How to write a thought leadership article

Thought leadership is a term that gets thrown around a lot in business circles. But what even is thought leadership? Do you have to have had an original thought to be a “thought leader”? 

Despite the vagueries, everyone’s heard it’s good to be seen as a thought leader. However, you probably want your thoughts to lead to positive business outcomes. You don’t want your ideas collecting cyber dust bunnies on the web, but also you don’t want to be that person annoying everyone within digital earshot.

So how do you promote your masterpiece so the right people see it? 

In this post, we’ll explore some tips for writing thought leadership content that will keep your readers hooked. 

What is “thought leadership”?

Wikipedia says a thought leader is:

An individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field.

(But Wikipedia also notes that “thought leader” is business jargon.)

To us, thought leadership is about sharing your insights in a way that influences your ideal reader to engage you. (We can’t tell you how often the italicised part is missed out.)

Thought leadership is, therefore, a content marketing tactic.

What is the purpose of thought leadership?

The real purpose of any clever thought leadership is to gain influence. You want to influence people to work with you or buy from you. To do this, thought leadership needs to give your audience a valuable perspective on something important to them. That doesn’t mean you need to be original. It means you need to be useful.

That you don’t need to be original makes “thought leadership” an unhelpful phrase. The “leadership” part implies that you need to be first to say what you’re saying. However, your ideal reader doesn’t need you to be first. You don’t care if your doctor is expressing original thoughts about your condition; you care that your doctor’s thoughts are accurate, relevant and actionable.

So relax. Thought leadership is all about providing a valuable perspective on issues that are important to your industry or field. You can do that. You can offer a unique take. It’s what you do at work every day. You don’t need to break new ground. You need to help the right people to see things in a new light and gain a better understanding of what are complex issues to them.

What we call thought leadership gives you a chance to differentiate yourself from your competitors. You might appear more insightful or to have a better understanding of your prospects’ problems. You might seem to have the inside track on the latest trends and developments.

If you’re looking to establish yourself as a thought leader, writing articles is a great way to get started. Articles can be shared on social media, in LinkedIn posts and the like. You can email them to clients and people you’d like to talk to. And they can be picked up by Google as part of your search engine optimisation tactics.

By sharing your ideas and knowledge with a wider audience, you can start to build up your reputation as an authority on the topics that matter to them.

Why is thought leadership important for a business?

Thought leadership is important for a business because it establishes credibility and trust with potential customers. It also helps businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
Think of corporations such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and PwC. There’s a reason why these firms have a strong industry presence. They have a track record of producing material that helps their clients make better decisions.

Whether the material is thought-leading or useful rather than original, it gives potential clients a chance to understand how you approach what you do. They can start to see where you would fit into their universe.

How do you become a thought leader in your industry?

Becoming a thought leader takes time and sustained effort. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, it can pay off hugely. Recently, we worked on an article with a partner at a Magic Circle law firm. That article led directly to instructions from a new client, and a new client for a Magic Circle law firm is a massive result.

Over the time you put in, you mustn’t lose sight of the end goal: you want your ideal client to get in touch as a result of your thought leadership. Giving away information and expertise is one thing, but you need to be subtly opening your audience’s mind to the idea that they need you. If your audience thinks they can take action without you, thanks to your thought leadership, you won’t get anywhere.

So how do you become a thought leader? Here are some tips:

1. Identify your niche and focus on it

Even thought leaders don’t know everything. In fact, it’s important to have a focus. That doesn’t have to be one topic. You can be an expert on the problems that affect your audience. That could take your thought leadership across multiple topics. That said, not many people are authorities on a load of unrelated topics so you’ll suffer if people think your “expertise” is spread thin.

2. Be original

Your audience isn’t looking for an echo, someone who parrots better-known voices. To be a successful thought leader you need to bring something fresh to the table. A groundbreaking discovery is marvellous, but groundbreaking isn’t where the bar is set. Your audience will welcome a fresh take or relevant context. You can go miles by recycling classic thoughts at the right time — the value you add is explaining why now is the right time for that wisdom.

3. Keep expanding your knowledge

If you want to be a thought leader, you need to stay up-to-date on the trends and developments in your industry and those affecting the people you’re talking to (if they don’t work in your industry). This means continuous learning and keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening. 

4. Be open to different insights and opinions

One of the ways to stay on top of your game and continue growing as a thought leader is by learning from those around you. True thought leaders don’t know it all. So it’s important to listen to what others have to say and always be on the lookout for new ideas. Learning from others is also a great way to connect with other business leaders in your field.

Also, knowing what others are saying can give you something to be against. They are wrong or off-target because…?

5. Persistence is key

Thought leadership is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. It takes time and effort to build a reputation as a thought leader. You’ll need to be consistent in your messaging and content. You also need to be patient; it can take years to establish yourself as a thought leader. But if you persist with an effective thought leadership strategy, people will start to take notice. (Just as they’ll notice if you flip flop about.)

6. Develop a thick skin

It might feel like no one is listening but you don’t know. Not everyone who reads you will click “like”, comment or email you. Then one day an ideal client might pick up the phone and say, I’ve been following you for a while…

How does content marketing differ from thought leadership?

Thought leadership articles are a type of content marketing. However, they differ from other types of content in a few key ways:

  1. Thought leadership articles need to focus on context, analysis, insight… Thought leaders don’t simply list facts or deliver a how-to.
  2. The goal of giving readers unique insight and perspectives on the topics makes it especially important that the reader knows the credentials of the author or the organisation behind the material.
  3. The ultimate aim of a thought leader is to “sell” something but that isn’t overt. However, expert thought leaders weave a thread through everything they produce. That thread is: You need to call me.

How to write a good thought leadership piece

Thought leadership is about creating influence. Here are some ways that you can create that influence…

1. Focus on what you know

When you create thought leadership content, it should be coming from a place of genuine expertise and knowledge. As we’ve said, you don’t actually need to “lead”. However, you don’t want to look foolish either.

2. Offer solutions to real problems

You can have insightful thoughts about things your readers don’t care about but… who cares? Start with the problems your readers are experiencing then offer your thoughts about solutions. Then you’ll have their attention. You can go a long way by showing people why the things they’ve tried didn’t work.

3. Do your research

There’s limited mileage in pontificating. The world has enough hot air; what it needs is ideas backed by facts. And like your maths teacher used to say, give more than the answer: show the workings.

4. Tell a story

People love a good story. Even since the beginning of civilisation, humankind caught on to new ideas through the power of storytelling. Yes, you might be moving the big rocks with your ideas, but the less boring your writing, the more people will come along for the ride.

5. Don’t self-promote

This is a surefire way to turn off your reader and lose their trust. If you want to promote your products or services, do it in a separate article or blog post. The goal of thought leadership is to establish yourself as an authority on a subject, not convince readers to buy something. Yes, there should be a line from what you produce to what you sell, but that’s different from selling in your thought leadership.

How to promote thought leadership content

Maybe your ideas are golden. But if nobody knows about them, they might as well not exist. Your thought leadership could be the best thing since the Stoics. But if you’re not out there actively promoting your thought leadership content, you won’t get very far.

To make sure your thought leadership content reaches its target audience, you need to do more than just hit ‘publish’. Here are some ideas to get you started:

1. Build a following on social media

Social media is a great way to promote thought leadership content. Use hashtags to reach a wider audience, and post links to your articles on relevant forums and discussion boards. Regardless of what the hustle monkeys tell you, you don’t need a following of thousands. You need a following of the right people.

2. Get involved in the online community

Be an active participant in the conversations in your industry or niche. Share your insights and connect with others who are talking about similar topics. This way, when you release new thought leadership content, people will already be familiar with your work.

3. Make sure your content is shareable

Make sure your thought leadership content is easy to share by adding social sharing buttons to your website or blog. You can also create custom graphics or infographics that people can share on social media.

4. Team up with other thought leaders

Collaborating with other thought leaders can help you reach a wider audience. Writing guest posts, co-authoring articles, and doing speaking engagements are all great ways to get your ideas out there.

Making an emotional appeal in B2B thought leadership content

“Business to business” is an unhelpful term when it comes to thought leadership. You aren’t trying to influence a business, you’re trying to influence a person or people in a business. You’re not a business either. You’re a person working for a business. So at both ends of this thinking — thinker and reader — are people, and people are moved by emotion. That doesn’t change when they take off their home hat and put on their business hat.

Emotion creates relationships, so use it.

Position yourself as an expert with thought-provoking thought leadership content

Thought leadership is all about creating a powerful persona for your brand. When you write thought-provoking articles and share them on social media, you position yourself as an expert in your field. Readers will come to trust your opinion and be more likely to do business with you. By following our tips for writing thought leadership, you can create content that sets your brand apart from the competition. 

If you need expert help building your authority as a thought leader, let us know. We’d love to talk about how we can build your authority with you.

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