Thought leadership — a term marketers use to position people inside their companies as experts to influence a specific audience — has been picking up momentum.
According to a 2019 study by LinkedIn and Edelman, thought leadership is more powerful than people think. Some CEOs have even started to vet companies and determine if they should do business based on their thought-leadership content.
“B2B marketers and salespeople significantly underestimate the impact of thought leadership on demand generation and sales efforts compared to actual feedback from B2B buyers,” the study states.
Crayton Webb, Sunwest Communications owner and CEO, said that even though the idea of thought leadership can be hard to sell to someone who doesn’t understand it, the benefits are quite amazing.
Take the guy who sells wooden hangers as an example. The Hanger Project teaches people all over the world how to tie proper knots on dress shoes and gives viewers other fashion advice.
Originally he started by merely selling wooden hangers for suits. And soon he became a thought leader. He has more than 500,000 YouTube views a month.
What is Thought Leadership?
Thought Leadership positions individuals and brands as experts on causes, in industries, with services and products and then influences a specific audience with their knowledge and expertise. The experts become leaders because of the unique knowledge they share that can influence everything from legislative policies to common consumers.
When a leader shares his or her expertise or knowledge with others, it “transcends the marketing paradigm,” Webb said at an IACB Dallas luncheon March 19. The leader is sharing information you can’t get anywhere else.
“You’re enhancing the credibility of your (personal) brand or the reputation of the brand you represent,” he said.
Webb warned that a thought leadership campaign can’t be one and done. It’s also not a marketing play. It takes a long time to see results.
When you do start seeing results from your campaign, customers will perceive your brand more positively.
3 Main Types of Thought Leadership
Thought Leadership for Causes
Webb, a former vice president at Mary Kay Inc., helped lead a global campaign to bring awareness about domestic violence for the brand. Mary Kay wanted to be known for their stance on domestic violence. They launched a multifaceted, multi-year campaign that brings awareness and even lobbies to stop and prevent domestic violence.
Mary Kay’s program highlights includes:
- Domestic Violence Shelter Grant Programs, over $50 million donated to domestic violence shelters by The Foundation since 2000
- 1 million “Makeovers for Good” around the world event
- Mary Kay and their independent sales force educated lawmakers is several states about crucial counseling, education and prevention programs, and the importance of state support for these life-saving services on Legislative Action Day.
- Don’t Look Away campaign
May Kay has spent millions for many years to position themselves as thought leaders on stopping domestic violence.
When companies can link their corporate social responsibility teams to marketing it can have significant results, Webb said.
Thought Leadership in an Industry
Seth Godin is considered the godfather of today’s marketing. He has written 17 books. He leads the Alt MBA, a modern-day MBA program. He’s always on the cutting edge of marketing and owns the area of expertise.
He publishes one blog post per day. With his millions of followers who feel like they know him personally, he can influence all of them to purchase, buy or act in a certain way. His point of view counts.
Seth Godin owns the marketing industry space. The ability to change people’s actions through your words is where every marketer, business owner and executive wishes they were. And this is exactly the space where Godin sits.
Godin is among one of the true thought leaders of our time.
Thought Leadership in a Niche
The Hanger Project is a great example. Kirby Allison started by selling a new wooden hanger that was designed to protect and extend the life of clothing.
His niche started in garment care for men. He began posting videos on the best way to take care of luxury clothing.
Although the fabric wash and care market is a billion industry, Kirby Allison was only interested in a small niche of the garment care industry. He became a thought leader in the luxury goods market.
He found his niche and started helping common people dress better with YouTube videos.
Thought Leadership and Messaging
Webb said there are several fundamental questions you need to ask to figure out what thought leadership position you should take:
- How should you standout?
- How do you do something that sustains your story in an authentic way?
- Who is important to you?
- Who is your audience? Where is your audience?
However, before a business goes out and starts making videos, a small business owner or expert needs to ask basic communication questions.
“Like any strategic messaging or influence campaign, you need to start at the basic building blocks of sharing a message with someone else,” said Jimmy Epperson, Clear Points Messaging LLC owner and communication consultant.
Key questions are:
- What do I want to be a thought leader in? What is the general topic?
- How can my thoughts give my audience the advantage and how will they benefit?
- Why and how is my position unique and different?
How Long Does Thought Leadership Strategy Take to Work?
Do you know how long it takes to be an overnight success? Years. The same is true for a thought leader who is recognized, listened to and can influence a group of people.
A thought leadership marketing strategy doesn’t happen over night. It takes a lot of time and dedication and resources.
For an expert or brand to create thought leadership strategy that works, they contributed a lot of time and money. Or, as Seth Godin would say, you made something great.
Another question you might ask your team or yourself is, “Do you have the time and dedication to constantly share information that helps others and how are you yourself making an impact?”