Developing a Thought Leadership Strategy + 7 Essential Skills

Content thought leadership strategy

A thought leadership strategy is a proven way to boost personal branding or business reputations. Many brands have a public figure who serves as the face of the business, but their influence is only beneficial if customers view them as credible and trustworthy. Similarly, individual thought leaders need to prove their know-how in the market of ideas. 

Thought leadership is one way to market a business, organization, or personal brand by presenting an expert opinion to the world.  There are many thought leadership strategies to reference when developing a plan of your own, and we will explain the basics of designing your own successful strategy here.  

What Is a Thought Leadership Strategy?

Thought leadership strategy is the process of building trust and influence by sharing expert opinions through various channels, including social media, trade publications, and speaking engagements. 

The strategy component consists of the steps an individual or brand takes to achieve this position of prominence in any given field.

Advantages of Thought Leadership for Business and Personal Success

Many industries benefit from thought leadership strategies - and individuals can employ similar strategies. When an organization employs a widely-respected thought leader, it can benefit the business in any of the following ways:

  • Building brand awareness and trust
  • Increased PR opportunities 
  • Greater awareness of customer needs
  • Better networking opportunities 
  • Ability to define terms in a new industry 
  • Drives interest from niche audiences 
  • Boosts recruitment of new talent who want to work with a thought leader

Similarly, independent thought leaders can reap all the same benefits for their personal brand through thought leadership. 

While thought leadership strategy is well-known in the marketing industry, we’ll show how other fields benefit from this expertise as well. 

Case Study: Neil Patel

Neil Patel

We’ll begin with a familiar face. Neil Patel is hailed as one of the top experts on SEO marketing by the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Entrepreneur. His blog frequents the top of SERPs on SEO topics. 

His eponymous marketing company has built on that fame, reportedly charging upwards of $5,000 for an hour-long marketing consultation. Patel is a good example of building a brand around a single personality and marketing based on that person’s thought leadership. Though of course, each client isn’t working with Patel personally, his name has built the brand into a sought-after service provider. 

Case Study: Amanda O’Sullivan

Amanda O'Sullivan

Trends change quickly in the fashion world, so taste-makers can wield enormous influence. O’Sullivan is a Director of Recruiting in the fashion and beauty industry. She built upon her professional expertise as a buyer with brands like Cartier and Tom Ford and now uses that expertise to influence the rapidly changing world of digital sales in fashion through her role as a recruiter and through speaking engagements.

O’Sullivan is a good example of a thought leadership strategy that influences professionals at multiple levels across an industry - in this case, fashion. This benefits her recruiting firm by bringing her many connections and the networking opportunities that come along with her. 

Case Study: Erica Joy Baker

Erica Joy Baker

The tech world is often reduced to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, but there are multitudes of thought leaders changing the landscape. Erica Joy Baker has a background at Google and Slack, and most recently as a tech consultant for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

Baker has made a name for herself as a thought leader championing diversity and inclusion in the tech sector. Baker’s thought leadership strategy includes frequent speaking engagements and a prolific Twitter account. 

This has benefited the organizations that she has worked for because they can benefit from her in-depth understanding of diversity in the workplace and position themselves as leaders on that front. Diversity is a value that many businesses are working towards but often don’t have the expertise to implement, so employing a professional well-known on that topic is a solid strategy. 

Case Study: Dr. Brian Bolwell

Dr Brian Bolwell

In the hyper-specialized medical field, thought leadership strategies can enhance the reputation of a given hospital or medical network. Dr. Bolwell oversees the physicians at Cleveland Clinic and runs a thought leadership podcast specifically for hospital management.

Bolwell is a good example of how providing insight to a niche group of professionals - in this case, hospital managers - can position someone as a top authority in a reified field. This benefits his hospital by making it a more attractive employer for highly competent medical professionals who access Bolwell’s thought leadership content. 

How to Develop a Thought Leadership Strategy

The experts featured in the case studies above did not stumble into fame and influence. Thought leadership strategies are all about carefully selecting opportunities to share your insight and knowledge with your audience. 

Here are the four crucial steps to developing your own successful thought leadership strategy.

Define Your Goals

Your thought leadership strategy should benefit your audience, but also advance your own brand (or your employer’s) in some way. 

Without a clear goal for your thought leadership, you will end up producing disjoined content that doesn’t advance your reputation as an authority. Take some time to write down your main goals; these might include: 

  • Boost brand awareness 
  • Define a need among customers 
  • Become the authority about X aspect of Y industry 
  • Generate more press opportunities

The more specific you can be with your goals, the more effectively you can track their success.

Know Your Expertise and Your Audience

What are you good at? What experiences and skills make you unique? Define your strengths clearly before you try to position yourself as an expert on a topic. 

Then, ask the parallel questions: what does your audience need? What questions are they asking? Find the areas where your expertise and your audience’s needs overlap, and you will find the perfect spot for your thought leadership to thrive. 

Analyze the Competition

You may be an expert on real estate, but chances are there are other experts out there, too. How does your thought leadership strategy differentiate you from others in the same field? Research the most influential voices in your field and determine how they are providing valuable leadership. You can use similar strategies or fill a gap that has been overlooked. By analyzing the competition first, you avoid having to rework your entire strategy when you discover that someone else got there first. 

Produce Content

Facebook

Much of the focus surrounding authoritative content is placed on social media thought leadership. Top names in each field carefully curate their social media presence to establish themselves as the voice on a particular topic. 

Social media is great for quick responses to unfolding events and can help you build your brand. For example, if you offer consulting services for small business owners, you can frequently post about regulatory changes or tax requirements that affect your clientele. This is a quick way to provide value while showing your audience that you are an authority on new developments in the field.

There’s far more to thought leadership content than just social media, however. Thought leaders are also respected for providing more in-depth content, including:

  • White papers
  • Guest articles
  • Podcast interviews
  • Op-eds 
  • Ebooks 
  • Courses

Review your personal goals for your thought leadership strategy to determine which type of content you think would be most beneficial for your audience. 

7 Essential Thought Leadership Skills 

How do you know if you have achieved enough success in your field to set yourself up as a thought leader? 

Successful thought leaders must have expertise in their chosen field. That can be anything from running a Fortune 500 company to cultivating houseplants successfully, but they need proven experience and skill. 

An impressive resume won’t do it alone, however; here are the most important skills you should have before you consider thought leadership strategies. 

Be Able to Curate the Right Content

Thought leaders are known for their ability to present an expert opinion. Though thought leaders should be frequently publishing, speaking, and posting, they also need to present content created by others to their audience to show that they are up-to-date in their field and to effectively network with other experts. 

Tools like Upflow can remove some of the burden of constant research by searching for relevant content in your niche and customizing your online presence to match your audience’s interests. 

Upflow social media content curator

Be Able to Network with Other Influencers and Industry Leaders

Networking distinguishes a thought leadership strategy from a content creation strategy. Accepted thought leaders are invited to speak and write about their industry by other professionals in trade publications, conferences, podcasts, and other organizations’ blogs. Without these opportunities, thought leaders are simply maintaining their own blogs and social channels. 

To make these opportunities possible, thought leaders need to cultivate relationships with influential people in the field. Attend industry events, leave thoughtful (and respectful!) comments on published articles, and consider pitching opinion pieces to editors. If these interactions are positive, it will help you develop a reputation in the industry. 

Can Tell a Great Story

Audiences connect to a story better than almost any other form of communication. Ted Talks are wildly popular, in part, because of their strong storytelling format. Successful thought leaders can ground their expertise in a personal story - especially one that shows triumphing over obstacles. 

For example, Lori Greiner frames her thought leadership by beginning with her own story as an entrepreneur. This highlights her accomplishments while also making her seem more approachable. 

Possess Public Speaking Skills

A core component of thought leadership strategy is speaking at industry events. While social media thought leadership continues to gain in popularity, there is no replacement for connection with a live audience. 

Securing speaking engagements is a key way to get your message more widely heard and establish yourself as an authority in the field. If public speaking is not your strong suit, consider taking a course to sharpen your skills so your message comes across clearly. 

Understand Upcoming Technologies and Trends

Thought leaders are experts in their field. By knowing their industry inside and out, they are able to readily understand how changes will affect their realm of expertise. A thought leader in tech, for example, might provide value by anticipating and explaining how changes to privacy laws worldwide might affect the development of new features in social media or cybersecurity. 

Thought leadership strategies rely upon sharing insight with an audience. Speaking to the of-the-moment concerns - based on your past accomplishments and qualifications -  is one of the most straightforward ways to show your audience that you bring value that will make their lives easier. 

Can Develop a Unique Point of View

Thought leaders are known for a distinctive insight that sets them apart from other experts in their field. When developing your thought leadership strategy, consider what makes you different from others in your field. Do you have a unique background? Have achieved notable success? A particular passion? Find what distinguishes you and market your thought leadership based on that. 

Furthermore, thought leaders are bold enough to continue championing their point of view amid controversial topics. It’s important to keep this cordial, as thought leaders need to maintain professional relationships amid disagreements. 

Ability to Explain Complex Topics

Gary Vaynerchuk

Above all, people turn to thought leaders because they provide actionable insight. Thought leadership strategy is all about serving the needs of other professionals in your field who want to learn from you. To that end, make sure your content is as jargon-free and approachable as possible. 

Remember that while your audience needs your expertise, they may be experts in another field. For example, entrepreneurs turn to the Growth Hacker Blog because it explains marketing concepts clearly. While entrepreneurs are well-versed in their products, they might not be familiar with every acronym and abbreviation in the marketing world. Give your audience the resources and insight they need without requiring them to pursue a new degree, and your content will be consistently valuable to them. 

Launching your Thought Leadership Strategy

Thought leaders are passionate about their field and see the needs of their audience clearly. They have developed expertise through years of hard work and want to share their insights to help others. 

This desire to help the people around you is the motivating force of growing a reputation as a thought leader. The thought leadership strategies listed above are simple methods to get your name and method more easily recognized by others in your industry. Ultimately, a passion for the industry and for those inside of it will attract an audience. 

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