You’ve heard time and again that professional services firms need to focus on thought leadership as part of a modern marketing strategy. Great. What does that even mean? And more importantly, how do you get started? Do you just start writing about things you know or should you put together some kind of plan? Does there need to be any rhyme or reason to what you put out? How do you even get people to pay attention to what you have to say?
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we know what we mean by thought leadership and thought leadership marketing. A thought leader is a person or a firm that is highly visible and generally recognized as a trusted authority in their field. They are sought after for their expertise – and they drive industry conversations. Thought leadership marketing is the practice of using thought leadership — written and spoken, online and offline — to drive new business. Easy enough.
So how does that translate into a marketing strategy? Well before you can answer that you need to consider your end goals. Do you want to be the foremost authority, or are you more interested in generating leads and increasing visibility for you firm? Having a focused, clearly stated goal will make the development of your strategy easier.
Once you have your end goal in mind, then what? There are a few essential next steps you’ll need to take to build out an effective thought leadership marketing strategy:
- Take an honest assessment of where you are now. Don’t worry if you aren’t close to where you want to end up. You’ll get there. But first you have to know where you are so you can build a realistic strategy. Take note of your areas of strength, as the most effective thought leadership strategies leverage your strengths. (If you need help, the Hinge University course, The Visible Expert, walks you through the self-assessment process, step by step.)
- Once you’ve determined your strengths and where your focus will be, you need to define your target audience. Who is it you want to influence? Remember here that the more focused your targets, the faster you’re likely to be seen as a thought leader.
- You’ve got your audience and general sense of your focus. Now narrow that down a little more – are there parameters around which you want to become known? You’ll want to strike that balance between having a narrow enough focus that you can generate critical visibility and having a large enough client base to support a growing business.
- You’ve got the initial groundwork out of the way—great!. Now it’s time to think through what will be one of the most important aspects of your strategy: the issues you will “own” in the marketplace. How does a thought leader become a thought leader? By applying their expertise to specific issues that are relevant and meaningful to their target audience. Consider emerging issues, or look for problems your clients face that are complex and challenging. If you can take a controversial or counter-intuitive stance, so much the better. Try to talk about those issues in a way that others aren’t. In essence, the more provocative or insightful a perspective is, the more traction it tends to gain.
- Now that you know what you want to say, how do you get your thoughts out there? There are a number of different ways to share your perspective. The most reliable — and easiest — method is writing blog posts. And many experts make their mark by writing articles and books. Or mix it up a bit. Try recording some video blog posts or put on a series of webinars. And public speaking, if you can find the gigs, is a fantastic way to build a wider reputation.
But don’t just jump into the though leadership waters. Take the time to turn your thought leadership strategy into a detailed plan. Determine what tools you’ll need (website, social media accounts, articles, marketing automation, a video overview of your expertise, and bios, just to name a few). Consider whether you’ll you’ll need outside resources or coaching. Then lay down a timeline and map out all your activities, at least for the first three months. Once you have a tangible plan in place, you’ll feel more in control. You’ll begin to see how building a new reputation as a thought leader can fit into your busy work life. Sure, it’s likely to require some changes, but the payoff is well worth it—higher fees, more business, and a powerful sense of accomplishment.
- Download Hinge’s Content Marketing Guide for Professional Services Firms for tips on creating content that builds credibility and demonstrates expertise.
- Get a copy of our free Marketing Planning Guide to develop a strategy that generates more leads for your firm by building its visibility and reputation in the marketplace.
- Learn a practical strategy for building a more robust and reliable referral program in the Referral Marketing course at Hinge University
How Hinge Can Help
Hinge has developed a comprehensive program, the Visible Expert®, to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits to individual experts in the professional services. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools you or other experts at your firm will need to bill premium fees, attract new clients, and reach new heights of visibility.