There are many different types of content you can create to contribute to your thought leadership strategy, but the aim with all of them is to increase your brand’s visibility, grow your influence and maximize your impact. You do this by regularly publishing content that’s thoughtful, well-informed, interesting and engaging, with the aim of becoming known as the ‘go-to’ resource within your industry.
When you help your clients and customers by providing them with the answers to their biggest questions, you’ll soon see your influence start to grow. If you also respond publicly and in an informed way to political decisions, community concerns and national and global events which impact on your industry, you’ll raise your visibility and grow your authority outside your sector as well as within it.
A thought leadership strategy helps grow your business because the only thing you’re ‘selling’ is your own expertise. Thought leadership is most definitely not a sales campaign, and you’re not pushing a product or a service (at least not overtly) which means that your audience will be more inclined to trust and subsequently buy from you because they don’t feel pressured into it. If prospects repeatedly see your brand in the media and you rank highly in internet searches because of the quantity and quality of the content you’re producing, you’ll soon position yourself at the forefront of your prospects’ minds.
However, it’s important to recognize that thought leadership is very much a long-term strategy. It may well take years for you to grow your influence and you won’t start making an impact overnight. This is why it’s important to get started as soon as you can.
The best way to start is by researching your marketplace, surveying customers and prospects and identifying the biggest problems that your customers and clients are facing. You then need to start investigating these issues and feeding your customers the solutions, regularly and consistently. If you publish high-quality content in a range of formats, your audience can engage with your content in whichever way they prefer, which will increase your reach.
You need to make sure your messaging is consistent and it’s a good idea to invite people in your network to respond to your insights. This encourages discussion and collaboration and will position you as a supportive and trustworthy facilitator.
Thought leadership isn’t just about raising your own profile, but also about lifting those around you, so make sure that you give credit where it’s due, reciprocate any invitations to collaborate and give back to your network as much as you receive. The more you give back to those around you, the more people will like and trust you.
What types of content do you need to produce?
Business books are by far the most challenging type of thought leadership content to produce because they take a lot of time and require a lot of work to write. You’ll also need to pay to have the book professionally formatted, designed, printed and published and so they represent a significant commitment both in time and money. However, a book will also have the biggest impact of any type of thought leadership content, so it’s always well worth the initial investment.
Any business leader who’s experienced the thrill of getting their book into print will tell you that in terms of lead generation, there’s really no more effective piece of content. A well-written, well-structured business book that speaks directly to your clients will hands-down generate more leads for your business than any other piece of content. The good news is that if you’re not a natural writer, or simply don’t have the time to spend months and months writing a book, there are plenty of ghostwriters who can write it for you. This is worth looking into if you want the benefits of a book without the hassle.
Whitepapers are also powerful lead generators but rather than dealing with the more personal side of your business story as a book does, a whitepaper usually focuses on your products and services and is generally more academic in tone than a book might be. Whitepapers are usually between 6-8 pages long (although some can be much longer) and investigate a specific problem within your sector or give more information about a product or service. Remember that a whitepaper isn’t a sales brochure, so it needs to be written objectively.
There are many different types of whitepapers and the one you produce will depend on your business goals.
Other forms of thought leadership content include case studies, articles, blogs, keynotes, videos, podcasts and webinars. Ideally, you’ll produce content in each of these formats, because doing so will mean that your business achieves maximum exposure.
Once you’ve planned and implemented your thought leadership strategy, you’ll find that your visibility within your industry will begin to grow and you’ll start to receive invitations to speak, contribute to panel discussions and webinars, deliver keynotes, guest on podcasts and be interviewed in the media. These all provide excellent PR opportunities and will serve to further increase your impact and authority. The wonderful thing about thought leadership is that it has a remarkable ability to snowball.
How do you create thought leadership content?
By far the easiest way to create thought leadership content for your personal brand is to dictate it. Speak your ideas into the voice recorder in your phone and then transcribe them using Otter.ai (free software) or Rev.com (paid for service). Otter.ai is free to download and simple to use but the transcripts are machine generated, which means the word choices aren’t always accurate. This isn’t too much of an issue if you’re going to be writing up the transcript yourself as you’ll know what the words are supposed to say. However, if to save time you’re going to pass the transcript over to a copywriter to turn into a blog or an article, it may be more difficult for them to figure out what you mean from an automated transcript and it may take longer to get right.
Using Rev.com means that your recording will be transcribed by humans, and although you have to pay for this service (currently $1.25 per minute), you’ll end up with a much more accurate transcript which will save you/your copywriter a lot of time in the long run.
To make sure that you end up with a transcript that’s going to be useful to you, you’ll need to plan out what you’re going to be talking about before you start speaking, otherwise you’ll end up with a stream of consciousness that’s going to be very difficult for you to edit. Jot down five or six points that you want to cover and make sure you stick to them. If you get into the habit of recording your thoughts every week (or even every day) you’ll soon build up a bank of unique thought leadership content that you can use to grow your personal brand. Once transcribed, a five-minute recorded talk will easily give you enough content for one or two blogs.
This approach works well for social media posts and personal articles and blogs, but to create longer form content like a book or business content like whitepapers and case studies, it’s really best to work with a professional writer who can guide you through the process. Whitepapers involve a lot of research and can be time consuming to create and if you haven’t written one before it can be difficult knowing where to start. You’ll also want to have your paper professionally designed and unless you have your own in-house graphic designer to help with this, you’ll need to outsource the design work. For this reason, it’s often better to have your whitepaper written and designed by an agency or by a freelance copywriter who works in partnership with a designer.
It also makes sense to outsource the writing of case studies because your copywriter will interview your client in order to create the case study. This means that you won’t have to spend precious time trying to organize the interview with your client because your copywriter will do that for you. When interviewed by a third party, your clients will also generally be more open and honest with their feedback because they won’t feel that they have to watch what they say. This means that you’ll get a much better insight into how your products and services have helped them, and will also learn things that will help you to improve the experience for future clients.
What makes a thought leader stand out?
Of course, publishing all the content in the world isn’t going to help you stand out from the crowd if you’re not publishing interesting stuff that people want to engage with. It’s not just a case of providing answers; a lot of the time thought leadership is about asking the right questions, making informed predictions and standing up for the things that are important to you. Thought leadership on a grander scale is about being unique, ‘seeing round the corners’ and ultimately changing the shape of business. It’s exciting stuff and if you really want to stand out as a thought leader, your content needs to reflect this.