What is “thought leadership” and why, as a mid-stage brand, is it important? The answer is that it is not just important, it is mission critical to continue the growth journey and reach the next plateau.
At the mid-stage, companies have reached a critical milestone where the next phase of growth depends on executing in an open and competitive marketplace. To get to this point, an idea developed into a product that was built, tested and trialed. Investors bought into the proof of the concept and the strategy of the management team to build a company and bring this product or service to a defined and viable market. As companies evolve from early-stage to seed stage, their company story is inevitably pitched, tweaked, re-pitched, rinse, repeat, Series A funded. To succeed and grow to the mid-stage, business leaders must be intensely focused introspectively to prove viability within the product and team running the business. A brand story is still very nascent at this stage.
Success at the mid-stage is about command of the space. What does this entail? Scaling the company to capture market share and leveraging thought leadership to capture mindshare. Both scale and thought leadership go hand-in-hand as both are used to build audiences of stakeholders. With command of the space as the goal, activating thought leadership is a business imperative.
Authority … reputation … trust … credibility. Thought leadership and content marketing together offer your brand these attributes and more. While both are integral on their own, when combined they make for a strategic, powerful force for driving not only brand awareness but also demand for your product or service offering.
Activating the power of thought leadership at the mid-stage requires stretching new muscles to look outwardly at the marketplace and trends. Until now, intense inward focus was critical to create validation and define opportunity. To build a brand and earn trust and credibility in the marketplace, mid-stage companies need to participate in the industry conversation.
Research published by LinkedIn found that marketers don’t think thought leadership has an impact and buyers actually gravitate towards it. In other words, buyers really like companies that are thought leaders in their space and it clearly has an impact on sales.
But why is there this gap and why does thought leadership resonate with buyers?
It’s simple (but not so simple). We know that as humans, we are conditioned to crave a good story with an empathetic protagonist (I wrote about this here). Thought leadership builds empathy and empathy builds trust in your buyer. The not so simple answer is the challenge in front of marketers to create empathy for an inanimate object that is the brand.
Good news, the industry conversation is already taking place. Unless you are on the verge of creating a new category, influencers and other thought leaders are participating in an industry conversation without you.
As mentioned in the PAN eBook:
Define your brand’s purpose and intent as it relates to thought leadership before making any moves. Once you’ve established that, you’ll have a clear roadmap to success.
Thought leadership conveys a point of view or an opinion that is based on the expertise and authority of the brand. It must be authentic. Having clear purpose and intent is the guiding light that ultimately is the key to creating empathy for the brand among its key audiences.
Now with a roadmap and guiding principles, mid-stage marketers must assess the brand’s visibility, develop a tone and personality for the brand and study the conversation to find the “white space” to command.
When activated thought leadership will accelerate the visibility of the brand and this is crucial for the mid-stage brand to scale. As more audiences get to know the brand and its leaders, the opportunity increases to convert these audiences to buyers, employees and investors will fall on business leaders to execute across the organization. As visibility scales, the business will scale, which then calls for thought leadership to scale creating opportunities for a “bench” of leaders within the organization to participate in industry conversations central to their role. For instance, a CHRO in a cybersecurity company can have an opinion on the skills gap. A CIO can discuss the future of the work in a decentralized office environment.
When activated and executed well a thought leadership platform is the start of generating opportunities to scale and grow through and beyond the mid-stage. Authority, reputation, trust and credibility are all traits that can be established and developed to create an emotional connection to your brand. Don’t underestimate the power of thought leadership. It is the first step in the journey to command your space.