A Look at How Small Businesses Can Become Thought Leaders
Thought leadership is a topic that gets a lot of conversation in the business world, but it’s easy for small businesses and their owners to feel like it’s something that only large businesses can pursue. Hint: This is a myth that they want you to believe.
The Thought Leadership Myth
There are perhaps hundreds of definitions and explanations for thought leadership. Each is unique, but they all mostly speak to the same idea. Subjectively speaking, marketer Michael Brenner’s definition is among the best.
“I define thought leadership as a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business, or from your community, to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience, on a particular topic,” Brenner writes. “It’s not pedigree. It’s not where you went to school. Thought Leadership means you provide the best and deepest answers, to your customers’ biggest questions, in the formats your audience likes to consume.”
While there are plenty of ways to become a thought leader – and we’ll discuss a few of them in the following section – the idea that only one type of business can become a thought leader is a total myth. Size, experience, and background be damned, thought leadership is something that can be grown in any organization – even those that are small and unknown.
So when someone tells you that thought leadership is a buzzword best left for established brands to fret over, kindly smile and let their words go in one ear and out the other. Thought leadership knows no bounds and there’s nothing stopping your business from pursuing it.
Five Ways to Position Your Business as a Thought Leader
Understanding that thought leadership is attainable and actually taking constructive steps towards achieving your potential are two different things. In order to help bridge the gap between theory and action, let’s look at some practical ways you can position your business for success.
1. Find Your Voice
The first thing your brand needs in order to pursue thought leadership in any serious manner is a voice. Your voice is what will separate you from the masses and humanize your brand in a way that resonates with your target audience.
There are really two different schools of thought here. Some believe you should focus all of your efforts on creating a brand voice, while others subscribe to the theory that it’s best to focus your content efforts on a single person inside the company (likely one of the founders or a member of the C-suite). The thinking behind this second strategy is that people connect with people – therefore, your brand has a better chance of becoming a thought leader if there’s a recognizable figure behind the wheel. Think Steve Jobs and Apple, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, and Walt Disney and Disney.
2. Be a Resource, Not a Billboard
Thought leadership is about showing, not telling. This is what sets it apart from traditional sales and marketing strategies. Your goal is to be a resource that people can access and utilize at any time, not a billboard that’s pushing a product down their throats.
Today’s customers are so inundated with sales messages that they crave authenticity. They want information that helps them make informed decisions, not subjective content that persuades them in one direction.
This isn’t to say you should push individuals away from your company, but rather that you should supply them with enough information that they realize your brand is to be trusted above all others.
3. Engage Your Target Market
The word engagement is central to thought leadership. You’ll find it quite challenging to build any sort of thought leadership without directly engaging your target market in meaningful ways.
Some of the easiest ways to engage people online are to host webinars, spend time in your blog’s comment section, and communicate with followers on social media. Remember, your relationship with customers is a two-way street and you have to be willing to participate.
4. Say Something New
Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Walt Disney didn’t build authoritative brands by doing what everyone else was doing. They said something totally new that had never been heard before. And while you don’t have to be a loony to be a thought leader, you do have to carve your own path and say something that’s different than what your competitors are saying. Otherwise, you’ll just end up blending in.
5. Build Connections With Publishers
Thought leadership starts with your own website, blog, and social media profiles, but it doesn’t stop there. In order to expand your reach and obtain the visibility needed to achieve your goals, it’s necessary to forge connections with third party publishers.
What you’ll discover is that building online relationships with meaningful individuals and publishing platforms really isn’t that difficult. It definitely takes time but isn’t impossible. Make a list of connections and start patiently pursuing them.
Learn More About Thought Leadership
Thought leadership is a vague buzzword with lots of noise surrounding it. People throw the word around like it’s some easily attainable object that can be purchased and used as currency, when the fact of the matter is that it takes months and years of sweat equity and patience to even reach the point where thought leadership is achievable.
Don’t let the difficulties of procuring thought leadership overwhelm you. Your commitment to becoming a thought leader will benefit you at many points along the way. You’ll discover that your brand is built on sound principles and strong ideas that go far beyond widespread recognition.
If you’re looking to learn more about thought leadership and the practical ways in which you can grow your brand, check out Ray L. Perry’s book titled “DO Leadership: A Step by Step Guide to Doing Thought Leadership.” It’s full of practical guidance and real life examples that will help you nudge your business in the right direction.