What is Thought Leadership?
Boosting Strategic Positioning for Your Brand
Thought leadership is the piece of the PR puzzle that establishes your executives’ reputation and boosts your brand credibility in a competitive market. It pulls together elements of public relations strategy and content marketing, to unlock prestigious opportunities often reserved for leading industry experts and respected trailblazers.
Building your reputation as a thought leader is more critical to your brand reputation than it’s ever been, especially in a saturated market like beauty products, automobiles, technology or software solutions. It makes you a go-to expert and credible source of information for your customers, investors and competitors. It’s a long-term strategic communications initiative that cements your status as a true disruptor.
What is Thought Leadership?
If you’ve ever read a published article by a respected CEO, attended a conference to hear a famed brand spokesperson present, or watched a company founder receive an esteemed industry award, then you’ve seen thought leadership in action.
Thought leadership is the vehicle for your strategic positioning. It’s the series of PR and marketing initiatives—like owned content, speaking submissions, awards and rankings—that bolsters your professional reputation and adds proof points to your resume as a business leader. It’s the subset of PR that puts you behind the podium at industry events and conferences, and lands your name in the bylines of the articles your customers are reading
Why is Thought Leadership Valuable for Brands?
Strong strategic positioning supercharges a comprehensive public relations campaign. It gives you the credibility of a market leader, by generating evidence of your expertise across a range of earned media and owned digital channels.
By establishing your reputation as a thought leader, you can elevate your credibility in the press and in the eyes of your customers and competitors. That positioning makes your brand trustworthy on important issues, and earns you access to better contributor opportunities, speaking engagements, industry awards and guest interviews on the top podcasts in your space.
If you want to earn your place as a trend-setter in your industry and increase your share of voice in the digital marketing sphere, then you need a thought leadership campaign.
What Should a Thought Leadership Program Include?
Newcomers to PR often equate it with thought leadership. And while PR and thought leadership are closely related, they are not the same. Rather, they complement one another to push forth your brand message and generate third-party validation for your digital marketing initiatives.
Despite its necessity, thought leadership is often an unfamiliar buzzword, compared to its marketing cousin, PR. If you’re a budget-conscious entrepreneur looking for strategic positioning services, you’re likely to ask: What am I really getting from a thought leadership campaign?
Here, we’ll explore several of the tactics we might develop for a business leader looking to elevate his or her expert reputation.
Bylined and contributed articles allow you to be published in leading news outlets, covering important industry issues and trends with articles written in your own name. This is a basic component of most thought leadership initiatives, and generates opportunities for your brand spokespeople to contribute to leading business and trade outlets. The goal in doing so is to position you or your brand spokespeople as experts, by leveraging the third-party validation of key media publications your potential customers and competitors might read.
A robust strategic positioning campaign goes a few steps further than a strictly media-focused PR plan, by leveraging your owned content channels. For example, we might recommend original blog content topics, designed to boost your SEO strategy, offer value to your customers, and demonstrate your company’s key differentiators. Often, a copywriter would draft that content on your behalf, to ensure the posts are properly optimized and can demonstrate press-worthy expertise.
Especially in recent years, many marketers are also leveraging podcasts as a thought leadership tool. Much like a blog post, an original podcast series or show sponsorship program can earn you some name recognition and increase your industry share of voice. For brand-owned shows, you might invite your professional peers to speak on air. Doing so helps to create a digital footprint for the topics you and your customers care about, and align you with other respected specialists in your space.
To build additional third-party credibility, a thought leadership campaign might leverage customer case studies. With the opt-in from your happy clients, the goal here is to identify your top “success stories” and turn those narratives into custom case studies for your website, blog page, social media channels, and marketing materials.
By showcasing your past successes, case studies demonstrate your value to potential customers and put real metrics and results behind your executive expertise. In many instances, case studies can also be an asset for future award submissions or speaking engagements that might arise later in your company’s strategic positioning initiatives.
For a more data-driven approach, a thought leadership campaign can also encompass proprietary surveys. By emphasizing your company’s areas of specialty, a proprietary survey can provide exclusive market research findings to provide to customers and share in the press.
Whereas bylined articles and podcast interviewers are a traditionally narrative-driven way to engage with the public and tell your story, surveys can generate data points to further strengthen your brand’s claims. Hard facts, figures and metrics are imperative to proving your industry knowledge, both in your sales materials and in future press engagements.
Speaking opportunities offer the advantage of exposure, and are a valuable asset to augment your thought leadership position. With this tactic, marketers source, create and submit applications on a brand’s behalf, for executive speaking opportunities at conferences, trade shows, seminars and other industry events.
By securing a place for you onstage, alongside other respected leaders and disruptors, this strategy can help you to reach the audiences that matter most to your brand. It’s a high-impact move that links your brand with the existing third-party authority of notable event sponsors and speakers. Effectively, it positions you as a thought leader by way of proximity to other respected specialists.
Awards & Rankings
Awards and rankings are the gold standard for third-party endorsements in strategic-positioning. Curating the right award submissions can result in securing meaningful awards and accreditations, to boost your brand credibility, and distinguish you amongst your professional peers and competitors.
With the independent endorsement of leading industry programs and organizations, an award badge in your email signature or a top-tier ranking in your website footer is a public testament to any executive’s reputation.
How Does Thought Leadership Build Brand Trust?
A true thought leader can provide concrete proof points for brand trust. Having those professional accolades in hand identifies you and your spokespeople as industry leaders worthy of press attention—and consumer dollars. Esteemed publications, conferences and committees want to know if an executive can stand up to scrutiny, answer tough questions and put forth something worth the price of admission (or subscription) for their audiences.
If you want to earn that kind of credibility for your brand, you must do what you say before you can say what you do. A thought leadership campaign turns the spotlight on real-world actions, and then publicizes them. This “trust relations” approach earns the confidence of your audience and stakeholders.
“Trust relations” is a term coined by our founder, April White, to describe a new approach to strategic communications. It informs every brand campaign at Trust Relations. We believe that when your storytelling and storydoing are one and the same, your brand can prove its mettle in a competitive market and back up your executive title with a track record of earned accomplishments.
That trust is the foundation of a thought leader’s reputation. Our approach places authenticity at the forefront, to prove to your customers and competitors that you’re the best in the business—and can back up your claims with proof, data and real-world expertise.
If you’re ready to start making headlines of your own, you can work with us here.
Trust Relations Team