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How To Cultivate Thought Leadership

Want to make a real impact in your role and organization? Become a marketing rebel, as the Content Marketing Institute’s chief strategic advisor Robert Rose recommended in his recent Cultivate webinar.

One powerful way to do that is to study thought leaders inside and outside of your industry. You can learn from what they’ve done and apply it to your setting. But what IS thought leadership? Unfortunately, it’s a term that has been over-used and has lost much of its meaning.

The term “thought leadership” was coined over 25 years ago by Joel Kurtzman, the founding editor of Strategy+Business magazine. It still rings true today:

“A thought leader is recognized by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate,” explained Kurtzman.

“They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.”

Today, thought leadership doesn’t come from frequently publishing a large volume of content. If that was the case, anyone could be a thought leader. Nor is it about relentlessly promoting your company and its offerings. That approach is actually an excellent way to force your customers and prospects to ignore you.

Seth Godin

Rather, thought leaders have a passion for sharing ideas that intrigue, challenge and inspire their audience. One of the best and most enduring examples of this is marketing guru Seth Godin. He consistently shares his ideas, insights and observations on his simple blog and in his many books. Many of them encourage readers to look at challenges and opportunities from new perspectives. By reading his content, you will be frequently inspired to expand your mindset and your opportunities.

Thought leaders provide a compelling and often disruptive point of view on topics that matter to their audiences. They take a stand on key industry issues and often empower their audiences to make change happen in their organizations. Thought leaders are passionate about educating, improving and adding value to the industries they serve.

Gini Dietrich

A perfect example of this rebel philosophy in action is PR and marketing expert Gini Dietrich, who founded the highly influential Spin Sucks blog. Her mission is to transform these professions from “spin doctors” – who use unethical tactics to trick journalists and consumers – to a higher standard of ethical practices that increase their impact and effectiveness.

Thought leaders don’t need to have all the answers. They explore possibilities and share what they’ve learned. They take their audiences on a shared journey into the unknown. They are relentlessly transparent and honest about their missteps and what they’ve learned along the way. Their openness and honesty tend to make their messages compelling and engaging.

How do thought leaders develop a deeper knowledge of their industries than their peers? By being deeply involved in them. They conduct research, are involved in industry groups, associations and think tanks, speak at conferences and consult with key players in the industry. This gives them a breadth and depth of expertise that dramatically increases the value of their insights.

Robert Rose

Robert Rose the chief strategic advisor to the Content Marketing Institute and self-proclaimed “chief troublemaker” at his Content Advisory consulting firm, shared his thought-provoking ideas during our recent Cultivate webinar. Here is just one of his deep insights:

“How well any business communicates today is in direct correlation with how strategic it makes its content. You better make sure you're organized in the way you want to communicate with customers. That's the challenge."

Robert has studied and practiced marketing for over 20 years, and regularly quotes strategists like Michael Porter, Theodore Levitt and Clayton Christensen in his work. Robert is also very knowledgeable about current trends and challenges in marketing – and thinks about their implications at a remarkably deep level.

In addition, Robert’s consulting work for some of the world’s largest brands brings a practical dimension to his thinking. No one understands the real-world challenges and opportunities of content strategy and operations like Robert.

He presents his ideas and insights to the world in engaging blog posts, reports, speeches and webinars, delivered in a passionate and wry style that makes him one of the most in-demand speakers and strategists in the world of marketing.

Will you step up to the challenge?

Why should you commit to becoming a thought leader? Because the benefits can be quite significant:

  • By becoming a respected and trusted authority figure, your voice will stand out.
  • Thought leadership can differentiate and provide you with a potent competitive advantage.
  • Thought leaders tend to get more leads and sales opportunities than their competitors. Because purchasing decision-makers value their knowledge and advice, thought leaders tend to win more sales.

Nothing worthwhile is easy

Becoming a trusted and reputable source of compelling ideas takes a lot of time and a desire to create sustainable, positive change in your industry. It also requires an extraordinary level of commitment. In addition, you need to be willing to take a stand on controversial issues that are affecting your industry. For these reasons, not everyone is equipped to become a thought leader.

Other people hold back because they lack confidence in their ability to write and communicate in compelling ways. If that describes you, you can partner with a ghostwriter who can take your ideas and write articles and speeches that capture your voice and identity.

Want help becoming a thought leader in your industry? Contact us today!


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