Thought leadership, that old marketing communications chestnut, needs a serious rethink.
In the before times, the essays and podcast interviews that you rolled out during launch to tout how your company’s new product or service solves a problem could help propel your leaders into the media spotlight and make them sought-after sources for the press.
But no more.
In COVID times, audiences—and that includes the press—are not responding to those tactics-centered stories. They want to be inspired and guided by leaders who share experiences that help make sense of the challenges we face today. Readers crave empathy. They need a personal touch.
You may be timid about sharing personal stories, or your company might not want to take a public stance in this contentious climate. But, thankfully, you don’t have to tackle the big issues head-on: Just insert humanity into your stories.
That’s not to say you should toss out your traditional approach. The old format for contributed posts—set up thesis, provide context, share examples, offer takeaways—still works. But leaders who share some of themselves in that setup, and thus transcend the obvious takeaways, will shine.
The challenge is to tell a story that connects thought leaders—as people—back to the purpose of your business, while the insights they share still show how you solve problems for your customers.
Here are some stories we’ve seen that take advantage of such a framework:
All the while, keep in mind a few guidelines from the old thought-leadership “handbook.” Your essay, podcast, speech, or media interview cannot be so self-serving that you sound like a sales brochure. Your ideas must be put into a timely context: If you don’t connect the dots for audiences, they’ll miss the point. And your opinion won’t stand out if it sounds like everyone else’s: Your voice needs differentiation.
As for guidelines most applicable in the new era, here are five principles to help turn your thought leadership into more personal conversations:
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Gaining authority takes a steady, strategic climb. Be consistent. One quote, one article, or one interview isn’t thought leadership. It’s not even leadership with thoughts. Long-term value lies in sharing your stories over and over.