You may have heard that every snowflake is different and it's true—no matter how many billions of them fall from the sky, no two are ever the same.
It's similar with thought leadership. Yes, you can create "me too" content that sounds like everyone else's—but there's no reason to settle for that. We help your company and its executives find their own voice and to share perspectives and advice that come from experience—and from the heart. Once you get the hang of it, you'll realize you have a lot more to say than you thought.
And don't worry about having "big ideas," either. Small ideas, and even just practical how-to advice, may be just what your buyer is looking for.
The most successful programs focus on quality over quantity. An Edelman study recently found that while more than half of the business decision-makers it surveyed spent over an hour each week reading thought leadership content, only 15% percent considered the content they consumed to be of "high quality." That's a formula for a lot of disappointment for your customers and prospects — and a lot of wasted time for you.
How do you stand out with thought leadership? Not by posting more content than everyone else, but by seeming smarter than everyone else. Your content will be deemed high quality if it is highly attuned to the needs, desires, interests and predispositions of your target audience. The more you've researched your audience, the better you will know them and the smarter your content will seem to them. That's the key to success.
The term "thought leadership" gets thrown around a lot, but so much of what people consider thought leadership isn’t. At best, it’s barely disguised product collateral, and if you’re looking to use content to build trust with an audience that’s not what you need. High-quality thought leadership isn’t about you or what your products can do for those who use them. It’s about something bigger. It’s about building trust with the reader and creating affinity for your brand. How do you know if you’re creating high-quality thought leadership? It’s going to have most or all of these 26 traits—what we at Jacob Media Holding call the ABCs of thought leadership.
Hover over each tile in this multimedia presentation to reveal them.
Whether you call them guest posts, contributed articles or bylined articles, creating articles under your name for third-party publications is an important tool in building visibility and trust. Viewing guest posts through the Grow With TRUST framework, we specifically use this tool to generate trust for our clients in three ways:
Bylines bring visibility to our clients’ thought leadership, and thought leadership builds trust;
Publishing a byline in a well-known publication, like Fast Company, the Harvard Business Review or top industry outlets, delivers the benefit of third-party validation, because that outlet confers trust on our clients by choosing to publish their content;
Guest posts -- especially those with links to our clients’ websites -- can yield important benefits for search presence, and high visibility in Google also builds trust.
For this reason, we think of bylined article strategy as a three-legged stool. Without ensuring that each of these legs is in place, your guest post program will likely collapse -- or at least not achieve the results you are hoping for. Your best course is to focus on creating quality articles, placing them in the right outlets, and only including links that are clearly designed to help the reader.
Because the modest annual investment earns you the opportunity to publish as many as 10 to 12 articles per year with your byline on the Forbes website. These articles appear in Google News results and in LinkedIn's Mentioned in the News, bringing the authority and trust that come with those placements. There is also the opportunity to appear as often as several times per month in "expert panels" -- roundup stories on topics relevant to your field.
The Forbes Councils model has been so successful that its creator, the Community Company, has launched similar programs with Newsweek, Rolling Stone and local business journals.
Forbes Councils and programs like it are very different from the advertorial approaches of days gone by. For this reason, we prefer to call Forbes Councils "special-access media" or even "earned media plus" rather than "sponsored content."
Two decades ago, sisters Jenniphr and Greer Goodman created a wonderful indie film called The Tao of Steve about a slovenly, underachieving kindergarten teacher named Dex who, despite his imperfections, had developed a surefire strategy for wooing women who most assumed were out of his league. As he explained to one of his astonished friends, the strategy — inspired by Dex's idol, '70s movie star Steve McQueen — was simple. It included three steps:
Be desireless. Focus on getting to know the person; don't make it about romance right away.
Be excellent. Prove your worthiness by showing off something you're really good at — juggling, card tricks, art history — whatever.
Be gone. Because, as Dex puts it, "We pursue that which retreats from us."
But Dex's tao (or method) makes sense for more than dating. At Jacob Media Holding, we believe it's also the best way for businesses to woo customers with thought leadership marketing. Here's how it works:
Be Desireless. Thought leadership is not about selling; it's about helping. If you can't separate the two in your mind when creating your content, you shouldn't bother creating it. Sharing interesting and useful information with those who come across your brand online is one of the best ways to establish rapport and build trust. It shows that you have more to offer the world than a product to sell. For top-of-the-funnel audiences, talking about your ideas more and your products less (or not at all) is the way to impress.
Be Excellent. How do you stand out with thought leadership? Not by posting more content than everyone else, but by seeming smarter than everyone else. Your content will be deemed excellent only when it is highly attuned to the needs, desires, interests and predispositions of your target audience. The more you've researched your audience, the better you will know them and the smarter your content will seem to them.
Be Gone. Because thought leadership marketing is mostly a top-of-the-funnel activity, your buyers usually aren't ready to buy when they come across your content. It may be a year or more before they are ready to replace that enterprise software, or can get out of their current service contract. So you will likely turn them off if you are too aggressive in your follow-up. Sign them up for your blog, retarget them with advertising as long as you're not too annoying about it, and then count on them to remember your desirelessness and excellence when the time comes.
In the battle for attention amid a growing glut of mediocre content, it might be tempting to be more salesy and aggressive to stand out from your competitors. But the better path is to be desireless, be excellent and be gone.