Why invest in thought leadership?

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For the past three years, I’ve worked with over 200 different founders, executives, public speakers, NYT bestselling authors, Olympians, Grammy-winners, and more, helping them build their thought leadership online.

There are a variety of different ways to frame what it is my company and I do for these individuals.

  • Personal Branding
  • Executive Visibility
  • Becoming An “Influencer”
  • Published Columnist

The truth, though, is it doesn’t really matter what you call it. After working with so many different types of people, I’ve learned there’s only one thing that really matters: what you say, and how you say it.


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What I’d like to talk about today is why more and more founders, executives, industry experts, artists, and even people looking to climb the ranks at their company are investing in thought leadership marketing. Why has this started to become so effective? And why are companies now encouraging their senior employees to start sharing what they know, at scale?

After working with over 200 of these types of clients, here are the eight reasons why we see people being willing to invest time, energy, and resources into building their digital presence.

1. Thought Leadership Marketing Creates Assets That Are Both Timely and Timeless

Most marketing and advertising falls into the “timely” bucket.

Your Facebook ad stays alive as long as you’re spending money. Your billboard campaign lasts the length of the shopping season. Your Google Adwords campaign runs the length of your budget. Your social media posts ride the wave of a trending topic — and then quickly fade into the background.

With thought leadership marketing, timely content is great, but it’s the timeless stuff that pays dividends. For example, people still come across articles I wrote two years ago, reach out, and become clients as a result. This is because what I shared in the article wasn’t based on a news item or a trending topic. What I wrote about (and always try to write about) was a perspective, opinion, belief, or piece of industry insight that can stand the test of time.

2. Thought Leadership Marketing Isn’t Press, and It’s Not Advertising

If you (or your PR team) pitches a columnist to write about you, that’s press.

If you (or your digital marketing team) runs an ad, trying to get a customer to buy your product, that’s advertising.

Thought leadership marketing sits somewhere in the grey space between the two. And although it accomplishes many of the same goals as press and advertising — exposure, brand awareness, etc. — it does so in a less overt way. For example, most people just wouldn’t be interested in reading an article titled: “This Biotech Company Is Disrupting A Billion-Dollar Industry. Here’s How.” And the reason is because the article isn’t about anything beneficial to the reader. Sure, it makes “the company” sound like someone important, but what does it matter if ~300 people read it? (Which is what happens with most promotional press articles).

Contrast that sort of headline to an article that was titled something like: “Biotech Investing Rose 300% In 2018. Here’s Why Silicon Valley Is Going All In On Digital Health Platforms.” Instead of the article talking about how great this one biotech company is, the piece would be written by the founder of the biotech company itself. This would position her (or him) as an expert for framing the discussion.

This approach feels less like press or advertising, and more like education.

3. Thought Leadership Marketing Pays Dividends for Years Into the Future

This morning, we had another new inbound client reach out to our sales team at Digital Press.

He said, “I was reading some of Nicolas Cole’s articles online and was intrigued by the service you provide.” There was one article in particular that prompted him to reach out, though — and it was something I’d written almost three years ago.

That’s what I like to call a “marketing dividend.”

The whole idea behind thought leadership marketing isn’t to write one article, “go viral,” and then suddenly have millions of dollars in new business — and trust me, if I could engineer that, my rates would be a lot higher. Instead, the whole idea is to create a vast library of work that stands the test of time. It’s a net. And the bigger you build your net to be, the more likely someone will find their way into your universe, take a look around, like what they see, and then reach out.

I’ve been building my net for the past six years or so, and every single opportunity I’ve gotten has been the result of this one very simple approach to “marketing” myself. My articles are how people find my company, Digital Press. My articles are what prompt invitations to speak at events (another one just came through today actually — and no, I’m not making that up for the sake of this article). My articles are how I land exciting consulting opportunities, meet successful people, expand my network, get invited to events, and more.

I don’t spend money on ads. I’ve never spent a dollar on press for myself.

If anything, thought leadership marketing is the foundation that makes all those other forms of marketing and advertising easier.

4. Thought Leadership Marketing Separates You From Other Founders, Industry Experts, and Companies in Your Space

This is especially true with B2B, although it happens with B2C as well.

When a customer is comparing two different companies or services, you better believe they do their homework. They research the company. They look up the founding team. They compare and try to figure out which will “get the job done” more effectively. We all do these things.

Thought leadership marketing, although it can be difficult to “track” what the true ROI is, changes the dynamic of this research process in a way that you either fundamentally understand or you don’t. No, I can’t tell you how many articles will equal a net positive cash result for your company. But what I can tell you is that every single sales call I’ve had in the past three years has started with the person I’m talking to saying the exact same thing:

“So, obviously I did my homework and looked you up before the call, and I was impressed.”

Why, though? What gave them that feeling? How is it that before the call, they reached the conclusion that they were in the right place, talking to the right person?

The reason is because they Google’d my name (as I said, we all do this), saw that I owned the entire first three pages, saw my vast body of work, saw all the different publications I’ve been published in, and as a result, thought to themselves, “This person is the right person.”

And that’s invaluable.

5. Thought Leadership Marketing Is One of the Best Ways to Build a Network at Scale

How many times per day do you repeat the same information?

How many coffee meetings do you take where you say, almost verbatim, who you are and what you do?

How many phone calls do you have where the person on the other end shows up cold, and you have to spend the first five to ten minutes of the call giving them your background?

One of the biggest benefits of investing in thought leadership marketing is scaling who you are, what you do, why do you what you do, what your company is, and how you see the world. It’s a way for someone to do five to ten minutes of research on you before the call, get a quick understanding of you as a person, and then allow you to start the conversation with more working knowledge. But even more than that, it’s a way for people to feel like they know who you are as a human being, at scale.

I have people mention personal anecdotes from my articles all the time.

And that’s the point. Because by knowing a bit more about me, they feel more comfortable sharing a bit more about themselves.

6. Thought Leadership Marketing Becomes the Foundation for Your Larger Marketing, Advertising, and Press Strategies

For most of our clients, the articles we create together end up informing all their other marketing efforts.

By working exclusively with founders, executives, and company leaders, we end up gathering a tremendous amount of material around their vision and perspective of the industry. A founder will be on a call with one of our editors, share something out loud, and then pause and say, “Wow, I’ve never worded it that way. We should put that on the website!”

This happens all the time.

Our job is to ask the right questions and get the leaders of these companies to speak freely. We then organize their perspectives and insights into articles, and then they use those articles as social media copy, website copy, email copy, sales copy, PR outreach, all of it.

7. Thought Leadership Marketing (Typically) Leads to More Press Than Conventional PR

The average client paying for a PR firm gets somewhere between six to twelve press mentions over the course of six months. Most companies will tell you that’s what they were promised, but end up seeing much less.

With thought leadership marketing efforts, it takes a month or two to set the right course in the beginning, but the results end up being far more exponential in the long run. For example, our longest-standing clients have been republished upwards of 40 or 50 times in a year. And the reason is because thought leadership benefits tremendously from momentum. The more content you share, the more established you become, the more likely other publications will see you as a credible contributor, etc.

If you want a columnist at a major publication to mention your company’s name in a quick paragraph just so you can say, “We were featured in <publication name>!” then go ahead and pay a PR firm to help you achieve that goal.

But if you truly want to be someone influential, and someone with a voice in your industry, then PR isn’t going to get you there. Again, people don’t want to hear a columnist write about how great you are. They want to hear from you.

8. Thought Leadership Marketing Paves the Way for Other Unique Forms of Marketing — Like Publishing a Book

If you’ve written 30, 50, 100+ articles on the internet, the next logical step would be to repurpose a lot of that material into a book.

However, what’s unique about publishing a book after you’ve written a handful of articles is that the data from your articles can inform marketing and positioning decisions for the book. For example, if out of the 50 articles you’ve written, one clearly outperformed all the others, then you have “proof” as to what people want to read. It’s actually very risky to come up with the concept of a book, a title, a subtitle, and then to write ~200 pages, all based on what you “think” people want to read. Instead, you’re far better off using articles to “test” what people are interested in, and then frame your book around an article that has already captured people’s attention.

Call it thought leadership marketing, call it personal branding or “becoming an influencer,” call it whatever you want, but I firmly believe over the next decade that more and more people will invest in their digital presence.

We’re already approaching a point where visibility on the internet is what defines whether or not people take your call, respond to your email, or allow you to attend an event.

If you’re not already investing in your digital presence, you should be.

This article first appeared on Medium