5 Essential Elements for Your Thought-Leadership Program

Thought leadership offers sweet appeal for the C-suite. Done right, it elevates the brand, positions individual executives at the pinnacle of their fields, attracts more business, and increases revenue.

Thought leadership is effective because people only want to work with those they know and trust. We’re all naturally inclined to ask for recommendations whenever we need something – whether it’s a handyman for our home or the AI technology to improve business efficiency. 

If you’re consistently delivering high-quality products and services, you’ll earn references easily, but it’s likely not going to be enough to keep your sales pipeline full. You need to earn trust in another key way: by sharing your ideas, insights, achievements, and expertise. 

Those tasked with making all this magic happen know building credibility through thought leadership isn’t simple or fast. It requires quite a lot of brain-breaking work, resources, and time. 

In my experience, the five essential elements of a successful thought-leadership program are: a unique point of view, proof of innovation, an integrated communications plan, an ability to “newsjack,” and a willingness to use subject matter experts as spokespeople. The brands most often labeled as “visionary” are the ones whose programs tick all of the following boxes. 

1. Define your distinct POV. 

To stand out in a noisy world – where all your competitors are providing similar products and services – your unique ideas, insights, and knowledge are what sets you and your business apart. But you do have a secret weapon: a particular point of view about how to achieve success in your field now and in the future.

For instance, I run a content marketing agency. Our area of expertise is creating thought leadership through high-quality content, and I have a unique POV on how to do that. I believe it takes a team – at a minimum, a project manager, a writer, an editor, and a proofreader. At the same time, I’m also constantly looking to the future. Right now, I’m really paying attention to (and talking about) Generative AI and how it will change our work. 

Your distinct POV should include what sets you apart today along with a view on where your industry is heading and how your organization is leading the charge. 

2. Build your rep on innovation proof points.

The ideas and insights you share should be shaped by your experience and expertise. It’s not enough to claim to be innovative. You have to prove it.

The word “innovative” is so overused that it has become a cliche. True thought leaders are able to deliver the word with real punch. If you have a groundbreaking product, prove it with data and facts. For example, if you’ve invented the very first widget, talk about your patent. If you’re the only one in your industry to use AI to build a new widget, talk about how it works and the clients who use it.

Maybe you’ve built the latest state-of-the-art tech or you have subject matter experts with unmatched experience. Perhaps you’ve distinguished yourself with excellent customer service. These are all valuable proof points that support your thought-leadership claim. 

3. Amplify your thought-leadership POV.

Content marketing and public relations usually take the lead in producing your organization’s thought leadership. Sometimes, though, thought leadership programs don’t extend far beyond these teams. The most successful programs take the time to ingrain messaging throughout the organization and encourage every team and employee to promote it externally. 

For example:

  • Content marketing publishes and shares internally.
  • Internal communications educates employees through office-wide meetings. (Let’s give a shout out to those informative coffee and breakfast meetings with subject matter experts!)
  • Sales integrates the talking points into pitches.
  • Demand generation keeps a steady cadence to reinforce messages with customers and prospects. 
  • Public relations secures media interviews and places bylined articles. 
  • Event planning finds speaking slots for your subject matter experts. 
  • Every employee shares the latest in thought leadership on their own social media feeds.

When everyone is speaking the same language, results are astonishing.

4. Always be relevant.

Pay attention to news and trends in your industry, and use every opportunity to share your POV.

When industry news develops, you don’t have to be first to comment, but you should be early. Cultivate relationships with the media, so you’re the first they reach out to about breaking news or emerging trends. Be a loud voice on social media. 

Don’t be afraid to be contrary. Thought leaders should spark vigorous debate, but… be sure to keep it civil.

5. Line up your army of SMEs.

Chances are, your thought leadership edge isn’t the result of one single person –

but many. Subject matter experts often play pivotal roles in driving innovation across your company. They might be a product designer who always implements cutting-edge ideas that are wildly successful. Or they might be your head of HR, who is reimagining the workplace in a way that attracts energetic talent, who – in turn – will drive more groundbreaking ideas. 

Define your thought leadership more broadly than the CEO. Take advantage of subject matter experts and allow them to speak on topics relevant to their area. This approach will give you more avenues for content ideas and more opportunities to talk about how special your organization is.

Make the Magic Happen

I’ve seen this integrated approach to thought leadership work exceptionally well. It will establish your organization as a pioneer and a visionary with fresh and original ideas. You’ll be known as knowledgeable and trustworthy, the very qualities that motivate people to buy from you.

5 Essential Elements for Your Thought-Leadership Program
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Diane Thieke

As the CEO and co-founder of Version A, I’m responsible for strategy and vision, as well as team and client happiness. My experience in journalism, public relations, and marketing proves I’ve built a career out of the things I’m most passionate about – curiosity, writing, media, and tech. I’m surrounded by smart, cool, creative professionals, so I’ve never been bored, had the Monday blues, or wanted to trade in the corporate job for the life of an author. Okay – that last one is a lie. #amwriting
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