4 Keys To A Successful Executive Thought Leadership Strategy

Becoming known as a thought leader requires a strategy. Just like you wouldn’t bake a cake without a recipe, you’re not going to achieve your thought leadership goals without following certain steps that will get you there.

And make no mistake: the importance of thought leadership to your brand and company cannot be understated. Positioning yourself as a thought leader brings attention to your business, builds credibility and trust with your brand, increases your reach and influence, spurs growth, and gives you a competitive advantage.

Yes, expertise, insights, and authority are important. But leveraging them in a way that boosts your thought leadership quotient (TLQ) in your industry, whether in the public or private spheres, requires foresight and planning.

So what are the ingredients necessary to baking a successful executive thought leadership cake? In this post we look at the key components of a successful thought leadership strategy, including finding your voice, understanding your audience, creating content, and measuring success.

1. Finding Your Voice

In an environment full of voices clamoring to be heard, yours needs to stand out. Step one is figuring out your unique selling proposition, or what separates you from your competitors. Is it your expertise in a certain field, your unique take on current industry trends, your network of professional contacts, or all of the above? Can you offer insight, advice, lessons learned? What do you want to stand for, and how can you convey your values and message?

All of these contribute to a recognizable voice, one that will be seen as representing your field or industry. Are you a visionary, people-focussed, product-focussed, or brand-focused? Apple CEO Tim Cook, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and former Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg are all examples of business leaders who have found their voices as leaders and industry representatives.

Another example is Reshma Saujani. After leaving her position as a securities attorney on Wall Street she founded the Girls Who Code with the goal to close the gender gap in technology. Through the international nonprofit organization as well as books like Women Who Don’t Wait in Line, she is inspiring future female leaders.

Reshma Saujani

For those who are not quite at the height of a Cook or Sandberg, having a recognizable voice is a way to raise your profile and make your presence known. A recognizable voice makes you easier to find by journalists seeking business leaders who can give them a colorful and/or insightful quote, leading to more earned media. When media representatives know that you can provide them with a unique angle on a trending topic, they will come to you.

In fact you might say one measurement of a successful thought leadership strategy is how much earned media you are able to attract.

A recognizable voice also means an audience for other brand-building steps, like writing a book about your story or management style.

2. Understanding Your Audience

Knowing whom you want to reach and whom your brand is meant for is key to a successful thought leadership strategy. There are several ways to figure out who your target audience is, including administering surveys, creating buyer personas, and interviewing clients.

Part of knowing your target audience includes understanding where they are and meeting them there. Is your target audience on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok? Once you know this, you’re better able to focus your resources into the right channels. Do they watch ESPN or Adult Swim? Are they news junkies or reality-TV show viewers? Which media, if any, do they trust?

By understanding these characteristics of your audience or client-base, you can funnel your resources into the proper channels. And you’re in a better position to create content of value to them in a fashion that they will respond to. Why waste your efforts on Instagram when they are all watching videos on TikTok?

3. Creating Content

One of the cornerstones of thought leadership is content creation. Achieving thought leadership status is next to impossible without high-quality content that is of value to your target audience. Your content defines and builds your brand and potentially extends your reach and builds trust with your followers.

Suffice it to say, behind-the-scenes videos, announcements of company milestones, and opinion shares are examples of potentially effective content.

And because trust and credibility are important pillars of thought leadership, keeping a consistent schedule and tone should be part of every thought leadership strategy. Regularly updating your channels keeps your audience engaged and aware of your presence. Striking a consistent tone, whether serious, jokey, or something in between, reassures people that you’re not suddenly going to go off the rails and into an angry political tirade or start posting Seinfeld memes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

4. Measuring success

An effective thought leadership strategy is made stronger with measurement. You need to know how you’re doing and where you can do better in order to improve and succeed.

Measurement includes looking at social media channels to see where the most engagement lies. Through this technique, you can also figure out how and where to expend resources and money.

Some KPIs that execs should have in mind when measuring the success of their executive thought leadership strategy include:

  • Number of followers on social media channels. Is your audience growing?
  • Engagement, shares, and feedback. Are people responding to your posts? In what way?
  • Earned media. Are your efforts bringing you more earned media opportunities? As mentioned, earned media is the kind that you can’t control, yet can build the most trust and elevate your brand.

Identifying your voice, knowing who and where your target audience is, creating and tailoring high quality thought leadership content on the proper channels are all pillars of a successful thought leadership strategy.

If this all sounds like too much time and energy, then a thought leadership PR agency may be the answer.

Thought leadership PR agencies are staffed with people who are experts in branding and building thought leadership profiles.

From connecting you with journalists, podcasters, influencers, and bloggers for earned media opportunities to preparing you for interviews to creating content of value to your audience, the agency can save you time and resources by forming a strategy and implementing it.

But whether collaborating with an agency, doing it on your own or working with an in-house team, the above steps are necessary if you want your thought leadership cake to rise.


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