“Thought leadership” is one of the most over-used phrases in technology marketing.
Everyone wants it. Most are trying to get it. Very few have it.
If you’re in the first two camps, here are a few lessons from the third:
- Thought leadership is earned, not published. We hear from a lot of marketers that they are creating “thought leadership content.” They typically use the term to distinguish from “demand generation content.” Unfortunately, the idea tricks them into believing that simply publishing a story or an opinion *is* thought leadership. Au contraire. If no one reads the story, shares the opinion or debates the idea, all you have is a thought with no leadership. Yes, you need to develop your ideas and publish smart thinking – but you also need to cultivate your relationships, activate your channels, and consistently engage the market to earn the leadership part.
- Thought leadership is personal, not corporate. The other frequent mistake we see is trying to build thought leadership “for the company.” The reality is that thought leadership is personal – it may accrue to an organization, but it manifests through an individual. Consider Elon Musk and Marc Benioff. Love him or hate him, Elon has earned his thought leadership on a variety of topics due to his provocative thinking and active use of Twitter. His opinions are anything but corporate, and people don’t say “look at what Tesla said.” Same for Marc in the B2B realm, where Salesforce launched with a bold proposition about the “end of software” – and Marc continues to drive the agenda in both software and corporate citizenship with his bold thinking and visionary leadership.
- Thought leadership starts with POV, not product. This may be the hardest one for many tech leaders, especially those with a product focus or engineering background. Most of their time is spent building a fantastic product – and working with customers to sell, deploy and manage said product (or service). Unfortunately, product doesn’t make for good conversation. Ideas and opinions do. Problems and solutions do. What’s wrong in the market? What are people missing? How should developers fix problem X? How should CIOs think about the latest innovation? How should CISOs address the latest threat? That’s how you drive conversation and grab attention in a crowded market. That’s how you build relevance, credibility and authority.
What other lessons have you learned in your quest for thought leadership? What barriers are in your way?