Everyone wants to be a thought leader these days. It’s the height of content fashion.
The more popular it is to pursue thought leadership, somehow, the harder it is to define it.
There’s a lot of educational content with a CEO’s name on it that calls itself thought leadership. (It’s not.)
There are a lot of shallow opinions going around without the research or experience to back them up. They claim to be thought leadership, too. (They’re not.)
Thought leadership is not about sharing what you know. It’s about using your expertise to influence, motivate, and inspire. It shares unique ideas and novel perspectives.
It literally shapes how people think about a subject.
Most content types are the fashion you see on the street. Some people are clearly better at putting it together than others, but they’re all using garments accessible to everyone.
Thought leadership is fashion at the Met Gala. It’s bold. It makes a statement. You can love it or hate it, but it’s hard to ignore it.
Most thought leadership is impostor content
As more leaders buy into content marketing, more companies are churning out content labeled “thought leadership.”
But not every expert in their field is a thought leader. More than 70% of the B2B buyers who answered a recent Edelman survey said less than half the thought leadership content out there offers the new ideas or strong opinions they’re looking for.
Probably because a lot of it isn’t thought leadership. The buyers were expecting haute couture and they got jeans and a nice blazer.
Educational content educates. Entertaining content entertains. Thought leadership content shapes ideas.
All of them have value and all should be used strategically. And none of them should go out dressed in the others’ clothes.
When creating a thought leadership strategy, ask yourself:
- On what topic do I have the expertise and ideas to be influential?
- How do I want to effect change?
- What impact do I want this to have on my audience?
- What’s already out there?
- How is my take innovative, controversial, or unique?
That last one is the most important one.
Not every content strategy needs to include thought leadership. If you don’t feel like you can bring a fresh perspective, if you don’t feel you can reframe questions so people look at them a new way – that’s OK. There is nothing wrong with a content strategy built on education.
If you are going to go the thought leadership route, have the courage to actually lead. Step away from the pack and say something different. Some people will like it, some people will hate it, but it will be hard to ignore.
Related content: The many definitions of ‘personal brand’