Thought Leadership refers to a type of content marketing campaign in which a person or company demonstrates its skill and/or knowledge in a particular field, such as law, medicine, real estate or theater with a focus on attracting the customer rather than promoting the business.
Perhaps the most important element of thought leadership is having a point of view. It’s not enough to impart facts and figures. Otherwise it might be called “research leadership”. You must try to affect the reader’s thinking. If you can affect the reader emotionally, even better, but it’s that feeling of being changed somehow, no matter how subtle, that attracts the customer. Thought leadership is not necessarily about leading the way others in your industry think. It’s more about leading the way prospective customers think. Very little selling should go on in a thought leadership campaign. The selling, or promotion of the business, is done elsewhere.
In a traditional sales campaign, it’s appropriate to use a call-to-action like “Buy now!” using bright colors and large fonts. It’s also appropriate to engage in comparisons to your competition in an effort to extol the virtues of yours over theirs. There’s a healthy narcissism involved in which you brag about solutions and benefits while building an urgency to pull the purchase trigger. You are reaching out to the customer trying to compel them to buy. As consumers, we are inundated by these campaigns every day.
But with inbound marketing, especially with a thought leadership campaign, just the opposite is occurring. The customer is coming to you looking for information. They may have found you through a search engine or social media or perhaps they signed up for your email or blog. They want you to educate them but they also want the freedom to purchase the good or service elsewhere. They want to feel as though they are choosing to buy from you because through your content you’ve demonstrated the necessary skill, knowledge and/or experience. Both types of campaigns can coexist peacefully just don’t mix them together.
Thought leadership content can appear on a page with a “Buy Now” button in the sidebar, but don’t tell anyone to click it in the piece itself, whether it be text, graphic, audio or video. That’s selling. You want to inform. An article with low or no sales language in it will have higher potential for being shared because the sender wants to be perceived as imparting helpful, objective information. The “Buy Now” button will be shared along with it.
Check out this recent post at the Caron Renaissance Ocean Drive blog, Tide Lines: What is Wealth Addiction? Notice that in the upper right hand corner there’s a classic call-to-action, but nowhere in the body of the article does it promote Ocean Drive per se. Only at the very bottom is there a gentle invitation to call if you or a friend has a problem with addiction. This article seeks to educate and thereby attract the customer. It may also educate other industry professionals who are known to refer customers, or it may validate an already favorable opinion of the organization. In any case, it is not trying to sell anything. This seeming objectivity gives it a high pass-around potential.
The article ends with the statement, “Addiction of any type can destroy lives and may require intervention by qualified and experienced professionals to help arrest.” The inference is that the authors are just such “qualified and experienced professionals”. Say no more.
Don’t worry about audience quantity when building a thought leadership campaign. Worry about audience quality. A blog does not have to have a wide readership to be effective. Dan Woods of Evolved Media founded a site at CITOResearch.com, which tightly targets a specific group of decision makers. Dan wants them to buy his brand of sophisticated technical writing from him, so, through a classic thought leadership campaign, he regularly publishes sophisticated technical writing that’s useful and relevant to them. Dan maintains that ten major influencers in his audience are far more valuable in terms of potential revenue than hundreds, or even thousands, of casual readers.
Finally, campaigns are ongoing. Once you’ve started a thought leadership campaign, keep it up. You will not attract your desired audience with one, two, or even three articles. Publish regularly and frequently. As with any content marketing strategy, keep your content current and fresh. That’s how it’s done.