Thought Leadership Strategy: But I Don’t Wanna Be a Thought Leader

How to Choose a Thought Leadership Strategy that Fits You

November 9, 2017

How to Choose a Thought Leadership Strategy that Fits You

When you think of the term “thought leadership,” you might imagine marketers who have taken pains to position themselves firmly in the limelight. Thought leaders have massive followings on social media. They post insightful industry commentary on a regular basis. If they don’t have a book out yet, they definitely have a book deal in the works.

That kind of star power can certainly contribute to B2B marketing success. But not every marketer has the time, energy, or desire to take center stage. It’s perfectly natural if your gut reaction to thought leadership is a Seinfeld-ian “But I don’t wanna…”

Is thought leadership really an essential component of B2B marketing success? Can you be wildly successful without it?

If you would sooner wear Jerry’s puffy pirate shirt than sign up to be a keynote speaker, don’t despair. When it comes to thought leadership strategy, you have options. Here’s what you need to know.

There are Three Types of Thought Leadership

Thought leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice. There are multiple ways in which you and your organisation can establish your leadership bona fides. Not all of them require the kind of individual celebrity that makes some B2B marketers uncomfortable:

Industry Thought Leadership is the closest analog to that singular visionary we were talking about. It means developing innovative thoughts and insights on the trends and forces shaping your industry. It means finding new opportunities, new ways to solve problems, or simply reinventing your entire industry from the ground up. It sounds like a tall order, I know. But it’s possible to take small steps towards this kind of thought leadership—you don’t have to be Richard Branson or Bill Gates overnight.

Product Thought Leadership takes the focus off the individual and onto the ways your products and services can help solve problems. To build this thought leadership, share your company’s best practices, strategic initiatives, and how-to’s that show how your solution can transform the way your customers do business.

Organisational Thought Leadership involves promoting the company culture that allows your organisation to best serve customers. It’s about making your organisation transparent, letting people see what values your organisation espouses and how these values play out in day-to-day business.

Only the first type of thought leadership requires you to constantly flip the industry paradigm on its head. You don’t have to become a celebrity to demonstrate the strengths of your product offering or organisation.

As Marketing Writing Consultant Stephanie Tilton puts it: “As long as you’re able to satisfy your prospects’ and customers’ needs, you don’t need to develop groundbreaking concepts. In fact, a well-executed content marketing strategy reflects key characteristics of thought leadership by offering insights and perspectives that frame one’s thinking, spark conversations, and lead people down the decision-making path.”

Start with the Right Audience, Not the Biggest One

When you see the stars of social media who have thousands—or hundreds of thousands—of followers, it can seem daunting to try and build your own audience. Fortunately, you don’t need that massive following for your thought leadership to be successful.

Think of it this way: In an audience of 100,000, there may be 1,000 who are actually going to contribute to your results in a meaningful way. One reason to amass a huge audience is a numbers game—you cast a wide net and hope the audience you want is in there somewhere.

While you are building a larger audience, focus on getting your content in front of the right audience. Find the 1,000 without roping in the 100,000.

Paid content promotion can help you find your most relevant audience. Our team at LinkedIn Marketing has a mantra: Organic is good; paid is better. The audience you deliberately seek out has the potential to be far more meaningful than those who discover your content organically. Strategic use of Sponsored Content with precise targeting can help expand your audience without sacrificing relevance. 

Lead with Content, Not Personality

Some thought leaders draw attention to their big ideas through force of personality. They’re dynamic, charismatic, opinionated. That gets people in the door, then the content keeps them coming back for more. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. But it’s definitely not for everyone.

If you’re not comfortable leading with personality, lead with strong original research. Let the facts do the talking. Focus on adding value, and you can develop a reputation for high-quality content.

Keep It Authentic

There are many paths to developing thought leadership. It’s important to find the strategy that fits you and your company. The right strategy isn’t necessarily the flashiest, showiest route—it’s the one that will allow you to engage the right audience authoritatively and authentically.

To learn more about developing thought leadership your way, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership.