This post, “How Thought Leadership Unlocks PR Magic,” is brought to you by Lori Baer. She’s a seasoned writer and editor specializing in B2B and B2C articles, editorials, ghostwriting, manuals, reports, strategic correspondence, storytelling, and thought-leadership content. Hire her for your business by visiting her nDash profile!
A whole lot of buzz surrounds “thought leadership” in content marketing circles these days—and for good reason. Capturing people’s attention keeps getting harder and harder, and marketers look for new ways to win minds.
Before jumping into the game, however, it’s important to understand the basics.
Rather than a type of content marketing, thought leadership reflects an approach to building reputation. It’s not synonymous with content marketing, and it’s also not new.
It’s actually good old public relations.
In this post, we’ll distinguish it from content marketing. We’ll then offer questions to help you brainstorm a strategy uniquely yours that genuinely leads.
Thought Leadership: It’s a Matter of Trust
To say thought leadership and content marketing differ isn’t to suggest one is better. Instead, like dusting snow off your car’s windshield, getting clear on the distinction helps you see where you’re going and how to drive both to your advantage.
Thought leadership communication, like PR, centers on building relationships and engagement to influence public image.
It’s the sharing of insightful information with integrity to benefit both parties.
- Content marketing is company-focused; it is audience-focused.
- Content marketing validates you as a source of good information; it validates your expertise.
- Content marketing works in exchange for business; it works in exchange for trust.
Trust is the end game in public relations and gives thought leadership its edge.
Doing Thought Leadership Well
Thought leadership grounds itself in PR’s roots of prioritizing a company’s audience overselling. Done well, it builds meaningful relationships that fulfill the human aspect of sales, often lost online, to result in solid leads.
“Done well” is the key phrase.
A LinkedIn Edelman study on the impact of thought leadership finds the pandemic produced a “glut of low-quality content,” diluting its perceived value.
Four in 10 final decision-makers surveyed say there’s more of this type of content than they can manage.
71% say half or less than half of the thought leadership content they read or watch gives them any valuable insights.
64% of buyers say an organization’s thought leadership content is a more trustworthy basis for assessing its capabilities and competency than its marketing materials and product sheets.
Which is why…
47% of buyers say thought leadership led them to discover and ultimately purchase from a company not considered among the leaders in a particular category.
Accessible to brands large and small, old and new, it levels the playing field. Good thinking and good writing mark the price of entry.
Good thinking begins with strategy, which you can explore with the following questions. The idea is to get crystal clear on how your expertise can make a meaningful difference in your people’s work and lives.
Remember, you want to be a thoughtful leader.
Who is your audience? What do they want?
To suggest that identifying your target audience as the first step in any communication strategy is not earth-shattering. Yet, good thought leadership is essentially servant leadership, so it’s worth repeating.
Understanding your audience’s problems, concerns, and interests makes your content genuine and resonates.
Looking at how those surveyed in the LinkedIn Edelman study use thought leadership could also help you consider types of content worth creating.
- 71% use this content to keep up-to-date
- 72% to educate themselves on important topics
- 71% to stimulate their thinking
- 65% to understand key trends affecting their business or organization
- 47% to discover new products and offerings
Who are you?
Building a thought leadership strategy and consistently creating content compels you to concentrate on what you know best, or as Josh Steimle calls it, your “genius zone.”
Start where you’re at and shove off from there. For example:
- Personal experiences
- Analysis of information you’re reading
- Opinions offering a counter-narrative
Among survey respondents, 81% want provocative insights that challenge their assumptions rather than validate their current thinking.
Thought leadership requires original content with a genuine point-of-view.
Who are your thought leaders?
Buyers are people, and thought leaders are people, too.
The LinkedIn Edelman study finds that 67% surveyed prefer thought leadership to prominently feature the point-of-view of an identifiable author instead of being published by a faceless brand.
Look at your company’s core competencies and areas of influence.
- Who leads those parts of your business?
- Who are your subject-matter experts?
Thought leadership isn’t relegated to your company president or CEO, and you don’t have to be a leader in everything. The beauty of this is that success can come from focusing on a single specialty.
Who will write this stuff?
There’s an art to turning knowledge into interesting, insightful, story-driven content. Think in advance about how you’ll consistently sustain this effort.
- Do your thought leaders have the bandwidth to write regularly?
- Do they have the writing skills to present ideas in the best light?
- Is writing even the best use of their time?
Here’s where collaborating with a ghostwriter or writers specializing in your field can manifest your strategy while you keep your core business running in the foreground.
Professional writers bring the skills needed to organize and explain your material clearly and meaningfully. They also have a talent for ensuring your message gets expressed in a way that authentically represents your brand and what it stands for.
Thought leadership strategy can be particularly effective for niche industries where good content might be lacking. nDash makes it easy to find writers with subject-matter expertise in hard-to-find industries and specialize in content types such as op-eds, essays, and reports or scripts for videos, webinars, and presentations.
Think you’re a leader? Yes!
You don’t have to be Adam Grant or Sheryl Sandberg to create good material.
But you do need to be consistent, deliberate, and genuine in serving your audience with meaningful insights and telling your story in a way that best represents your ideas.
Thought leadership isn’t a one-off campaign; it’s an investment in your reputation and good PR.