February 24, 2021

Thought leadership: How to find your voice in a crowded marketplace

What topic could you give a 20-minute TED Talk on right now with no preparation?

When new employees start at Crux, we celebrate their arrival with a series of rapid-fire icebreaker questions to get to know them, and this question often gives them pause. Maybe it’s Royals baseball or the impact of advertising on sales performance. For me, it’s the art of networking and its impact on business development.

No matter what your topic is, one’s ability to speak from a place of authority on a particular topic builds one’s credibility, which then reflects positively on one’s brand and company presence in the marketplace.

The pandemic has changed the business landscape, but it’s also ushered in a new age for thought leadership. As conferences and events become virtual, there’s ample opportunity to share your expertise through blogs and guest articles, as well as through podcasts and webinars.

What is thought leadership?

When you think of thought leaders, who stands out? Perhaps Brene Brown’s podcast or Simon Sinek’s presentation on “How great leaders inspire action” come to mind. The truth is anyone can become a thought leader. Russ Alan Prince and Bruce Rogers define thought leadership in Forbes as:

“…an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

If we’ve learned anything from the last year, it’s that humans crave human interaction. Innovation is driven by the exchanging of ideas, and thought leaders aren’t afraid to create a dialogue about the topics that matter most in their industry, whether in the comment section or through a panel discussion.

Below are five tips to keep in mind as you start to develop thought leadership of your own.

1.    Find your passion.

Maybe it’s your love for Harry Potter, or perhaps your favorite cake recipe translates to the perfect formula for collaboration. Think creatively about how your passions can bring a fresh perspective to your role and use that anecdote to fuel a blog, a LinkedIn article or podcast series. If you’re passionate about a topic, your audience will take notice.

2.    Own your expertise.

People are humble. When I approach clients about developing a thought leadership approach, they often doubt others want to hear what they have to say. Your authority in the marketplace can come from your years of experience, your vision for the future or simply the ability to see a problem or solution from a fresh perspective.

3.    Make it meaningful.

What do you want your audience to take away from your perspective? No matter what topic you choose to cover, it’s important to approach your thought leadership with your audience in mind. Ensure what you’re offering is both unique and succinct.

James Fogle shares in Forbes that the digital age presents huge opportunities to stand out in the crowd as a thought leader, among existing audiences and new ones, and conciseness is key:

“Your message must be clear; otherwise, you’re fighting a losing battle. To maintain or grow your audience, to attract new clients, even among your own team, it must be very obvious what you stand for and what you’re communicating…Be passionate, concise and direct. Attention spans are short and the digital space is extremely crowded, so make sure your voice is heard above the din.”

4.    Be consistent.

Your first blog likely won’t garner the attention of everyone in your network. It takes time, persistence and a steady drumbeat of content to become the go-to voice in your industry. It’s important to set a realistic cadence for long-form thought leadership – such as blogs or editorial submissions to trade publications – and supplement those larger efforts with short, quick posts on social media that start (or continue) the conversation.

As you lend your expertise and engage in two-way conversations with other thought leaders in the space, you increase your authority in the marketplace. This not only supports the building of your personal brand, but also that of your company, which you can leverage for more high-stakes opportunities such as columns in your local paper or speaking at industry trade events, further cementing your place at the table as a thought leader.

5.    Don’t be salesy.

Thought leaders share their expertise to educate and inspire. You should contribute to the conversation in a way that provokes thought leadership in others and provides value, and not in a way that is overly promotional of you or your company. If your thoughts are truly impactful, your audience will be seeking you out for guidance or to solve the business problems they face.

Make your mark

The best blogs tell a story, teach the reader something useful and position you and your company as an expert and thought leader. We help clients identify the most pressing trends and topics impacting their industry and craft monthly blogs that resonate with their current and prospective clients. Once that content is crafted, we tease out portions of the blog over email and social media, amplifying that message exponentially, positioning both the author and their company as thought leaders.

So, while your topic may not be the next featured speech from the TED Talk stage, it might be the exact message your clients need to hear—from the person who’s the most qualified to deliver it.

Melea McRae is helping business leaders find their voice at Kansas City’s first “un-agency.” Are you ready to become a thought leader? Connect with Melea on LinkedIn or share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

About the author: Melea McRae is a marketing strategist with 25+ years of B2B and B2C experience leading client-facing marketing departments, where she earned the reputation as an insightful brand strategist. As SVP and CMO at the Greater KC Chamber of Commerce, she led the organization’s marketing and business development efforts. In July 2016, Melea launched Crux KC, providing an in-house marketing team, outsourced – the “un-agency” – for her small-to-mid-sized clients. As founder and CEO, she builds marketing, communication and business development strategies for her clients, while positioning them for sustainable growth.

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