Thought leadership is a relatively young term in the business environment, according to my sources, just 19 years old. Yet, it is one that is well-supported if Google’s 948 million return on search is anything to go by.
The thought leaders of our time include Arianna Huffington, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, among many, and my personal favourite Elon Musk.
“A thought leader is an individual or company that is widely recognised as an authority in a specific niche. They are sought out by the media, conferences and potential clients for that expertise.
“Activities of a thought leader do not simply encompass “knowing stuff”, but maintaining a knowledge and awareness of their niche that places them at or near the top of that niche on a consistent basis.” WashingtonTechnology.com
So who earns the right to be a thought leader and what do you need to put together a thought leadership article?
- Know your audience
Like all marketing efforts of which thought leadership is only a part, you must know your audience. It simply is a waste of time and space to hope that everyone wants to read or hear about what you have got to stay. Find your niche audience, the more you can define them, the better your chance of success at reaching them with your message.
- Establish your credibility
If you are truly an industry leader, this is an easy one. You have got to your position by a series of events. Be willing to describe these and reference your current platforms and achievements. Refer to any books, white papers or articles you have written. Don’t be shy to quote sources not written by yourself as material that has helped shape your opinion.
- Take a stand
The very essence of thought leadership is to challenge current norms. You want to take a stand on a ruling, judgement, bill, etc. You want to challenge the narrative on a certain issue and take it in a new direction. It may not be controversial but controversy will help to engage your audience. If you don’t take a stand, the buy-in to your thoughts will carry less impact and you’ll be providing information for educational purposes only.
- Back it up
You want to demonstrate to your audience that your thoughts are more than a mere thumb-suck. Talk about your research – this should include facts and figures on recent and historic studies and well as future projects you may be involved with. List the studies you’ve contributed to and name the events where you’ve been invited to speak.
- Aim for balance
Whether choosing the controversy route or not, there should be balance in your argument. Show both sides and illustrate the valid points. This doesn’t mean your stand, doesn’t stand. What it does do is further entrench you as the authority who has taken all views into account. Nothing adds weight like independent research from a university or similar academies, and this is the right time to pull them in.
- Add the polish
Make sure your article is well-structured and well written. Leave out the fluff and wispy padding. You don’t want to appear spammy. Rather offer real, tangible ideas that inspire change. Your thought leadership article should contain compelling content that accelerates real business objectives. – If you can’t do it on your own, hire a writer.