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Being regarded as a respected influencer in your industry is the gold standard of thought leadership marketing. To be in a position where you can set the narrative in your space, and influence thousands with every blog post or tweet. To get there, you need to consistently provide the most valuable and sought-after solutions to the problems your audience is trying to solve. It’s great work…if you can get it. But chances are, you can’t. Here’s why:
Becoming a true bona fide thought leader is an illusory goal. There is no milestone you hit that triggers fireworks and a marching band. Becoming a thought leader takes time and requires old-school hustle. And even if you work it 24/7, it’s still difficult to achieve without proper marketing support.
However, there are a few areas that an individual or business should focus on to engage (and build) an audience for thought leadership. As a marketer with a 16 year history of building thought-leadership marketing solutions for my clients across industries such as technology, consumer electronics, and healthcare, I put together the 5 key themes that resonate and get results.
The 5 Key Elements of Successful Thought Leadership Marketing
Define Your Area of Expertise
It may be obvious, but one of the first things that an individual or business needs to do is identify their area of specialty. There must be some need in the marketplace to justify your selection. Once you identify it, you need to make sure it’s authentic. For example, I represent a full-service creative agency. If we tried to establish ourselves as thought leaders in chemical engineering, we’d get laughed at. Thought leadership marketing goes hand-in-hand with passion and experience. If it’s not an authentic position, your audience will see right through it. Focus on your expertise rather than your aspirations—or your efforts will seem disingenuous.
Reach & Frequency
If a tree falls in the forest and…well, you get the picture. It may be a cliche, but it’s also a key component to successful thought-leadership marketing. Building an audience takes patience and it takes repetition. The more consistently that you are creating and sharing content, the more your audience will grow. This is where marketing really starts to provide value. Because your next job is to amplify your message with tactical efforts like email marketing, SEO, paid advertising, and other programs. Anyone can jump on a soapbox, but thought leaders set the stage for themselves and they control the discussion.
So how do you do it exactly? Well, there are quite a few vehicles available in modern marketing to help you to effectively deliver your message to your audience. One of our greatest advantages today is access to data, which gives us the ability to put the right message in front of the right person at the right time. And we can do this with unparalleled accuracy—maximizing efficacy and saving our clients money. A properly optimized blog is a great place to start. Let Google do the hard work for you! As usual, our friends at HubSpot provide some very slick resources around effective blogging. Keep in mind that audiences really love video content these days. How much do they love video? More than 500 million hours of videos are watched on YouTube each day! Check this out to blow your mind – Staggering Video Stats. Podcasts also yield tremendous results (Podcast Stats 2019) in the development of thought leadership. My favorite, however, is and will always be old-school event marketing. There is no substitute for speaking to a room full of engaged people about your product, service or area of expertise.
This one is tricky, but necessary. Success generally favors bold action, and you’ll notice that most of the prevalent industry thought leaders are bold characters. I’m not necessarily suggesting an aggressive tone, I’m also not not suggesting it. You’ll have to develop your own authentic approach, but keep in mind that you cannot be timid if you want to make a name for yourself in your marketplace. We’ll discuss specific examples of this later on in this post, but if you do some homework you’ll find some really great examples of dynamic thought leaders who aren’t afraid to “own it.” You’ll also find that these people usually aren’t afraid to fail.
I’m reminded of a certain line from the movie Tommy Boy about guarantees and brake parts…(Google it for a laugh). It was written for comedic purposes but it’s certainly relevant here. You can’t just claim that you are a thought leader unless you can back it up. Make sure that you have legitimate claim to the title and a catalog/portfolio of work to justify your position. Need help? Look for Thought Leadership marketing programs to help to coordinate and promote your work so that there is little confusion in the digital space. Experts in thought leadership leverage virtually every marketing vehicle to solidify their status, and these days social media has emerged as the most important piece of the puzzle.
How the Top Thought Leaders Combine All 5 Elements
I’m sure everyone has a list of thought leaders that they follow, whether they know these people are thought leaders or not. One of the most well-known examples is this guy:
Love him or hate him, Gary Vaynerchuk (or Gary Vee) has done a great job of making himself relevant to business owners across a wide demographic range. He’s good at what he does, he’s good at conveying that message, and he’s unapologetically honest. That’s his authenticity.
Gary also happens to own and operate a massive social-media agency called VaynerMedia—so he can certainly back up his claims.
Now, as I said earlier, it does take a calculated risk to be successful. Gary eats risk for breakfast. Just do a quick online search of him and you’ll see a mountain of content that he’s created and curated for his audience. This is a perfect example of successful thought-leadership marketing through content. To be a successful thought leader, you need to create optimized content that gets distributed across as many platforms as possible. In Gary’s case, he leverages print, social, events, and digital platforms—just to name a few.
I’m also a big fan of Simon Sinek:
While not quite as interwoven into pop culture as Gary Vee, Simon has a significant following of high-profile business leaders. His expertise as a motivational speaker and consultant add to his credibility. He has written quite a few books that have become commonplace on the shelves of many entrepreneurs and successful CEOs.
Like Gary and all of the other successful thought leaders, Simon is essentially in the business of content. And he’s done a great job of leveraging the digital space to amplify this content and take advantage of the viral nature of social media and video. Simon is not afraid to take a risky stance on specific topics such as millenials and cell phones–which, if you haven’t noticed, is a trait all thought leaders share. If you get a 15-minute break, check out his video on millennials in the workplace. It is absolutely worth a look (full disclosure: it took me 15 minutes longer than it should have to finish this post because I had to watch the video again, it’s just that good).
There are so many powerful and influential thought leaders out there, but the last one I want to share is a bit of an anomaly: Joe Rogan. Joe began his career as a comedian but has evolved into so much more.
The scope of his reach is virtually unparalleled. Joe has found relevance across such a wide range of people that he has become almost a shaman of sorts to his massive audience. His podcast is mega (there’s no other word to describe it) and he brings on guests that many others just can’t get (or can’t get to be as honest in their interviews…looking at you, Elon Musk). Joe Rogan is a thought leader, but maybe not in the traditional sense. His tell-it-like-it-is style has made him well respected among entertainers and politicians alike.
Now, what makes Joe Rogan a great example of successful thought leadership marketing is that he has bridged the gap between entertainment and information. He gets some really great content out of his guests and he makes it very funny. He then monetizes his efforts through sponsorships, advertising, and speaking opportunities.
Your Brand: The Next Influential Thought Leader
So, now what? Let’s say you or your company has built a massive audience of followers because you’re an expert willing to take a risky position. Now you have to figure out how to monetize that for the purposes of your business. Listen, we sometimes make marketing more difficult than it needs to be. I can blabber all these fancy buzzwords like Omnichannel and Programmatic but marketing is best simplified as this: the better you understand your target persona, the easier it will be to give them what they want. So, build your position as a thought leader based on the fundamental understanding of what your audience wants to hear. And if that’s all confusing…well, that’s what we’re here for.
Drop us a note to discuss further. We at S3 love talking about this stuff and we can help you to achieve your thought-leader marketing goals. (Joe Rogan-level results not guaranteed).
“I’m the VP of Sales & Marketing at The S3 Agency and a gearhead in my exceedingly rare spare time. On the off chance I’m not talking about marketing stuff I’m probably tinkering in my garage or driving my kids back and forth to soccer tournaments! Read more articles about advertising, social media, and PR at theS3agency.com.”