How To Win the Thought Leadership Arms Race in 2022
Your thought leadership strategy is probably not getting the results you wanted. Here's why.
As an executive, if your feeds are anything like mine, every time you open LinkedIn, the News App, or your mail client, you are hammered with an onslaught of articles promising to teach you the formula for success, new trends, the latest innovations, industry insights and developments.
It’s as if every brand, business and executive is engaged in a race to see who can release the most content, garner the most comments, and receive the most shares. If we don’t steer this ship away from the rocks, I foresee a dystopian future of disorganized content publishing, where every individual is fighting for attention and the screams become so loud that the viewer’s mind just shuts them out. In fact, we are already there now with advertising. News and articles fly out at the speed of light and executives live in fear that someone might beat them to their desired audience. Business journalism and thought leadership markets are oversaturated with content, and consumers can’t hear anything over the shouting. “Read me! Look at me! Love me!” is the flavor of the day.
Thought leadership is in an arms race, and every man or woman is out for themselves. As 2021 draws to a close, I’d like to call a temporary cease-fire to calmly reflect on our failures and successes and to codify a methodology that can bring a better strategy, not only for us but for the benefit of the audience.
Perhaps we’ve become so focused on winning the race that we have forgotten the very reason thought leadership exists in the first place.
The Purpose of Thought Leadership
The purpose of thought leadership is to provide knowledge and expertise that results in positive change for organizations and its executives, employees, and stakeholders.
To make thought leadership a competition about who can be bigger, better and faster ignores the fact that value is what drives growth — it is about helping others find meaning, success and contentment.
So, how do we stand out and create thought leadership that is truly impactful?
Thought Leadership Strategies in 2022
The thought leadership strategy of 2022 is a multi-topic, multi-executive strategy, which ties in and leverages the expertise of each individual team member to support a cohesive whole.
Not sure where to start? Read on for the five actionable steps you can take to craft a successful thought leadership strategy in 2022.
1. Determine the purpose of your thought leadership strategy.
Before you do anything else, you need to identify what you want to accomplish with your thought leadership strategy: “What do I want our readers to learn or improve upon? Is there a piece of knowledge I’d like to leave them with?”
If you don’t know why you are speaking, then you are simply adding to the noise. Without a clear purpose, your thought leadership will fade into the background.
Furthermore, by defining the purpose of your thought leadership strategy, you give yourself governing guidelines to work within — every piece of content should fall under the umbrella of your purpose. With every piece of content, there are three questions that need to be considered:
Who is your audience?
What problems do they have that you can solve?
What is your overriding message to help them solve these problems on their own?
For example, if you are a technology and software company leader looking to solve the problem of organizing data intelligently to make it work best for your users your overriding thought leadership message will be the valuable logic, methods, mindset, ethics and personality required to solve their problem of an overwhelming amount of confusing data that serves no purpose and isn’t efficient. This thought leadership content requires no plug for your brand – it is not PR. We are helping the viewer gain access to knowledge, of which only you hold the key.
2. Integrate the key pillars of your brand, product and values.
Crystallize the key expertise, formulas, mindset and workflow needed to accomplish the purpose you identified in step one. What are the distinct pillars of your brand, and how does each fuse together to support a cohesive, well-functioning structure to accomplish greatness?
Remember: the individual alone did not build your organization — it required a team. When we rely too heavily on one pillar, we miss out on key information.
I once brought in a consultant who was an expert in raising capital. And while this person did a fantastic job in helping our company do exactly that, they couldn’t help me when it came time to use the capital we had just raised for growth. I needed help with HR, training, software, and so much more. While the consultant was an expert in one of the pillars of success, I was missing several others.
So, we do not feature one pillar alone — each piece of content you share should build upon the previous and pass the baton along to the next. Any thought leadership without integrated content will fail to make an impact and give a global understanding.
Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for niche content. There will always be an audience who wants to absorb highly-topical material. However, in order to have a widespread and successful thought leadership strategy in 2022, we need to bring together each niche into a cohesive brand picture. Every pillar may have its own swimming lane, but you need to show your audience how each lane fits into the same pool.
The software data company from our previous example will have pillars for insights on data hygiene, data organization and speed, finding great people, culture, user experience, marketing, security, procurement, management strategies and revenue strategies sustaining the company. All of these pillars of excellence will individually satisfy one or more of your desired audiences and, when working in synchronicity, will bring confidence to, and an affinity for, your leaders and the organization as a whole.
3. Identify the key executives.
Name the executives who are most knowledgeable and experienced in each pillar to be the front-facing spokesperson for each corresponding campaign. Pick a trustworthy executive with a wealth of knowledge at the head of each piece of thought leadership you release. Furthermore, you should be sure to bring together the executives so they know they are on the same team and are leveraging each other’s expertise as they build content.
Using the pillars named above, thought leadership contributions would likely come from the CEO, CMO, CIO, Chief People Officer, Chief Procurement Officer or the variations of these titles
Ask yourself who has the widest breadth of knowledge for each of the pillars and name them for your thought leadership strategy.
4. Roll out a structured calendar of thought leadership.
Once you have identified your purpose, pillars and spokespeople, you need to plan out a structured thought leadership content calendar. A calendar will allow you and your team to be more strategic in your thought leadership. Schedule your content so that each piece ties into each other, creating a complete picture that takes your audience along a path of continual growth.
Your calendar would show associations of one executive's content with another executive. The CEO’s article on “The Data Revolution” is commented on, quoted and cited in the Chief People Officer’s article on “Finding & Cultivating Disrupters for Your Technology Startup.” The CMO’s article on “Investing in Data is the New Gold Rush” references the importance of the people behind it and links to (and cites) the Chief People Officer’s article. And on it goes — the picture of excellence is painted, and the structured thought leadership is canvased out for anyone to follow suit.
Internally, this will require ghostwriting, editing, and publishing contacts in the media. Executive ghostwriting and securing authorship for thought leaders is an art in itself. To solve that challenge, consider reading some of the solutions from my good friend and executive content specialist, Tom Popomaronis.
5. Create a library of content.
It isn’t simply luck or a boost from the search algorithms that a person might stumble upon your work. In 2022, the old-fashioned approach of hoping to be discovered will no longer be enough. We need a new strategy.
As you roll out your thought leadership strategy, consolidate all of your content into a searchable and user-friendly library. Create a roadmap for your audience to move through the content at a pace that matches their understanding and experience. Help them grow from novice to expert, and give them a centralized hub of content to return when they are ready to learn more.
In order to win
To dominate in the crowded space of thought leadership, we create value. This is the proven strategy to defeat the competition: purpose, strategy and teamwork.
We don’t know what 2022 will look like, but we do know that people always need questions answered and leaders to look to. So, gather your team, go back to basics and start with the steps I’ve laid out here. By the time you get to step five, you just might find yourself as the face of your entire industry.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor