Thought leadership isn’t something that you should be building only after your company has grown up. The way to become a thought leader in your industry is all about laying a foundation for future relationships that marketing, sales, investor relations and many other company teams will leverage.
What is thought leadership?
- Expertise – Know your industry thoroughly and don’t be afraid to share your knowledge.
- Articulation – Express what you know in ways that make sense to your customers and peers.
- Trust – Plant the seeds of credibility and nurture it into trust by delivering information of value.
- Follow-through – Turn your words into action by doing what you promise. Your reward is realizing others have confidence in you.
3 reasons being a thought leader in your industry is good for your organization
The knowledge uncovered, revealed, developed and nurtured in building thought leadership is powerful for every facet of your organization, but also think about its importance to:
1. Those who are ‘invested’ in your business will look for expertise.
You may think: That doesn’t apply to me. I don’t have ‘investors’ in my business. Ah, but you do! Every parent who pays their child’s tuition is making a financial investment in you and every child who participates in your classes is making an emotional and time investment in you. Every employee (instructor/coach, office manager or office staff) is making an investment in dedicating part of their life to help you build your business.
Your relationships with these people are integral to your thought leadership foundation development.
2. Thought leadership content provides your marketing and public relations teams with messaging.
Especially for those in your organization getting your name out there and promoting what you do to attract new students, this addition of content is like the best-ever gift on Christmas morning.
Every platform you use (website, blog, newsletters, brochures, advertisements, bylined articles, speaking opportunities, community service, press releases, competition materials, parent/student information) can be a delivery system to expose your knowledge to your audience. These platforms loaded with your knowledge-filled content will enable you to reach your industry peers and put your first thought leadership stakes in the ground.
Consider the answers to these examples:
- How great does it look to your peers if you have a bylined article about a top-of-mind topic in one of the publications they trust?
- How impressive is it to your peers that you are a featured speaker at an event they’ve paid to attend?
- How much will your customers respect you when they see you leading everyone in your organization in the breast cancer walk held in your city?
The answer to all three is “It would be HUGE!”
These are three great examples of thought leadership GOLD.
3. The tools you need to build trust are at your fingertips.
Consider these facts:
- You teach children who must trust you in order to really learn from you.
- You are responsible to the parents of these children to keep them safe and to impart knowledge and skills to them in the time they spend with you.
- You are a valued part of an industry that is focused on passing down an art, skills, poise, emotion, leadership and compassion to children
It’s about trust. Children and parents trust you because of your knowledge and experience, because of your reputation and integrity and because you’re there to inspire personal growth.
Those who refer you may be just a few in the beginning. As you use your trust building tools, you’ll see this group grow (along with your position as a thought leader).
Who are your thought leaders?
The most obvious choice is your founder. Take Jackrabbit Technologies, for example. Early on, the strategy for establishing Jackrabbit CEO and co-founder, Mark Mahoney, as the company’s thought leader was created. Because there was no such thing as a company blog at that point, bylined articles were the staple content weapons. It’s necessary to find a comfort zone in topics and style. Topics were targeted according to what Mark learned on his many visits with clients and what he had learned as a gymnast, a gym owner and entrepreneur. What were the hot button topics? Where did they struggle and how could his unique knowledge help?
Characteristics of a good thought leader candidate:
- Well-versed in the industry or industries related to the company
- Experienced in key activities related to industry and company
- Good at articulating the content
- Passionate about sharing knowledge
A candidate with all of these characteristics will have broad topic potential and be relatable to your entire audience group.
You may find that a senior instructor or one who comes to you with credentials that would support thought leadership can also be a positive force in your organization’s thought leadership presence. Their content may not be as broad and have the total audience reach as your founder’s, but their contribution to content will be valuable nonetheless.
How do you uncover thought leadership content?
There are many avenues to choose from when it comes to determining content.
Pick the brain. It’s important, first and foremost, to pick the thought leader’s brain for what he wants to talk about.
Listen more than talk. Then it’s a good idea to listen to clients. What they have to say is critical to having insight into what they want to hear from you.
Consider all sources. Questions, conversations and complaints – regardless of their sources – enable content to be developed with the goal of helping to resolve issues. Casual thoughts expressed in conversation can also blossom into ideas that would attract readers.
Enjoy the smorgasbord. And then there are industry events. Bring a big note pad, capture videos, provide tablet-based forms and put your ears on content capture alert! This is like a content idea smorgasbord. Clients, competitors, prospects, team members, students, vendors, industry experts – they are all there – so take advantage.
Here are 5 tips for developing good thought leadership content:
- Choose credible titles. (audience must relate to it)
- The thought leader must have an opinion. (and be comfortable in expressing it)
- Brainstorm out-of-the-box ideas. (regardless of who is ghost-writing the content, the thought leader should have a say in topics)
- Match the topics to the audience. (again – audience must relate to it)
- Create an improve/repeat cycle. (consistently share content so you stay top-of-mind)
Thought leadership building for real.
All of this happened in rapid-fire succession for Jackrabbit. Since the staff was still small when the thought leadership strategy was birthed, it only took a few phone calls.
The content ball is rolling.
After the first bylined article was developed and won publication placement, the ball was rolling. Potential topics were practically unlimited because of Mark’s diverse experience and his participation in industry-related (children’s activity centers and software development), business-growth-related (entrepreneurial) and mentorship (UGA alumni board) organizations.
It’s more than talk.
Thought leadership isn’t simply a buzzword. And being a thought leader isn’t just blowing smoke. You must be the real deal. When this happens, it can be huge.
Thought leadership can transform your brand and position you and your company as leaders in your industry. It can open doors to new opportunities and build enduring trust with the people who are important to your business.
It was HUGE for content when blogs came into being. Jackrabbit immediately jumped on board – finding blogs to be amazing for storing, sharing, promoting, organizing and linking content of all types. Product information, announcements, press releases, client successes and posts that can cover everything from personal development and owner tips to facility processes and operational best practices were developed over the years as part of our blog society.
You’re in it for the long-haul.
You may have already gotten this idea but thought leadership doesn’t happen overnight. It takes work. It should be part of your leadership strategy and a process that you adhere to – religiously.
7 ways to build a thought leadership strategy
Help for becoming a thought leader:
- Niche yourself. (Figure out what you’re an expert in)
- Your content must be in your voice. (Make sure what you talk about sounds like you)
- Do not toot your own horn. (drop any semblance of self-promotion – over self-promotion is the single biggest problem with contributed content for 79% of online publication editors.)
- Consistency is critical. (consistency in the voice of your content and in the frequency that you distribute/publish it)
- Get comfortable with video. Video content is king and you MUST use jump on that train or get run over by it )
- Don’t keep it all to yourself. (Don’t limit publication of your content to your own site or blog. Share it regularly with others)
- Build a well-rounded team. (It takes a village to build a thought leader – there is no way a thought leader becomes one on his own)
Thought leadership is relevant and real.
The “thought leader” term is tossed around often. Don’t let its over-use fool you into thinking it’s just rhetoric. There are real benefits to building and implementing an authentic thought leadership plan and investing the time and energy to develop and distribute thought leadership content.
Jackrabbit’s thought leadership is proof that hard work does pay off.
Mark is sought out as a guest speaker (not just in the children’s activity center industry, but as an entrepreneur too!). Public relations regularly receives requests for bylined articles and posts to share. It’s a privilege to participate and be given the opportunity to gather even more guidance on what our audience wants to hear.
Beyond all that, Jackrabbit’s leadership has attained the enviable position where they can get a new perspective on the company’s position, needs and goals and set a path for the future.
All of Jackrabbit’s outreach efforts are enriched by the quality content in eBooks, post series, content pillars and infographics that is available to leverage because of the thought leadership work effort.
But don’t take our word for it. Just do it! You’ll see hard work and persistence pay off in spades. And you might even find that you enjoy developing and sharing your knowledge!