Thought Leadership Isn’t About Expertise: The Articulation Gap

A thought leader is defined by the Thought Leadership Lab as an informed opinion leader and the go-to individual in their field of expertise, “trusted sources who move and inspire people with innovative ideas; turn ideas into reality, and know and show how to replicate their success. Over time, they create a dedicated group of followers to help them replicate and scale their ideas into sustainable change not just in one company but in an industry, niche or across an ecosystem.”

You’re probably a thought leader in your industry or in your profession.

It’s easy to have deep knowledge and an opinion about your industry. It’s a tougher to talk about it in terms of a profession, or the buyer persona.

Here’s the title of a blog we developed at a cloud consultancy: “Does Your CFO Use a Mac and Ride a Carbon Fiber Bike?”

In context of our lead-to-cash solution we wanted to say. “We know today’s CFO is different. He/she is a strategist not a Controller or Gatekeeper. The evolved CFO is the one looking at IT spend and noticing the bloat and delay in legacy IT projects (slowing down business innovation.)”

The Mac and the carbon bike references were an appeal to a hipper, more buff CFO than most people knew.

Developing thought leadership content is as challenging as developing the forward-looking mindset it articulates. There are only so many letters in the alphabet and so many words in the dictionary, and only a few seconds to break through to a reader who is not paying attention.

Here are five ideas:

1. A provocative, controversial headline: “The Early Bird Does Not Get the Worm” or “Your Agile Methodology is No Different Than Waterfall.” Grab my attention by telling me you think differently.

2. Don’t only spout authority. Back it up with relevant stories and use cases. Don’t just give me the well-publicized tale of how a $50B public company like Pfizer does it; tell me how executives are pulling it off in the middle market.

3. Give me the balanced story. Tell the good and the bad, so I know you have worked this through all the way. What are the downsides to solar panels or neural nets, i.e., what have you learned?

4. Repurpose thought leadership content across multiple channels: ebooks, blogs, social posts, sales decks, podcasts. I want to see the messaging show up in your next press release.

5. Never rest on your laurels. As soon as you share thought leadership, it will find its way into the mainstream and become (ugh), conventional wisdom. Time to figure out what’s next.

The beauty of thought leadership is that is self-destructs even as it leads the way. There’s always going to be the need for more of it next week.

Jon Obermeyer is a content architect, editor and writer for the on-demand marketing firm Muddy Gecko. He is based in the Research Triangle Park in NC.