Thought Leadership: What It Is, Why You Should Care & How It Can Build Your Brand

thought leadership blog post

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The phrase “thought leadership” brings out mixed reactions. Some people love the idea of thought leadership. Some people think its overrated. In 2013 Forbes bestowed the title of “Most Annoying  Business Slang” to the term thought leadership. But, annoying or not, we still gotta talk about thought leadership because it really does matter. This term actually goes back all the way til 1887, when a guy named Henry Ward Beecher coined the term. So the Oxford English Dictionary defines thought leadership as “intellectual influence and innovation or pioneering thinking.”

Blah, blah, blah, right? What does any of that even mean?

At MeetEdgar, we see thought leadership as the biggest differentiator in your business. Thought leadership can help you turn a passive community into a highly engaged and tight-knit audience who is ready and willing to buy anything that you put out there,  sing your praises from the rooftops and become your raving fans.

Here’s how you can tap into your unique thought leadership and start sharing it with the world.

Identify Your Stories

Thought leadership is all about embracing your uniqueness. It feels a little awkward to teach because I can’t teach you about you. Only you can do that. And you’re never really going to feel whole and confident about calling yourself a “thought leader” unless you actually take the time to do a little self-reflection on your values and what makes you unique.

Telling you to go journal something might sound like a funny business practice but it will help because self-reflection will ensure your personal brand aligns with all of your values. Because, you see, thought leadership is all about taking a proven concept and putting your own spin on it and how are you going to go ahead and put your own spin on a proven concept unless you know what that spin is?

Take some time to write out some personal values and a personal mission statement. These can be absolutely different from the ones that you’ve established for your business. Because as a thought leader it’s not just going to go into how people see your business, it’s also about personal branding.

It’s about digging really deep into your personal stories and seeing them as something that’s happened for you rather than happened to you. Your stories, whether they’re stories of struggle or triumph, are how you are going to carve out a unique niche in your industry.

thought leadership

Weave Your Stories into Your Industry

Once you’ve done some self-reflecting on your values and your own unique stories, it’s time to start weaving these stories into established concepts in your industry. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be a thought leader. Thought leadership is about telling our personal stories around established concepts, so the people who are actually going to resonate with our story over someone else’s, are able to process these concepts in a way that relates to their life. It’s all about aligning your stories with your audiences’ stories. The more aligned you are with your customer, the more likely they are to connect with you.

thought leadership quote align with your audience

Our brains are wired to love stories. We love that story arc of a hero’s journey, that zero to hero, beginning, middle, end structure fits in really well for how we actually relate to the world. Write out some of the more defining and personal stories that have happened in your life, and think about how you can weave these into some concepts that might be able to hit someone in a way that makes them say, “Wow, I’ve never thought about that perspective before.”

Thought leadership is showing people what is possible, and moving them to take action because you convince them that you’ve done this before, they relate to you, and you’ve done this before, so it’s not a scary thing, and that they too can have the outcome that you’ve achieved.

How can you inspire someone to take action and make a change in their life, through a story? Once you have an idea,  apply it to a proven concept in your industry that you’re trying to teach people.

Overcome Your Fears

“Your fear does not make you special.” This might sound a little harsh but it’s true. Our fears of not being good enough or feeling ready hold many of us back from wanting to be thought leaders in our industry. But those fears aren’t unique to you. We are all afraid. What makes you special is stepping up to that challenge. It is much easier to follow the status quo. But the world doesn’t need the status quo. It needs you to step up on your platform.

Think about the options available to you today. You have free social media platforms where you can get your thought leadership message out. It has never been easier in the history of the world to connect with people who need to hear your story. These are truly unique spaces that we can make a difference. If you look at them in that right light, it’s an amazing thing.

Remember this isn’t about you. Your thought leadership is about making sure you are pushing the industry forward and gaining a niche in your industry. If you hit resistance, when you’re first trying this out, know that that’s okay, and that’s actually a sign that you’re doing things right.

So remind yourself that when resistance hits, it’s a good sign that you’ve struck in the right course of action in your thought leadership there. You really want to make sure that you don’t lead people into something that everyone already agrees on anyway because that’s not going to get you a lot of attention.

Start Before You Feel Ready

What is it in your industry that you think about a little bit differently? Or what is it that might even sound a little polarizing to say, but you truly believe deeply in, and you truly see this aligning with your values? That is your secret sauce to your thought leadership and to your growth.

Where does this start? It’s about knowing your values, both your company values, and your personal values. The coolest thing about the internet and social media is that you can put a message out there before you create a business. So if you know you want to build your brand but you’re not exactly sure which direction to go, you can start building an audience online before you build a business.

A lot of course creators do this with their courses. They’ll title a course and create the module outline and before filming any of it, they’ll put that course for sale. They’ll see the feedback and if people sign up for the course, then they’ll start filming it and putting it into action to actually make it. But they don’t want to make it until they understand if there is some traction for people actually wanting to buy it. If you build out a whole 10-hour course and no one buys it, your 10 hours were wasted, right? That’s also the beauty of being a thought leader online is, you can test out what messages are resonating first and once you find something that’s hit a little bit of traction, run with that, and go all in there.

Become acquainted with your values, journal about them, and make sure every message you’re putting out there really follows that. But the messages themselves, and the courses or whatever it is you’re creating, can be a little bit different. MeetEdgar’s founder, Laura Roeder, really shows the power of being a thought leader in her story. Laura put herself out there sharing how social media can be used for businesses. She was an educator first. She gained a community who latched onto the way she used social media in an evergreen fashion and once she pivoted from being a course educator into being someone who was a SaaS CEO, her followers from her initial business and her initial community followed and purchased from her, because they trusted her message and her thought leadership.

What your business starts out as, or what it is today might not be where it ends up, but your community members could still be with you. And that, again, goes into making sure your thought leadership message is true and unique to who you are, not necessarily to who your business is. So there’s a subtle distinction there. But if you think about that a little bit, I promise it’ll make more sense to you.

Choose to be more obsessed with your customer than you are with your product or your service. That is going to make sure that you’re out-caring others in your industry, and that you’re showing how passionate you are about your thought leadership. No one wants to follow someone who’s just lukewarm on the message they’re putting out there. We want to follow people who are 100% passionate and bought into their own message.

I learned this idea of becoming obsessed with your customer from one of my very first jobs at a company called Craftsy. It’s an online education company. They focus purely on quilting and knitting now but when they started, they actually started with finance classes. They built this beautiful platform for online learning and they thought they were going to teach people about finances. But the more they started listening to their customers and paying attention to their industry, they realized there was an opportunity in crafting. Quilting is a billion-dollar industry and when they made that pivot, it wasn’t necessarily because they were really passionate about quilting. The company was actually run by four men who had never picked up a quilting needle in their life. They made that pivot because they listened to the customer base.

When you focus on your audience, rather than your product or service, it is 100% easier to have your thought leadership about your industry reach the right people. Going a little bit further on this, you really want to make sure that you’re focusing your thought leadership on making an impact rather than making money. With the Craftsy example, they realized that their platform could make a much bigger impact to this audience who was hungry to learn about crafting. In Laura’s case, her audience was hungry for a tool like she was using for her own social media business.  If you align making an impact in your industry and becoming obsessed with your customers, this is where the money is going to start to roll in.

Practice Makes Perfect

Practice crafting your thought leadership message right now. Right now is the perfect time to get started. No one is expecting perfection right now, right? We are going through something as a collective human race right now that gives us all a bit of leniency. If you’re not comfortable on camera, rest assured no one is going to expect perfection. If you were on my live stream yesterday, you heard my dog barking up a storm when the doorbell rang. I had to get up and get it. That’s okay. Life does not end. And that is a relatable experience that people working from home are going through right now.

Don’t let these little things hold you back from getting your message out there. The coolest thing about being a thought leader was summed up in a Forbes article: “An individual or a firm has significantly more profits from individuals in that company being recognized as thought leaders.” It’s not necessarily that the company was recognized as a thought leader or even the CEO. It was other individuals in that company being seen as thought leaders in their own personal brand.

If you are someone who has employees under you, empower them to be their own thought leaders in their roles, and this is going to attract more customers to you. And it’s going to just position your brand as one that is going to be at the forefront of your entire business. So it is a really, really cool way for you to be able to not only get your own personal brand message out there, but to help with your company’s as well.

We want to hear your thoughts on thought leadership! Share them with us in the comments below.

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