The term 'thought leadership' has been a bit of a buzzword over the past few years, but you might be surprised to know the phrase dates back as far as 1887 in a description of an American minister, Henry Ward Beecher.
Its connotations may have changed a little over time but still, in its simplest form, thought leadership refers to, 'the practice of developing important new ways of thinking which influence others'. But how does that translate to business? What does it mean today, and how can it help your SaaS business grow?
In this guide to thought leadership, we’ll be unpacking:
- What is thought leadership?
- How does thought leadership help your business grow?
- How to build a thought leadership strategy
What is thought leadership?
Today’s concept was made popular in 1994 by the editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine Joel Kurtzman who outlined it as “A thought leader is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in … they have distinctly original ideas, unique points of view and new insights”.
While we’d agree with the above statement, our definition of thought leadership includes positioning your product or service as the best in the industry, the go-to solution in the minds of your customers and prospects. But it’s not enough to just simply state you’re the best on your website, you really have to put the work in to become a credible source and offer real value to the people that seek you out.
How does thought leadership help your business grow?
According to Edelman, 90% of C-Suite executives referred to strong leadership as something that increases their respect and admiration for an organization.
Thought leadership helps lend credibility to your product by showing customers and potential customers your expertise and knowledge.
Having a strong portfolio of content and speaking engagements goes a long way when building a PR strategy.
Appearing on podcasts, at conferences, or at industry talks helps cement you as an expert in the minds of your audience, and the more you get your face out there, the more speaking opportunities will roll in. The more speaking opportunities available to you, the more media coverage for your brand’s product.
Increase in sales
Almost 60% of decision-makers said that thought leadership directly led to them awarding their business to an organization.
More than 60% of C-suite executives said they were willing to pay a premium to companies that create thought leadership with a clear vision.
Your thought leadership content should fit in with your brand’s content to make one cohesive strategy. Having this strategy in place will help you guide your processes and focus your vision of how to become an industry leader.
How to build a thought leadership strategy
Define your area of expertise
Instead of trying to cover an entire industry, hone in on one particular area you feel best represents your service or knowledge. Does your product facilitate sales? Then there’s your focus. It’s better to be specific about one particular subject than put out thin content with zero value. It helps you build credibility as a brand.
Define your audience
Like all customer strategies, thought leadership requires you to know your target audience inside out. This is something you will have hopefully already defined when you were initially building your brand, so your audience should hopefully align.
Know your competition
No matter how niche your area of expertise is, chances are someone on the internet is already writing about it. Check out what they’re writing and where they’re sharing their content.
Are there any gaps in their content you could fill?
Now you have a topic and you’ve established your audience, it’s time to start creating content.
Whether that’s articles, whitepapers, videos, reports, or podcasts, it’s important that you update your content regularly. Putting together a content calendar can help you keep organized and schedule posts on a regular basis.
Remember though, generic, low-quality content is not going to cut it, your output needs to be fresh, forward-thinking, and evidence-led.
Publish on various platforms
Publishing your content on your own blog, YouTube, Medium, and social media broaden your reach. It’s also super beneficial to get your content out there on other people’s platforms.
Is there somewhere you can guest post? Could you take part in a podcast? Speak at an event? You want your content to reach potential new audiences as well as your existing audience.
Make the most of social media
Social media has fast become the place to establish thought leader status, and it’s a great place to engage with your audience, share industry news, opinions, and content.
You can use LinkedIn’s publishing tool to share content with your professional network and join relevant groups where you can share your expertise.
Whichever platform you decide to focus on, make sure your profile is complete and includes a professional headshot, so people know who you are and remember you.
Never stop learning
To become a thought leader, you must be forward-thinking.
To become forward-thinking, you must keep on top of the latest trends and developments in your industry. Never rest on your laurels, and keep learning your niche. Nobody has all the answers - learn from peers, competitors, and leaders in your industry.
Authenticity helps to build trust and humanize your brand.
Be genuine and share content designed to help your audience, and you’ll be at the forefront of their minds once it comes to making a purchasing decision.