How to Be a Thought Leader in Crowded Spaces

By Apr 26, 2021

The only thing more difficult than rocket science is trying to find Waldo in outer space. What makes the series of children’s books so universally popular is how complex each puzzle can be. In a sea of distracting colors and people and things, Waldo will be hiding somewhere with his trademark red-and-white striped shirt and bobble hat.

The entropy works for a children’s puzzle. But the chaos is far less pleasant when you’re trying to make dollars-and-cents decisions in real time.

As brands compete for digital “airwaves,” content marketing has become the weapon of choice. The right kind of content cuts through the noise and makes audiences come back for more. But a specific kind of content marketing is perhaps most effective of all: thought leadership.

While brands online distract audiences with colors and people and things, your brand can stand out if you do thought leadership right.

Here’s how to start thinking about it.

 

What is thought leadership?

Thought leadership has less to do with pedigree and more to do with perspective. It’s a type of content marketing that leverages the talent, experience, and insights within your organization to thoughtfully answer your audience’s questions.

Is your organization ready to be that voice? Maybe. If you have deep knowledge of industry topics and understand what your audience cares about, then you’re ready. But remember: Thought leadership isn’t an ad for a product or service. It’s an acknowledgement of your audience’s needs. Have enough conversations with your audience and you won’t really need to do much selling at all.

Thought leadership is an important consideration—for both B2B and B2C audiences:

  • B2B audiences are using it to make decisions. More decision makers are consuming thought leadership content year over year (58% in 2018). They’re using thought leadership content to vet organizations they plan to do business with (55% in 2018). And 60% of C-suite executives admit they’re willing to write out larger checks to thought leaders who have a clear vision.
  • B2C audiences are paying close attention. REI’s Expert Advice blog and TD Ameritrade’s thinkMoney® magazine are great examples of expert content that speaks to entire subsets of their audiences. By creating trustworthy and relevant content, they’re becoming thought leaders for industry information.

Whether you’ve fleshed out your content marketing strategy or you’re considering how best to spread your organization’s wings, thought leadership is an avenue worth exploring because your audience is looking for answers.

To do it well? That takes some work.

 

Learn constantly

Lifelong learners, rejoice. The changing landscape of digital media means there’s always something to learn. This is true for audiences looking to consume more and more information. This is also true for leaders looking to be better producers of digital content.

The way audiences engage online has shifted over the years. Those who were once desktop users looking for answers to actual questions are now smart-home technology adopters trying to set the schedule for their garden sprinklers. As audience behavior has changed, so must the way brands reach them.

Thought leaders never stop learning:

  • About their audiences. Knowing the kinds of topics buyers and prospects are exploring online is half the battle. Knowing where your voice will be heard is the other half. Is your audience on LinkedIn? Are your users spending most of their time on TikTok? A well-defined thought leadership strategy can help you stay in front of trends and have genuine conversations with your audience.
  • About their competitors. Sometimes a look outside your window can help cure writer’s block. Learn what kind of content your competition is producing online and where they’re distributing it. This can surface new content ideas or spur ideas on how to make the kind of content that sticks.
  • About their industries. Ask Sears what they know about change. Entire industries can erode and transform over time. Be a constant learner so the insights you share are relevant, timely, and meaningful.

That last point is especially important. There’s already enough noise online. How will your insights be different?

 

Create value

Walking into the cereal aisle at the grocery store can be daunting if you don’t know how to differentiate between frosted wheat flakes. Maybe your selection criteria is data driven. Box A’s fiber content is higher than Box B’s. Maybe it’s a bit simpler. Box A has that hip, fun tiger on the box.

Thought leadership in today’s digital nooks and crannies means standing out. Value matters. Can you give your audience the kind of detail your competitors can’t? Do you have the ability to explain options trading to a 5-year-old? Both represent unique value to an audience.

The key is to create value everywhere:

  • Show up on social media. Don’t just use your brand’s owned channels to show off your industry insights. Leverage influencer marketing and sponsored content to get your voice in front of new audiences. The more, the better.
  • Publish in multiple places. Think beyond your company blog. Use Medium and LinkedIn to get your message out to diverse audiences. Connect with writers using HARO. Land guest writing spots in your favorite publications. The more places your ideas spread, the stronger your thought leadership presence.

In some cases, you might not have the bandwidth to translate your valuable ideas into binge-worthy content online. That’s where fractional content marketing teams can help. By filling production gaps, fractional marketers help organizational leaders stay active online by helping them ramp up their content output.

But not everybody’s a Simon Sinek or Brené Brown. Fractional content marketing also helps give leaders a voice when they’re still trying to fine-tune their own—or if they’re not polished writers themselves. And that’s fine. They have businesses to run and teams to lead. Finding ghostwriting support that’ll crystallize their bright ideas into valuable digital content can help build their presence online.

 

Here’s how you start

Differentiating your perspective from the perspectives of other leaders and brands doesn’t always mean your blog posts have to sound better. It can mean producing content in formats that shine across channels. Whether it’s through Instagram Reels or infographics or a live webinar.

Sometimes brands need support to bring to life the valuable thought leadership at their organizations. Whether it’s strengthening the content production process or supplying writers who can turn executive ideas into meaningful digital speak, the right content marketing team can mean everything.

That’s where we come in. At T3, we help organizations and their leaders stay top-of-mind for their audiences online. Learn more about how we help brands like yours create value that cuts through the digital noise.