There’s a reason I spend quite a bit of time talking about thought leadership content; it’s super powerful. Many of my clients come to me purely for the creation of pieces that position them as thought leaders in their niche, and many of those who don’t end up asking for it. If you’re building a brand, thought leadership content is a core tool that you want working for you. And yet, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Creating genuinely meaningful thought leadership content is more than just giving your opinion, throwing in a few extra bits of info, and telling yourself (and your audience) that you’re a thought leader.
Actually, most thought leaders don’t actually introduce themselves as such. It’s a bit of a dick move, kinda like rocking up to your future in laws, extending a hand and saying, with a suave smile, “Hey, I’m a narcissist.”
Not the impression you want to give. More than that, creatin thought leadership content only puts you where you want to be if it’s offering insight that’s actually relevant to your niche. And what constitutes thought leadership in one industry isn’t necessarily the same for another.
How Do We Define A Thought Leader?
Put simply we may define thought leadership as the point in the entrepreneurial journey when we are sought after. You might see this simply as the point at which clients seek you out for a service you’re particularly good at – coaching, for example. But really that has more to do with lead generation than it does thought leadership.
Anyone can attract clients to work with them if they have an effective lead generation strategy in place. Yes, thought leadership can be such a strategy, but not every strategy that generates leads is thought leadership.
Rather, we may define thought leadership as the point at which you reach an elite level, occupied by few peers, that can only be reached by demonstrating you’re thinking on a higher level than the rest. And therefore deserve to be placed at a higher station.
Becoming a thought leader happens organically, naturally, as you specialise in a particular area, become well known for your zone of genius, and share your ideas. Assuming, of course, that you actually have something original to say and share it.
If you’re intentionally trying to position yourself as a thought leader as a means for driving powerful change in your business, or as part of a strategy to quash your competition, you’re essentially looking to fastrack that natural process. You do this by creating content that makes other people view you a pioneer. That gets others talking about you. That makes people come to you, not just because you can deliver a service, but because you can deliver it in a way that they believe is superior to everyone else.
They come to you for your ideas.
Just remember, while you may aspire to become a thought leader and actively work to be seen as such, it’s best done by demonstrating you’re worthy of the moniker and having other bestow it upon you.
You’re not going to get there simply by telling everyone that’s what you are.
So, now we’re clear on a basic definition, how exactly do you define thought leadership for your niche or industry? How do you create content that doesn’t just position you as a thought leader, but as a leader in the specific field you wish to be known for.
What Defines A Thought Leader In Your Niche?
By delivering content that is genuine, authentic, insightful, infused with your unique experiences, and delivered with the sole intention of sharing your wisdom with the world, you become a thought leader. It’s about building knowledge, creating value for your audience, and holding strong positions. That might mean taking a stand about something controversial, but equally it can be about demonstrating why a particular path or method is superior, and stoically sticking to your guns.
By their nature thought leadership content is opinionated. That’s what makes it unique to you, and thoughtful. So, the easiest way to ensure you’re creating content that positions you as a thought leader in your specific niche (as opposed to just generally) is to share opinions and insights that directly relate to your industry.
Taking that to a deeper level, you can argue that becoming a thought leader requires becoming an expert in a particular subject matter (or a, SME – subject matter expert), and leveraging your expertise to gain influence in and over a particular niche.
Now take that one step further, and add extra layers to that content. Create content that’s research-driven so you can back up what you’re saying while simultaneously creating a high-value source of information for your audience. Present your findings in a way that not only gives educational value but also inspires.
Finally, consider what a niche is, to begin with. At its core, any niche or industry is a community. A huge part of being genuinely successful as a thought leader is comprehending that it’s not just about you and what you think. It’s about sharing with your community, and hearing them in return. It’s a conversation, even a collaboration, between you and your niche.
How To Lead Your Industry
Like I said, thought leadership is something that happens naturally over time as people become industry experts, build a community and work in their niche. If you’ve been at this a while, and you’re good at what you do, you may be closer to achieving this than you realise. Just remember, thought leadership is not a mantle you can claim; it needs to be awarded.
So, how do you get other people in your niche to see you as an industry leader?
Do One Specific Thing Really Well
Odds are if you have a niche you already specialise in something specific. For example, I’m a copywriter and content marketer, but my niche is health and wellness. So I write for health and wellness businesses really fucking well. That’s what I do most, that’s what I enjoy, that’s what I’m best at.
That’s not to say I’m not great at writing for other industries – I am. But my niche is health and wellness. Even so, being a writer and content marketing for the entire health and wellness industry covers a huge range of things, from penning website copy, blogs, and articles, to ghostwriting books and ecourses. All of these tasks are part of daily life as a copywriter and marketeer. So if I was going to become really good at one specific thing, that specific thing could not be ‘being a health and wellness writer’.
That’s nowhere near specific enough.
In my own quest to establish myself as a thought leader (and please note I’m not claiming to be one, simply noting that I aspire to be one), the specific area I focus on is my content marketing strategy. This is one specific thing (content marketing) that I have been doing using a specific method (Divine Blogging) which is unique and devised by myself.
Why did I choose this? Firstly, because I’m really good at it. Secondly, because I realised I had a way of doing it that differed to the norm. It was unique. It’s not something everyone is teaching or touting, because other people don’t do it like I do.
You’re looking for something that sees your personal zone of genius collide with the established norms of your industry. A point at which you find yourself doing or believing something that goes against the grain, yet produces great results.
In an ideal world you’d find something utterly unique. But thinking of something that’s genuinely never been done before is easier said than done. For most, the more reasonable alternative is to find a completely unique way of doing something that most people in your industry do or need.
Content marketing isn’t a concept I created, It’s something I learned to do really, really well, using a unique method that nobody else has.
Why focus on one thing?
For one thing people far more easily remember someone who is known for a specific thing. Again, using myself as the example, there are many people in the marketing industry who can do and teach content marketing. So many, in fact, that they all kind of blur into one. You read a blog from one, follow the podcast of another, subscribe to the YouTube of a third, and enjoy the TikToks of another.
But can you really distinguish one from the other in terms of the advice given, the expertise they hold? Or do they all say pretty much the same thing; general information about marketing or even content marketing as a whole.
Be the person who teaches you how to tailor all your content to the very specific psyche of your ideal client, using god and goddess archetypes? That’s a bit more memorable.
They key here is to hone in on a way of doing something that really stands out so people remember you for it. On top of that, you need to genuinely have expert level knowledge about this, and it’s a tall order to have that level of expertise about every aspect of your industry.
You need a thing. And you need to know everything there is to know about it and have a unique way of doing, teaching, or thinking about it.
Build And Curate Your Visibility And Searchability
Creating a strong online presence is critical if you want to become the go-to person in your niche for that one special thing. Key to that is building your visibility so you’re seen and growing your searchability so you’re found. Beyond this, however, you need to ensure you’re creating positive visibility and a positive impression on search results.
You want to actively curate the information available about you to ensure you present a consistent image that demonstrates you’re an expert in your field.
If this isn’t something you’ve ever thought to proactively do before, start by assessing what people currently see online when they search for you.
You want the top result to be something that presents you as a professional, not your personal Facebook page or Instagram. In an ideal world that means your website, which clearly presents you as in the light you want to be seen: an expert in your niche, who specialises in the one specific thing you’ve chosen.
Following you site will be LinkedIn and other professional social media profiles are a good option.
If you Google yourself and don’t find this, don’t worry. Even if you have your own website if you’ve been lax in your SEO efforts there’s no guarantee it will actually appear in SERPs. The good new is that with a little time consistently spent working on it you can build your visibility and ensuring there are plenty of positive pieces of content out there about you.
Just remember, you want all those ways people have of seeing and finding you to consistently associate you with that special thing that’s unique to you.
Achieving this is relatively easy. The trick is to ensure when people search online for that specific thing you do, they find you.
Not because they already know your name and are looking for it, but because they know what they need, and every search they run brings them to you.
This takes considerably more time and effort. In all honestly, it’s not an easy task to achieve. BUT if you consistently create content optimised for the keywords those people will be using, you’ll get there.
You will need to completely optimise every aspect of your online presence, while constantly adding to it so that it remain updated and relevant. You’re aiming to ensure your name constantly appears next to that thing you do really well whenever it appears in SERPs.
Craft A Powerful Personal Brand
One issue you may run into on your quest to become a thought leader is just how personal it is. If you’ve been in business for any length of time you have likely heard about branding and the importance of building a strong brand. You may also have heard that personal brands are highly successful, as are brands for big businesses with many employees that – despite their size – have a single ‘face’. An individual who acts as the recognisable person that brand is associated with.
You may have shied away from both, as well as from the idea of creating video content that requires you to appear or speak on camera.
Vlogging and podcasting are two of the most powerful ways of supercharging your content marketing efforts. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you will know this. But if you haven’t done it yet, odds are it’s because you’re uncomfortable with the idea. Maybe you’re not very self-confident and don’t like the thought of being seen. Perhaps you feel you don’t look ‘the part’, or don’t believe you’re able to speak with authority and charisma on camera.
If you’re really set on avoiding any personal presence in your brand, give up on the idea of being a thought leader right now.
You can’t do one without the other.
Real innovators, trail blazers, and revolutionaries are individual people. They, personally, become visible. They, personally, are the expert.
That is what we are talking about here – you, as in individual person, becoming extremely well known for one specific thing.
That’s the goal.
To do that you’re going to need a strong personal brand.
Whether you’re a solopreneur of the CEO of a corporation, to do this you need to have a brand that showcases:
- Your knowledge
- Your methodology
- Your perspectives on the world
- Your values
- Your face and voice
People Respond To People
That’s what people respond to. And while it’s not entirely impossible to create a faceless brand that is known as a thought leader, it’s not likely. Consider the charismatic innovators you’re familiar with: Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, they all have businesses, but it’s the people behind the businesses that are seen as the innovators. You know about the business people you know about the people. There are, in reality, many businesses just as successful as the likes of Tesla, Virgin, and Facebook (or Meta if you will). But we don’t immediately think of those brands when someone asks for an example of a pioneering business owner.
Personal branding isn’t the province of solopreneurs. You can create a personal brand even if you have a team working with you, even if you run a multi-billion dollar global corporation.
Infusing your brand with personal elements is a far easier way of becoming known as a thought leader than attempting to build a strong business brand, and having that come to be seen as a thought leader.
Why? Psychology. We look to individuals for leadership. The top dog. The alpha.
To put yourself in that position, make sure you have done the following:
- Craft a powerful brand story that isn’t just told on your about page, but woven through your every word.
- Be completely consistent in your brand voice and visual branding.
- Always be totally authentic in your business, and practice as much transparency as you can in terms of who you are, what you do, and how you operate.
- Be completely clear on your values, ethos, and principles. What are you in this for? And the answer can’t be ‘to make money’. (I mean, it can, but not JUST that!)
Show Your Chops
Whatever you’ve decided your ‘thing’ will be, demonstrate it. Create content that clearly shows who you are, what you do, why you’re so good at it, and how it is you do it differently .
There are other ways to achieve this, like public speaking, but consistent content creation is critical, and also the easiest method of getting your expertise out there. You can blog, vlog, post on social media, start a podcast, it doesn’t matter. Try it all, see what works for you, discard the rest.
Just remember, while you need to have a consistent topic and message, you can’t just harp on about the same point week after week. People have short attention spans, they’re easily bored. Figure out who your ideal clients are and what they need to know, what interests them, what they value. Look at who you do, and where that intersects with their needs. Create your content so it meets the various subjects you’ve identified.
Share yourself while you’re doing it. Your audience needs to come to know, like and trust you. So while you’re busy giving them content that solves their problems, helps them through a situation, don’t forget to share yourself, your story. How did you get to where you are, what were your struggles? How did you overcome them?
Build Out Your Network
Cultivating relationships is the name of the game when it comes to accumulating influence. Get to know others in your niche, connect with them. Network. There are plenty of ways to do this, but to get you started try some of these:
- Join groups in your niche on social media.
- Comment and engage on discussion boards, like Reddit, about relevant topics – a hint for this one, don’t try to push yourself, your offers, or send people to your website. Just offer useful advice and information. They will naturally realise you know what you’re talking about and look for more.
- Cultivate a network of professional contacts at every level of your industry. LinkedIn is super useful for this.
- Speaking of LinkedIn, having a shed load of endorsements on LinkedIn related to your specialty is a great way to indicate what you’re all about to people snooping at you.
- Attend industry events like networking breakfasts, award ceremonies, conferences, launches etc. The more you do this the more recognisable your face becomes.
Once you’ve made a good start with this, you can start switching the focus so that it’s on you. See about getting yourself speaking gigs at events you’ve been attending. Give yourself a voice in your industry by writing for relevant blogs, magazines, or online sites.
Find Other Influencers In Your Niche
While it may seem counterintuitive to work with the ‘competition’ by collaborating with existing influencers in your niche. Surprisingly, the reverse is true. You see, when a person reaches influencer status they grow more picky about who they collaborate with; it impacts their own influence and popularity. Which means that working with an influencer is an endorsement.
They are publicly stating that you are worthy of their time; that you know what you’re talking about.
Remember how you can’t go around telling people you’re a thought influencer? Having other influencers talk to you and about you is a neat way of side stepping this. Not only that, the fact that someone else with influence believes you’re worth mentioning carries a lot more cloud that a mention from someone who doesn’t work in the industry.
There’s a reason authors stick quotes from best-selling authors in their niche on their book cover, and not the review of Mr Smith on Amazon.
Nobody cares about the individual opinions of the layman. The collective opinions of the community, yes. So having thousands of reviews and a 5 star average carries a lot of clout. But one unremarkable person nobody’ heard of saying it’s a good book means nothing.
On the other hand, if your favourite author says someone you’ve never heard of before is a great author, you’re reading that book!
The influencers in your niche have already established tribes (which we shall no longer call tribes, but clans, or packs). They can introduce you to their packs and put you in front of a LOT of the right people very easily.
All you have to do is convince them you’re worth listening to.
The best part is, because you’re focusing on one specific ‘thing’ you don’t need to worry about them being competition; simply pick someone who focuses on a different thing. Same niche, different especially.
One Last Thing…
If you’re sitting there thinking well sure, I can make all the connections, and go to all the meetings, and do all the speaking, and work with all the influencers… but i can’t write for shit.
Don’t worry. Want to know the true secret that most thought leaders don’t want you to know?
They have ghostwriters.
If you need someone to pen posts that position you as a leader in your industry, write your books and ecourses, or help you devise the unique ‘thing’ that puts you on the map, you know where to find me…
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