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Are you wondering, “what is thought leadership?” Read on to find everything you need to know about the concept and its best practices!
Thought leadership is one of the words that rile up the buzzword police more than almost any other term. Joel Kurtzman, the founding editor-in-chief of “Strategy & Business” magazine, was the first to use the term in 1994 to refer to an individual who has an in-depth knowledge of a company marketplace, a comprehension of the customer’s requirements, as well as innovative and distinctive ideas and points of view. However, what does “thought leadership” mean in the 21st century?

What Is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is the dissemination of original and authentic information that draws on the author’s knowledge, perspective, and experience to impart some of that wisdom to other individuals. The three essential components of thought leadership are taking a position, adding to your knowledge, and creating value.

Some individuals believe that thought leadership should be presented in written material. This may require taking a public stance on the business’s contentious problem. Others argue that thought leadership is holding the position of a subject matter expert and using that status to influence a particular field or endeavor.

Thought leadership is a combination of the two. It’s disseminating information that is thought-provoking and based on research to propel change and provide educational value. However, it is not a destination in and of itself. The only way for thought leaders to create a meaningful business impact, which many economic indicators can show, is via the consistent and long-term execution of their ideas.

Who Are Thought Leaders?

Individuals considered knowledgeable opinion leaders and the go-to sources in their respective fields (in an industry, niche, or across an entire ecosystem) are known as thought leaders. They are the reliable sources that motivate others and inspire them with new ideas; convert those ideas into reality; and know how to reproduce the success and teach others how to do so.

Amanda Nguyen of Rise, Sara Blakely of Spanx, and Ron Finley, the co-founder of Green Grounds, who dresses up himself as the “Guerrilla Gardener” to encourage people in Los Angeles to cultivate gardens in deprived neighborhoods, are examples of thought leaders we admire. What makes them all unique? They are changing the world while encouraging others to join in.

Although thought leaders come in many shapes and sizes, they can come from any background or community. Yet, thought leadership is something that only some can achieve. Experts in their respective fields are often considered the most influential thought leaders. These specialists may be CEOs, writers, consultants, coaches, or enterprises (B2C and B2B).

Thought Leadership Best Practices for 2023 and Beyond

Whether you’re new to thought leadership or an experienced practitioner, this section has everything you need to know. So, continue reading to discover a step-by-step guide on designing, creating, and carrying out a thought leadership strategy like executive visibility with integrated communications, followed by best practices for 2023 and beyond.

Step 1: Outline Your Unique Goals
The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to accomplish by putting yourself in a thought leadership position. To do this, review your current marketing objectives and think about how thought leadership may assist you in achieving each one, assuming it can do so. Suppose increasing business awareness is one of your PR objectives. In that case, writing a post on accessibility challenges that customers in your sector face may help you grab individuals’ attention.

Step 2: Assess Present Thought Leadership
Now is the time to study and investigate the different thought leadership currently present in your industry through online forums, commercial periodicals, academic journals, company blogs, and more. This entails researching yourself as well as your competitors. By acquiring a deeper understanding of the latest concepts and trends in thought leadership (from both your side and your competitor’s side), you’ll better comprehend the primary problems plaguing your sector.

Step 3: Identify Your Thought Leaders
Building a roster of thought leaders is the most brilliant move if you’re planning on discussing a wide range of subjects through your brand. Consider the essential specialists employed by or affiliated with the company firm. According to the feedback received from professionals in the relevant field from one of the studies, thought leader role models often have the following five characteristics:

  • Alignment with your company/brand and its ultimate mission and values
  • A thirst for conveying strong opinions, innovative ideas, and concepts
  • Both knowledgeable and passionate about the relevant industry/sector
  • Experienced in sharing real-life experiences publically with the audience
  • A loyal following (not only on social media but among the team members)

Now that you know how to identify thought leaders, the next step is to determine where they fall on an organizational level. For example, what does your company specialize in doing the best? Where do you put most of your focus? Think about the more prominent brand narrative and ideals you uphold. This way, it will be much easier to shortlist the most authentic thought leaders.

Step 4: Generate Your Distinct Thought-Leadership Content

When it comes to the process of content creation, writing articles as part of your thought leadership strategy is a smart place to begin since it demonstrates your expertise in your field. Once you believe you have a sound system for creating articles, try different mediums such as videos, podcasts, webinars, and eBooks. Before designing the material, you must first decide what themes you want to address. To do so, start with the following crucial steps:

  • Research topics by observing the latest trends in your niche and learning from others.
  • Map out the content production process by assigning duties to particular employees.
  • Finally, stay fluid in terms of publishing calendars to adjust to emerging new trends.

 

Be aware that as you publish material demonstrating thought leadership, you’ll also collect additional data on the returns of this content. By disclosing this information to your team leaders, you can inform them of how successful the plan is and the forms that will best connect with your audience.

Step 5: Dispense and Market Your Content

You may write the most engaging, helpful, and thought-provoking content possible, but if no one can discover it online, it won’t accomplish much. Thus, the essential part of any thought leadership campaign is the development of strategies for distributing and promoting the material. Read on to discover some effective marketing strategies to promote your thought-leadership content.

  • Start by promoting the content on external and internal company channels.
  • Pitch your content to publications, journalists, and other industry influencers.
  • Collaborate with non-competing brands via joint thought leadership content.
  • Reach out for contributions from relevant influencers and opinion leaders.
  • Analyze content creators in your industry to get new, unique insights.
  • Consider adding sponsored content by increasing your marketing budget.
  • Creating a dialogue is an essential component of thought leadership. Therefore, ensure that you follow through and directly connect with the communities, leaders, and influencers. If you run a more prominent company, hire reputation management experts to take care of this. However, if your company is smaller, your thought leader may need to take on a more active role.

Step 6: Measure the Outcome

It is crucial to monitor the success of your thought leadership marketing, just as it is necessary to measure the performance of any other strategy, to determine whether you are achieving your objectives. You may use several content metrics to measure performance and sales results. The following are the primary outcomes that may be generated through thought leadership content:

  • Backlinks
  • Organic Traffic
  • Media Mentions
  • Email Subscribers
  • Total Leads/Sales
  • Social Engagement

Consider experimenting with different ways of measuring progress. For example, you can regularly host thought leadership webinars and provide rating-based questionnaires to all registrants after each session. In addition, you may monitor to determine whether your webinar has attracted the target audience. It may be hard to believe, but this indicator is far more important than the registered individuals.

Best Practices to Follow in 2023 and Beyond

The ultimate goal of a thought leader is to make sure that their specialized skills and knowledge are shared with others to contribute to the expansion and success of the business. The essence of thought leadership is assisting other individuals in gaining a deeper awareness of themselves, identifying their unique contributions to the world, and positioning themselves for sustained success. So, how do we pave the path for thought leadership that works wonders?

Recognize the Area of Expertise
First things first, a thought leader must have a solid understanding of the topic, ensuring that they communicate their expertise straightforwardly and consistently. This contributes to the credibility that is established in the sector. In addition, thought leaders must be responsible for remaining focused on their areas of expertise while simultaneously disseminating information.
Be an Industry Expert
As soon as the thought leaders have determined their area of expertise in the field, it is time for them to become an authority in that particular area. To begin, aspiring thought leaders must ensure that they are continually present on what is occurring in the industry, what is new, what is effective, and what is not. The idea is to educate oneself first before attempting to teach other individuals.
Identify the Approach
This is an essential practice to follow. First, make an effort to comprehend the intended audience, then determine what they expect, and last, investigate potential solutions to guarantee that the appropriate data is sent. If the leaders do not have a clear aim and objective in mind, they simply won’t be adding to the noise, as the audience wouldn’t be able to take any value from it.
Use the Latest Technology
It is essential to carefully plan out content from the beginning to be an influential thought leader, and this goal may accomplish by using the latest technology. It gives groups and leaders the ability to devise improved tactics, which in turn makes thought leadership more effective. Not only that, but leaders may also use a content management system to store vital data and then distribute it.

Never Stop Learning
We’re all human, and we’re always learning. Therefore, those in thought leadership positions must realize that they should constantly be eager to learn new ideas and be open to criticism. In point of fact, gaining information and understanding through the real-life experiences and perspectives of others is the most effective method to do either. However, always remember; you do you.

Final Thoughts

Creating space for an effective thought leadership approach may result in several positive outcomes. Although it might be difficult and time-consuming, the rewards that will accrue to all those who want to or now hold the position of thought leader make it worthwhile.
At the end of the day, we can only hope that individuals around the world will be able to have a deeper understanding of thought leadership. They must make more informed choices by adhering to these best practices for 2023 and beyond.

Therefore, CEOs need to understand who their ideal customers are, and then they can choose the channel that would bring them the most success. CEO Thought Leadership is important for most of the decision-making process.
Finally, this brings us to the end of this blog; now it’s time to hear from you. Any questions or comments? Or maybe there’s something we missed? Either way, feel free to connect with us regarding our Thought Leadership Program, especially for busy executives.

When the economy is unpredictable, it’s difficult to plan. Yet, plan you must. Even when you love your PR and marketing agency, during these times, it’s tempting to cut marketing and PR budgets. I know both sides of this fence. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 75% of my career, including during 9/11, The Great Recession, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Having witnessed the fallout from slashed budgets, I’ve learned that taking your foot off the gas doesn’t slow the engine. It kills it. You can’t eliminate marketing and increase sales. What you DO need to do is shift marketing strategies. These 4 ways to save on your agency budget will ensure you gain or maintain valuable market share while reducing marketing and PR agency fees

If you like your marketing or PR agency, keep them. You can negotiate with your existing agency and hiring a new agency has hidden costs.  Eliminating a well-oiled, top-rated agency will cost you productivity and results when you need it most. If things are going well, check out our advice from leading agency owners about reducing your agency budgets. If you’re hiring a new agency, these tips will help you get off to a great start and a budget that allows for growth while you work efficiently with your new agency.

 

1. Content: Make It Sticky

When times are good, brands with ambitious goals do whatever they can to get meaningful results faster. But if you’re reducing budgets, then you should focus on the things that last longer. As a colleague of mine once said, “I don’t know why everyone wants to go viral. I want my content to be cancer. I want it to stick around and be hard to get rid of.” This is the mindset to be in when you’re trying to reduce costs.

There are two types of media that stick around forever: owned media and earned media. Your owned media is any channel you control, where create 100% of the content, like your blog or your email marketing. Your earned media appears on channels you don’t control or create, think magazine articles, and (organic) reviews.

Blog posts and earned media are the super glue of sticky marketing and PR levers. Because they DO last so long, and they are customer-facing, these are excellent areas to focus your PR agency on. The ROI will pay dividends now and in the future. 

But longevity is only one benefit of this content, repurposing is another. For example, blog posts that are listicles are excellent SEO boosters, and you can use a listicle to generate many social media posts, same with an article that includes your product.

You want your stickiest content to be the best quality. If you’re reducing your budgets in other areas, now is not the time to hire an untested blogger referred to you by your nephew. Now is the time to focus your budget on doing what you do well. Very well.

Highly useful, sticky content is the most valuable and should be a budget priority.

2. Strategically Reduce the Scope

Chances are your agency is providing you with a suite of services. Instead of eliminating high-value output, focus your budget on those items to reduce your scope.

Take a deeper look at what your agency did this year that worked for you. How did they excel? While you’re asking yourself this question, think about it in the “Make it Sticky” content, but also in the areas where narrowing in on the scope would provide outsized value.

One way to secure high-value PR is product-driven PR and bringing thought leadership and awards programs in-house, or vice-versa. 

Another idea, instead of working with 15 different micro-influencers, you work with one on a strategic year-long campaign. Maybe your branding company could produce long-form content only and you can craft social media posts in-house.

Instead of a campaign every quarter, work with your agency to develop one exceptionally solid, well-thought-out campaign throughout the year and focus your efforts on making that campaign exceptional. This brings me to my final recommendation. 

Another area that can save you money is fewer meetings with your agency. While meetings are important, especially early in the relationship, this is one area that could drive some savings if you’ve been with your agency for a while. 

3. Plan Ahead

Nothing is more expensive than last-minute. If you’re reducing your budget, planning can save you a lot of money. For example, if you’re planning on a video shoot, secure your videographers and editors well in advance with a solid deposit and you’ll find it easier to negotiate the rate.

The same goes for your agency contract. Sign early regardless of whether it’s a new-to-you agency or one you’ve had for a while. Signing early gives you an edge in negotiation. If you like your agency and you will commit to a longer term, you’ll be able to command better rates, and even lock in “economic downturn” rates for two years.

Press releases can be purchased in bulk as well. So if you’re planning on several announcements, if you buy in advance, you can save thousands of dollars. 

4. Strategy: When They Zig, You Should Zag

To save money and get more bang for your buck, redefine your calendar. Shy away from the dates and times of the year when your competitor is most likely to do something, and instead select a campaign period when you can own the conversation.

Alternatively, re-thing your share of voice KPI. When dominance is your key strategy, you want to track it against your biggest aspirational competitors, but if simply staying present is your goal, track your share of voice against a competitor nipping at your heels, one who is your peer, and one who is aspirational. For your aspirational competitors, your strategy should be to cede some of your share of voice so you can squeeze in on your competitor’s territory. For your peers, you want to maintain equal, if not better, footing and for the one nipping at your heels, you want to own the conversation so they don’t squeeze in on yours.

5. Maximize Partnerships and Internal Initiatives

Now is a great time to double down on successful partnerships, or find new ways to align for new partnerships. Be creative in the ways you align, and you may be able to create a news worthy story just by creating a collaboration. Another way to maximize your budget is to turn your storytelling focus on highly valued stories the media is already writing about, like purpose-driven initiatives. These types of stories are much easier to get a lift on than the traditional “thought leadership” strategy that most of your competitors will flock to.

Reducing your agency costs doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Working WITH your agency to find the sweet spot for your specific needs can be an excellent exercise in creativity. By shifting strategies, outcomes, and outputs, you can find the sweet spot that keeps your marketing and PR on track even during cost-cutting seasons.

As you research agencies you may see many touting that they are “boutique.” What is a boutique agency? A boutique agency is an agency that prides itself on its smaller size, usually under 20 employees. Boutique agencies tend to offer either specializations or a more hands-on approach to client services.

Is a boutique agency right for you? Whether a boutique agency is right for you certainly depends on your needs. So let’s explore some common questions about boutique agencies.

Do Boutique Agencies Offer the Same Services as Larger Agencies?

In so much as all agencies vary in services offered, yes, but boutique agencies expand and contract as a client needs. To do this, they often rely on a trusted team of subject experts and implementation specialists. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The advantage is you’re not paying for services and team members you aren’t using. The disadvantage is adding to scope and implementation may take longer. Let’s say you need a 3-minute video done, and you need it finished yesterday.

Regardless of agency size, you’re dealing with the adage of “pick two: fast, excellent, or cheap.” But a super-fast turnaround may be firmly in the realm of possibility within a large agency. They may have a scriptwriter, videographer, and editing team at the ready. Meanwhile, if you ask a boutique agency to script a video, record a video and edit one, it may take slightly longer as those team members aren’t ready right away, and to make it happen, you may pay more for the additional scope than at a larger agency, since these are “on-call” specialist team members as opposed to those employed full-time by a larger agency. So if you need an agency for services at the last minute, or with a 24-7 approach, a larger agency may be your better choice.

Do I Get The Same Level of Service?

Of course, it depends on your definition of service. So let’s break down how agencies of different sizes handle client management. Boutique agencies have more “working managers,” which means your account managers are frequently agency executives. Their level of engagement will vary depending on factors like your budget, but they’re more deeply involved with your account than at a larger agency. You may even work with the CEO of the agency at a boutique agency; a highly unlikely occurrence at a large agency. Also, typically, larger agencies assign more clients per team member than boutique agencies do. Where a strategist at a large agency may carry 6-8 clients, at a boutique agency, your strategist may carry 4-5 clients at once. For example, at our agency, we’re regularly receiving service inquiries, but our current clients always come first. We make that choice because our senior strategists are involved in both biz development and client work. If personalized strategies and personal attention matter, a smaller agency may suit you better.

At a larger agency, it’s very common to work with an executive during the RFP or decision-making process, but that executive is rarely involved in the day-to-day of your account; you may see them once a month. So if working with executive-level strategists is important to you, you may appreciate the personalized attention a boutique offers. But if you are someone who only wants to hear from your agency’s account team when necessary or you’re ok with a more junior account team for the day-to-day, then you may appreciate the larger agency’s approach. But if you want more engaged and experienced strategists, who are regularly active in and with your account, then a smaller agency might be better.

Are Boutique Agencies Less Expensive?

First, some perspective. Your $20,000 budget might be a minimum at a larger agency, but quite substantial at a boutique agency. So you should consider the value of working with a larger agency as part of the whole value proposition (like additional services mentioned above). Now, sometimes hiring a larger agency is well worth it; “no one ever got fired for hiring Edelman.” So even though your budget doesn’t command the same level of respect from a larger agency, there may be a real advantage to having a named agency as your agency of record.  But if you want the red carpet rolled out for you, at that price range, then a boutique agency may be a better choice for you.