Cause-Related Events? Radical PR? Content Marketing? What Really Makes a Brand a Thought Leader?
Before we get started on the topic of thought leadership marketing, it’s important to define the term for the purposes of this article. This is my personal mantra:
“Thought leadership is the only path to true, sustainable brand differentiation.”
It may mean many things to many people, but when it comes to marketing, it’s hard to argue against this sentiment. Thought leadership provides the differentiation that separates brands from commodities.
Sounds easy. It’s not. So here are a few tips – things to do and things to definitely not do – to help guide you on your thought leadership brand transformation journey.
1. Find Your Brand’s Authentic Authority.
Tactics like content marketing, cause support, social media programs, etc. can amplify a brand’s stance as a thought leader only if they are rooted in authentic authority. Historically, “thought leaders” have been individuals whose authority on a given topic is sought-after and valued. By systematically applying the lessons of thought leadership on a brand level, brands can seize and hold a more valuable place in their audiences’ hearts and minds.
To find your brand’s authentic authority, take a long, hard look at the areas of expertise on which you can currently double-down. Nothing jumping out at you? Don’t feel bad — it happens more than you might think.
That means it’s time to move to Plan B. Dig deep and think about the authentic authority that your brand could claim with a little help. This must be something that can ring true with your target audience. Think carefully here – whatever you land on must something that will work with your brand for a long time, because you’ll need to…
2. Be All In.
I’m not saying your brand can’t be known for other things. I’m just saying this is what you want it to be famous for. That means you’ll be consistently be creating content marketing and other activities related to your area of authentic authority.
It shouldn’t just be a generic area or topic. Instead, get specific. Something unexpected can be a strong way to get initial attention. Remember, though, the goal is sustainable brand differentiation. You want something that has legs to build upon in the future. (Even if that future means the end of your brand.)
What does that mean? We recently worked with a company that makes tests that identify the presence of date rape drugs in drinks. To help their brand to break through, we created a counter-intuitive thought leadership positioning focused on ending date rape! Yes, if everyone the world stopped drugging drinks, their product would have no reason to exist. But how great would that be? This sort of positioning lets their brand mean more than a product ever could. It also invites others to be part of their mission.
3. Own Your POV.
Thought leader brands aren’t just part of the conversation. They are inspiring those discussions, making them happen.
Take the date rape drug detection device company I was just talking about. This is a serious topic and they have a way to effect change. To get their POV out there as a way to prevent drug-facilitated date rape from happening, they chose some channels with the biggest potential ROI.
By creating and executing content marketing programs that speak to the harsh realities surrounding drink spiking, the brand is facilitating social awareness. And that awareness can result in change. Hard-hitting educational blog posts, social media stats and PR angles keep the conversation going. They are legitimately leading an industry in an effort for change.
4. Talk to Other Thought Leaders.
Thought leaders don’t shy away from interacting with the competition. In fact, they see other thought leaders as part of their brand’s “social set.”
Take a good look around other brands in your industry or relative to your topic of expertise. See what their content marketing looks like, how the media covers them, what your target market thinks of them.
Then figure out how you can engage with each other, possibly even amplifying one another’s efforts if it makes sense.
Additionally, look around for the influencers tangential to your expertise. The communication sphere is connected in so many ways. Developing strong relationships with some of these individuals can bolster your credibility. It can also boost your sales, because content marketing is what influencers live and breath.
5. Live Your Leadership.
This can be the hardest thing to do. It can also be the most important. It can be very tempting to slip back into the world of “commodity,” where your advertising, PR, social media, content marketing and website focus on less important things. Things like sales deals.
Don’t get me wrong. Sales are important. Sales tactics are important. But they should be supporting a bigger picture, where your brand is known for its thought leadership, and not for 20% off coupons.
Of course your product or service must be strong and fulfill the brand promise. That’s non-negotiable. Thought leader brands must truly deliver on all fronts, however. They answer to a higher power, if you will, and must stand for something bigger.
Is standing for something bigger worth it? Only if you want to drive vicious loyalty.