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WTF Is Thought Leadership?

July 17, 2019
Admit it. You’ve asked yourself this question at least once.

The business world loves its buzzwords, doesn’t it? While most corporate jargon (we’re looking at you, “synergy”) can be flipped past in the dictionary for language that’s a bit more comprehensible, you should flip straight to the page on which “thought leadership” is listed, and bookmark it. 

Yes, it’s that important. But, why? We’ll save you the jargon-y, overcomplicated explanation and cut right to the chase.

Most people agree that the term, “thought leader,” was coined in 1994 by the late Joel Kurtzman, during his tenure as editor-in-chief of strategy+business magazine. He used it to describe magazine interviewees who possessed business ideas and perspectives that “merited attention.” The Oxford Dictionary more specifically defines a thought leader as someone with “views on a subject taken to be authoritative and influential.” 

Put simply, a thought leader is a leading authority in their area of expertise, one who has a positive reputation of empowering others through their vast knowledge and insight. What’s more, thought leaders see trends before they happen — they are able to keep a pulse on what’s happening in their industry today, and offer thought-provoking perspective on what will happen in the future. 

Thought leaders don’t pipe in with their point of view on every single topic that the world is buzzing about. Rather, they are subject matter experts who offer intelligent, educated commentary intended to help their fellow peers and those around them. It’s the practice of sharing your authority, authenticity, expertise, and influence with the broader world — whether it’s through the content you publish to your blog or the presentation you give at a client event.

Authority. Authenticity. Expertise. Influence. These words matter, especially when it comes to how your clients and prospects see you as a professional resource. It’s no wonder why thought leadership is proven to be a lucrative and highly effective business development tactic.
 
In fact, 60% of professionals who engage in thought leadership believe it enhances their organization’s brand reputation — and a whopping 88% of decision-makers say that thought leadership increases their respect and admiration for an organization.
So, now you know the (jargon-free) meaning of thought leadership. How can you get in on the action?

1. Own Your Expertise and Find Your Angle

You won’t be an effective thought leader if you aren’t 100% focused on your area of expertise. What area of the market do you know best? Who makes up that market? What are their needs, questions, and challenges? And perhaps most importantly, how does the content you create help solve the questions and problems that keep them awake at night?

Know your audience. Know your position on the issues they care about. And bring your own, unique contribution to the ongoing dialogue on the matter.
 
2. It’s Not All About You

Okay, I know that sounds counterintuitive. You may be thinking, “Why would I waste time publishing thought leadership that doesn’t say anything about my firm or why prospects should work with me?” As a thought leader, knowing your audience and the challenges they face — what drives their thirst for knowledge — means leading with education first. This builds your credibility, reputation, and — this is key — establishes your authenticity.

Incorporating subtle “calls-to-action” throughout your thought leadership piece is important, of course, but try to stay focused on providing the educational commentary that gets your prospects’ mental wheels turning. You may not see a big increase in your bottom line immediately, but the long-term results will pay dividends down the line.  

3. Listen and Learn

If you are new to thought leadership, one of the best things you can do is learn from the example of other professionals in the field who are doing it successfully. Find thought leaders who serve the same clients or niche that you do, and study their work. Read and reflect on their blogs, white papers, and email newsletters. Take a look at their social media platforms. Attend their speaking engagements. What are they doing well? What would you do differently?

The industry is evolving by the day, and if you want to cement yourself as a reputable authority, you must keep a pulse on the trends and people that are driving change and conversation.
Make Your Voice Heard

In the RIA space, influence is everything. At Beyond AUM, we help develop compelling and high-converting thought leadership content for firms just like you. We not only increase our clients’ reach and brand awareness, but we also position them as subject matter experts in the issues their clients and prospects care about.

We recommend taking these steps to put your thought leadership program in motion: 

Get Organized. An organized content calendar will keep you accountable and on-task; it also will ensure you are producing and releasing thought leadership consistently. Consistency is the key ingredient to getting your name recognized by the people who matter most. 

Use Your Resources. Thought leadership development is a process that you can’t tackle alone. Researchers, writers, editors, and analysts, among others, make up a comprehensive content creation team. Make sure you have the resources lined up to cover every stage of the process, so your efforts aren’t derailed or slowed down by inefficiency.

Publish, Promote, Repeat. “How can I get featured in (insert magazine of choice here)?” Woah, slow down. Once you’ve started publishing thought leadership, it's important to develop a steady stream of readers and followers first. This is not an overnight feat; it takes months (sometimes, even years) of sticking to a consistent, proven content strategy. Once you've built a following, you can seek out guest publishing or syndicated media opportunities, which will allow you to further expand your reach and establish authority. 

Be Realistic. Remember that this isn’t a once-and-done type of effort. It takes a lot more than publishing a single blog or social media post to establish your position as a reputable figure in the field. It takes the right expertise and having a unique perspective on a critical issue your audience cares about. It means building your experience and fostering credibility over the long term. Know your capabilities and what time, resources, and effort you can devote to thought leadership. Only then will you see true success — and trust me, it’s well worth it.

So, tell me: Are you ready to become a thought leader in the RIA space? Reply to this email and let me know if you’re interested in starting a conversation.

 
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