Media + PR + Analytics

Thought Leadership Strategies that Aren’t BS

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Amy Rohn

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Increasingly, our clients are looking to us to build smart thought leadership strategies into their integrated marketing plans.

After all, who doesn’t want to be seen as a thought leader, right? Well, it takes a little more than just adding “Guru,” “Ninja” or “Sherpa” in your LinkedIn profile.

Traditionally, thought leadership was primarily an earned media activity. The PR folks like me would annoy editors provide compelling and relevant bylined columns to key publications or secure a coveted speaker slot at a high-profile industry event.

Today those are still key elements of thought leadership. I would argue that a truly earned bylined column or a high-profile speaking spot that you didn’t have to pay for are the “gold standards” of thought leadership.  It’s like your mom used to tell you, things are move valuable when they are earned.

However, the possibilities to expand on earned opportunities with paid and owned media can enhance the reach and impact of a thought leadership effort.

What do you have that’s worth sharing?

Thought leaders have interesting and sometimes surprising points-of-view on key industry topics. Retreading widely held opinions or sharing knowledge that’s fairly commonplace does not make one a thought leader.

Here are some ways to start thinking about it:

  • What do you or your company do better or differently than others?
  • Are you pioneering new manufacturing processes?
  • Have you solved a go-to-market problem in a new and interesting way?
  • Do you or your company have a stance on a cultural or policy issue that you are comfortable sharing and owning?
  • Do you have a belief or prediction about the future that might be surprising or new to your customers, clients or peers?

The need to have something interesting — and perhaps a bit provocative — to share is important whether you are paying for the media or earning it. The Content Marketing Institute suggests that, “Partnering with a publisher or media agency to develop and distribute content can be effective, but a brand must earn a badge of authority in the subject matter before doing so.”

Take Simon Sinek for example. A popular TED Talk was parlayed into a book, then another TED talk and another book. Establishing himself as a thought-leader this way then paved the way for dozens of articles and more speaking engagements than most of us can ever imagine.

REI is another example of a company that has taken a thought leadership position by focusing on their core positioning in all they do. We’re all familiar with their #OptOutside campaign, which included a blend of social, earned, owned and paid channels. But that was just one element of their leadership in the space.

Their efforts to be a leader in getting all people to enjoy the outdoors did not begin and end with #OptOutside.  Take, for example, a sponsored content program they’ve entered into as part of their “For All” initiative regarding making parks more inclusive and welcoming to all.

They are not selling gear, shoes or apparel in this piece (though they do have well-established expertise in those areas). They are demonstrating leadership.

Employing the principles outlined above, a thought leadership strategy we developed and executed for one of our B2B clients that incorporated earned and paid outreach yielded an increase in competitive share-of-voice from 6 percent to 93 percent in just two years.

But how do you measure thought leadership?

We measure share-of-voice by monitoring and reporting on our earned and paid outreach compared to key competitors in the industry. If we are getting to a 93 percent share-of-voice, we are effectively owning the conversation in these channels.

It’s also important to recognize that your company’s position as a thought leader may transcend the specific industry that you service or sell to.

For instance:

  • Are you doing something innovative in human resources that HR leaders outside of your industry may be interested in?
  • Have you learned key lessons in re-working your supply chain that other manufacturers outside of your specific industry would find compelling?

All of those are opportunities to position your executive team as thought leaders and enjoy the benefits that come from being recognized as such. We’re talking about increased visibility, search traffic and share-of-voice.

Being findable with answers when your prospects are seeking them not only enhances your brand, but also can help get you in the consideration set as the consumer or customer are moving through the purchase journey.

Amplification and Frequency

Now that you know what you’re going to say, it’s time to figure out how to share it. In a paid, owned, shared and earned media world, the opportunities to position your company’s leaders or your clients as thought leaders have expanded exponentially.

Sponsored content in trusted outlets reaching your target can be a very effective tool to distribute thought leadership. Paid social media and paid search are perfect ways to amplify your thought leadership content. The key is to know how best to use these channels to augment your thought leadership strategies.

Using paid and owned channels allows for frequency of thought leadership content that earned alone can’t offer. That’s important because one article may start to lay the groundwork, but to reinforce and solidify your position as a thought leader, you’ll need more frequent content.

I saw a great quote from Charlene Li of Altimeter which addresses this. She said, “The foundation of leadership is credibility, which is built with repetition over time. Thought leadership is no different – you must prove that you are worthy of being followed.”

It takes focus and commitment from leadership teams. But in an environment where consumers, customers, analysts and media all expect and reward transparency and leadership, employing thought leadership strategies as part of your comms plan can pay off.

Just please refrain from the “Guru,” “Ninja,” “Sherpa” stuff.

Amy Rohn

"A messy desk is the sign of a brilliant mind."

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