What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘thought leadership’? Frankly, it’s all too easy to misunderstand the concept and how it could relate to your B2B branding. Too often people mistakenly think the phrase refers to some sort of wunderkind on the order of a Steve Jobs or Jack Welch. Or they belittle the concept as some type of hollow, self-promoting blimp.

Here we have David Brooks of “The New York Times” poking fun at thought leaders:

“The Thought Leader is sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler… Month after month, he gets to be a discussion facilitator at think tank dinners where guests talk about what it’s like to live in poverty while the wait staff glides through the room thinking bitter thoughts.”

Well that’s one way of looking at it… we beg to differ.

When executed correctly, thought leadership is a valuable way of branding yourself and your company. It allows people to feel comfortable with your firm even if you’re a small business in your industry and not the market leader. After all, if you had a choice to buy a pricey electronics gizmo from a no-name company or one with an established name, who would you buy from?

What Is Thought Leadership?

Now I know I’m opening myself up to the thought leader protection brigade, but here goes:

Becoming a thought leader in your industry doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily the smartest kid on the block. Or even the most knowledgeable. It does mean that you’re the most receptive and understanding of your customers’ needs. And strategic and tactical in educating customers and prospects.

One of my favorite thought leadership examples is that of Marcus Sheridan, who seemingly arose from nothing to become a web and content marketing maven and motivational speaker.

Sheridan, an owner of River Pools and Spas, was hitting a rough patch in 2009 and had overdrawn the company’s bank account on three consecutive weeks. Realizing he needed to do something different, he started blogging. But he didn’t just blog for the sake of blogging – he responded to customers’ questions strategically, answering the biggest questions they had – or at least posing the questions.

He thereby secured top rank in the search engines for the answers to the questions most often on customers’ minds. Suddenly, River Pools was the authority on fiberglass pools. His approach has worked with revenues now exceeding what they were before the downturn and Sheridan being hailed as a web marketing guru.

Now, Sheridan is an extreme case; most of us are not going to become as well known – nor do we necessarily need to be that well known to succeed. However, you can distinguish yourself in your respective field and go, as we like to say, “from anonymity to the New York Times.’

How You Can Enhance your B2B Branding with Thought Leadership

It’s time to take the leap from anonymity to thought leader! Check out these 11 ways to pump up your personal brand:

  1. Develop and share a coherent, compelling story – What makes your company tick? How do you delight your customers? What sets you apart from the pack?
    Pro Tip: Don’t be too generic or bland. Focus on your differentiation factors.
  2. Get on the podium – Getting yourself on panels at industry conferences is one of the best ways to snag some attention and attract decision makers.
    Pro Tip: Try to present with a client/customer. Not only will it make you more appealing to conference organizers, but nothing sells you better than a happy customer.
  3. Evaluate your content marketing strategy – Produce blogs, articles, columns, videos, and other content that educate and speak to customers’ needs while also establishing your expertise. Not sure how to do that? Check out our post 6 Ways to Rock at B2B Content Creation.
    Pro Tip: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Repurpose content for different media.
  4. Follow influential journalists, bloggers, and thought leaders on Twitter – Develop lists of key reporters, editors, bloggers, and industry thought leaders. Follow them, engage with them, and retweet their posts.
    Pro Tip: is a good place to find journalists.
  5. Don’t just tout your product or service – Develop key messages that answer the question – Why should anyone care?
    Pro Tip: Don’t think about why you care. It’s about why your customers care.
  6. Speak in plain English – Avoid corporate catchphrases and obscuring your message by using industry jargon and talking “inside baseball.”
    Pro Tip: Do the mom test. If your mother or another non-industry-savvy person understands what you’re saying, you’re speaking straight.
  7. Tell an exciting story – Use compelling elements such as data, visuals, and infographics to illustrate your points.
    Pro Tip: Use these elements strategically to advance your story, not just to sex it up.
  8. Be newsworthy – Tie what you’re doing to a current piece of news, especially if it’s in your sector or a target vertical market. Pitch your article to business and trade publications.
    Pro Tip: Monitor key websites for items you can comment on.
  9. Get others to tell your story – Gather and promote testimonials, case studies, and white papers from partners and clients.
    Pro Tip: Promote this on social media calling out customers and partners.
  10. Expand your circle of influence – Don’t just limit yourself to a blog post. Tweet about it. Create a video addressing some of the questions. Post in other social media channels. You want to be everywhere your customer and prospect is.
    Pro Tip: Use a tool like Hootsuite to post on multiple platforms.
  11. Curate content – Provide a quick synopsis of articles in your industry. Post links to the articles in social media in addition to blogging about them.
    Pro Tip: Don’t just post links. Add your unique perspective to the content you curate.

Are you ready to power up your own B2B branding for 2016? Start by organizing your content with our FREE Editorial Calendar!