Entrepreneur John Rampton is seemingly everywhere, writing articles about how workers can better manage their time and increase productivity for top-tier publications. Rampton, founder and CEO of the payment processing company Due, knows what it means to go from being virtually unknown to becoming an industry thought leader through writing, blogging, and staying active on social media.
Done correctly, this kind of thought leadership can be a home run for a brand—small businesses, in particular—marking the difference between a mediocre and stellar performance, and helping to level the playing field. The problem is that many business executives don’t understand what it takes to be a genuine thought leader.
Effective thought leaders are industry superstars, the go-to people others look to for advice and insight. They are reliable sources and bellwethers. When they speak on an industry topic, others sit up and take notice. But thought leadership involves more than knowledge. Successful thought leaders develop a rapport with their audience by sharing wisdom, kindness, generosity, and consideration. They are driven by a genuine desire to help their audience, and this attitude draws people to them.
For small businesses, effective thought leadership can help level the playing field.
While thought leadership as a concept isn’t new, we now know more about its business impact. According to the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, thought leadership helps professionals in a number of important ways:
- 55% of decision-makers use thought leadership content when deciding which organization to work with.
- 58% of business decision-makers said an organization’s thought leadership content directly led to awarding business to an organization.
- 61% said that they have paid a premium price to work with those with a reputation for thought leadership.
The bottom line: Thought leadership not only influences buyers, but it also helps brands win, retain, and even grow their customer base.
How can you create your own thought leadership and get quantifiable business results? Let’s look at five key ways to build a winning strategy:
Carve out a specific area of expertise
Nobody can know everything. While thought leaders are experts, it’s best to showcase your expertise in one or two key areas—and to do so clearly. Otherwise, you could dilute your reputation and invite doubt. For example, an executive in B2B marketing would be wise to focus on that space rather than veer into consumer marketing or e-commerce.
Take time to choose an area where you’re knowledgeable and passionate. That passion will carry through in your speaking and writing.
Create high-quality content
Invest your time and energy in creating high-quality content to grow your thought leadership. According to the Edelman-LinkedIn study, only 18% of content is rated as excellent or very good by decision-makers. This suggests a high demand for thought leaders to up their content game.
Long-form content–1,200 to 1,600 words or even longer–can provide real value. (Research also shows it ranks higher search-wise and receive more shares and links than shorter content.) Don’t fear going into detail on a subject, looking at it from all angles to create in-depth content that fleshes out a topic.
In addition, vary your strategy with different formats. Create a mix of content, including e-books, infographics, slideshares, and videos, which may help you reach more audiences.
Skip the self-promotion
While your brand might be top of mind while developing thought leadership, don’t make it the theme of your content. If your content seems like a mere ploy to steer people to your brand, chances are they’ll skip out after they get what they need and not return. On the other hand, if you deliver consistently high-quality content that benefits your audience, you’re more likely to develop and nurture a lasting bond that will keep people returning.
Understand your audience and the issues prospects face. Use that knowledge to craft content that helps prospects resolve problems and improve their businesses.
Keep up with trends
Technology and trends evolve continually. If you don’t maintain your industry expertise, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.
Keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening within your industry. As new technology emerges, be among the first to master and share it. Monitor industry news to stay on top of upcoming trends.
Be visible and engage
The more people experience your presence, whether it’s in their social feed, in their inbox, via your blog or a guest blog, or in person at an industry conference, the more connected they’ll feel to you. Every effort you make to engage with people is like one more brick on the road toward building authority and leadership.
Thought leadership is far from a passing fad. It’s a valuable tool for both you and your brand, with far-reaching benefits for every business.