Behind the Buzzwords: Thought Leadership

We’re living in a marketing world that is inundated with buzzwords. Sometimes, they make sense. Other times, they’re trendy hype words that have lost their real meaning through overuse, misuse, and lack of understanding. In our new content series, Behind the Buzzwords, ANNUITAS will break down the complex jargon you see trending in go-to-market thought-leadership and help you cut through the noise to contextualize it for your organization

What does it mean?

Thought leadership is traditionally defined as the act of establishing oneself as a knowledgeable and credible expert in a particular industry, market, or area of expertise. To accomplish this, individuals and organizations produce and share unique and valuable insights, perspectives, and ideas that challenge the status quo and advance the field. This allows them to position themselves as trusted sources of information and to influence and inspire others to think differently and drive positive change.

The benefits of being a thought leader — a source that people turn to for expertise and even inspiration — is desirable for any organization. Thought leadership marketing allows you to position yourself as an authority in your field. Not only does it build trust with your audience, it also increases the likelihood that they would be willing to become a customer.

What’s the Problem?

People often make the mistake of equating thought leadership with coming up with proprietary ideas. The misconception is understandable — after all, shouldn’t leaders of thought be the originators of innovative ways of thinking? 

But in reality, none of us exist in a vacuum. Whether we realize it or not, we’re constantly surrounded by the thoughts and viewpoints of others, and in turn, our own thoughts and viewpoints are influenced too. 

So goes the well-known quote by Mark Twain: 

There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages. 

Whether or not you fully agree with Twain’s take, it goes without saying that coming up with something truly new and novel is no easy undertaking — but is it even a standard you should be holding yourself to?

In short, no. If novelty is your main (or only) metric for evaluating the worth of your thought leadership content (as opposed to something like delivering value to your audience), you’ll quickly find that you lose steam. This doesn’t mean that one-of-a-kind ideas are inherently bad, but rather that being one-of-a-kind is not what makes it good or worth listening to. 

A good place to start is by asking yourself what qualities you associate with the thought leaders you do admire. If you actually look at the things that they say, they probably aren’t saying something you’ve never heard before. Rather, they’re able to use their own experiences to frame concepts in a way that challenges others to think differently.  

Thought leadership isn’t necessarily about having a unique thought, or inventing a term. It’s about challenging people to think about something differently than they always have. 

-Jessica Jones, Chief Growth Officer, ANNUITAS

The Right Approach

When it comes to choosing an approach for you and your organization’s thought leadership, you need to figure out what your niche is. Simply put, what value can you provide to your audience? For example, maybe you have several years of experience working in your industry and are adept in distilling complicated concepts. Or, perhaps you’re able to bring a different perspective to a field that is dominated by a homogeneous group because of your own intersection of different identities and qualities. 

Once you’ve settled on how you can bring value to your audience, identify your goals. Why are you trying to establish you or your organization as a thought leader in your space? Are you looking to bolster your top-of-funnel to draw in new prospects? Are you using it as a way to establish goodwill and strengthen your relationships with industry contacts? Whatever your goals may be, explicitly identifying them from the outset will help make sure that your content strategy is aligned with your objectives. 

Finally, it’s really important that you don’t treat your thought leadership as just another avenue for constant selling — especially if it’ll come at the cost of your audience’s trust in you or your organization’s credibility. While people know to expect the occasional product or service pitch, they shouldn’t make up the majority of your content if your goal is to build a loyal following.  Provide genuine opinions on the subjects that people find helpful. Share innovative insights about what your company is doing, with a focus on adding value to your readers, not bragging about how great you are — the best thought leadership content will communicate that without having to say it out loud.

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