Thought leader – a new kind of leadership


What, exactly, is a thought leader?

Back in 1994, a few things of note happened.

  • Forrest Gump was released. Damn, we love that movie.

  • The Channel Tunnel opened between England and France. Oh la la, fancy!

  • The Winter Olympic Games were held in Norway. Brrr, sounds cold. We’ll stick to Byron.

  • And the term ‘thought leader’ was first coined by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the magazine Strategy & Business.

Kurtzman’s definition of the brand-spanking new buzzword read a little like this…

A thought leader is recognised by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate. They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.

As for our definition… well, we like to think of it as a type of strategic communication – where we hone in on the talent, experience and passion inside a business to consistently give the best answers to the biggest questions on the minds of the target audience.

To do that, thought leaders need to know – their – stuff. Seriously, their level of thinking can only be described as state-of-the-art.

And state-of-the-art doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Successful thought leadership status isn’t going to sweep you off your feet after a single article published on LinkedIn. People need to put in the hard yards – it calls for consistent, diligent effort. It is cumulative. It is strategic. It should change the way the target audience perceives the world. And it should ultimately inspire them to act.

Thought leadership should be bursting with big ideas. And the thought leader needs to answer the audience’s big questions by using the most appropriate formats via the platforms they frequent most. So if the audience in question is all about the digital and social media geekery (like us), then we’d be targeting opinion pieces on PLANN, Mumbrella, and Social Media Examiner, just to name a few. If they’re all about permaculture, we’d suggest rolling up your sleeves and creating some how-to live off the grid in relevant blogs and YouTube channels. Now’s the time to think outside the box.

So… what are those formats?

Thought leadership, like all good content, works best when readers can interact with it, on their own terms. That means videos, infographics and podcasts score highly when it comes to distributing golden nuggets of wisdom. But, that’s not to say that even the most familiar blog format can’t reap some serious rewards – as long as they’re crafted with care and offer an authoritative view or insight into a particular topic.

Other effective formats include whitepapers, ebooks and microsites. Just remember, the internet is a popular place for businesses and thought leaders to distribute their content (#nobrainer). In fact, 92% of businesses last year used social media to share their expertise – with LinkedIn taking out the most popular platform award.

How do we help thought leaders thrive?

Good question. We’ll answer it in five simple steps…

1. Dig deep into business’s brand pillars

Firstly, we dig deep into a business’s brand pillars, key messages and target audiences. We’ll identify a range of topics that are closely associated with the brand and that the designated thought leader/s wholeheartedly believes they can speak to with confidence, mindfulness, strategic thinking and emotional intelligence. Remember, we’re not simply up against direct competitors – we’re up against everyone. Anyone who publishes content in your space is vying for their piece of the thought leader pie.

2. Confirm key questions and experts

Next, we’ll speak to the expert – of which there may be several within the business – to uncover the answers the target audiences are seeking.

3. Carve out the best answers for the right audience

Now we’re ready to carve out some next-level content to answer those questions across a number of formats and multiple channels, to ultimately add value to the audience. And when it comes to great content, this means…

  • Using simple language – so avoiding jargon, cliches and corporate speak… it makes the content pompous and, quite frankly, unreadable.

  • Keeping quotes short – and use them wisely, to clearly illustrate the point you’re trying to make.

  • Digging in with some data – but remember it’s like talking or writing with numbers, so the same rules apply. You need to tell a clear story and ensure they genuinely add weight to your message.

  • Adding substance with design – it’s the same deal as above, it’s like talking or writing with images. That means all visuals must be meaningful, clear and original.

  • But before we can hit ‘post’, we need to know one thing: where does the target consumer hang out? Know the answer to that, and we know where to reach them, and how. Together, we’ll track them down.

It takes a village to raise a thought leader.

4. Build a network

It takes a village to raise a thought leader. By this stage we’ll be chomping at the bit to build a bursting business network. That means seeking out other people in industry who could help establish the nominated thought leadership position. We’ll do that by hooking them up with in-person events, speaking opportunities, online networking groups and dive into award submissions. Beyond that, we’ll also help to locate and work with influencers who truly believe in what our thought leader is saying, and share it with their own followers.

5. Shake things up a bit

Finally, we’ll keep things interesting. That means encouraging the thought leader to step outside their comfort zone when it comes to creating your content – let’s think beyond the listicle blog post and push some boundaries with a YouTube series or podcast.

Now’s the time to articulate a point of difference – take a stand, go against the tide, or just know something really, really well before others do and shout it from the rooftops in the places they hang out. Oh, and back – it – up. We’ll make sure they’ve got the latest research, stats and articles on hand to support their stellar point of view.

Why you should have started this yesterday

To quote global media giant Forbes, because…

A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognised as such.

Key word there being ‘profits’.

Yep, the benefits that come from having influential thought leadership are endless. It can help a business / or individual…

  • Establish their brand as an authority on a specific topic

  • Align customers to the company message

  • Become part of the conversation, early in the consumer journey

  • Invite the target audience to get to know the business

  • Become a social business – real people with real faces talking to real customers and buyers

So come on, let’s pack a punch

Truly great thought leadership is successful because it’s edgy, unexpected, and immaculately delivered to the right people, in the right place, at the right time. We’re here to help individuals and businesses find the very best way to do exactly that – all the while enhancing existing relationships, and creating new ones with carefully constructed, inspiring, intriguing and challenging content that gets to the core of everything your audience ever wanted to know… and then some.

Want to know more? Get in touch today.

0415 852 484 |

Tess Mol