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How to Turn Your Brand into an Industry Thought Leader

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Make Your Expertise Known with a Thought Leadership Content Strategy for Your Brand

I know what you’re thinking. “If my brand is producing content, isn’t all of it thought leadership?”

After all, you’re a leader in your industry and you know how to share the knowledge that got you there.

But while the content you’re producing is rooted in your expertise, it’s the strategy behind your content that turns your brand into a thought leader. Because if your content isn’t being seen by the right people, your target audience won’t know how your knowledge can help them.

Show Your Target Audience How Smart You Are

Thought leadership is what happens when you put your audience first and revolve your content efforts around them, leveraging the subject matter experts (thought leaders) within your company to execute quality content. To do all of this right, you have to be careful to avoid the two mistakes many brands make when it comes to content marketing:

  1. Making it all about you. Think about a time when you turned to Google for general information. I’m willing to bet you skipped right over anything that seemed like an ad or a marketing pitch for a service and clicked on the first article that looked like genuine, helpful information. Your audience will behave the same way. Therefore, you want to publish content that provides the information your audience needs–without trying to sell them something.
  2. Not thinking like your audience. It can be difficult to take a step back from your business and understand that what may seem interesting to you may not be interesting to your audience. One of the most important elements of a thought leadership strategy is understanding what your audience wants and needs so you can deliver content that matters to them–even if it’s different from what you think they would care about.

With these two common mistakes in mind, there are 6 key steps you should follow to develop and execute an effective thought leadership content strategy.

Step 1. Identify Your Audience

You may have a general idea of your target audience, but if you’re going to be writing content that you want your audience to find so useful that they share it and come back for more, you should know some specific information about them.

  • Demographics: Where do they live? What age group or groups do they fall into? Are they mostly female or mostly male? Or both? What types of careers are they in? Knowing these details will help you make important, strategic decisions about your content to ensure you’re resonating with everyone in your target audience.
  • Psychographics: Assess your audience’s behavior. Take a look at your website analytics to see how they’re interacting with your site. Knowing what pages and types of content generate the most activity will help you narrow down your approach to your thought leadership content strategy.
  • Other Details: Don’t let the label of this bullet point fool you. Other information is just as critical as demographics and psychographics. For example, there’s a big difference between the way a CEO behaves and makes decisions versus a sales manager at the same company. You might want to target your C-suite audiences with more growth-driven thought leadership content to make an investment argument for your service, while you produce outcome-driven thought leadership content for your middle-management audiences to demonstrate how your product or service can alleviate their daily on-the-job pain points.

Step 2. Perk Up Your Ears

Kick-off your thought leadership content strategy by listening. You want to have a clear understanding of what both your audience and competitors are talking about, reading, and sharing on social media, in publications, and on websites or forums. It may sound like a huge undertaking, and it does require some time and attention, but it’s a highly effective way to identify the types of content your audience wants and areas where your brand can insert itself meaningfully into the conversations they’re already having.

Here are 3 basic steps you can follow to conduct your own listening exercise and identify the topics that carry the most impact in your industry:

  1. Generate a list of target keywords based on your industry and your knowledge of “buzzwords” and other terms your audience might care about and be searching for. Try to identify long-tail keywords, which can be highly valuable in driving traffic to your content; for example, “cybersecurity managed services” rather than just “cybersecurity”.
  2. Using the Google AdWords Keyword tool, plug your keywords into the form to identify search volume data.Using Google AdWords
  3. Select the keywords that make sense for your content. In our cybersecurity managed services example, the search volume is high because it’s a competitive industry with a lot of monthly searches. In this case, keywords with higher volume but lower competition are ideal. If you’re in a niche industry, you may find your keyword volumes are much lower – use them anyways, because you will be targeting the individuals you know are interested in your specific offering. Google AdWords Results
  4. Listen to your competitors. You can conduct Google searches and website searches using your target keywords to see what content exists in industry publications or on your competitors’ websites. These searches help you determine whether you’re playing in a crowded space or if there are gaps you can fill with your strategic content. You may also discover that your competitors are creating thought leadership content about other topics you hadn’t thought of.

If you find you don’t have the resources to conduct this type of exercise, digital agencies like Fishnet are prepared to execute listening exercises and provide far more in-depth data around keyword performance to help kick-start your thought leadership content strategy.

Step 3. Generate a Content Strategy

Now that you have a list of keywords that will increase your searchability, an idea of what your competitors are writing about, and how you can effectively enter the conversation, you can combine this knowledge with your audience information to drive your content generation strategy.

Going back to our example using the cybersecurity managed services provider, let’s say you know your target audience for this service includes both C-suite executives, such as chief technology officers, at Fortune 500 companies, as well as IT directors at smaller companies. Your content strategy might include high-level service briefs that emphasize why your service is a smart business decision for the C-suite audience (who likely have limited time to digest a lot of information and are most concerned with their bottom line and overall company success) as well as more in-depth whitepapers or eBooks explaining more about how your services work, and how they make life easier for your audience.

Step 4. Decide on a Content Execution Strategy

It doesn’t have to be daunting to create different types of content. Start with the goal of creating one piece that’s appropriate for each audience in one stage of the buyer journey, and weave additional pieces in other buyer journey stages into your ongoing content strategy.

Be creative in your content formats. Blog posts are great, but webinars, infographics, guides, quizzes, whitepapers, videos, and interactive content are all effective and help provide a differentiating experience for your audiences.

Be careful not to plan the format of your content before coming up with a topic. It’s best to let the topic determine the format–for instance, even though you might not have published a blog post in a while, your idea for a piece of content that details the main components of your latest cybersecurity software may be better suited as an infographic.

Many businesses also choose to generate content for outreach and syndication. If you make a list of industry publications in which you’d like your content to be featured, you can send your content to the appropriate contacts to see if it will get published. Getting published in reputable publications helps get more eyeballs on your content and increases your status as an industry thought leader.

Step 5. Get Social

Social media can’t be overlooked as part of any thought leadership content strategy. Depending on the industry you’re in, you may think social media is less important or impactful, but the truth is, it is always a good idea. Social media helps businesses in several ways:

  • It allows brands to show a more human side since there’s more flexibility with post content as compared to the messaging on websites or branded materials.
  • It provides targeting methods on a relatively cheap budget, allowing you to get your content in front of more users, thus increasing brand awareness.
  • It opens up new avenues for your brand to connect with like-minded companies and individuals. If there are other industry thought leaders you already like and admire, follow them on social media and pay attention to what they’re saying. When you have something to say, don’t be afraid to jump in with a comment or a related piece of content your company produced. It’s a great way to elevate your status as an industry thought leader and get more attention on your content through shares and likes.

Be sure to stay on top of your new social connections and any engagement that results from sharing your content. Nothing cools brand loyalty faster than being silent during a thoughtful conversation on social media.

Step 6: Follow Through

A thought leadership content strategy is truly an ongoing process that requires dedication and effort from everyone at your company. Many businesses struggle with getting employees to create content, but an ideal thought leadership campaign involves published content by (or input from) individuals who are experts in their field.

In many cases, businesses will outsource content creation to agencies with talented writers who can generate thought leadership content for you. In these situations, you may wish to have the agency interview your thought leaders to provide expert information without the responsibility of execution. You would typically only have to provide simple edits to the content before it can be used.

You are in business because you have specific, unique knowledge of your industry. Put that knowledge in front of people who can benefit, and who can give you the ROI you deserve.