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May 13, 2015
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Why Thought Leadership Matters

freak flagOf all the things that successful entrepreneurs and business owners have going for them, passion–preferably in excess, and expressed honestly–is the most important when it comes to connecting with people.

When you believe in what you’re doing–when you truly believe that you’re providing a product or service that only your brand can provide–you somehow innately want to educate and inspire others about it. And when you do, you form a tribe of like-minded individuals, who in turn inspire others–both employees and loyal customers–to become brand ambassadors.

Conversely, people or brands that lack that passion–and the necessarily accompanying honesty of expression–lead to skeptical audiences and customers.

WHAT IS A THOUGHT LEADER?

I had a conversation this week with a colleague who scoffed at the term thought leader. “Anyone who uses the term ‘thought leader’ is clearly indicating that s/he is not one,” my colleague opined. Perhaps.

But let’s dive in and explore. What does the term mean? In my mind, to be a thought leader means more than simply being–or being perceived as–an advisor or expert in your field. You must be bringing something new, feasible and exciting to the table.

Further, a true thought leader isn’t in it to be a rock star, as the rewards of putting oneself on the line, voicing previously unstated opinions, and generally putting it all out there aren’t always immediately apparent. On the contrary, all of that takes extraordinary courage.

I think instead that the thought leaders I label as such enjoy their work, and are passionate about it. They might see the potential to add value to their industry in a new way. They are leaders and advisors, but also recognize the power of the collaborative nature of business. And they listen to the needs of the community as a whole. They hear criticism and value debate.

WHERE DOES CONTENT MARKETING COME IN?

Content marketing, as I see it, enables genuine thought leaders to succeed by helping them to connect authentically with their tribes. It starts a conversation with substance.

Content marketing helps brands to identify and clarify the people they wish to reach and engage with, and to identify and clarify the story and messages that will most hit home. It gives brands the techniques and tools to share those stories to maximum effect.

Rather than presenting ad copy that’s designed to sell a specific product, content marketing focuses on producing consistently valuable content that will help people–and by doing so, ultimately endear them to to an overall brand.

In some cases, it’s like a car dealership offering a test drive. Let people sample what you know and do, so that you can prove that you’re well worth their investment of time and/or capital. Seth Godin, bestselling author and my marketing guru, employs this “sampling” technique on his blog; he allows his readership snippets of his wise, honest, daily thoughts and insights, which he surely knows will reaffirm his expertise as well as pique the interest of people like me, who grow to love and admire the man, and ultimately buy all of his books.

Whole Foods is another content marketing master that’s also a thought leader. “America’s healthiest grocery store” has focused its customer outreach on an educational platform designed to reach and engage health-conscious people by talking about issues such as sustainability, animal welfare, and GMOs. This appeals to those already participating in an active and health conscious lifestyle, as well as those who view it as aspirational. They keep their messaging both consistent and aggressive, communicating through a hugely popular blog and social channels, as well as utilizing in-store space for signage and providing environmentally conscious packaging.

LET YOUR FREAK FLAG FLY

So, what’s going to make YOU or YOUR BRAND innovative, intelligent, and interesting enough to be a thought leader?

If you’re like most businesses, your ideal target audience in the long run probably includes people–real people–who are going to want to connect with you in the long term because they like what you do or know. You probably don’t want customers who buy your stuff just because they’re desperate, have a sub-OK experience, and look for a better vendor next time around.

Thus, I say: “let your freak flag fly.” Let the quirk flow forth. Express yo’self. And such.

What’s different about you? What do people love about what you do? What’s your juicy goodness in this world?

You’re doing what you’re doing for a reason. Figure out what it is, and celebrate the bleep out of that bleep.

MAKE THE WEB WORK FOR YOU

One of the biggest perks of cross-platform content marketing is that these platforms not only broadcast your message on a wider scale, but also allow for open dialogue and communication with your customers.

When curating content to be posted across social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and LinkedIn, take advantage of the unique opportunities they each provide for supplementing your points with rich media such as pictures, video, and infographics.

Take advantage of these benefits and promote discussion and interaction with your followers. Don’t be a Twitter account that doesn’t reply, or that only retweets compliments (although it is nice to do that too), as it appears disingenuous. Instead, post relevant and timely content, network with like-minded individuals, reply to queries as they arise and pose questions of your own to your followers; they’ll appreciate feeling as though their opinions and expertise as a consumer is valued.

Saddleback Leather makes excellent use of rich media on their website and social media. By producing short films that showcase their philanthropic work, customers can feel great about supporting a company that is involved with humanitarian efforts around the world. They also do a bang-up job at recognizing and interacting with customers on all social media channels, both  sharing user-generated content and replying to any comments or questions that may be posed online.

BUILD YOUR TRIBE

Your community is your livelihood. That’s the bottom line. And you engage your community as your would friends or acquaintances you value. This includes your company itself, all of your employees, your customers and clients, their potential audiences and your industry as a whole.

Being a thought leader means being brave enough to voice what you believe, being humble enough to accept criticism and suggestions for betterment, and being generous enough to not only share your passions but to embrace others’.

Celebrate the thought leaders you admire, surely, but strive to become one.

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