look at what stops companies from being a thought leader and what can help them start their journey.

In our previous post, we discussed the need to be clear on what thought leadership means to your business and how you can ensure that what you define is authentic.

A great example of the value of authentic thought leadership and its impact is that of Marcus Sheridan and his fibreglass pool company, River Pools and Spas. Struggling after the 2008 financial crash, Sheridan started blogging about all aspects of fibreglass pools. What’s more, he did it in a way that his customers would understand, rather than using technical language and jargon. This content-led approach not only propelled River Pools and Spa to become the world’s leading site for swimming pools and saved it from bankruptcy, but it has turned Sheridan into a sales and marketing thought leader.

Four reasons why you aren’t yet a thought leader…

Most companies struggle to replicate that sort of success. Why? Because:

  1. Thought leaders have to have opinions – whether through the complex, interconnected nature of corporations, a fear of upsetting the wrong stakeholders, or simply not having the time to define what they think, having opinions that resonate with customers is something many businesses struggle with.
  2. Standing out is getting harder – there is more content than ever before, and as the use of generative AI to spew out content increases, inboxes will be filled to burst.
  3. They don’t know what their customers want – a big part of River Pools and Spas’ success was to answer customers’ questions about fibreglass pools in a way they would understand. Many companies want to be customer-centric, but getting honest, accurate customer insights and embedding them into the organisation is complex.
  4. It can be hard to quantify a return – any marketing or communications activity will require investment, whether budgeting for specialist writers or simply dedicating time to it at the expense of other activities. That means most organisations want to know how it can be measured and when to expect a return. However, like any content, thought leadership requires time to develop, and it is hard to quantify how it directly influences the buying cycle.

…and four ways to begin the journey

So, how do you start your journey to thought leadership? Remember, you need to be authentic, something these steps will help you be:

  1. Don’t just look to senior executives – more often than not, the people put forward as thought leaders or contribute to the development of thought leadership are senior executives, people with director, VP, chief, or senior in their job title. While that’s understandable for several reasons, developing opinions that resonate with customers isn’t just the preserve of people who have reached or are near the organisation’s top. Of course, they have to buy into it, but sometimes, the raw, unvarnished views of those who aren’t quite so high up can form the basis for a truly differentiated opinion.
  2. Own your niche – it can be tempting to have an opinion on everything. But as noted above, everyone is talking about everything. True thought leaders don’t know everything. Even if you’re a tech giant working across dozens of sectors with solutions covering cloud, cyber security, digital transformation, artificial intelligence, and business process outsourcing, focus on one area and go deep.
  3. Invest in it – becoming a genuine thought leader takes time. It would be best to combine long-term thinking with flexibility and the ability to adapt. You don’t need to be rigid – you can back activities that are working and scale back on those that aren’t – but you need to invest in developing that profile and not just throw it all away after three months when engagement on LinkedIn articles hasn’t reached double figures.
  4. Talk about what customers care about – Marcus Sheridan has become a sales and marketing thought leader because he and the River Pools and Spas team focused on their customers’ and prospects’ concerns. The company didn’t worry about how it could sell them higher-margin products. Talking about yourself is easy – you’ve got all the information – while finding out what customers care about is hard. But the only way to stand out is to be engaging, with content that addresses what keeps your prospects up at night.

How you become a thought leader

So far, you should have worked out what makes you an authentic thought leader (with the questions from our first post), and now you’ll be starting your journey. These are the foundations you need before you tackle how you become a thought leader. We cover that next time.

In the mean time, read

Why thought leadership matters… and how to build it

What thought leadership actually means

12 Tips for Creating Compelling Technology White Papers

Would you benefit from support for your thought leadership programme? Futurity can help you design a programme, manage the content schedule, harness your thought leaders’ insights and support their comms activities. Reach out to [email protected]


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