3 ways a strategic approach to thought leadership can help your business grow

For too long, thought leadership has been housed under the content marketing umbrella. But what would happen if we were to take an approach many overseas organisations are, and place it under strategy?

At the end of the day that’s what thought leadership is about. Strategy. It involves taking a strategic position in your market, and considering all your activities in the light of advancing thinking and claiming authority in that space.

The benefits of thinking strategically when it comes to thought leadership are pronounced – from helping to establish your position in a busy market, to empowering better creative thinking amongst your team, to bringing in quality business leads. Let’s take a look at how it helps you do just that.

So what are the three top benefits of treating thought leadership as a strategic activity, rather than a marketing one?

1. Establish your positioning in a crowded space

In a busy industry, thought leadership can be the deciding factor for many people about who they choose to work with.

Thought leadership plays a part in defining your niche in your industry – that helps people identify you as an expert in that niche. If you’re doing something differently and better than others, your thought leadership will get that across, helping people to recognise the ways in which you lead the way.

In a 2020 Edelman study of decision-makers in B2B firms, 89% of decision-makers believe thought leadership can be effective in enhancing their perceptions of an organisation. 59% of them also said that an organisation’s thought leadership is a more trustworthy indicator of their capabilities and competencies than its marketing material or product sheets.

So thought leadership not only helps businesses establish their position, but also elevate it compared to other businesses in their industry. In a crowded market, thought leadership can be a way to get heard, and make an intelligent contribution that people actually want to hear – rather than unnecessary waffle.

2. Spark better thinking in your team

You’d be surprised at how thought leadership can have as much of an impact internally as it does externally.

Taking a strategic approach to thought leadership and embedding it in an organisation has a tremendous impact on helping a team think critically.

For example, at Intelligent Ink, we dedicate time every quarter to discussing what we want to achieve with both our ideas/method and our communications – setting a strategy for what we’ll focus on. Then, the team responsible for implementing thought leadership meets every fortnight to further develop our ideas and create content that can be shared.

In our experience, the Intelligent Ink team is more engaged, motivated and inspired when we’re thinking critically about our own thought leadership. As we develop the frameworks and models that our business relies on, or discuss how to communicate our ideas more effectively, we have great, constructive conversations. That’s often where the magic is!

Thought leadership is accumulative in nature – as you go, you gain more ideas, knowledge, and clarity. Getting the team involved and having intelligent conversations helps you think cohesively and work towards the same goal. Getting everyone involved also means you’ll get more diverse voices to the table, further strengthening your position.

3. Bring in better leads

Sharing your thinking can help get your ideas in front of a bigger audience. But more importantly, it gets your ideas and your business in front of a more engaged audience.

You could be an influencer and have a massive audience. But if that audience isn’t excited and inspired by your thinking and what you do, it’s unlikely that they’ll actually turn into clients.

By doing the work to own a unique thought leadership position, the leads you do get will be more primed to work with you. Those who come to you will (hopefully!) have read your articles, attended a webinar, watched some videos, or tried out your method – making them familiar with your style. Your content will do a good portion of the qualification process in advance, while making sure you’ve got leads raring to go.

Taking a thought leadership position also has another clear strategic benefit – you’ll be able to charge a premium. In the Edelman study we mentioned earlier, 42% of B2B firm decision-makers agreed they’d be willing to pay a premium to work with an organisation that produces thought leadership compared to those that don’t. Thought leadership puts you ahead of the competition, meaning you can start charging what you are really worth.

In saying all this, leads don’t just appear out of thin air as soon as you start producing thought leadership content. It’s important to have a plan about when you want to bring people into your business for one-on-one work and make opportune offerings at that time.

Is there a time of year when you really want more leads and work? Plan a webinar a few weeks earlier, get people into your database while you’re at it, and then make an offer for people to reach out. Say you’ve got a new framework you want someone to try, or you have extra space in a particular programme – choose key times to promote your offerings, be specific and precise about what you are offering, and you’ll prime people to work with you on whatever you want to do more of.

Taking the strategic approach

When organisations see thought leadership as a type of content marketing, they hold themselves back from realising its true potential.

When thought leadership is approached strategically, the return on investment becomes so much clearer. You can elevate your impact, empower your team to think more deeply and more critically, and you bring in better leads to your business.

So, what’s holding you back from embedding thought leadership into your business strategy?