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As more and more executives, service providers and companies across industries awaken to the importance of thought leadership content to connect with their audiences, becoming a thought leader is proving to be the hottest trend in business-focused content marketing. One recent survey conducted by LinkedIn showed that nearly half of companies are focused on thought leadership as a key content marketing initiative.

 

So what strategies are most effective at elevating your content to the level of thought leadership? What's resonating with audiences today?

Showcase a distinct point of view

One definition of thought leadership is content that brings your company's unique perspective, expertise and point of view to the larger conversations happening in your industry. Consider, for example, how two different marketing agencies might advise a technology company on where to aim their efforts in 2018. Depending on their focus and experience, each one would have different recommendations. If each agency created content with this audience and topic in mind, their emphasis, strategies and voice would differ. Effective thought leadership helps prospective customers and other audiences in the larger market understand your company's true value proposition. In turn, audiences with whom your approach resonates will be attracted to your company, helping draw in your most valuable customers.

Develop a strategy that connects to your business goals

Thought leadership is rarely organic. A successful campaign starts with clearly defining your business goals. Are you seeking to raise awareness of your brand, take your products and services into new verticals or showcase the extent of your company's original research and data work? Spend time really clarifying your goals not only at the campaign level but also for each individual piece of content. Look at thought leadership as a long-term investment that helps support other efforts you make, like traditional marketing campaigns or advertising investments. It's easier to focus your topics, formats, writers and distribution strategy when you're clear about your intended focus and outcome.

Define value and solutions for your audience

As with all types of content, it's important for thought leadership to showcase valuable insights and real solutions targeted to your market. Defining your thought leadership agenda isn't just about what your company wants to express. It's also critical to find where your approach intersects with your audience's needs. Thought leadership stands out when your unique ideas solve a problem your customers face or provide unexpected insights into their most urgent challenges.

Incorporate voices from around the firm

Thought leadership is most effective when it's connected to recognizable leaders in your firm. Create a plan that brings a variety of different voices to the collective table in your overall thought leadership content development. For example, a business that provides market research services might feature technology experts discussing survey tech, marketing experts discussing survey best practices and consultants discussing their customers' most common challenges.

 

Different professionals within your company will bring diverse perspectives and insights to your thought leadership efforts, creating a rich experience for audiences. Ultimately, by showcasing thought leaders throughout your company, you build trust with audiences, cultivating the assurance that your entire team, from your corporate leadership to your customer service experts, is made up of innovative experts who are equipped to carry out your organization's promise flawlessly.

Experiment with content types

While there's no single content format that's most effective in thought leadership, those that allow you to go in-depth on your topics of choice are likely to be the most effective. Further, consider finding a format your competitors aren't using that audiences are anxious for. Being the first in your space to embrace video or podcasts in a thoughtful way, for instance, can provide a significant advantage. Some format possibilities to consider include:

  • White papers
  • E-books
  • Online presentations
  • Blog posts
  • Articles contributed to industry publications or business journals
  • Social media commentary
  • Videos
  • Podcasts

Take the time to understand how other players in your industry are using different content types, what your customers are looking for and how you can stand out and fill the void your customers are experiencing.

Create a distribution plan

Your thought leadership content strategy should include a distribution plan for maximum impact. For this, there are numerous options. Start by thinking in terms of owned versus contributed content. Developing owned content channels could include publishing a corporate blog or building microsites dedicated to certain topics. Or, entailing a smaller investment, look for ways to boost your thought leadership by guest-posting on industry blogs, contributing articles to business and industry publications and using content marketing platforms to deliver your content to a wider audience. For each piece you create, have a clear distribution plan that will maximize its reach for the best results.

 

Becoming a thought leader in your industry can help your organization stand out from the competition. Define what you want to say, take the time to understand how to contribute real value and insight for customers and experiment with formats and distribution channels. And remember that while it's important to research and strategize ahead, measure the impact of your thought leadership against your goals and remain open to making adjustments.

Liz Alton writes about technology, marketing and business for enterprise audiences. She's a Forbes contributor and her writing has been published in Inc, USA Today, Entrepreneur, the Huffington Post, Mic, Harvard Business Review blogs and the WSJ. She holds an MBA and a BA in journalism, and is completing a masters in Journalism at Harvard.

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