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With the rise of content marketing, thought leadership has become increasingly popular, especially in technology and consulting. Thought leadership pieces provide a great way to demonstrate your knowledge while providing added value to clients and customers. But, despite the benefits that great thought leadership can provide, many go about creating thought leadership pieces all wrong.

The simple fact is that great thought leadership is not easy to create. Yet many companies want to jump into thought leadership creation with no concrete goals, objectives or prior planning. The result is often muddled pieces that don’t deliver a consistent return on investment.
To create a white paper, article or other thought leadership piece that delivers real value, it’s important to invest some up-front time and effort to develop a plan. Here are the five critical steps that can help you create great thought leadership:

  1. Establish your business objectives.
    Many individuals approach thought leadership with a great idea for a topic. Instead of diving in, take a step back and consider: what are you trying to achieve? The fact of the matter is, without giving thought to your goals, you aren’t likely to achieve much of anything. Some common goals that can drive the creation of thought leadership pieces could include attracting new clients or making sales, gaining press attention, or establishing your reputation in a new space. By considering and documenting your specific goals, you will not only get yourself pointed in the right direction but also give yourself a “true north” that you can revisit throughout the creation process to ensure that you stay on track.
  2. Identify your KPIs.
    Once you have clear objectives, you need a way to measure your success. If your goal is to generate press attention, for example, your success measure may be as simple as having your results published in a well-known industry publication. If your goal is to generate new leads, your KPI may be the number of meetings you make to discuss your results with prospects. Setting clear KPIs or success measures up front will not only give you a target to aim for, but also create a tangible way of gauging the value of your efforts.
  3. Determine the type of thought leadership that will be valuable to you and your target audience.
    The first step here is to clearly identify your target audience. This isn’t about demographics so much as psychographics: what is your target audience interested in, and what will help them in their business? The second step is to consider the value for you and your organization. All too often I see thought leadership pieces that provide free value to the target audience, while having little to no bearing on the producing company’s product or service offering. The needs of the target audience should be balanced against the size/scope of your specific objectives and the amount of time/effort you are willing to devote to achieving those objectives. Choose the type of thought leadership—be it a whitepaper, article, webinar, conference presentation or other piece—accordingly.
  4. Identify the topic.
    The right topic isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, the place to start is talking with people in your sales team. Sales people are close enough to the customer to understand what prospects will find helpful while still being mindful of your company goals. Next, do some secondary research to see where white space exists in the market. It’s hard to achieve your objective if your piece is treading over ground your competitors have walked before. Take a look at what your company and competitors have published in the past, and examine current trends to see what people in your industry are talking about. In the social media age, it’s particularly important to identify a topic that fits into an ongoing dialog in your industry. Before finalizing your topic, also give some thought to shelf life. Is the time and effort expenditure worthwhile if the piece will seem dated within a few months?
  5. Develop a hypothesis.
    Only once you have completed the first four steps are you ready to develop your hypothesis, or the piece’s unique point of view. This should be a distinctive position that you are trying to prove or disprove in support of your business objective. Make sure that your hypothesis is both linked to your company’s abilities, products or services, and that the discussion of your topic will be relevant to your clients or prospects.

Now you’re ready to begin!

I know, this sounds like a lot of work—but creating truly distinctive thought leadership takes energy and careful planning. And, if done well, a good white paper can go a long way to establishing credibility, driving loyalty, and generating new revenue for your company.