Championing your industry, or market, involves much more than gaining the largest customer share. Many brands strive for optimum associations to particular products or services, keeping them cemented within consumer minds as the leading company.
For example, when we think of vacuum cleaners, it's the norm to think of 'Hoovers' in many parts of the world (although Dyson are working extremely hard to replace Hoover being used as a verb); When we think of coke, we think of Coca-Cola; And when we think of using search engines, we think of 'Googling' something.
Some brands reach this public perception of being the quintessential provider with relative ease due to a superior product, but with competitors at their heels and more options than ever, staying the leading brand requires constant efforts.
'Thought Leadership Marketing', is the concept of your culture and mindsets acting as a positive example for the brilliance behind your brand.
Understanding Thought Leadership.
Becoming the Expert.
One powerful strategy to position a brand as leaders, is through 'thought leadership', simplified this refers to “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking” as defined in the Oxford dictionary.
Going beyond supplying a product or service, thought leadership promotes deep knowledge from a particular brand leading to universal recognization from customers, industry experts, and peers, as a brand being the epitome of success and understanding of their field. This may be achieved through particularly novel strategies, ideas, technology, or insights.
Becoming the 'reference point' for an industry is a sign of success, and recognition. To be the authority of great work in a particular service gives a brand power in terms of marketing and general brand positioning - which is why more businesses than ever are developing thought leadership outlets within their marketing plans.
To become the 'expert', multiple points need to be addressed:
- Ongoing awareness and involvement of area/niche.
- Clearly identifiable views/stances.
Individuals and companies can express themselves easily via various social media and digital outlets. It's increasingly easier to be noticed/heard by writing insights to blogs, Quora, LinkedIn, via interviews and sponsored press content - but with so much noise, it can be difficult for consumers to know who to trust.
A brand may position themselves as experts of their industry in multiple ways.
Firstly, educational merits help define team members as trustworthy voices for a brand, showcasing their studies and research as strong rationale as to why they should be trusted, and listened to.
Secondly, results are perhaps the strongest credential possible. Selling a million products would suggest that either your product is fantastic, or that your brand is fantastic at selling, and either way, it gives you a strong foundation to establish yourselves as industry experts if your business is performing extremely well.
Credentials alone don't fully instill brands as leaders. Whilst you could have the best people on paper, and have a successfully operating business, there needs to be an accompanying transparent credibility layer for a brand to truly be thought leaders.
What this means, is that consumers, peers and industry experts are able to be aware of your practices and culture, and can trust your words to be genuine. Showcasing that your success is generated by rational business prowess is key to elevating above (and outlasting) brands that may simply be in the right place at the right time.
At Mäd, we display our case studies to discuss our approaches to projects and to showcase the results. We offer insights into our culture, and share our thoughts freely through social media and blogging - providing depth to our brand.
Staying Up to Date.
Things change. People change. Ideas develop. Trends shift.
Brands need to evolve or face becoming irrelevant. It's key that organizations show continuous learning and involvement in their particular area, to champion the notion that they are riding the wave of progress - rather than drowning underneath new emerging tech and ideas.
To be a true thought leader, a brand must be consistent and clear. By displaying definable values and views, a brand shows commitment and faith to their ideas and company direction - this confidence reinforces their positioning, and shows they aren't sitting on the fence or looking to others for direction.
Following the rules is fine. Making the rules is better.
Build a Community.
Leaders lead. If your thoughts aren't reaching anyone, you can't expect to be heard. Leading brands build inspired communities that support their thoughts and actions. Even competitors turn to the thought leaders, to figure out the best practices for their industry.
Clients will often express the long term goal for their website to be the go-to place for competitors, the benchmark of high standards and the content that appears firstly through them, then trickles down throughout competitors wanting to be more like them.
Avoiding 'Faking it'.
"Fake it until you make it" is often advocated for chasing success, but when it comes to thought leadership, faking anything is a direct challenge to your credibility. You audience will resonate more with an honest journey, so be sure not speak with arrogance or any false pretenses.
Instead, simply focus on what you believe, what you do, and where your brand currently is on its journey.
Do: Speak with authority.
Don't: Claim false authority.
Do: Practice what you preach.
Don't: Plagiarize competitor practices you don't follow.
Do: Offer thoughts and resources for free.
Don't: Hide everything you do - consumers and competitors will learn sooner or later, and if it's bad you're in trouble, if it's good then own it!
The Mäd Thought Leadership Essentials
To get started on your path to industry thought leadership, we recommend following these steps:
Learn from the best.
Look at your industry, and learn important lessons from the wins and losses of competitors. If the wheel doesn't need re-invented, figure out how to improve upon it.
Document everything, Share the insightful.
For others to know you, you need to know yourself. You'll build up a useful library of insights by documenting your processes, your thoughts, your highs and your lows. Don't feel obliged to share everything, but aim to be as transparent as possible to show the honest side to your brand with insightful company moments and discussions.
Be in the Conversation.
We turn to great minds for answers, and we seek opinions and thoughts from influential leaders on related subject matter. It's key that your brand is consistently active, engaging in relevant topics and providing fresh insights on a decent frequency.
Do note that quality > quantity. The loudest voice isn't the most commanding.
The smartest minds know that they know nothing, so keep striving for better and seeking opportunities to flex your capabilities. Complacency isn't inspiring, so take the time to regularly review your output and brand as a whole, internal audits can help tighten the screws and keep progress steady.
Identify Key Outlets.
If you're going to share your thoughts, make sure they're heard by the appropriate crowd. Whilst blogging on a website may help SEO or curious web users assessing your brand, sometimes your key demographic will be hanging out elsewhere. This could be in the audiences at Ted talks, on professional social media platforms such as LinkedIn, listening to certain radio stations or reading particular newspapers or magazines. Wherever they may be, make sure your voice extends to the relevant outlet.
When you've got everything running smooth, and you've learned from the best, the training wheels will have to come off - it's time to stop following and start leading. Follow your passion, and show what you have to offer to the world.
Remember that thought leadership isn't dictated by you, it's dictated by the market. Build with quality, and the accolade will follow.
The market will decide whether you're leading the way, not you - but don't let the cynicism of thought leadership critics ruin your motivation; By having a well structured strategy defined early on, you'll be able to create a campaign propelling you to lofty heights. Quality is king.
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