In the age of content marketing, the term "thought leadership" gets thrown around as much as "going viral." Everyone wants it but hardly anyone knows how to get it.
Just this week I had to double take someone’s twitter bio claiming, “entrepreneur. marketing guru. thought leader.”
The thing is, defining yourself as a thought leader is like shaking someone’s hand with, “Nice to meet you. I'm Beyonce, you know, the cultural icon.” Even if it’s true the self proclamation is a total turnoff. Thought leadership is a magnificent thing to strive for but it’s ultimately decided by the people.
In my definition, true thought leadership hinges on three key factors: expertise, vision, and voice. Know what you’re talking about. Have a global perspective of where it is and where it’s going. Share your information through a lens that is entirely your own.
The good news? If you’re running a company or a department, you already have thought leadership. You are respected, looked up to and sought after for advice. You are a teacher, an educator, a trainer, a leader.
Amplify that thought leadership from your daily professional sphere to your larger digital audience.
This expansion is the result of three key factors:
EXPERTISE+ VOID + VOICE = THOUGHT LEADERSHIP
It starts by defining your expertise, identifying knowledge voids in the marketplace, and adding your own experience-infused twist. Let's get into it.
I. Defining Your Expertise
Now it’s time to put all humility aside and fess up to your one-of-a-kind expertise. You likely work in a tight-knit group of professionals that share equal education levels and years of experience. Under the microscope you may feel self-conscious that you are no enigma in the grand scheme of your industry.
But I’m telling you: you have something important to contribute. You’re already contributing it every day to your clients and your team - it comes so naturally that you don’t even see it.
So let’s get down to business. Within your broader expertise, say interior decorating or event marketing, dig deeper to find your niche.
• What are the nuances of your clientele?
• What are the unique challenges, restrictions and opportunities of your geographic region?
• In all your years of experience, what best practices have you developed?
• What are you really curious and excited about these days?
Keep digging. Your irreplaceable, unreplicable expertise is waiting for you like a diamond in the rough. And it’s ready to shine.
II. Identifying the Knowledge Void
Now that you know what you have to offer let’s examine the needs of your marketplace. Disclaimer: this part can strike fear into the most seasoned business owner's heart. Surveys, research and analysis can feel heavy on your impatient entrepreneur spirit. While you can go that far if you want to (and have the moolah), there’s actually more market research at your fingertips than you realize.
You know more about your industry's knowledge void than you think. Start here:
• What question do you hear most frequently from current and potential clients?
• What problem does your service or product solve?
• What are the most common misconceptions of your clients and colleagues?
• On the most basic level, what information will help clients save time and money?
Once you’ve asked yourself these questions, ask your sales team and managers too. They have a different level of interaction with your clients and can add valuable insight to the day-to-day problems repeatedly solved by your company.
III. Committing to Your Voice
This is without a doubt, unequivocally and unavoidably the most crucial factor of becoming a thought leader. Everyone is a thought thinker. The people that get noticed are thought speakers. And the people that rise to the top are thought leaders.
What makes a leader?
Commitment to your stance makes a leader.
Have opinions. Explore your belief system. Develop your philosophy. Carve a new path. Explore a new system. Lead the charge into unmapped territory. Create a new way.
That’s how you will build your own school of thought and attract your own audience. Taking an authentic stance makes you a magnet for people that relate to you and value what you bring to the table.
• How does my approach differ from that of my competitors?
• What do I believe truly and deeply?
• What is the driving philosophy behind my business?
• What is my vision for improving, progressing and innovating my industry?
You have a voice. Trust that it can translate on paper, too, with some practice and the right support.
Food for Thought Leaders
Investing in your voice will bring a greater ROI than anything money can buy. Thought leadership is the reason you write blog posts, connect on social media and speak at conferences. It’s the reason you go after press and interviews. It's the reason you're in the game, I hope.
So you want to be a thought leader?
Start by taking it off your bio. Invest in your voice, develop a discipline and build your authority - one morsel of expertise at a time. You know you've made it when your industry starts introducing you as a thought leader.
It's time to own what you know. Now get writing, speaking, leading!