Ever since Joel Kurtzman, then editor-in-chief of Strategy+Business Magazine, coined the term 'thought leader' in 1994, it has woven its way into the very fabric of our professional lexicon. Today, the phrase has formed two distinct perspectives: some see it as an invaluable concept, while others dismiss it as mere corporate jargon.
Jason Feifer, the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur magazine, was once among the skeptics. However, an insightful piece of advice from his wife spurred him on to embrace the role of a thought leader, urging him to master his area of expertise, thus transforming his thought leadership strategy. Today, we will delve deeper into the journey of becoming a thought leader, taking cues from Feifer's successful career.
Years later, Feifer is celebrated as a thought leader on adaptation and resilience, equipping people and businesses to thrive in an ever-evolving world. He communicates his insights through various channels, from his writings and social media to his 'Build For Tomorrow' podcast and a book under the same name. These endeavors have generated more than a million dollars from his personal brand work, marking him as a quintessential example of successful thought leadership.
What Is Thought Leadership, and Why Is It Important?
Before we dive into the steps to become a thought leader, let's unravel what thought leadership means and why it's vital for your business.
Thought leadership is the process of sharing professional insights that provoke new ways of thinking, spark conversations, and inspire others. It's about becoming an influential figure in your industry - not just for the sake of being recognized, but to bring about meaningful change and progress.
Effective thought leadership has immense potential. It can elevate brand credibility, foster industry authority, create a loyal audience, bolster trust with existing clients, and attract new ones. From consultants and educators to entrepreneurs and small business owners, anyone with unique and influential insights can become a thought leader in their respective fields.
Now that we understand the importance of thought leadership, let's explore a six-step guide to becoming a thought leader in your industry.
1. Set Your Thought Leadership Goals
A well-defined thought leadership strategy starts with clear goals. These could range from establishing yourself as a trusted voice in the industry to generating high-quality leads. Align your thought leadership goals with your existing marketing and PR objectives for a more streamlined approach.
Bear in mind, successful thought leadership is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, determination, and consistent effort. You should constantly track your progress, reassess your goals, and tweak your strategy accordingly.
When setting your goals, think about the following:
What do you want to achieve with your thought leadership?
Who is your target audience?
How will you measure success?
These questions can guide you in creating a goal-oriented strategy for your thought leadership journey.
2. Identify Your Unique Intellectual Property (IP)
Becoming a thought leader requires you to establish your 'ownable IP' — a unique way of narrating a story or presenting a topic within your industry. This concept revolves around positioning yourself uniquely within your field, making your voice and content stand out.
Feifer, for example, took the common subject of change and curated a unique narrative around it, which has become the cornerstone of his thought leadership. By focusing on how businesses can adapt and remain resilient amid changes, he has carved a niche for himself, distinct from other business leaders.
To discover your ownable IP, understand what people regard you as an authority in, and then identify your unique stance within that trust sphere. Find a niche topic within your field where you've achieved success and position your brand around it. It could be something as specific as 'sustainable business practices in the fashion industry' or as broad as 'innovation in digital marketing.'
3. Be Genuine, Unique, and Take Firm Positions (Wisely)
True thought leadership is grounded in authenticity and originality. If your thought leadership content merely mimics others or doesn't offer any unique insights, you'll likely fall into the 70% of professionals who don't find value in such content.
Thought leaders are not just knowledge-bearers; they are change-makers. They hold strong viewpoints, challenge the status quo, and dare to question established norms. However, this doesn't mean blindly opposing popular opinion. Rather, it entails offering fresh perspectives backed by data, experiences, and knowledge.
Ensure your content is well-researched and fact-checked. Cite reliable sources, use examples, and share personal experiences to make your content trustworthy and relatable.
4. Package Your Insights in Digestible, Actionable Formats
Effective thought leaders are not just experts in their field; they are also excellent communicators. They can translate complex ideas into clear, engaging content that resonates with their audience.
From short Twitter threads and LinkedIn posts to e-books, webinars, podcasts, and white papers, thought leaders choose the format that best suits their content and audience.
The format isn't the only thing to consider; the style of communication is equally crucial. Whether you choose to be formal, humorous, casual, or inspirational, make sure your tone aligns with your brand and appeals to your target audience.
5. Select the Right Platforms for Your Content
Choosing the right platforms to share your thought leadership content is critical. Different platforms cater to different audiences and content types, so it's essential to choose wisely.
Whether it's online or offline media, blogs, social media, podcasts, webinars, or personal brand platforms, pick the ones that best resonate with your target audience and content.
LinkedIn, for instance, is a powerful platform for building a personal brand and sharing professional insights. Twitter is great for quick, bite-sized information, while Instagram and TikTok cater more to creative, visual content. Podcasts and YouTube videos can offer more in-depth insights, perfect for elaborate discussions.
Remember, consistency is key when building your presence on these platforms. Regularly posting high-quality content helps in establishing a strong online presence and building a loyal audience.
6. Learn, Experiment, and Adapt
Becoming a thought leader in your industry is a process of continuous learning and adaptation. It involves putting out your ideas, being open to feedback, learning from your experiences, and continuously refining your approach.
Experiment with different content formats, platforms, and promotion strategies. Analyze what works and what doesn't, learn from your successes and failures, and adapt your strategy accordingly.
While thought leadership can certainly amplify your business and personal brand, it's important to remember that it's not just about self-promotion. At its core, thought leadership is about contributing value to your industry and audience. It's about sharing insights that help others grow and prosper.
Becoming the next thought leader in your industry might seem like a herculean task, but with a well-planned thought leadership strategy, it's entirely feasible. Start by discovering what sets you apart, and the rest will fall into place.
After all, in the words of Jason Feifer, "once I [found my ownable IP], everything else clicked into place."