A Beginner’s Guide to Thought Leadership

By Philip Oyelola

We’re lucky to publish this guest post, a short explainer on thought leadership, from our colleague, content writer and marketing professional Philip Oyelola. In this blog, you’ll learn everything you need to know about thought leadership, including benefits of thought leadership content, and ways to put it into practice.

The phrase ‘thought leadership’ gets thrown around a lot in the business world. What is it, exactly? @PhilipWrite fills us in on the details.

photo of samuel l. jackson from pulp fiction with the caption, "say thought leadership one more time"
The phrase ‘thought leadership’ is pretty much a buzzword in the marketing and content world. What is it, exactly? Philip has the answers. (Image credit: Memegenerator.net)

“Thought leadership” has been used so much by many people to indicate different things that it’s now something of a buzzword.

Everyone wants to be a thought leader and position their businesses at the forefront of the industry — yet, sometimes it seems that no one really knows what it means to be a thought leader.

Take, for example, comedian Pat Kelly’s hilarious 2016 sketch about thought leadership.

Although it was a fine satire, it’s not the true story on thought leadership. Thought leadership is not an act or a demonstration. It’s not spewing verbose jargon. it’s more than trying to egotistically achieve a superficial influential status.

“So,” you may be asking by now, “What is thought leadership, exactly?”

What Is Thought Leadership?

Author and thought leader Adam Grant defines thought leadership as creating knowledge to be shared. Thought leaders are willing to share value using mediums such as blogs and case studies. Because thought leaders are experts in their field or industry first and foremost, their insights are inherently valuable.

screenshot of a tweet from adam grant
Source: Adam Grant on Twitter

Successful thought leadership doesn’t imitate existing frameworks. It applies creativity to delight and empower their audience.

What is thought leadership? It’s a way of communicating value that strategically positions one as an expert in their field.

Here are a few ways to engage in thought leadership:

  • Position yourself as a subject matter expert (SME) in your field.
  • Be comfortable sharing your opinions and beliefs regarding topics in your field — even when they are controversial and counter-intuitive.
  • Leverage storytelling to create a narrative that resonates in readers’ minds.
  • Share new, unique forms of value that improve your audience’s lives.

5 Ways Thought Leadership Adds Value to Your Business

Up until this point, I’ve defined the concept of thought leadership, and have talked about ways to approach it. Next, I’ll walk you through a few concrete ways in which thought leadership adds value to your business.

1. Thought Leadership Builds Brand Trust

Brand trust inspires client loyalty for your business. It’s also important for what’s known as marketing receptiveness: that’s how open people will be to your message. However, there are no easy shortcuts to brand trust; it must be earned.

The audience should see your brand as the go-to for information that improves their lives and businesses. The value you share should be unique and authentic to be thought of as leadership.

But how do you create value from this standpoint?

Often, we discount our life experiences. In doing so, we fail to quantify the wisdom we could share.

Remember that people want to connect with humans they can trust, not some bots.

Your brand needs a human face for the audience to feel connected. Understand their pain points. Be comfortable sharing lessons you’ve learned from personal experience — especially those times when you made mistakes. There’s always a lesson to be learned in good and bad experiences.

2. It Gives You Greater Exposure

Creating valuable thought content can help you and your brand garner significant exposure. It improves your outlook and scope as an industry expert.

It will also expand your market. Any time your brand’s thoughts and ideas are in front of people, it’s a reminder that your business exists. Whenever these people need answers to questions bugging their minds, you will be the first industry expert that comes to mind.

3. Thought Leadership Provides A Competitive Advantage

Every brand tussles for a competitive advantage to stay ahead of its competitors. To do that, you must find ways to stand out in your industry.

You can stand out by highlighting the areas in which you outperform your competitors, or areas in which you work that may remain unaddressed by your competition. That way, you will establish your brand as an industry powerhouse, and gain a sustainable competitive advantage.

4. Thought Leadership Generates New Leads For Your Business

Thought leadership creates words for unspoken feelings. Have you ever read content and are like, “This just gets me; that’s exactly how I felt”?

Your prospect feels more connected to leadership content that paints a perfect motif of their feelings with words. They are more likely to decide on your products or services when you have proven yourself to be a spokesperson for their unspoken feelings. It gives them confidence that you know your stuff.

5. Thought Leadership Increases Sales and Revenue

The point of every marketing strategy is to increase sales and revenue. Increased sales and revenue will follow when you’ve built brand trust and have greater exposure and competitive advantage.

So, How Can You Be a Thought Leader?

Now that you know all about thought leadership, here are three actionable ways you can become a thought leader.

Embrace your subjective experience.

Storytelling has helped many brands gain attention, educate audiences, and build trust. Brands often look to powerhouses such as Nike, Apple, and Tesla as a crutch for inspiration, failing to ‘think outside the box.’

The truth is, there’s tons of inspiration all around you, even in your own story.

Give yourself some credit; I’m pretty sure there are some valuable lessons the audience can learn from you and your journey.

Stop assuming that your own subjective experience is a default way of life. Think about ways you can share lessons from your own life to capture audiences’ attention and educate others. You are more interesting than you think, my friend.

Put yourself out there.

Thought leadership means sharing thoughts that portray you as a leader in your industry. To be a successful thought leader, you need to show people that you are a thought leader.

Here are some ideas for expanding your network as a thought leader:

  • Create valuable thought leadership content. It could be on your brand’s blog or in publications with a bigger audience in your industry.
  • Attend conferences and other industry events! This is a perfect medium to network in-person with other thought leaders in your industry.
  • Embrace the idea of speaking at industry events.
  • Leverage social media channels like LinkedIn and Twitter. You could join spaces and communities, or post your insights regularly as social media posts.
  • Be happy to help people seeking a subject matter expert’s (SME’s) perspective.

Aim for growth.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have all the answers. There’s always room for growth. You will thrive and still make some more mistakes — even as a leader in your field — and all these sum up your growth and help you become better.    

The Bottom Line

The marketing landscape is crowded with tons of brands fighting for the attention of the same prospects as you. It’s a survival of the fittest. Crafting well-constructed, unique, valuable thought leadership can help you trump the competition.

photo of philip oyelola

Philip Oyelola is a content marketer and marketing enthusiast. He helps tech companies with content that builds trust and educates their audiences. He enjoys writing on topics like search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, and managing client relationships. Whenever he’s not writing, he’s watching sci-fi or listening to Afrobeats. Visit Philip on LinkedIn or find him on Twitter @PhilipWrite.


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