Editor's Note: This post was updated on May 8, 2019
What is thought leadership? If you ask 10 people this same question, you are bound to get a variety of answers. Some believe that thought leadership tactics are nothing more than hocuspocus, while others feel that they are an essential tool for B2B branding.
Let's look at what people are saying about thought leadership campaigns, and why thought leadership and brand building go hand in hand.
Take, for example, David Brooks of “The New York Times,” poking fun at thought leaders:
“The Thought Leader is sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler… Month after month, he gets to be a discussion facilitator at think tank dinners where guests talk about what it’s like to live in poverty while the wait staff glides through the room thinking bitter thoughts.”
Of course, that’s one way of looking at it... but we would beg to differ.
When executed correctly, thought leadership PR is a valuable way of branding yourself and your company. It allows people to feel comfortable with your firm even if you’re a small business in your industry and not the market leader.
Imagine the following scenario: You have the choice to buy a pricey electronics gizmo from a no-name company or one with an established name -- who would you buy it from? I think we would all agree that a company with an established name carries weight. That is the power that thought leadership PR holds for any company, B2B or B2C.
But that begs the ultimate question...
Exactly What Is Thought Leadership?
Now I know I’m opening myself up to the thought leader protection brigade, but here goes:
Becoming a thought leader in your industry doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily the smartest kid on the block. Or even the most knowledgeable. It does mean that you’re the most receptive and understanding of your customers’ needs. And strategic and tactical in educating customers and prospects.
One of my favorite thought leadership examples is that of Marcus Sheridan, who seemingly arose from nothing to become a web and content marketing maven and motivational speaker.
Sheridan, an owner of River Pools and Spas, was hitting a rough patch in 2009 and had overdrawn the company’s bank account on three consecutive weeks. Realizing he needed to do something different, he started blogging. But he didn’t just blog for the sake of blogging – he responded to customers’ questions strategically, answering the biggest questions they had – or at least posing the questions.
He thereby secured top rank in the search engines for the answers to the questions most often on customers’ minds. Suddenly, River Pools was the authority on fiberglass pools. His approach has worked with revenues now exceeding what they were before the downturn and Sheridan being hailed as a web marketing guru.
Now, Sheridan is an extreme case; most of us are not going to become as well known – nor do we necessarily need to be that well known to succeed. However, you can distinguish yourself in your respective field and go, as we like to say, “from anonymity to the New York Times.’”
Thought Leadership and Brand Building: How It Works
Thought leadership and brand building go hand and hand. Here are just a few ways that thought leadership helps to boost your brand:
The trust that you earn from thought leadership tactics will boost the perception of your brand. As people come to respect and turn to your brand, it helps your value to grow as well.
Attracts Top Talent
B2B brands are built by the people who take the reins. Get a top name to join your company and the person bring his or her reputation with them. And thought leadership helps to attract the right kinds of people to your brand.
Boosts B2B PR
Newsworthiness is yet another benefit of thought leadership PR. Thought leadership PR draws the attention of journalists to your brand, which gives you a B2B PR boost.
Provides New Business Opportunities
Want to attract new clients and even partners? Thought leadership puts you on the map. In one study from LinkedIn and Edelman, 80% of executives admit that thought leadership increases their trust in a brand.
How to Boost B2B Branding with Thought Leadership
It’s time to take the leap from anonymity to thought leader. Check out these 14 ways to pump up your personal brand:
1. Maintain a Blog
A regular blog provides value to your peers and customers while at the time building your reputation. Create posts that reflect your industry expertise and insight that truly helps your audience.
2. Get on the Podium
Getting yourself on panels at industry conferences is one of the best ways to snag some attention and attract decision makers.
Pro Tip: Try to present with a client/customer. Not only will it make you more appealing to conference organizers, but nothing sells you better than a happy customer.
3. Evaluate Your Content
Produce content -- articles, columns, videos, and other media formats -- that educate and speak to customers’ needs while also establishing your expertise.
Pro Tip: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Repurpose content for different media.
4. Follow Influential People
Develop lists of key reporters, editors, bloggers, and industry thought leaders. Follow them, engage with them, and retweet their posts.
Pro Tip: Muckrack.com is a good place to find journalists.
5. Go Beyond Your Product
Not everyone is going to be as head over heels with your product as you are. So you need to develop key messages that answer the question – Why should anyone care?
Pro Tip: Don’t think about why you care. It’s about why your customers care.
6. Speak in Plain English
Avoid corporate catchphrases and obscuring your message by using industry jargon. Use language that anybody, inside and outside the industry, would understand.
Pro Tip: Do the mom test. If your mother or another non-industry-savvy person understands what you’re saying, you’re speaking straight.
7. Tell an Exciting Story
Nobody enjoys reading a technical manual. Make your strategy story-centric. Use compelling elements such as data, visuals, and infographics to illustrate your points.
Pro Tip: Use these elements strategically to advance your story, not to sensationalize it.
8. Be Newsworthy
Tie what you’re doing to a current piece of news, especially if it’s in your sector or a target vertical market. Pitch your article to business and trade publications to reach new audiences.
Pro Tip: Monitor key websites for items you can comment on.
9. Create Videos
Don't overlook the powerful role that videos can play in your thought leadership campaigns. After all, studies show that 54% of audiences want to see more video content from a brand or business they support.
10. Get Others to Tell Your Story
Nothing boosts your reputation like positive reviews from others. Gather and promote testimonials and case studies from partners and clients.
Pro Tip: Promote this on social media, calling out customers and partners.
11. Branch Out on Social
Don’t just limit yourself to a blog post. Tweet about it. Create a video addressing some of the questions. Post in other social media channels. You want to be everywhere your customer and prospect is.
Pro Tip: Use a tool like Hootsuite to post on multiple platforms.
12. Curate Content
Provide a quick synopsis of articles in your industry. Post links to the articles in social media in addition to blogging about them.
Pro Tip: Don’t just post links. Add your unique perspective to the content you curate.
13. Create Research Papers
Research papers, such as in-depth surveys or white papers, make you the go-to person for the latest news and trends.
Pro Tip: Reach out to your audience with a few survey questions and leverage that information through your thought leadership campaign.
14. Write a Book
Writing a book, even if it's self-published on an online platform, provides physical evidence of your expertise. It adds trustworthiness to your views and ideas.
Pro Tip: If you're not a natural-born writer, take a few select blog posts, combine them, and add strategic information to make it more valuable. You can use such programs as Designrr to make this even easier!
There's no doubt that there is a strong connection between thought leadership and branding. Whether you're looking to increase brand revenue or attract a wider audience to your brand, thought leadership branding can help you get there.
Let us know in the comments below what strategies you've found helpful in B2B thought leadership.
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