Thought leadership, through venues like newspaper editorials and online outlets like Forbes Leadership Council, can offer CMOs, CEOs and other chief executives a power megaphone through which to promote their ideas, their brand and their long-term strategic goals for the company.
But like with any communication, if you can’t get your message across clearly, you run the risk of not making an impact. Here are some key components of great thought leadership to ensure that any content with your name on it is powerful, thought-provoking and produces the results you desire.
Understand the difference between thought leadership and marketing
It’s tempting to promote yourself and your company at every opportunity, and sometimes, when writing or approving a thought-leadership piece, it can be easy to forget that the audience at hand is reading your piece looking for a bigger takeaway. Unlike marketing materials or an advertisement, thought leadership pieces can’t be self-promotional. If either the editor or your audience gets a whiff of an idea that you’re only writing the piece to market your services rather than share insights, it will be rejected. In fact, the refrains heard most from editors when rejecting contributed articles is, “No new insights” or “Self-serving”. In order to avoid ending up on the slush pile, it’s critical to understand what makes great marketing material and what makes excellent thought leadership.
Remember to KISS: Keep it simple, silly.
Everyone wants to come across as educated, wise and well-versed in their subject matter. But even when you’re dealing with complicated ideas, make sure to use simple language and speak plainly and directly unless you are writing a submission for a technical publication. There’s an adage that applies: Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent one will do. Or, to put it another way: Keep it simple, silly. Otherwise you run the risk of making your reader confused, or losing them entirely.
Of course, when you write for an industry trade publication, the opposite is sometimes true. When the audience is well versed in the “insider baseball”, you can skip the basics and dive deeper into the subject matter.
Don’t be afraid to be a little provocative
If your ideas were the same as everyone else’s, you wouldn’t need a platform from which to share them. Great thought leadership doesn’t just add to the conversation on an idea, it elevates it. Bland platitudes never help you stand out from the crowd (or earn valuable social-media shares and exposure). So if you’ve got a big idea, a thought leadership piece is the ideal place to share it. No one ever changed the world by playing it safe, and if you want your words to have an impact, you should be willing to offer insights that push the boundaries a bit and force readers to think.
Stay focused and on topic
Great writing follows a simple skeleton: An exposition, a body and a resolution. Great thought leadership should as well. Begin by laying out the problem or issue at hand, devote the bulk of your piece to offering insights and actionable solutions to that issue, and then wrap it all up with a conclusion that reminds the reader of why you’ve addressed this issue and what the takeaway should be. Any other ideas, tangents or streams of thought should be left to the side. Keep your piece focused so that your readers can dive in, process your ideas and then come away knowing exactly what you wanted to share, without the distraction of additional, unrelated ideas clouding the commentary.