Aug. 23, 2021

Is Building Thought Leadership only for Individuals?

Is Building Thought Leadership only for Individuals?

Answering an interesting question from a listener, host Surbhi Dedhia shares her thoughts on building Thought Leadership for individuals and organisations in this episode.

In her experience, even businesses can build thought leadership in their segment and she shares some of the ways that organisations can look at developing it. Building trust through out the customer's journey has become an important reason why organisations must look at building thought leadership.

For lean and small sized businesses, Surbhi shares few ideas that they can adopt to begin building thought leadership. Tune into the episode to find out more.

Hello, and welcome to episode seven of The Making of a Thought Leader podcast. First up, I want to thank the listeners of the show for tuning into the show, every episode, and for the amazing feedback that you've been giving me. Thank you for that. And if you're new to the show, welcome and thank you for choosing to spend your time with me today.


Right after the launch of the making of a thought-leader podcast, I received an interesting question from one of the many listeners and I realized that most of us business owners may also have a similar question. So why not address it in this episode? The question is, is building thought leadership only for individuals and not organizations.


I believe that building thought leadership is not limited to individuals. It is applicable to organizations as well, and organizations should build their thought leadership and here’s why. Technology has levelled the playing field for organizations big and small. The digital first world has made it harder to gain trust from customers and to sustain it.


The trust that your company brand is the right choice for the product or the service that you're providing amongst the rest. Buyers today have unprecedented access to the information, allowing them to make informed decisions from what they see on digital platforms than our previous generations come to think of it. How many times do you go for a nice dinner without researching about it? How many times do you take a holiday? Well, holiday has been a thing of past momentum really, but before the pandemic, weren't you checking the Google reviews and the hotel reviews before booking a hotel? The customers of today have evaluated your brand much before they are actually having the conversations with your sales team.


And at this point in your customer's journey, you want to enhance the trust that you've built already with them through the different digital mediums. Let's take a step back and think what was happening before the whole digital revolution. The traditional marketing worked with an interruption approach. Which means, while you're driving, you'll see a big flashy billboard talking to you. Commercial ads were interrupting your favorite shows on the TV advertisements occupy the best real estate on the newspaper. And the list goes on. Back then the idea was to get the attention without any personalization. What worked was the masses approach.


With the digital revolution of today and the resulting mass production of content by everybody, it has become way too noisy. What this means to the ever evolving, modern marketing, that staying relevant, being on time and personalizing content that can solve a problem immediately is what will engage the audience. The golden term of content marketing came into being, as the stories are having better hold of customer's attention instead of direct product pitch. The proven way today is to gain customers attention and retain customers. Retaining customers is through engagement of content first. What it means is that if you look at B2C environment, the content that we have stories and is emotionally engaging, can influence better purchase behavior.


In the B2B context, this has expanded itself into an area of thought leadership content marketing is not thought leadership. While, content marketing or content writing and distribution may seem to be the starting point of building a brand's thought leadership. It is not the only way. Investing in building an organization Wide thought leadership is a way to achieve competitive advantage? And we will go into this a little bit, but I want to take you back to the point that I was making earlier that in B2B context, engaging audience has expanded itself into the area of thought leadership. Now, what does that mean?


This means that in B2B context, just putting out content in a single way is not going to engage the audience. That has to be a two way communication. And that's where building thought leadership comes up. When it comes to building company's thought leadership, it should not be limited or restricted only to the top executives or the management team or worst being outsourced.


We will talk about how the organizations can support earnest employees to develop their thought leadership a bit later in this episode. But right now let's look at the part of building trust and credibility with your client base. In a survey that was titled how customers choose 88% of the respondents said that the companies that make it to their choice of shortlist are the ones that have better, visible thought leadership.


It is proven time. And again, that thought leadership can bring customers closer to your organizations and help them see human behind the brand and also build the relationship with the brand. So how does it all work? Like when you go back to the organization operation, how can companies really start thought leadership and build it into a day to day operations?


Successful thought leadership does not mean that your target audience is going to be impressed with published content pieces.  Overwhelming your audience, pushing your brand onto the audience consistent. We're not talking about that. We talking about how cumulatively thought leadership can be brought about in the organization.  And that's what I believe, I believe that thought leadership is cumulative. It is a sum total of communications, opinions, experience you offer to your customer, that you are there for your audience when they need it. In the, in the channels that they are looking at you and also being invested in the overall progress of the industry.


So as a business, if you invest in the creation of thought leadership, it should be strategic from the onset. That's where the 8P model comes in handy to think through, with clarity. Any strategy to work, it needs a lot of clarity. And of course, focus. In the episode, two of the making of a thought leader podcast. I have gone into the depth of the model. The eight P model that I talk about. Very briefly, the eight PS are purpose, people, package, position, publish, partner, promote and proof.


So do check out that episode and I'll put a link below in the show notes for you to access it easily as an organization. If you are thinking of building thought leadership, you should know what you want in return from your target audience. And at the bare minimum, it is respect and recognition Thought leadership should give you the entry point into the relationship and enhance existing relationships and there are some very simple ways that organizations can develop thought leadership.


The first thing obviously is a top, top down approach, which means. The management team, the founders, the CEOs, the C team often organization should be looking at thought leadership and have deep commitment towards it. Look around most of the world's best in class, the most admired brands around us are really those organizations who have built in thought leadership and have deep commitment to the concept of thought leadership.


There are different departments in different organizations, which can drive it. And typically it is the marketing or the sales or communications, which drive thought leadership, but they all need support much more support to progress on thought leadership goals. So here are a few ideas that I want you to consider or approaches that you can consider to build thought leadership in your organization.


The first is the outside in approach. Leveraging on the industry research to know on the trends, the broad predictions, the new technology implications that are affecting your industry can definitely build key areas to focus on as broad themes. Then there is participating in online forums and groups being present, creating opportunities for businesses to convene, providing a platform to talk about that industry, niche, sharing thoughts in a particular area that you are playing in or your product or services, making a difference in are some very simple starting points to gather insights from the field. So that is the outside in approach where on the outside, you're a part of the industry you're part of the domain that you're in and you're bringing in insights to your company to understand, okay, these are the top three to five themes that are emerging from what we are listening from the market.

The next approach is the inside out approach, which means all these insights that you have gathered from the field can be condensed down to the top themes that your organization can address yeah. From your product, from your service point of view, what you can address. Then marketing team must get the commitment and support of the senior leadership for idea, nurturing content development and dissemination. And this is really critical. The commitment part .Employees from other functional roles also should get on boarded with this concept of agreeing on the broad themes, developing content and information on the broad themes and disseminating it.


So when it comes to resource allotment, what we typically see is that 30% of the budget is on the development side. And then the rest is spent on dissemination. What this creates is a kind of an imbalance because you created content and now you are disseminating it via advertisements or, using external, avenues to push the content into, the channels.


Now, this is an imbalance which can be addressed in different ways in different industry or different sizes of organization. In smaller organization, perhaps the imbalances, the other way, where 70% of the budget is given to content creation because you don't have the team to create the content.


And then 30% is spent on dissemination. So this imbalance should be improved. It, I'm not saying it used to be 50 50, but depending on your organization type and your size, you can improve the imbalance without being on the extremes. The most important part though, is that thought leadership development must be ingrained in your organization's DNA or culture.


And one way to do is it to treat thought leadership as a product.
Typically taught leadership content is not viral because it is not directly related to a product. It needs to be treated like a product and marketing in its own, right. Internally as well as externally.

The circle back approach. So we spoke about the outside in approach where you gather insight from outside and bring it to your company, the inside out approach, where you have condensed the insights from the field and now you are looking at these broad themes. And talking about these broad teams through your product and services and the difference that your product and services can bring into the market or the problems that it can solve.

The third approach is a circle back approach. And I think this is a critical one because in today's time and age, it is important to measure all efforts as it is an important listening tool, most organizations or businesses miss out on this. It is to really check what has worked better and what can be done even better. So businesses should look at it well, evaluating the efforts in three ways, relationships created reputation developed or built. And third is the revenue generator they're off out of the three paying attention to a single metric is not really advisable.


Because remember, as we said earlier, thought leadership is cumulative. So it cannot be measured or relied upon on one single metric customers today are attracted to brand narrative. So what better way to demonstrate problem solving approach than through the employees who are living it? Building one start leadership may not come naturally to everyone when it comes to employees.


Also for the most experienced lot. There are other factors such as imposter syndrome, technology aversement, and such other deterrents that can, be there for adoption of thought leadership application. So going back to the thought of treating thought leadership as a product, Employees can find ways to make an immediate impact on the betterment of the company.


And there are some simple things that organizations can do to create thought leadership as a product within the company. So first and foremost is to help employees understand the broad themes that the business is solving and create content around that we spoke about that in the outside, in inside out approach.


Now, when you create all that, you got to make this content really available in different formats for employees to contribute and in bite-size format. So all employees can understand thereby giving access to everybody in different formats also means that they are able to A. Understand it and B. disseminate it in different channels.


Second is to be a part of the conversation. If you appoint, look at members who are digitally savvy. If you appoint them as, thought leadership ambassadors, they can listen in and participate on behalf of the organization and they can be seen in the industry forums, association and networking events.


There are always ways to build brand guidelines and share that educate employees about it the way they have to talk into the social media, because that's one of the concerns, especially for, um, organizations who have a lot of young workforce. So in that situation, I recommend them to build a social media guideline or a brand guideline through which the employee knows that this is how the brand tone is, or this is what I want to show, or the company would like me to share or showcase about the company culture.


But that's a separate conversation altogether here. What we are trying to address is that. Giving access to content and allowing employees to participate in the industry will help the community to see the organization's culture, as well as understand what problems an organization is solving.

The third is allowing employees to be authentic.

This word authentic keeps coming up frequently when we talk about thought leadership, and this is because. Much of what is out there on the web is successful only because it is authentic. Look at the people around you whose content you're consuming probably as a business owner or a new start up. You're probably looking at people like Gary Vee or, um, Oprah, they bring their authentic self to whatever they do.


So we are able to see the real person solving a real issue at hand. And that is what is really cutting through the noise today. So allow your employees to be authentic, be their true self, given the guidelines, let them bring their opinions, let them nurture that opinion and grow into creating that difference in the digital space.


The fourth point is experimenting with the engagement. So now this is a classic because as organizations begin engaging with their audience, they want to give up, as the activity is not showing results. So as, as a team, as an organization, who's probably a smaller outfit. You would say that, okay, let's all of us talk about these broad teams.


Let's go out there and share what we know, participate in industry forums and all of that. And, in about six months’ time, or probably less than that, you will come back to say that, oh, this is not working. And let's give up because some other project has come up or, we don't have the bandwidth to keep on doing that. So in reality, what is happening is your audience is consuming content in different places. So look for the feedback in different mediums and to do so. You need to be around consistently for a period of time. Besides consistency try and use modern marketing tools that companies,, can put behind the assets of the company.


So what I like to talk about is this integrated approach to building thought leadership. And this is very critical because you don't want to start doing a lot of things, which are not sustainable, rather do few things, which are sustainable over a longer period of time. And then keep adding more as you go.


For organizations to build thought leadership. It is, it should be looked at as a long-term approach and go step by step.  One suggestion or one idea that I share with my clients is to. In a measured way, which means you engage the customer or the audience before you create the content. That is what we spoke about in outside in approach where you gather the broad teams, gather the insights, go back to the drawing board, do the inside out approach. By content, which is really solving the day-to-day problems. And then when you post, or when you share that content, check for comments, check for conversations possible through those postings and communicate with your audience.


After this is done for a period of time. Again, engage with the audience because you know, when you post only 30% of your audience is going to see this content. So you have to repost and reuse it in a way. And then after this content is created at a broad theme level, you can always go back and check in terms of what worked, what didn't work and how you could improve.


That is something that, , is a bit of experimenting that is required. But I think that is always in the initial stage when you're trying to find your niche and really making your opinion stand out in the noisy, please.

The next part about within growing thought leadership for an organization is structuring.


So we spoke about contributing to the industry to make sure that your audience is understanding you, you must know your audience. And that's why, when you are about to structure your content or your thought leadership buyer personas are quintessentially the first steps. So assuming that you have the buyer persona, which means, you know who you're selling to, you're developing your thought leadership content.


Okay. Engaging them with them online. Then the next step is to , apply the concepts of buyer's journey and create engagement through that. We spoke about how traditional marketing was so different earlier and now the modern marketing is evolving. The world has changed to the personalization, era, there are umpteen number of ways you can categorize content and tracking engagement with your audience.


Simply speaking, if you just make a list of your target audiences, pain points and build content around it by doing so you can offer streamline journey and experience personalized to your audience. This drip of slowly engaging our audiences, creating thought leadership. This is really very beautiful when you see that in action. Educate your audience to not go for sales or selling type of content. First. Other, area of building thought leadership. It's the customer experience, help your employees. No, how customers are experiencing your brand. And that is how does your company brand best differentiate itself or what type of services is your brand providing this sometimes is like the missing link.


I say, because the company or the organization as a whole would spend so much time into creating the content and disseminating it, but not measuring and checking the experience part of the customer, and there are different perception points in the buyer's journey. And through that journey, the customer experiences your brand in different ways to have a same thread or have the tandem ness of all the perception points in a one connected way, or one message is something that is a huge struggle for many brands today.


The last bit is about education. As I said earlier, today's personalization world of content. Marketing is all about educating, building trust with your audience. So thought leadership is really not about selling right off the bat. It's about opening the doors of your brand, allowing people to walk in, look around, touch, feel, experience, and from your company culture to your social media, your audience wants to really know who you are before they are comfortable even with that idea of giving their hard earned money to you. And this all takes a lot of time and trust to providing value into their lives. Basically you need to really make them feel that this investment is worth it. Isn't it?

The example that I always give to some of the organizations that I work with is about Hub Spot. They introduced our new marketing strategy. They provide free courses to general public to help educate the marketing and sales departments around the globe. They provide this content like to market yours, to understand their services and methodologies and HubSpot amongst all these marketing automation players has built a successful brand and business around the holistic, non-pushy way of adding value through educating.


Just to summarize what we just said about how organizations can build thought leadership is to first create broad teams participate in industry conversations, allow employees to be authentic experiment with your engagement, structure thought leadership work that you're bringing in. And the last two were the customer experience and  educating your audience


Individual thought leaders challenge the status school and grow their followers. Organizations that adopt thought leadership attract, influence, and retain customers, drive revenue and create progressive employees that reflect the core organization values and grow their own thought leadership. We are transitioning from this knowledge based economy to a wisdom based economic, if you will. And it is no longer about what, you know, how you have assembled all this, but what you do with what you know is getting more critical and more important, it is about the trust, the transparency conversations that you are having out there and being more human thought.

It is also about leaving the legacy and earning the respect of your community, that you have worked so hard to be.


And all of this does not just restrict to sales and marketing department. In fact, everybody in your organization can be on boarded for thought leadership in different capacities. And for those employees while listening in the executives of companies that listen in to this podcast, I will say that build your digital profile, showcase your experience, highlight the difference that you've made connect with the audience that you're serving, because thought leadership is your path to career security and being relevant. And bring out that vibrant company environment that you are a part of.

It is no longer really optional for those who want to create the path through business life. It is almost mandatory because today you are a part of this organizations, you are making a difference. So please showcase it to the digital world.

I hope this episode brought a lot of value and a different perspective to think how organizations can build Thought leadership. I'm really very passionate about thought leadership, building thought leadership for individuals and organizations. And I really welcome any questions or conversation points that you may have on this topic. And with that, I am at the end of this episode, I'm hoping to see you next episode with a lot more content and interesting perspectives. Till then take care.