‘Thought leadership’ is a relatively new marketing buzzword which refers to a brand’s ability to provide high-level insight on a range of industry issues. These are the expert voices that journalists turn to if they need specialist advice and opinion on a particular market.
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Thought leadership is where content marketing and lead generation meets PR- quite a feat. But not one too ambitious for even small businesses to aspire to: all you need is a genuine voice and useful knowledge to share!
Here is Brand Marketing 101: your guide to becoming an industry authority.
Step One: Get To Know Your Audience
It can be easy for folks wrapped-up in an industry to forget about the everyday man on the street. Much of what the expert knows about their profession will be completely alien to most people.
Therefore, it is vital for brands to start off any thought leadership exercise by researching their audience’s impressions and thoughts on your industry as a whole.
Use social media research tools and Google Analytics to determine:
- What newspapers and websites do your audience read on a regular basis?
- What industry-related titles do they read?
- What are people’s preferred content sharing platforms?
- How old are they, and have they got any other common characteristics like their education and income levels?
- Which competitors and brands do your customers also love?
- Which industry reports and research publications have the most authority in their eyes?
Utilize tools like Google Trends (to take a global view of internet search), and Google Keyword Planner to find out common consumer queries and pain points. Aim to seek out long-tail search queries in particular as these will be the most revealing to you as a potential thought leader.
Hashtag searches on Twitter will also help you identify the topics of conversation that most concern your audience right now, as well as their levels of industry knowledge, preferred language, engagement levels, and many other eye-opening things.
At this stage, collect as much data as you can and try to create some example customer profiles (known as personas). These will help you visualize your audience members as real people. So, when the time comes for you get in front of the camera or mic at an industry event, you will know who you’re addressing and where to pitch your speech.
Step Two: Perform A Content Audit
Once you have created your lists of top performing content types, influencers, talking points, etc. it’s time to look to your blog and perform a thorough content audit to determine what posts you can use again, add to, or reimagine to suit your audience.
A full SEO check at this stage may also be in order if you’re looking to be taken seriously as a leading industry expert. Look at your low-ranking pages and make adjustments to the page titles, keywords, tagging, and word count. Website SEO plugins can help you automate and streamline this process.
Don’t skip this step, as you want your website domain to rank highly and drive more people to you through organic search, as well as through word of mouth and referrals.
You may also want to consider scrubbing your social media history before getting underway with any thought leadership campaign. We all, I’m sure, have written something we’ve regretted in the past. With some programs, you can download a report and delete your offending posts, or choose to leave them, if you find the suggestions a bit too restricting for your audience’s preferences.
Step Three: Building A Content Library And ‘Your Story’
Building on the articles you are considering for re-purposing: this may be the perfect opportunity for you to practice your video storytelling skills.
Video content is attracting the highest levels of online traction nowadays, with YouTubers like PewDiePie gaining over 39 million subscribers with his gaming content.
Even if you’re not a major internet player, there are channels with a dedicated following for every subject imaginable, so, grab a camera and mic, and start recording. And if you have nothing but your smartphone, use that. YouTube audiences are used to amateur footage shot from the phones of celebrities and brand personalities.
If you’re looking to make longer-form videos (over the four-minute mark), invest in a medium to high-quality microphone. Many people prefer to listen to the audio and click elsewhere, rather than watch, so don’t worry too much about your appearance. The content of your videos is the most important thing, so make your script as engaging and natural-sounding as possible.
You can also use free video editing tools to put your videos together — these are generally intuitive to use and not as intimidating as you might think.
Building up a content library takes time and dedication. You are aiming to provide encyclopedic knowledge of your industry and to present yourself as an open and reliable ‘talking head,’ one that a major news reporter could call on at a moment’s notice for a TV interview.
Step Four: Outreach Your Skills And Expertise
Once you have established your background knowledge, it’s time to share your ‘story’ with the wider world in different ways.
Sites like Help A Reporter Out, allow brands to sign up as a source for journalists to call on. Make your profile extensive and ensure that your website’s About Us page covers all the ins and outs of how you got to where you are today, contact details, etc. Create an easy to use press pack to encourage media engagement.
You should also look for ways that you can reach out to major niche content sites in your area and pitch some guest blog post ideas. Alternatively, open-source content sites like Quora, InfoBarrel, and eHow provide opportunities for industry authorities to answer questions with long-form, ‘evergreen’ articles that don’t age as time goes on. These sites have staggering numbers of daily web traffic — you can get in front of a huge number of people fast!
The relationships you build online will be your lifeblood as an industry authority, so it is important to spend a lot of time in conversations, sharing ideas through email newsletters and social media. Make the most of your profile on LinkedIn by going into relevant discussion topics and tailoring an in-depth article as a suitable response. To steadily build up a following, you have to come off as helpful and approachable at all times, so make a concerted effort to do so as much as you can.
Step Five: Market Yourself As A Brand
Marketers who make smart investments into targeted advertising can get themselves heard over the internet ‘noise.’ As a person who is looking to become an industry authority, whether as yourself or under a company banner, invest in separate ad campaigns for your thought leadership content, as your audience segment priorities may vary, depending on how in-depth you go with your information. For some, it may be a turn-off.
As far as you can, try to create your own quasi ‘sales funnel’ for people looking to access your authoritative content. For instance, you could publish an eBook or downloadable and sell it through an online storefront with minimal set up time and cost, easily integrating your shop with the rest of your site. Or, use video content to post presentations and encourage people to take up a paid Skype or Google Hangout appointment with you. Make sure that the paid content you’re promoting is attractively ‘packaged up’ for customers.
Do what you can to monetize your content online too, by running Google Adsense through your content published on sites like YouTube, eHow, Quora and so on.
Step Six: Track Your Metrics And Make Improvements
Get to grips with your Google Analytics, to ensure that you are monitoring your performance as an industry authority and making the right ‘tweaks’ along the way.
Head to Google Webmaster Tools Search Traffic Search Queries and measure your influence using the following metrics:
- Number of brand name mentions in your search queries
- The number of question-related queries, e.g. ‘how to..’ etc.
- Your average position for information and brand search queries (the closer to page one, the better)
Sites like Klout can also track your online influence and give you a score on your thought leadership campaign’s effectiveness. Competitor analysis tools like can also rank your site amongst your close competition and offer real-time insights on your industry.
The goal of thought leadership is to be a helping hand to your customers first and foremost. Intellectual heavyweights will exist in their own spheres, and your audience will stick to the trusted voices in theirs. Make sure you get noticed in the online spaces your readers occupy and you will be well on your way to becoming a credible industry authority.
Victoria Greene is a branding marketer and freelance writer. On her blog, Victoriaecommerce, she regularly shares advice to wannabe thought leaders looking to inspire global audiences with their online content.