Every business should have the goal of establishing themselves as a credible member of their industry. This is, essentially, thought leadership: the idea your company is the go-to expert for your product or service and industry. Too often, however, businesses and marketers either don’t understand thought leadership or are too intimidated by the milestones set by others. After all, how can you compare the reliability of your small technology company with the success of Apple or Google? Though thought leadership is an elusive concept, most businesses can find their niche and become thought leaders in their industry, even if they aren’t top innovators.

What is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is often confused with “reinventing the wheel,” meaning that a company must be changing their industry in drastic ways in order to be considered a leader within it. This type of thinking leads to marketers and business leaders setting unreasonably high expectations for their business, leading many to think that they can’t contribute as a thought leader unless they are coming up with new products and innovations in their industry.

Instead, businesses should bring expectations down to earth and focus on how they can improve their reputations and participate in conversations happening in their industry. This doesn’t mean changing business forever, but instead working to become a reputable source that customers and other interested parties can turn to for guidance. Business’ of all sizes can work toward this goal. A local coffee shop, for example, can produce content related to their roasting processes and stories on the origins of their beans to establish their authority within the community. Is the shop turning the coffee industry upside down? Of course not, but its customers, and hopefully other area shops, will value the knowledge its website and employees provide.

For example, while we are innovating in many ways at RelationEdge Digital Agency, we are not changing our industry drastically. Instead, we focus on our niche; providing high-quality digital marketing services for small and medium sized businesses. This is why our thought leadership efforts have focused on providing actionable insights for SMBs about our industry, and providing them with guidance and leadership in our corner of the industry.

Investing in Thought Leadership

Investing in thought leadership doesn’t necessarily mean spending money. Instead, it means redirecting your existing resources into building relationships and establishing the reputation and standing of your business. This means refocusing your content marketing efforts and changing your relationship goals with customers. Specifically, investing in thought leadership can include the following (depending on the goals you identify for your business):

  • Understand the Company You Want to be Seen as: HubSpot explains that establishing your company as a thought leader means understanding the type of company you want to be. This means narrowing your focus to a couple problems that you want to be the expert in solving. For example, if you run a small company that creates inventory management software, maybe you should target small businesses who are experiencing rapid growth.
  • Refocus Your Blog: Blogs are an essential resource for any content marketing strategy. Properly positioning your blog by focusing on content that answers customers problems is a great way to establish authority. Entrepreneur contributor Michael Brenner suggests conducting in-depth research on a specific topic to demonstrate your company’s expertise.
  • Attend Conferences: Marketo recommends attending conferences and conventions that your prospective customers are likely to attend. This gives you the chance to show off your knowledge directly to others who have an interest in what you have to say. Also see if you can deliver a keynote speech or participate on a panel, both of which can help establish your company as among the experts in your field. Alternatively, if you don’t want to travel, or want people to come to you, you can start offering your own free webinars or online courses to showcase your expertise.
  • Guest Post: Don’t miss out on the opportunity to share your expertise with industry publications. This is the perfect chance to showcase your knowledge in the field and represent the company by giving a face to the brand. Build up a media list of publication targets and reach out to editors with your credentials, most editors are in search of that perfect source anyway.

Making the Best of Your Company’s Knowledge

Brenner warns against the common “differentiation trap” that many businesses fall into. This is the belief that readers will only value your content if you offer a different perspective on every topic. On the contrary, customers are more likely looking for answers to their questions and problems. Similarly, thought leadership doesn’t necessarily have to relate back to your products or services. If your coffee shop discovers that customers want to learn how to properly use home brewing equipment like french presses, you shouldn’t overlook this topic out of fear that it would take customers away. Nuances such as these are part of what makes understanding thought leadership so difficult, but with proper focus, you can find a way to share your knowledge and build your authority. If customers are coming to you for advice and guidance, then thought leadership is something worth investing in.



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