Thought leadership

Thought leadership strategy: Getting your campaign right

The most impactful, well-coordinated thought leadership campaigns always have an underlying strategy, argues Sam Patchett.

As thought leadership becomes an increasingly popular avenue for executives looking to build their brand and that of the organisations they lead, having an underlying strategy has become vital.

The word ‘strategy’ is one of the most over-used words in corporate environments.

It’s flaunted in pitch decks, business plans, and mission statements so often that it sometimes loses all meaning.

But if done right, having a strong strategic foundation is critical for any thought leadership campaign. 

It provides the bedrock of all content and ensures every piece of comms activity is moving in the right direction and achieving the same objectives.

Sam Patchett

But often when an executive is looking to raise their profile, they don’t know where to start.

They might start posting on LinkedIn more regularly or write a blog post on their company website without stepping back and thinking about their underlying strategy.

It's easy to start posting content for content’s sake without thinking carefully about your positioning or what you’re trying to achieve.

Setting a robust thought leadership strategy should always be the first step.

What is thought leadership strategy?

Put simply, a thought leadership strategy is a series of communications activities that help you achieve your professional objectives.

It lays out:

  • What topics and issues to focus on.

  • What platforms to leverage.

  • What audiences to target.

  • The style of your content.

Ultimately, it provides a blueprint for all activity and ensures a thought leadership campaign has a crystal-clear focus.

Think about the bigger picture when planning your thought leadership strategy

Before doing any comms activity, it’s important to step back and assess your long-term objectives.

Why is it that you want to build your profile?

  • You might be looking to raise a new round of investment.

  • You might want to attract the best talent in the market.

  • You might be pursuing more blue-chip clients.

Perhaps it’s all of the above.

It’s important to write down these objectives and to be as specific as possible to flesh out your thought leadership strategy.

Sam Patchett

Having a clear end goal ensures all content and communications activity has a strong focus.

It also provides clarity on what audiences you want to be talking to.

For instance, content that speaks to angel investors is going to be different to content that talks to new recruits.

Offering something different

The next phase is to work out what truly makes your thought leadership strategy unique.

Thought leadership is opinion-based. If you want people to engage with your content, you need to have an opinion.

That opinion needs to align with your underlying objectives.

If you’re a management consultant wanting to raise your profile with large corporates in the MENA region, you might want to offer insight into how companies in the Gulf can attract the best global talent.

If you’re a med-tech company launching a thought leadership campaign to attract better talent, you might want to talk about where the future tech opportunities are in the health sector.

It can be easy to play it safe and say something humdrum to avoid rocking the boat, but being predictable will always turn people away.

Talking about how AI implementation can help businesses streamline their operations is not going to attract eyeballs.

Sam Patchett

It’s equally important not to be too salesy.

It’s a thought leadership campaign, not a sales campaign. As soon as you start trying to sell a product or a service, people will become disinterested.

And most importantly, you have to be bold. The best thought leadership campaigns turn some heads and raise some eyebrows.

It’s not about being controversial for the sake of it it's about saying something that adds a genuinely interesting and different perspective to the debate.

Keeping your thought leadership strategy simple

It can be easy to spend a lot of time on your thought leadership strategy and trying to cover all your bases when starting a campaign.

However, this approach often over-complicates things and can create tripwires for getting started.

It’s always best to keep it simple.

Of course, there are always going to be nuances in what audiences you target and subtleties in your messaging, but you should never let the minor details obscure the bigger picture.

For example, if a UK-based executive is looking to raise their visibility with corporate clients in the US, they might choose against talking about European trends so that they don’t turn off the North American market.

That said, having global breadth to your expertise would strengthen your profile, not vice versa.

Kicking off a campaign

Starting to post thought leadership content can be the most difficult step.

It doesn’t come naturally for some, and many executives can be overly-cautious about the reception they might get from friends and peers.

Your thought leadership strategy starts with ensuring your existing digital profile is fully updated. That means refreshing your LinkedIn profile and ensuring it aligns with best practice.

Upload a fresh, high-res image wherever your headshot appears online. That might even mean removing any outdated and old content that works against your current thought leadership strategy.

Posting new content on 'owned' channels such as LinkedIn or a company website provides a fully controlled platform to get started with.

Sam Patchett

When the time comes to start engaging the media, the first thing they’re going to do is check your professional profile to see if you’re active.

Having strong multimedia content such as professional-standard photographs and videos online immediately adds depth and credibility to your profile as well.

Our thought leadership strategies always involve in-house multimedia production. Source: Profile.

Thought leadership strategy at a company-level

The same rules apply for a company wanting to ramp up its thought leadership content or launch a fresh campaign.

While everyone in the company needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet, you can’t have everyone saying exactly the same thing.

Identifying certain spokespeople for certain topics can help executives carve out their own niche within their leadership team.

It’s also important to differentiate a company's thought leadership strategy from its commercial strategy.

Sam Patchett

Engaging clients and customers should never be mistaken for engaging stakeholders and peers. Marketing speak and sales talk is only going to disengage audiences.

Thought leadership strategy KPIs

Everyone has slightly different ways to measure the success of thought leadership campaigns. Some try to assess the total reach of their content. Others prefer counting the amount of coverage secured.

However, it can be near impossible to truly measure how many people read content, and the value of coverage often depends on its quality.

The best approach is to set out a list of specific deliverables during a thought leadership campaign - broken into specific items, such as:

  • Website blog posts.

  • LinkedIn posts.

  • Press releases.

  • Photos.

  • Video content.

While this doesn't measure the impact thought leadership content has on target audiences, it mitigates ambiguity on what success looks like and provides clear visibility on all content being delivered.

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