Carolyn McMaster | July 16, 2015
We think almost any business can have what it takes to be a thought leader (yeah, it’s not the greatest term, but it’s what we’ve got). And pretty much everyone meets our first two criteria: they have thoughts and an audience. In this regard, sustainable businesses have an edge because they often have a novel approach, and they are in the vanguard of a growing movement that people are hungry to learn about.
This is all to the good, since thought leadership has become an essential strategy for B2B businesses. But success at this strategy also requires structure, discipline and persistence. Here’s a checklist for assessing readiness.
You have thoughts.
Well, OK, everybody has thoughts. But thought leadership thrives on sharing intellectual capital—views on where your industry is headed, how products and services for your market can be improved and so on—as well as lessons and insights that stem from your work. You’ll have an edge if you’re provocative.
You have an audience.
Almost any B2B business has an audience—potential customers, colleagues and others who are interested in your expertise. That’s a start. You should also have new audiences in mind—expanding your zone of influence is the whole point.
You have a platform.
Preferably, you’ll use several platforms for sharing your thoughts beyond immediate circles. Publishing blog posts and hoping people read them isn’t going to build a following. Create a content strategy—a roadmap that defines topics you’ll cover, formats you’ll use and how you’ll reach your target audiences. Platforms could include your own marketing channels, partner channels, media outlets, conferences and third-party publishing platforms like Medium and YouTube. Positioning yourself as an expert source for journalists is another avenue—and a whole other topic.
You can create content.
Substantive, high-quality content is the foundation for thought leadership. Not everything (or even most things) needs to be a brilliant piece of research or a sharply honed essay, but you need to be able to create meaningful articles, presentations, blog posts or whatever on a regular basis. (If you already have a content marketing program, you’re a few steps ahead.)
You are committed.
Thought leadership is a long-term strategy that requires persistence and discipline. Programs are typically iterative: test, adjust, repeat. It takes a while to see the benefits—expanded brand awareness, valuable new connections and increased leads are typical goals, and achieving them takes consistent effort.
The best thought leaders are passionate about their topics and focused. They share their knowledge selflessly. They ask questions, respond to feedback and exchange ideas. They not only build their business and expand their world, they learn as they go. Think of your program in those terms and you’ll have what it takes to succeed.