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How to create a thought leadership strategy in 5 steps

Updated: May 30

Creating and taking advantage of a thought leadership strategy is more important than ever in B2B content marketing. Thought leadership refers to the process of gaining renown as an expert to a specific audience in a particular field. There are several advantages to thought leadership.


With thought leadership, you establish yourself as the go-to expert on a subject. This means customers come seeking for you and your service. More than that, they are willing to pay a premium price for the service or product that you offer.


A thought leadership strategy can be created in five steps:


  1. Establish whether or not you are a thought leader

  2. Establish your objectives

  3. Define your target audience

  4. Establish unique positioning  (cross-pollinate ideas)

  5. Select your communication medium


In this article, we discuss the advantages of thought leadership, as well as the steps to creating a successful and authentic thought leadership strategy. 



Thought leadership image: A mangiving a lecture to a crowded room.
Thought leaders are sought out for their insights


What is thought leadership? 


Thought leadership refers to knowledge and expertise on a specific field of knowledge that is wielded and distributed by a leader who is the authority in that area. 


Thought leadership comes with many advantages. Becoming a thought leader should be a goal for any business leader or owner who wants to stand out from the competition and who wants to take advantage of social selling


So how do you go about establishing yourself as an authority in a subject? Becoming an authority on a subject doesn’t necessarily mean that you are more adept or knowledgeable than your competitors in that area. 


No, it simply means that you are more capable than others in sharing your knowledge and expertise in a manner that is useful and helpful to your audience.


A significant part of social selling is sharing value for free. You should think of this as an investment. This investment will pay off in the future as the consumers of your content turn into followers. And these followers turn eventually into inbound leads and sales


Building an effective thought leadership strategy


To build an effective thought leadership strategy, you first need to establish whether or not you’re even a thought leader. This is then followed by defining both your audience and the message that you wish to sell. 


When delivering thought leadership content, you need to think of the following questions: 


  • What is unique about what I have to say? 

  • Who are the people that I am trying to reach out to? 

  • How can my knowledge and experiences bring value to my audience? 

  • What would be the most effective medium to communicate my message? 


Answering these questions properly will put you on the right path toward building a thought leadership strategy. This in turn will ensure that you benefit from all the advantages that come with being a thought leader. 


The process of building an effective thought leadership strategy can be broken down into five steps. These steps are outlined in Figure 1 below. 


CTA: See how EminentEDit can help establish you as a thought leader through social media posts and LinkedIn Articles and Newsletters


1. Establish whether or not you are a thought leader


First, you need to verify whether or not you are a thought leader. A thought leader stands out as a prominent voice and the go-to authority. It is not enough that you recognize your own brilliance.  You should be commonly acknowledged for your authoritativeness by those who matter. 





This means media organizations, peers or even rivals of your industry, major clients associated with your industry or expertise, and so on. Also, a thought leader is in a position to monetarily benefit from their authoritativeness.  


Where do you stand as a social seller? Do people come to you to purchase your services or do you rely on traditional advertisements and selling? 


The internet is full of noise and messaging. Is your message reaching an resonating with your target audience? Does your content make anyone stop to think? Or is it just part of the countless Internet static and noise that most people try to tune out?  


These are among the questions you should be asking yourself when determining whether or not you are a thought leader. So how do you go about objectively measuring this?  A thought leader is defined by the following:


  • A large following or audience

  • Frequent leads and sales 

  • The ability to shape or change opinions

  • A perspective that resonates with their large audience

  • Measurable interest in the initiatives they undertake 


Here are  a few criteria that you and your business should fulfill to show that you are a thought leader. 


1. You should be famous in your industry as a source of innovation. 


2. You should show remarkable insight and expertise on the relevant or current issues that are are affecting the modern society and economy. 


3. You should be able to proffer knowledge to followers or customers in a way that is compelling and actionable.


4.  You and your personal brand can solve problems and take advantage  of opportunities.


In short, being a thought leader means that you are the go-to person for advice or solutions to issues or questions in your area of expertise. It also means that you or your organization are profiting monetarily from your position of authority. 


2. Establish your objectives


After determining the need to launch your thought leadership strategy, you need to establish your objectives. This begins by aking yourself about the outcomes you hope to achieve. Outcomes can be multifarious. However, in business terms, this can be  separated into one of three options: 


  1. Commercial objectives

  2. Brand and marketing objectives

  3. Public relations and communications


You can choose either to focus on one of these objectives or a combination of them. But, at the end of the day, business is business. This means your brand and marketing objectives, as well as your public relations and communications efforts should support your commercial objectives. 


So even when you focus on branding and PR objectives, you should always ask yourself, How does that support my commercial objectives?


In any event, here are a list of objectives that you can consider in your thought leadership strategy.


1. Enhance your personal brand and reputation. Thought leadership can help you promote your personal brand and get you at the forefront of the mind of your customers or potential customers. 


Adopting this objective means that you establish a reputation for having the most impressive expertise and solutions for the problems plaguing your customers.


2. Associate your personal brand with a current trend or theme.  Trends and themes come and go. However, you should be able to tell the difference between trends that are valuable and that will last. Examples of trends that are worth following and keeping ahead with include: 


  • DE&I

  • ESG

  • Green marketing


You should take time to carefully think about whether or not a trend is worth being associated with your brand. Some trends are temporary and not worth the social capital that you might invest in them. Other trends may end up resulting in negative press that might damage your personal brand, as well as your bottomline.


For example, in the aftermath of the pandemic, there has been a big controversy around working from home versus returning back to the office. There has been a growing trend of businesses and business executives asking for workers to come back to the office.


Feelings on either side remain quite strong. Taking a position that workers should return back to the office may lead to negative press and emotion that might result in bad press for your business. 


3. Promote lead and revenue generation. This refers to a thought leadership strategy that seeks to drive more leads and sales. Much thought leadership seemingly focuses on enhancing your brand and providing free value. However, this is a long-term strategy with the ultimate goal of increasing sales and revenue. 


Adopting an explicit immediate goal to promote lead and revenue generation would mean a content strategy that is designed as BOFU content, where you directly try to sell the products or services that you offer. 


4. Focus on customer retention and loyalty.  This refers to keeping customers or increasing the rate of repeat customers. There are several advantages to customer retention. It reduces the threat of competition. Your customers remaining loyal means that you won't have to worry about them being poached by rival competitors.


Customer retention can be achieved by:


  • Understanding your customers

  • Collecting customer feedback

  • Consistently delight customers


Content to promote customer retention and loyalty could include case studies showing how happy customers are with your service or product.


5. Attract more coverage from the press and media. Part of enhancing your personal brand includes positive PR and press. This could include the following: 


  • Contributor articles in prominent newspapers or magazines

  • Positive news coverage

  • Press releases

  • LinkedIn Articles and Newsletters


However, not all PR is good PR. Always ensure that the media attention you attract is always positive and is aligned with your goals.


3. Define your target audience


Defining your target audience means ensuring you understand who you are talking to and who you should aim your message at. You should take into account the needs and sensibilities of your audience before you create content for them. 


Your content may miss the mark if you don’t properly define your target audience. Knowing your target audience is usually made up of two components:


  1. The demographics of your target audience

  2. The emotional and psychological profile of your target audience


In terms of demographic information, you should consider the basics of the people or companies that you are going after. This includes things such as the following:


  • Age

  • Geography

  • Job title

  • Industry

  • Type of business

In terms of psychological and psychological profile, you should go deeper than this. You need to understand what drives your ideal customer in terms of values and emotional needs. This would include:


  • Understanding their values

  • Understanding their ambitions

  • Understand their experiences

  • Understand the problems that they wish to solve

  • Understand what they struggle with

  • Understand their pain points


To begin to understand how to solve these problems, you should create:


  • Ideal customer personas

  • Ideal buyer personas


The content that you create should revolve around your ideal customer and buyer personas. Doing so will ensure that the content you create resonates with the audience you are trying to reach and impress. In short, the first step to creating content that resonates with your audience is to make sure you know who your audience is.


This will save you much time in figuring out the type of content you should be posting. Knowing who your target audience is and what motivates them means that ideas for content will come to you intuitively.


4. Establish your unique positioning 


As a thought leader, you should be able to stand out from the competition. This means unique positioning. What about your experience and expertise can you bring to bear in your role as a thought leader? 


You should aim to be seen as the KPI or key person of influence in your industry or area of expertise. Why? This would result in clients coming to you. Your profile will become a magnet that attracts customers. This reduces the need to go out prospecting looking for clients.


To establish a unique position, you should niche down. This after all is the very definition of expertise: establishing yourself as an authority in a narrow field of expertise. Forget about being everything to everybody and focus on a niche that you believe is worth the time and effort and that you believe you can make a unique contribution in.


Besides niching down, you should also look within yourself to see what is unique about that which you offer. Being an expert in your industry means that you have a wealth of experience that you can pull from. Think of trying to convert this unique DNA into useful and actional tips — or wisdom — for your audience. 


In terms of expertise, there are usually three levels: Generalist, Specialist, and Authority Expert. You should aim for the Authority Expert tag. It comes with several advantages. Let's briefly look at each level using a personal coach as an example.


1. Generalists. A generalist is everything to everybody. For example, our hypothetical personal coach would provide personal coaching services to everybody, including:


  • Coaching services to people wanting the most out of their careers

  • Coaching services to people who want to improve their finances

  • Personal coaching for CEOs who want to be transformative leaders

  • Personal coaching for women who wish to become entrepreneurs


This is a wide target market. It can be described as a potential market that includes anyone interested in personal coaching services. The main advantage of such a generalist approach is that you have a large pool of potential clients to choose from. However, with such a broad audience both your message and appeal will become diluted.


2. Specialists. A specialist begins to narrow down their services to appeal to only a narrow group of people. For example, in our above example, we included "Personal coaching for aspiring female entrepreneurs."


This is a very narrow market. However, one can never be too niche. By narrowing your offering to meet the needs and demands of a very select group of people, life and work become easier for you. You end up perfecting your services and providing the same package of services over and over.


You won't have to waste your time tweaking or adapting your services, as would be the case if you had to constantly switch from one niche to the next.


3. Authority expert. This is the highest level of specialty expertise. This is a couple of steps above being a Specialist. Being an authority expert means:


  • Frequent referrals

  • Others talking about you

  • Having a very strong personal brand


Of course, this doesn't happen overnight. Instead, it requires years of building up your credibility. Such credibility is not built by simply posting regularly on social media. Social media posts tend to be temporary or have a shorter shelf-life.


Instead, you should focus on more evergreen content. This may include:


  • Podcasts with interesting guests and insights

  • Youtube channels

  • LinkedIn Articles and LinkedIn Newsletters

  • Website Blogs

  • Contributor posts on major magazines and newspapers

  • Books


In particular, media platforms that allow your followers the opportunity to binge-watch and share your content would go a long way in establishing you as an Authority Expert. This would mean visual and audio media such as YouTube shows and podcasts.


Besides such content, writing a book can be seen as also sealing the deal of your authority. There are few forms of content that can beat establishing your authority as a thought leader like a book can. After all, the word author is in authority for a reason. For more, on the importance of a book as a form of content, go to the following section: Select your communication medium.


However, your unique position as a thought leader will not simply rely on your experience though. It will also depend on a thorough knowledge of your topic area. Immerse yourself in the knowledge of your industry. Read in-depth the relevant texts or literature associated with your industry.


These texts are usually divided into three categories, namely: 


  • The contemporary 

  • The current and trending

  • The classic


Your ability to merge your unique experience with in-depth, broad, and current knowledge of your area of expertise will define your unique positioning. It is only after doing this, that you’ll be able to offer your unique wisdom to your audience. 


5. Select your communication medium


Step 5 includes selecting your communication medium. What is the most effective way to communicate to your target audience? It is always best to begin with your target audience and walk backward from there.




What is your customer persona? Are they more likely to be on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram? Or maybe they’re the type who would prefer to read long-form content such as blogs or newsletters.


Apart from that, you need to ask yourself what medium you are good with. This could be:


  • Articles or blogs

  • Videos and podacsts

  • Engaging social media posts

  • Books


Each of these mediums has their own unique advantages as well as impact on your thought leadership. For example, a social media post on LinkedIn may have a lifespan of a few days, whereas a book may have a much longer-lasting impact. Let's take a look at each.


1. Social media posts. This could mean posting on the newsfeed of popular social media platforms, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or FaceBook. Social media posts are typically easier to write because they are quite short, being only a few characters in some instances. Also, they have the greatest potential to go viral.


However, social media posts have a limited life cycle. They often go unforgotten after a few days. And keeping up with social media algorithms can be tiresome. Algorithms change all the time. This means it's a constant struggle to figure out what type of posts will get the most views, likes, or follows. Nonetheless, social media posts are an excellent way to stay current and accessible to your followers.


So there has to be a balance between what your audience likes or wants and the medium that you are the most effective at wielding or using. You may have to begin with the medium you like the most or are the most comfortable with and later expand to the ones that resonate with either your audience or your message.

2. Articles and blogs. Articles and blogs are much more long-lasting than social media posts. You can say they have more substance and are usually longer. The other advantage is that articles and blogs can exist beyond social media platforms. A blog, if SEO-optimized, can more easily reach the audience it was intended for.


When published in newspapers or magazines, articles can also enhance your prestige and authority on a topic. This could include contributing articles on online publications such as Forbes, the New York Times, CNN, and so on.


3. Videos and podcasts. Videos and podcasts are ideal for making you a celebrity of sorts among your followers. If you have something interesting and appealing to say, people will want to hear and watch you say it. Videos such as YouTube channels provide your audience with teh opportunity to binge-watch/listen to your content. This will help cement the relationship between you and your audience and help develop a more loyal following.


4. Books. Books are probably the most solid or effective medium for thought leadership. They help establish your authority in a subject. A book is more or less a badge or seal showing that you are qualified to talk on a topic.


There are several advantages to writing a book:


  • It creases your visibility and credibility

  • It establishes you as an authority in your field

  • It supports your personal brand

  • It drives leads and sales


There are several examples of books that act as pillars of thought leadership for their authors. A good example would be the Four-Hour Work Week. This book was a phenomenal bestseller that established Tim Ferris as the thought leader on remote work and laissez-faire entrepreneurship.



Final thoughts on creating a thought leadership strategy


Thought leadership is becoming more and more important as a social selling strategy. Becoming a thought leader is a long-term strategy. It involves carefully nurturing your audience and experimenting with different styles of communicating with them.


More importantly, thought leadership means truly being informed and having expertise. Your expertise should be based on your personal and authentic experience. 


However, besides that, you should make sure that you have breadth and depth of your topic area by making sure you review the text or literature in your area. This is the only way you can truly impart wisdom to your followers. 


The content that you produce in this way will simultaneously contain the insights of the “giants” who went before you as well as your own unique insights and contributions.


Lastly, produce content. Feel free to experiment with various forms of content on social media and other forms of media. You should always be in testing mode and should only settle when you are certain that your target audience resonates with the content that you produce. 


References



Prince, R.A., & Prince, B. R. (2012). What is a thought leader? https://www.forbes.com/sites/russprince/2012/03/16/what-is-a-thought-leader/?sh=334789c17da0


Rathling, Sam. Linked Inbound: 8 Social Selling Strategies to Generate Leads on LinkedIn®. Independently published; 2019.


Lofthouse, G., & Kearns, S. (n.d.). Thought leadership strategy: A step-by-step guide to planning and building your strategy. https://longitude.ft.com/resources/thought-leadership/

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