You’ll talk about many things, but your brand won’t be one of them.
We’ve already learned from this ContentBacon post that establishing yourself as a thought leader is a matter of successfully sharing your expertise. Thought leaders freely share this via massive amounts of free content that comes with no strings attached. They engage others on social media, make guest posts on other blogs, and exercise their storytelling muscles.
The storytelling element of being a thought leader is crucial because people don’t really give a rip about your brand. They care about the experience it makes, and how they can use what you share with them to increase their own social capital.
Notice something missing from this equation? That’s right. You won’t be doing much talking about your product or service. You won’t be building your brand.
You’ve heard the analogy before. What you see above the surface is just a tiny fraction of the iceberg. It helps to think of your brand the same way when it comes to thought leadership. Your brand is that great big unseen underside. It’s what’s keeping your role as a thought leader upright.
There’s one thing that people absolutely do not want to hear in all that content you’re giving away. If you talk about your brand, you’ve prostituted your position as someone with expertise for blatant self-promotion. Stop right now if your objective as a thought leader is revenue-generation.
You won’t do that as a thought leader. You’re standing on the foundation of your brand. It’s giving you the opportunity to share what you know. The knowledge people want you to share with them is not a recitation of features and benefits. Your objective is relationship-generation.
No selling. Ever. But here’s what you will be doing instead as you share your expertise with thought leadership.
- You’re selling ideas. You’re dealing in the currency of information. Even though you’re giving it away, you are selling your insight. Insight = perspective.
- You’re cultivating a point of view. You’ll take a unique angle, and you’ll spend much of your time interpreting it for others. You will use the word “why” a lot. Point of view = perspective.
- You’re laser-focused. Think of a race. The winner crossed the finish line first because they were the leader. Thought leaders can’t multitask. Your focus is on creating a new way to look at solving a problem. Context = perspective
- You’ll speak to a specific audience. This isn’t marketing, so we’re not talking about a target audience. That’s who you want to reach. You’ll be talking to people who have sought you out because your opinion resonates with their beliefs—or at least with what they want to believe. You’d better love what you’ll be talking about because it should be all you talk about. You’ll be talking to people who want to gain insight on how to do something better. Verticality = perspective.
- You’ll be humble. There’s no such thing as a successful uninformed thought leader. There are many successful thought leaders who use their point of view to explore unknown possibilities that can lead to evolved insight. Openness and humility = perspective.
- You’ll help your audience become smarter. The most successful leaders—thought or otherwise—go crazy over the idea of discovering something new and sharing it with others. Receiving relevant, useful information is in many respects like receiving money. Transformational learning = perspective.
- You’ll productize your thought leadership. Because what you’re sharing is a product. So, you should market it as such. In this case, you’ll take what you’ve shared, you’ll slice it and dice it. You’ll Tweet this part, you’ll Instagram that part. You’ll put another part on Facebook, and you take yet another piece and transform it into a webinar or e-book. These things you’re sharing as a thought leader are not your product. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be marketed. Positioning = perspective.
- You’ll be thoughtful. If you are a successful thought leader, you are a true leader. It means you have a responsibility to behave publicly in a way that’s congruent with the brand that supports your position. Representation = perspective.
Entire organizations can become thought leaders, too—but that’s a difficult feat. It requires everyone to march to the same beat. Apple is a good example. You may find it easier, however, to appoint individuals representing your organization as thought leaders. It’s easier for a single person to adopt a perspective and express a point of view that encapsulates the DNA of your brand.
Finally, thought leaders seldom need speechwriters or help communicating their perspective. They do employ the service of professionals who will take those well-crafted stories and do the slicing and dicing we talked about in the productizing point above.
That part’s a lot of work, and the devil is in the details. Details usually meaning selecting the optimal time to Tweet, make a Facebook posting, or schedule a webinar. It’s something you and your organization should consider turning over to us.
Focus on perspective. It’s what’ll make you a thought leader. We’ll take care of the rest.