What Is Thought Leadership?

Over the next few weeks, I’m featuring excerpts from my soon-to-be-released research report, “But Mom Told Me Never to Brag: Overcoming the Thought Leadership Hurdles.” Here’s our first selection.

Remember a time not so long ago when you could generate some marketing copy, put it on your web site or in a brochure, and try to separate yourself from the competition? Those days are over. If all your messaging says is “Buy from me,” you lose. When clients seek services today, they want to deal with thought leaders—executives, professionals, and business owners who share useful knowledge verbally, visually, and in writing.

Some refer to it as “thought leadership,” others as “content marketing.” Regardless of your chosen term of art, reaching out to clients, customers, members, and other publics with expert, useful information is key to raising your professional profile. Some may argue this is little more than a novelty. Only time will tell.

Nonetheless, there does appear to be value in an approach that says, “Here are some informative ideas you can implement right away,” rather than one saying, “Here’s what I sell. Don’t you need some of this?”

What type of value might accrue? One example comes from Joyce Bosc, President of Boscobel Marketing Communications. When discussing recent research her firm conducted into how trade show cancellations hinder government contractors from keeping pace with new technology, she explains that the research “benefited our organization because it gave us visibility via news coverage and it positioned us as a thought leader. Since we serve both government and contractors, this certainly is positive to build our brand reputation.”

Perhaps the most visible example of this trend is viewed online. Web sites are shifting more and more toward articles, columns, and blogs that answer questions visitors are likely to have. This type of content is intended to produce longer and deeper stays on a web site or blog. This, in turn, is designed to lead to a greater inclination to contact the resident expert and begin a conversation that eventually results in ordering goods or services.

To be sure, some web sites still cling to the old method of churning out marketing copy. It is likely that, as these sites are revamped in coming years, savvy businesses will adopt an Internet presence richer in content and more useful to visitors.

In reality, thought leadership is nothing new. “Content marketing has been around for over 100 years,” according to Content Marketing Institute founder Joe Pulizzi. The approach “is hot right now because the consumer is in complete control of the buying process and there are no barriers to entry for corporate publishing.”


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