Thought leadership is one of those words that can easily be misinterpreted. Part buzzword and part abstract, it actually can mean different things for different people.
In its simplest form, thought leadership refers to “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking” – according to the Oxford dictionary.
Companies are being judged by the thoughts and actions of their CEO’s, and in today’s highly competitive landscape this affects the decision process not only of customers, but the likelihood of luring strong candidates, retaining employees, increasing awareness and managing reputations.
With today’s trend of more buyer research prior to sales engagement, thought leadership becomes the door through which organizations welcome those hunting for knowledge.
Communicating leadership creates context for your company’s plans and decisions. It builds trust, expands your network and enhances your market perception.
Why thought leadership is essential for startups
Intuitively, you might think that thought leadership is best suited for brands that are well established. But in many respects, thought leadership is becoming perhaps even more important for startups, especially for ones that are pre-market or pre-product.
Ultimately, investors invest in people, not products. Thought leadership is a platform for expressing your vision and allows them to tap into your thought process. Secondly, it is a key factor to attract early-stage employees and co-founders.
Risk & reward of staying silent
Most business leaders become leaders by doing and not talking (and letting their doing do the talking). However, in today’s brand economy, there are serious risks to companies that don’t have a voice, but also significant rewards for those that do.
For every company and leader that chooses to stay mute, there is another company and another challenger to the throne who is willing to make their voice heard. Even if your competitive landscape already has a clear leader, there are many opportunities for companies that can craft a unique narrative and voice.
Shaping a leader’s voice
Companies and leaders often need the perspective of an outsider to help craft a voice that is both genuine as well as strategic. It’s important to gain a deep understanding of the company as well as a familiarity with its leadership.
Strategic storytelling is perhaps the most effective tool in crafting a voice of leadership. Think of it as a mix between marketing and journalism combined with an in-depth knowledge of your business.
Easy on the self-promotion
One of the most important things to observe is not to over self-promote. That is one of the biggest turn-offs on LinkedIn and is a sure way for people to tune out. Instead, focus on bringing value to your readers; educate them, share new ideas, insights and be in context.
Frequency & Velocity
To be a leader requires commitment and that means consistent content. Depending on the company and the leader, it’s important to determine a frequency and velocity of content as well as mapping out the different platforms, groups and publications where you want your voice to be heard.
Voice & Tone
To engrave yourself in the memory of your followers, it’s important to develop a unique style that reflects your personality. It needs to be authentic and genuine. This requires time to perfect, especially when a 3rd party storyteller needs to capture your voice.
Videos & Podcasts
While everyone already knows that videos and podcasts generate much more traction, not everyone is as comfortable or natural in front of a camera. If you have a great voice or have great camera presence, that’s definitely an added bonus. But even for those that don’t (let’s face it, the majority of us), there are still plenty of channels to communicate.
You don’t become a thought leader over night. It takes time, a whole lot of work and perhaps even a bit of luck. But for companies and leaders who are committed to the process, have an agenda to push or a burning desire for recognition, the payoff can be huge.