What is ‘Thought Leadership’, Anyway?

What is ‘Thought Leadership’, Anyway?

This article is a recap of “Growth Decoded,” a show that investigates the relationship between the customer experience and business growth — one topic at a time. Register here and conquer the customer experience!

What is thought leadership?

When you enter the term, “thought leadership” into Google, the first result that comes up is this blog from Michael Brenner. In it, he defines thought leadership as,

“A type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business, or from your community, to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic.”

Note that Michael didn’t bold those particular words, I did. And here’s why — on the first episode of Growth Decoded Season 2, we investigated “Thought Leadership” to find out what it is and why it’s important.

Thought leadership is sought after — businesses want it. But it’s elusive and hard to define. If you ask 10 different people what it is, you’ll get 10 different answers.

And we did just that.

The team headed to Content Marketing World 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio to learn about thought leadership from the thought leaders themselves.

Watch the episode below and you’ll hear from some of the brightest minds in the content marketing space:

  • Michael Barber
  • Melanie Deziel
  • Joe Pulizzi
  • Zontee Hou
  • Ann Handley
  • John Jantsch
  • Carla Johnson
  • Lee Odden
  • Rachel Mann
  • Jay Baer

You’ll hear their answers to the questions:

  • What is thought leadership?
  • How Important is thought leadership, really?
  • How do you get thought leadership, and what does that even mean?
  • Is a ‘unique point of view’ necessary?
  • How do you get to the unique point of view?
  • Is thought leadership a conversation?
  • Can small brands or businesses be ‘thought leaders’?
  • Which brands do they consider ‘thought leaders’?

Certain trends emerged about thought leadership after speaking with these thought leaders:

First, thought leadership isn’t something that you can decide for yourself. Your audience decides that for you. This occurs once you’ve achieved some level of expertise in a given topic.

Audience participation is critical to thought leadership. Participation grows as you solve problems and answer questions that are relevant and important to your audience — within your niche or area of expertise.

Second, thought leadership is a byproduct of gradual and consistent publishing of content. It takes time. In some cases, thought leadership and recognition aren’t achieved until you’ve been consistently publishing quality content for years.

Consistency does NOT mean “frequency” — know the difference between the two. You can be consistent by publishing once a week, or once a month — and you can also be consistent by publishing 3 or 4 times a week. The key is sticking to the cadence, and prioritizing quality over quantity.

Third, you can’t be everything to everyone. Thought leadership occurs when you are able to display expertise in a specific subject or niche. Over time your expertise will grow, and so will your audience — but you must start small.

Starting small and getting specific makes it easier for you to establish yourself as a go-to source of information for that particular subject. Trust is critical to thought leadership, and once you’ve built it and established credibility, you are able to expand your expertise into other adjacent topics.

Amazon started by selling books online. They sold books for 3 years before incorporating anything else. Now, Amazon is a the go-to source for when you want to buy, well… anything.

Anthony Bourdain started as a dishwasher and a line-cook. Over time he grew into a restaurant manager, and then broke out with a book about the restaurant he managed. Over time, he became the go-to source of information about food, culture, and people around the world.

Facebook began as a social network exclusive to Harvard University. Over time and with consistent use — Facebook expanded to other colleges, and eventually the general public. There are now billions of Facebook users, and Facebook is synonymous with the term, “social media.”

Thought leadership is a mindset — it’s a byproduct of putting out relevant, high-quality content on a consistent basis that answers the questions and solves the problems that your target audience have.
It is a process and characteristic of your content and work that should be baked into everything that you put out.

Thought leadership is not a thing you can declare, but something that is given to you.

And finally, thought leadership is something that any brand, business or individual can achieve.

This article is a recap of “Growth Decoded” a show that investigates the relationship between the customer experience and business growth — one topic at a time. Register here and conquer the customer experience!

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