Featured image with Lightbulb representing thought leadership

Have you ever finished reading content from a leader in your industry, and thought to yourself: “Well, that taught me absolutely nothing”?

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that you’re not alone. 

In fact, despite the fact that the amount of thought leadership content out there has exploded in recent years, a whopping 71% of executives still say that less than half of the thought leadership they consume gives them valuable insights.

As marketers, we see it all the time. Sector leaders who have amassed an impressive career and following, and who surely have countless pearls to impart on the next generation, publishing the commercial equivalent of “Live, Laugh, Love”. If you’ve ever heard the term “thin thought leadership”, this is it. 

“Thin” vs “Proper” thought leadership

For most businesses, “thin” thought leadership shouldn’t even be an issue. A good subject matter expert in your corner can provide genuine insight and help without giving away the secrets of your success. But, herein lies part of the problem. 

You can tell that plenty of thought leadership campaigns haven’t had much impact from experts within the business. We know – we’ve seen it happen. As informed as your marketing team may be, they might not have the confidence or depth of knowledge to really get their teeth into thought leadership.

This forces many marketing teams into playing it safe. With no choice but to research and recycle points of view, before long, you’ve got the top voices in your industry all saying pretty much the same thing. 

To do thought leadership well, you need a really open line of communications with the experts. That way, you can ask questions, get a hot take, debate new ideas and so on, to really drill down into something that offers genuine value for your audience.

Proper thought leadership needs time and space 

Of course, just having access to an expert isn’t always enough. Too often, experts are clearly asked for a hot take on their industry but given no room to develop their thoughts because of constraints in design or publishing format. This is how you get LinkedIn carousels with experts (from Google of all places) promoting the same old tired quotes and offering very little insight.,

Secondly, your thought leadership needs time. Taking a stand is one thing, but taking a different one every few days will dilute the level of insight you can deliver. It comes off as inauthentic, and will certainly create a disparity with your brand values sooner or later.

Remember that thought leadership is about conversation, and that can be a pretty slow burn. Give it time to breathe before you drop the next one. 

Proper thought leadership isn’t self serving! 

Proper thought leadership is about what your audience wants to hear, and not necessarily what you want to say. Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but if you want to create “proper” thought leadership content, then do it around topics you know your audience cares about. 

The thought leadership landscape is peppered with content that directly contradicts established data or ignores basic conventions, just to create a narrative that promotes the business that published it. The most authentic thought leadership content is based on your personal experience and expertise, but trying to create a self-serving argument or opinion that’s obviously there just to make you look good comes off as fake, and your audience will spot it a mile away. 

Of course self-serving content isn’t ALWAYS bad, it’s just important to recognise that it shouldn’t be too prominent in your thought leadership strategy.

What does your audience want from your thought leadership? 

Time and again, surveys have proved that what audiences want most from their thought leadership is – well – thought leadership. 

As an example, a 2023 study highlighted that the top reasons leaders consume thought leadership are:

  • To improve analytical/problem solving skills (56%)
  • To discover new ideas or innovations (54%)
  • To stay up to date on the latest trends (50%)
  • To identify business opportunities and risks (48%)
  • To inform strategic thinking (45%) 

Proper thought leadership is an opportunity to connect with your audience on a deeper level, talking about things they care about and helping them keep up with the latest developments. As a thought leader, your audience will look to you for unique perspectives, to learn from your mistakes and to better solve problems thanks to your insight. 

If you’re rehashing the same old tips and hacks, you’re unlikely to be able to differentiate your brand from the rest of the noise and people will begin to switch off.

We’ll be back with more thought leadership tips on our LinkedIn and our blog over the coming weeks – so make sure you’re following to keep up to date!

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