Thought leadership is the marketing buzz phrase of 2012. Everyone operating in the B2B field is looking to put together a thought leadership strategy so they can be the shining light in their particular niche; the go-to-guys in their speciality; the true authority on whatever it is they do exactly. If you haven’t made concrete your thought leadership (or TL for short) goals and plans you could feel like you’ve turned up late to the party. Fear not, for in this post I’ll give you 5 tips to ensure that you’re catapulted into the position of thinker-in-chief in your sector.

But first, let’s clarify exactly what thought leadership is…

What is thought leadership?

In a nutshell, thought leadership is a phrase some marketing whizz-kid made up to make it seem like they invented a particular form of content marketing. For that’s all being a ‘thought leader’ really consists of: producing content of a high quality that appeals to your target audience and promoting that content really well so that it gains traction and drives traffic to your website, conversions, sales etc.

Where thought leadership differs from your run of the mill content marketing is that your content and tone are designed to position your company as an authority in your field. In other words, you produce content that no one else can produce; you fill knowledge gaps that no one else can fill; answer questions no one else can answer (or at least that’s what you want your target audience to believe).

The tips

1.    Work out what you’re good at

Every business is an expert in their field – you know more about what you do than 99.9% of the rest of the population – but you approach what you do in a particular way that marks you out from your competitors. This is your thought leadership sweet-spot. Whether it’s after sales care or guiding customers through complex purchasing decisions, finding unusual applications for your products or working with community organisations, there’s something your company does that no other company does, or does as well. That’s the territory you need to start marking out as your own – that’s where you live, that’s what you’re going to be an expert on.

2.    Mine your data

Over the years that you’ve been in business you’ve collected a lot of data – records of sales and enquiries, prices, costs of raw materials etc – which people in your industry will be very interested in. As well as this you have a huge database of customers whom you can survey using a free tool like Survey Monkey. If you can find the stories in amongst all this data that will capture the imagination of your target audience, or fill a gap in their knowledge, then you can produce a great piece of content that’s worthy of sharing and which will earn you brand kudos, links and social shares.

3.    Repurpose, recycle and reuse

Don’t waste your assets. That great chunk of data, that revolutionary idea, that fantastic infographic you produced shouldn’t just be encapsulated in one piece of content and left to gather dust. Different content types appeal to different types of people so why not make a video that walks people through that whitepaper you authored? Why not follow up that infographic with a blog post that analyses a particular aspect of it? Why not poll your blog readers on their opinions of it?The more ways you can use a particular ‘asset’ the more users will come across it and the more chances it will have of propagating through the online space.

4.    Start promoting before you publish

The most heinous crime of content marketing is not promoting your content adequately. That awesome piece of content that took you ages to nurture withers on the vine when starved of the oxygen of publicity. We all know that great content should be backed up by social media promotion, supplemental blog posts, direct contact with key people in your industry, inclusion in email newsletters, promotional spots on your homepage and anything else you can think of to make sure it gets in front of as many people as possible. What you might not know is that this process should start before you release the content. You could contact key bloggers in your field to whet their appetites or even offer them an exclusive sneak-peek, start a social media campaign with teaser facts or even pre-promote your new killer content on your blog. Pre-promotion will prepare the ground for your release, getting people ready to consume and share, and make sure your content gets off to the best possible start.

5.    Plan, plan, plan but be flexible

Thought leadership is all about filling a content gap for your audience, about providing them with the content they need but which only you can offer. In order to be successful at this, in order that your audience comes to trust you as an authoritative source for such content, you need to publish regularly. That means planning and putting together a content schedule that helps you build momentum. But also bear in mind that this is also a process of discovery and that you should always be looking for the next piece of killer content. That means listening to your audience: the feedback on your existing content, the social media sentiment, the blog comments, the poll results. Out of all this noise could emerge a great new line of enquiry for you to follow up which leads to the exact content that your audience are crying out for. In other words, plan like crazy but don’t marry yourself to any one particular idea or theme.