The thought leadership ‘space’ is becoming increasingly crowded. More and more companies have come to recognise the potential in thought leadership as a way to engage with customers. Paradoxically, however, the success of thought leadership as a concept means that it is much harder to make a mark as a thought leader. There is so much ‘noise’ out there that being heard is challenging. So what are the leading thought leadership brands doing that others are not?
Thought-leading brands combine clear strategy with exceptional research, content creation and campaigns. This allows them to hold high-quality conversations with customers and prospects. In total, 75% of thought-leading brands reported that their thought leadership led to high-quality conversations, compared with just 20% of other brands. They are also better at using thought leadership to improve customer loyalty than other brands.
Persistence and hard work
There is no one single thing that thought leading brands do that others do not. Instead, thought-leading companies are constantly changing what they do, adopting best practice, and looking at how they interact with customers. They work hard to improve across a range of activities, including picking the right topics, developing their point of view, turning research into actionable insights, and starting campaigns. Above all, what they do is relevant for their audience and their customers.
Great thought leaders excel in three particular areas. First, they audit their content regularly, and certainly before starting any new campaigns. This means that they do not duplicate content, and they also do not publish anything contradictory. Second, they look for gaps in the market. They know what their competitors are saying, and they publish content that will differentiate them. Third, they ask their clients for input into content. Put together, this means that they know what is needed, which makes it much easier to supply.
Producing good research is hard. There are challenges in creating suitable samples, designing questionnaires, and developing strong research hypotheses. Even something as simple as obtaining a budget can be difficult. Thought-leading brands, however, are able to overcome these challenges. They can therefore rely on a solid research base to ensure that what they say is both original and accurate.
Audience needs and wants
It sounds obvious, but the best thought leaders are able to produce interesting, provocative, and above all reliable content. They often have strong—but evidence-based and justifiable—points of view, confirming that they are at the ‘cutting edge’ of thinking. Their content is interesting, authentic, and insightful, and it adds value for their audience. Finally, they also consider what content will work for journalists, to improve their press coverage, and extend their reach beyond the original audience.
Rome was not built in a day. A reputation for thought leadership cannot be grown rapidly either. It takes time and effort. The best thought leaders focus on consistency, accuracy, reliability and making sure that their content is engaging. Nobody gets every piece of content or campaign perfect, but over time, the best thought leaders have far more ‘hits’ than ‘misses’. Consistency is particularly crucial in building a strong brand reputation.
Continuous skill enhancement
The three most important skills for thought leadership are strategy and planning skills, digital and content marketing skills, and research skills. Investment in these skills is generally seen as more important among thought-leading brands than other brands. In general, around half of all companies tend to invest in strategy and planning in relation to thought leadership.
Thought-leading brands do not see thought leadership as a way to sell. Instead, they view it as a way to build and strengthen relationships with customers and other stakeholders. They are prepared to give content away to existing clients, and even provide exclusive content for them. They also know that it is important to remain engaged and visible to customers throughout the buying cycle. Finally, they involve their clients in their content creation through co-creation processes. This ensures that it provides value, and gives something back to customers.