Three Obstacles to Building Your Thought Leadership (and How to Overcome Them)

Remy Bernstein

Crafting and executing a thought leadership strategy comes with its challenges, but the most successful organizations commit the necessary time and resources to doing it right.

Thought leadership is a term that gets tossed around a lot in our industry, but few companies actually put in the effort to prove its efficacy. That’s not exactly shocking: blog posts, bylines, and speaking engagements require a lot of hard work, yet rarely translate immediately into paying customers (although they do eventually!). As a result, many business leaders instead opt to focus the lion’s share of their time and money on lower-funnel activities like direct advertising and sales. 

The truth is that a company’s long-term growth is built on a foundation of brand awareness and quality impressions that only thought leadership can provide. (This is especially true for B2B organizations who can’t enjoy the benefits of more consumer-oriented tactics like TV commercials and billboards). That means not only starting to put the work in now, but actively planning for the inevitable obstacles you’ll encounter along the way.

And with that, let’s run through three of the most common blockers to establishing your brand as a thought leader and — fear not — some tips on how to tackle them.

Obstacle 1: It’s Hard to Be Authentic While Also Marketing to Someone

The whole point of thought leadership is to introduce your target audience to your own unique ideas with enough consistency and conviction so as to prove not only your expert status, but the associated value of your brand/product/service. The inherent challenge of this task lies in the seemingly conflicting aims of personal credibility and effective brand marketing. But when done correctly, thought leadership lets your genuine personality and intelligence advocate for your product or service without making the hard sell.

What does that look like in practice? Mostly, it means working hard enough to identify the unique ways in which you can contribute to the hottest topics, trends, and discussions in your industry. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to seek out the forums that will allow you to share those ideas with the right audiences. That could mean serving as a guest on a podcast, writing a blog post (like this one), or getting more active on social media

Regardless of the format, what matters is that you 1) actually follow through with the content, and 2) remember to stay true to what you know and what you’ve experienced. Offering prospective customers and clients a peek into your world will help build the level of trust you need to ultimately convert them.

Obstacle 2: You Might Not Get Immediate Buy-in from Company Leadership

Anyone who has ever worked in marketing understands that executives often need plenty of assurances before agreeing to invest in something that can’t demonstrate an immediate return. With good reason, they’re cautious about pouring resources into a department or initiative when they might never get their money back. 

That’s why it’s your job to clearly demonstrate how thought leadership can boost customer acquisition and retention efforts that ultimately put money in the bank. To do so, I’d suggest a few key tactics: 

  1. Identifying unmet market appetite for content your team can produce via keyword research and outreach to editors at target publications. 
  2. Presenting case studies from similar firms or industries. 
  3. Setting tangible benchmarks for success.

You should also proactively seek out solutions to the inevitable concerns around using up internal resources on a long-term strategy like thought leadership. Make sure to spread the love around to a number of stakeholders when it comes to authorship, and consider partnering with an expert content creation agency to take some of the heat off your team, scale up production, and ensure strategic alignment. 

Once you have buy-in, keep executives feeling confident in their investment by consistently reporting on progress towards the benchmarks you established at the outset. Those could be as tactical as new search rankings achieved through blog publishing, or a far more subjective barometer, like interesting conversations with existing clients spurred by a recent speaking engagement. 

Obstacle 3: It’s Difficult to Produce Content that is Both Thoughtful and Actionable

Now that you’ve established the value of thought leadership to your own business, you need to make sure any content you produce offers ideas/tips/advice that your audience finds interesting and can actually put into practice.

Here are a few specific ways to ensure your content hits the mark:

  • Research, research, research: Go deeper than a quick internet search or scan of the headlines and read as much as you can about a topic or news event (the more specific, the better). Taking the extra step to share information or insight that others in your industry are missing will show that your business does its homework and can be trusted.
  • Get out your (digital) megaphone: You can’t expect your audience to seek out your ideas — they’re too busy being advertised someone else’s. The next time you publish a blog post, hop on a podcast, or speak at an event, think about how to put that content in front of as many relevant people as possible. The possibilities are endless, so start with something simple like a targeted newsletter or small social media awareness campaign. 
  • Show the Bigger Impact: In 2022, the lines between the business world and the rest of the world have never been more blurred. That means you need to show the 86 percent of professionals who expect businesses to take a position on worldly matters that your thought leadership is about more than just marketing and profits. 

Ready to Get Started? Thunderfoot Can Help

Like with anything in life, it’s tough to tackle thought leadership alone. That’s why Thunderfoot partners with groundbreaking organizations to tell great stories, drive broader industry awareness, and ultimately connect those efforts to marketing outcomes. 

If your organization is struggling to publish consistently or identify new ideas and perspectives, our team’s thought leadership expertise may just be the missing ingredient.

Remy Bernstein

COO

Directs agency operations and client strategy across creative, sales, and marketing teams on two continents.

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