Writing thought leadership requires skill and clarity. You need to walk a fine line between offering objective advice and directing prospects towards your products and services. If you slip into selling mode, it’s an instant turn-off.
When you remember that your job is to help your prospects make better decisions, it’s easy to keep any selling instincts under wraps. In fact, this is exactly the point behind thought leadership.
The purpose of thought leadership is to share subject matter expert point of views in a way that helps illuminate customer pain points, connecting them with solutions.
Who are subject matter experts? They are experts within your company who have special insights into the customer experience. They may be sales managers, product managers, software engineers or C-suite level executives.
Whether you’re a subject matter expert yourself, on the content marketing team or fulfill another function, creating thought leadership serves a number of purposes, including:
- Enhances credibility
- Increases engagement
- Builds trust
- Raises awareness
Thought leadership is designed to attract warm prospects and convert them into clients. Getting thought leadership and content marketing right creates a steady stream of prospects moving through your funnel.
“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.” — Joe Chernov
Start with pain points
In order to attract and convert prospects with your thought leadership content, you must start out by honing in on their pain points. What are pain points? Pain points are challenges that drive prospects to seek your services. If you’re a retirement income planner, for example, an approaching retirement date is a pain point in that it spurs individuals to try to figure out how they will generate income in retirement.
If you’re a fintech payments company, a pain point is payroll expense. These days, there are many payment solutions that are at worse revenue neutral and at best, contributors to bottom line revenue.
Since your products and services are designed to solve them, you’re an expert in those problems. The trick is laying them out in a way that prospects will relate to.
To do that, you need to be able to describe your ideal client. In my content marketing efforts, I employ the client avatar method, which describes a fictional client who is representative of your idea client. Filtering your content marketing through that client avatar ensures that your content stays targeted.
Giving your ideas, strategies and techniques away builds credibility and trust like nothing else. Why? Because prospects can then understand exactly how much value you provide, which means they are much more likely to hire you than someone who keeps it all behind a paywall or claims to have a “secret sauce.”
Support your solution
Supporting your solution with credible evidence, stories and examples builds even more credibility. Your prospects are tuned into all the other products and services there are out there. The best thought leadership marketers “show” the value of their products and services rather than “tell.” Let your prospects draw their own conclusions.
For example, if you’re a financial advisor offering retirement income planning, your thought leadership should discuss the latest research about how affluent Americans are living into their 90s, and the implications for retirement income. You don’t have to toot your own horn while you do it. Instead, explain the research and what it means and offer your solutions, showing how they solve that problem.
Client stories are another great way to support your solutions. If there’s one thing I know about financial advisors after working with or for hundreds of them over the past 15 years, it’s that you’ve got lots of stories. So as you prepare your thought leadership, consider which stories will best support which points. Anonymize your clients so that you’re protecting their confidentiality.
The other great way to support your solutions is with examples. Back to the idea of the research about affluent Americans living longer. You could insert an example within that content about how much longer income has to last over a 35 year retirement than a 20 or 25-year retirement. Such evidence is very powerful and very convincing because you’re doing what I always told my undergraduate writing students to do — you’re showing people rather than telling them.
Authentic connection is a major objective of thought leadership marketing. Repeatedly showing that you understand your prospects’ pain points and that your solution addresses them creates authentic connection. Thought leadership allows your prospects to get to your company and your solution over time, building trust and converting previously indifferent prospects into warm leads and then long-term clients.
Creating an ongoing stream of thought leadership designed with your client avatar in mind that describes a variety of pain points and connects those pain points with solutions builds trust over time. That’s the thing about trust — it has to be earned. When you put your methodology out there — and stay authentic — you earn your target audience’s confidence.
Today’s audiences take nothing on faith. Why should they when the internet is there to answer virtually any question they may have? When you create a stream of thought leadership, you help build a relationship with your prospects ahead of talking or meeting with them. That means that when they do finally walk into your office, you’re already a step ahead in the conversion process because they know enough about you to give you their time, which is what they value the most.
Finally, you need to avoid direct selling. Instead of pushing your product or service at your prospect, describe it in detail, connecting the benefits with the audience’s pain points. Your prospects are seeking information to solve their problems. When you provide it for them — without selling — they are more likely to stay engaged, moving through your sales funnel.
A final word
Embarking on a thought leadership campaign takes your marketing to a whole new level. That’s because you’re intentionally creating content designed to build a relationship. You already know all about that, because relationship building is what your business is all about. When you extend that to your marketing, you’re creating more potential for the right clients to find you.
If you make a commitment to thought leadership content, your pipeline will fill itself with warm prospects. No, it won’t happen overnight or by magic. But with consistent effort, you’ll see results.