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3 foundational elements of a thought leadership strategy

3 foundational elements of a thought leadership strategy By Taylor Johnson
posted May 14 2021

We’ve all heard those horror stories of homes with bad foundations. One minute you see a couple smiling for the camera as they hold the keys to their new house, and the next, they’re the latest homeowner mishap on HGTV. Thought leadership strategies are no different – they require a solid, intentional foundation built to last as the world around it changes.

To be perceived and welcomed as a thought leader by your target audience, you must account for the following three foundational elements.  

  • Having a unique point of view on a trend, industry topic, or solution to a problem 
  • Identify your channels of engagement 
  • Consistently follow your business objectives 

Establish a unique point of view (POV) 

Start by understanding the audience you want to resonate with and research their preferences, attitudes, and behaviors. A strong thought leadership POV will only stick if it’s crafted based on a deep understanding of your target audiences.  Consider the following questions about your audience to inform your POV:

  • Where do they access content most frequently?  
  • What are they searching for online? 
  • Who do they already trust and follow? 
  • Which factors and life experiences shape their preferences and perspectives? 
  • What are they already engaging with, and how can you put a different spin on it?
  • What’s attracting views and engagement currently and what’s not? 

By asking yourself these questions, you can better understand the audience you’re trying to serve, allowing your team to establish a thought leadership strategy that sticks. From this baseline understanding, then you can create a framework of beliefs – your POV – which then will inform your stance on new topics as they arise.  

Identify your channels of engagement 

Thought leadership comes in many forms, making it difficult to choose and consistently prioritize the most effective channels of engagement.   

It can be tempting to take an all-or-nothing approach to thought leadership, but we caution marketers not to spread themselves too thin. Rather, prioritize your channels of engagement according to the business goals you established during the planning process. Identify the core initiatives that will give you the most “bang for your buck” and plan secondary initiatives that support the success of your core efforts.   

As you prioritize your efforts, challenge yourself to look outside of traditional thought leadership definitions to focus on value beyond reach. While reach should influence thought leadership strategy, it’s not the singular factor in defining your success.  

For example, retail brands looking to sell out on the latest sneakers may benefit from a one-to-many thought leadership strategy, but a health system trying to build lasting trust and community ties may require a more localized and personalized approach to influence behavior long-term. 

Consistently follow your business objectives 

Lastly, stay consistent and stay patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day – we shouldn’t expect our thought leadership strategies to start booming overnight. After you deploy your strategy, clearly define your KPIs and strictly adhere to your plan for a designated period of time. If your data consistently shows that your efforts aren’t delivering on your KPIs, then iterate and refine over time.  

Thought leadership requires trust, and trust takes time to build. The beauty of this continual effort is that once you earn the trust of a small group and consistently improve your strategy over time, growth increases exponentially, and word-of-mouth advocacy will start to produce results.

Launching your thought leadership strategy 

So, where to start? Here are few launching points for your thought leadership strategy. 

Relevance: Our audiences are affected by the world around them, making it important to keep up with the news that affects their day-to-day and society at large. Engage in daily media monitoring and other scanning techniques to determine what topics are trending, what issues to stay away from, and how you can join the conversation.  

Maintain Media Presence: A key part of this is reading your media contacts’ most recent articles and sharing your expertise or thoughts with them on a regular basis. Set up a phone or video call to establish credibility, build rapport, and become a go-to source for a reporter on your radar. It’s a great way to increase your reach and network with those who shape public conversation.  

Leverage Social: Social media has become an instant way of creating content and sharing your POV. For example, one way to increase your social “street cred” is to tell your organization’s followers to live-tweet a presentation you plan to give. Hosting a webinar? Invite your followers to attend by setting up a Facebook event. Just published a byline discussing ways to close care gaps? Have the author of the byline publish a short blog post about the content on his or her personal LinkedIn page to gain a larger readership and encourage conversation.  

Create Content: In addition to earned media coverage, take advantage of blogging, op-eds, contributed content, and webinars. Developing a variety of content allows you to continually engage with your audience at different stages of the buyer’s journey while generating interest about a topic. Make sure your content links to appropriate and already-developed thought leadership materials – such as case studies or a recent media coverage you were a part of.  

Speaking Opportunities: Securing speaking engagements is a tried-and-true practice when it comes to elevating the thought leaders in your organization. These opportunities position you in a way to engage directly with your audience. Search for conferences that apply directly to decision-makers whom you are trying to influence. For example, if you are at a conference focused on the latest financial impact hospitals have faced this past year, make sure other financial leaders are taking notes in the audience.  

Opportunities where your thought leaders can become keynotes and participate in panel discussions are always a great opportunity to start compelling conversations and meet other key leaders in the industry.  

A thought leadership strategy is critical to elevating you and your organization in the public realm, and a strong foundation to your strategy will build brand equity over time.