July 23, 2021 | Sean Foo
People listen to experts but they follow thought leaders.
As the fight for attention ramps up, businesses are trying every content tactic in the book to stand out from the crowd. However, the secret weapon to win this war goes beyond merely just churning out content on your blog.
It is to become a thought leader in your field.
It gives individuals the power to build a loyal following, brands the ability to shift perceptions, and marketers an avenue to generate leads of superior quality.
Done correctly, establishing thought leadership helps businesses and individuals frame themselves as an authority in their industry that audiences respect and resonate with.
In fact, a B2B study by Edelman and LinkedIn has uncovered that:
While it is tempting for brands to frame the creation of thought leadership content to merely vanity projects, they are powerful lead generation tools that can directly generate more business.
This is where writing your thought leadership article comes into play.
A thought leadership article goes beyond just a value-adding piece that is enjoyable and insightful to read by your target audience.
A true thought leadership article provokes the reader, challenges their perspectives, and influences their decision-making while positioning the writer as an expert opinion leader in their field.
As a company, creating thought leadership articles allows you to experience a quantum leap in credibility and authority versus your competitors.
While content marketing should be the backbone of your marketing efforts, thought leadership is the ‘commando squad’ of your content.
They allow you to start conversations with key decision-makers and other thought leaders in your niche, especially on social platforms such as LinkedIn.
As an individual, thought leadership content allows you to frame yourself as a subject matter (and industry) expert while simultaneously building a following.
Whether it is marketing, entrepreneurship, business, or technology, every field has its own opinion leaders where people look for inspiration & validation.
Gary Vaynerchuk is an iconic social media (and all-around entrepreneur) thought leader who has established himself as the guru of social media marketing.
Seth Godin is a thought leader and renowned author in sales and marketing, preaching the importance of standing out by being radically different.
Bill Gates is not only an icon in the world of computer technology but also a thought leader in philanthropy and battling the recent coronavirus pandemic.
Each of these thought leaders dominates the field that they are in and produce an enormous amount of content, from podcasts to books and articles, to their audiences.
They share their opinions, tell personal stories, showcase their research, challenge the status quo with contrarian views and weave in their own philosophies to present a compelling argument to the world.
Now you might be thinking “I’m not a billionaire or have a gigantic following, can I really become a thought leader?”
To effectively frame yourself as a thought leader, ask yourself these 3 questions:
“Am I an expert in my field, subject, or niche?”
While you don’t have to be a multi-millionaire or famous personality to be taken seriously, you need to demonstrate expertise in your field.
“Is there a subject matter that I am passionate in that I have poured countless hours into”
Ideally, this subject matter should be relevant to your field or business. But regardless, you need the burning passion to be able to uncover insightful thoughts and develop a necessary depth of knowledge that you can draw upon.
“Do I have a new perspective or insight that I want to share with the world?”
Perhaps you feel people’s thinking is misguided and should be realigned. Or maybe you have a better approach to a situation that adds value to your reader.
If you answered yes to all 3 questions, it’s time to start producing thought leadership content and become the opinion leader you are meant to be!
Here’s how to write your thought leadership article from the ground up.
Which domain, field or subject are you an expert in?
Before you can be a thought leader, you’ll need to effectively audit what you are professionally and personally great at.
For example, for myself, my thought leadership niche will be towards content marketing & copywriting.
If you are writing for your business, ask yourself these questions:
“What is the core business and specialization that my company is in?”
“What challenges and problems do we help our customers solve?”
“What are we known for, or, why do people come to us?”
This is the first step to understanding your approach and angle when you attempt to cover and give your opinion surrounding a topic.
For example, Chris Hadfield (a real astronaut and space engineer) reviewing and fact-checking space movies using his real-world expertise is a fun approach to thought leadership.
He approaches the topic through the lens of a real space expert and if it was anyone else, it wouldn’t work or be taken seriously.
Let’s take an example in the business world.
The topic of growing a business has been done to death, but what about one that is covered by an actual marketing veteran who has consistently grown companies to $100 million and beyond in her previous roles?
Denise Persson of Snowflake (a company that she helped grow to an IPO price of $33 billion) shares her thoughts and marketing approaches taken on how she grew the company to its first $100 million.
The article dives deep into marketing lessons that companies should adopt and how to effectively implement them based on Denise’s experience and track record of success.
She ties each tip and advice together with real-world scenarios she encountered plus the thought process behind her every recommendation and decision-making.
Actionable insights coupled with an authority figure’s experience allow a new breath of life to invigorate an otherwise stale topic with a unique angle and expert perspective.
When it comes to brainstorming for topics, you firstly need to determine the goal of your thought leadership efforts.
Are you looking to establish authority around a particular industry such as banking, healthcare, or travel?
Is there a particular set field or set of disciplines that you (or your company) want to be known for?
Such as social media marketing, high-ticket sales, growing a startup, productivity, or even spiritual wellness.
Once you have your objectives nailed down, it’s time to uncover and thoroughly research topics that your audience has a desire to learn more about, overlap your expertise while allowing you the opportunity to share unique insights to frame you as a thought leader.
Here are a few ways you can identify industry issues & challenges that you can tackle:
For our own blog, we crafted a thought leadership piece, Apple’s Copywriting Magic: The Beauty (and Science) Behind It, that fulfilled the criteria that we outlined above.
The article showcases our expertise in the field of copywriting (specifically in the tech marketing space) on explaining and breaking down why Apple’s sales copy is so effective, how they do it and how readers can emulate it for themselves.
In an age where converting hard-won attention is key, this piece adds value to readers in our industry as well as potential customers we desire – those who see and appreciate the benefits of superb copywriting.
No one likes or frankly respects a half-hearted position – either you are in or out.
While you might be thinking that it is better to play safe and take the middle road, that is not how you decisively establish thought leadership.
Sure, taking a stand on a piece based on your experience is good, but true visionaries take risks and they use their expertise (and experience) to make bold claims about the future or an opposing opinion against an entrenched line of thought.
Take Gary Vee’s article on why brands should innovate into different sectors.
As well as Arianna Huffington’s thought leadership piece on rethinking the logistics of healthcare.
You can see that both Gary and Arianna took a firm and clear stand on their thesis and opinions.
Both of their statements aren’t proven yet and they very well might be wrong – but it is this confidence and firmness of their opinion that makes the articles shine with authenticity.
In their opening paragraph, they reinstate the belief of their position and lay the groundwork to effectively challenge and influence the mind of their readers.
Publishing a thought leadership piece can help to boost your credibility and establish your authority – however, what benefit is your audience getting from it?
While showcasing your values, thoughts and opinions is key, at the end of the day, is there a tangible benefit that your audience can attain from reading your piece?
Depending on your audience, there is a myriad of ways to add value to your reader.
It could be:
Take Google’s thought leadership piece by their CMO.
While she could have focused on the results and learnings of Google’s inclusivity initiatives, the article is structured in a way where readers can effectively apply the same concepts being taught to their own business.
What separates good thought leadership from the rest?
It is the ability to connect with your audience, one person to another.
And this can be effectively accomplished through the power of weaving in stories and personal experiences.
Storytelling and sprinkling in personal anecdotes tap into the emotions of readers and get them to resonate with the narrative that you are creating.
Bill Gates is an amazing storyteller and his ability to connect with his readers shines through in his thought leadership pieces.
From his article on how to use tech skills to change the world, where he tells the personal story and journey of William Wu.
To his piece on ‘What’s it like to live on less than $2 a day’ where he features 6 visual and personal stories on how people around the world are struggling to provoke us from our everyday apathy.
In this particular piece, Bill starts off the article with a personal anecdote about his encounter with poverty up close and personal that humanizes not only himself but the article as well.
It creates a bond with the reader and captures our attention while subtly influencing the way we view poverty & how sheltered we truly are.
Remember, you can weave in stories anywhere within your thought leadership article, but I recommend to start off your opening with one and like Bill Gates, sprinkle some personal anecdotes as you continue writing.
Let’s face it, we live in a skeptical world and even when we are reading an influencer’s opinion piece, we have doubts – especially when facts and figures are being thrown around.
A good thought leadership piece will back up statements and claims with relevant and credible data.
In fact, if this data comes from the thought leader’s own original research, the more original and unique the piece will become.
McKinsey’s thought leadership piece on COVID-19’s effect on digitalization heavily relies on original and in-depth data-backed research to lend legitimacy to the topic.
By strategically showcasing data in a way that blends well with the narrative in intuitive visualization, McKinsey’s piece makes it easy for readers to understand the numbers, improving their appreciation for the overall piece.
Pro-tip: If your data is groundbreaking, you can make it the star of your thought leadership piece through data-driven storytelling.
Who are you, what do you represent and why should people listen to you?
For your opinions to be taken seriously and your views to hold weight, you need to establish your credibility with your readers.
The key here is to lend a subtle touch when it comes to this, you don’t want to come off as bragging but you still need to make it rather clear that you are an expert in your field.
Thankfully this can be effectively achieved with:
In the Copyhackers article on guest posting, Aaron Orendorff (the thought leader who is the guest poster) establishes his credentials in both the piece’s title as well as the author bio at the bottom.
The title frames his expertise in the topic, guest-posting, in a highly relevant manner without coming across as too try-hard.
While the bio at the bottom showcases his career highlights and achievements in a more formal setting, adding more credibility.
Additionally, if it suits the context of the article, be sure to weave in personal and professional experiences as well to amp up your credibility – nothing sells better than a first-hand account with a sprinkle of showmanship.
Aaron showcases his accomplishments further to not only improve his standing in the eyes of the reader, but also lend strength to the credibility and usefulness of the article itself.
In the case of a thought leadership piece written by a company, your credibility will mainly shine through from the quality of the piece such as the depth of research, data presented, and citing information from authoritative sources (such as iconic influencers or relevant executives).
Yes, a thought leadership piece’s grand goal is to establish your brand (or yourself) as an authoritative opinion leader in your space.
But it will take time to reach such status and that shouldn’t be the primary focus every time you write a thought leadership article.
Instead, seek to provide value in your piece such as well-researched insights plus a well-established argument while linking it to how the reader can benefit from reading it.
Additionally, you’ll want your piece to be the igniter of conversations in your community, encouraging your readers to share their thoughts and opinions on your views.
This helps you effectively network with like-minded individuals and get onto the radar of your industry’s circle.
As you are crafting your piece, it’s easy to lose focus on your narrative or forget to add enough compelling value.
Let’s solve this!
Here are 21 questions to ask to bulletproof your thought leadership article and make it really shine.
1. Which domain, field or industry do I want to establish my authority in?
2. Am I in a strong position (or possess the experience) to critique and give my opinion on this issue?
3. Are other thought leaders covering this and do I have something deeper to add?
4. Have I encountered this challenge before in my business or personal life and how did I approach or solve it?
5. Do I have credible data or statistics that support my claims, statements, and position on the topic?
6. How can I leave the reader with something that they can take home? (Step-by-step guide, tidbits, or an impactful thought)
7. Do I have personal anecdotes or a story that I can weave into the narrative?
8. Am I taking a contrarian view compared to what the mainstream agrees on or expects?
9. Do I have validated proof from my own experience or business that backs up my opinion?
10. Am I predicting something in the future and do I have any basis to stand firm in my conviction?
11. Is the topic already complex and should I simplify the way I explain my thesis?
12. Is my company already tackling this and is there a method to our success that I can share?
13. How will my opinion on the topic affect the reader and their business?
14. Whether this is a hidden opportunity or an impending crisis, what steps can my reader take to capitalize?
15. Will there be widespread industry change and will new business models arise?
16. What lessons should my reader take away from this to better themselves or their business?
17. Have I effectively established my credentials in the article to be taken seriously?
18. Have I framed my company in a professional and dignified manner?
19. Have I showcased the right examples of authority and credibility that are relevant to the topic I am talking about?
20. What are my end goals for this thought leadership piece? Do I want to generate leads from this or get to connect with like-minded executives?
21. Do I have a particular ideal customer persona or profile that will help me filter out the right executives to connect with?
As we move towards a world where authority sells and building a brand involves taking a stand, thought leadership will be the trump card that elevates you to the status of an industry influencer.
The key here is to ensure you take a strong stand, showcase your expertise and add value to your reader.
Your thought leadership article is not just an opinion piece, it is a direct reflection of you, your brand, and what your company stands for.
So step out of the shadows, start expressing your opinion and start influencing the world today!
Need help with your thought leadership campaign?
We can help.
Drop us a message here and we’ll be in touch.