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How to Build an Executive Brand with Thought Leadership Content that Smashes Through the Status Quo

Executives seek to gain credibility and trust from audiences and stakeholders but often they are averse to taking the risks necessary for true thought leadership that defies the status quo. There are a number of reasons executives refrain from commenting on industry trends and sharing insights. Here are the primary barriers executives put up and how to smash through them to generate thought leadership that inspires and moves others to think differently. 

1. You will sometimes be wrong.

In the crowded media landscape, there is no room for shrinking violets. If you have something to say, make it bold and give it some color. One of the keys to being a thought leader is to make audacious comments or predictions for your industry. The problem with being bold is that sometimes, you will be wrong. When it comes to predictions there’s no way that you (or anyone else for that matter) is going to be right 100 percent of the time. Nor will everyone agree with you if you are being particularly provocative.  That scares off many executives from submitting an article or op-ed or commenting on breaking news. 

Thought leadership isn’t about being a fortune teller or pleasing people. It’s about inspiring discussion and then hearing what others have to say about it. As NYU marketing professor Scott Gallaway put it, good thought leadership catalyzes “a conversation that might result in productive dialogue [to] shape and reshape better solutions.” If you come from a broader point of view of inspiring rather than being right about something, that can free you up to write pieces that are bold, exciting and get people’s attention. 

2. People are going to disagree with you – sometimes aggressively.

The hard part isn't being wrong per se but rather being called out by people who have different opinions. You only have to look at Twitter to see the wide array of trolls looking to get a reaction. We live in a time where people are increasingly absolutist in their positions and simply go into attack mode rather than engaging in discussion. The stronger your point of view and the higher the position you hold, be it within your organization or otherwise, the more likely you’re going to attract attention - both good and bad. Two things to keep in mind: 

  1. Other than in extreme situations, people move onto the next target fast. 

  2. Your goal shouldn’t necessarily be unanimous agreement. If your point of view is well thought out, there are going to be others who will agree with you as well - or simply have no opinion. And if people disagree thoughtfully, it can prompt interesting conversations.

3. You will have to dedicate time to regularly provide commentary.

Being a thought leader is hard. It takes time, effort and some…well…thought. Much of it comes down to maintaining certain practices to ensure you have content to draw upon. While your PR team can certainly help gather your thoughts and present them eloquently, the key is to take the time to share your thoughts.

  • Set yourself up to regularly take down ideas based on your conversations with others and items you have seen or read. You could keep track in a notepad app or voice recorder.

  • Regularly read publications or listen to podcasts offering intelligent observations and insight into your industry.

  • Meet up and talk to people - your peers, your coworkers, friends, family. You never know what might trigger a great idea. Sometimes even a tangential comment can enable you to come up with insights. 

4. Step away from your sales pitch.

Often CEOs will write a promotional story about their company’s products or services and call it thought leadership. It can be really easy to fall into this trap and not even realize you are doing it - after all, it’s what you breathe day after day. Step away from the sales pitch. Readers are very used to seeing sales and marketing messages no matter where they look - social media ads on their phone, billboards on their way to work, and product placements in the middle of their entertainment. 

Bold insight that makes people rethink a topic they thought they already knew gets attention because it’s relatively rare. To do that, however, you will have to put your company and product interests off to the side. That includes highlighting your product as a solution to a problem, and self-serving commentary – even if it doesn’t mention your product or company by name. If you work for Chick-fil-A, saying that chicken is an ideal meal won’t get much attention. 

Being a thought leader requires effort, time and some bravery to say what’s on your mind. The benefits that you will gain, however, can be more valuable than any other kind of marketing post on your website or social media. With some courage to be wrong and criticized and doing the work to come up with interesting topics, generating thought leadership can build your reputationand, thereby your company’s position, as a leader in your industry.

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