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Become a "Thought Leader" and Separate Yourself From the Pack

Written By: Resource Nation
The age-old business development dilemma of how to stand out from the crowd, especially for start-ups, haunts all companies, large or small, new or old. To the outside world, all too many firms nowadays look too much alike, with marketing strategies seemingly unable to distinguish them from their competition. Glossy brochures, snazzy websites, press releases, advertising: when everyone employs the same methods, everyone ends up vying for the same narrow window of client and prospect attention.

To escape this marketing black hole, many start-ups are adopting an uncommon strategy that elevates both principal and firm above the fray. This approach positions the firm’s expert professionals as “thoughtleaders.”

Names of superstar thoughtleaders are not only well known but the stuff of legend: Bill Gates, Harvy Mackay, Richard Branson, Martha Stewart, to name a few. Rather than abandoning marketing to a marketing department, they inject themselves into the heart of the process, churning out books, articles, conference speeches, media interviews to keep their visibility machines boiling. Amid the resulting excitement and industry debate, they simultaneously personalize their company, expand their products’ exposure, and deepen both market share and loyalty from their customers.

Richard Branson, for example, has taken his Virgin conglomerate literally to new heights by attempting such stunts as piloting an air balloon around the world. Martha Stewart, despite her legal troubles, has made herself and her firm rich beyond words by melting away the branding lines that traditionally divide a company’s products from a CEO’s personality. These are only two examples of results the process can produce.

This capacity to reach beyond traditional marketing approaches is available to us all, a process that only needs to be committed to and then implemented within often-ignored channels. There are two main vehicles to employ: (a) publishing articles and/or books, and (b) delivering talks and presentations. Such center-spotlight marketing attracts attention and recognition from a target market in ways that more commonplace marketing tools cannot attain.

Dan Cassidy, President of Cassidy Retirement Group, for example, has published articles in leading benefits planning journals in the US, Canada and the U.K as well published a book A Manager’s Guide to Strategic Retirement Plan Management (Wiley). Attendant publicity around these publishing credits resulted in Cassidy being interviewed by such high-profile media outlets as Institutional Investor and Wall Street Journal Radio. Consequently, Cassidy is now known beyond the borders of his own client/prospect community for his benefits planning expertise and never fails to call attention to these thoughtleading credits when strategically advantageous occasions arise, such as during a marketing campaign or smack in the midst of an actual sales call.

Given thought leadership's competitive advantages, taking the plunge then would seem to be a no-brainer. Yet many managers and start-up founders hesitate either out of fear that the process will not work for them or out of ignorance of where to begin. However, embarking on just two simple stages will get the process moving in the right direction, building confidence as the effort succeeds.

Stage One: Publish ideas as articles in business publications, a seemingly daunting task until this challenge is broken down into key baby steps. Compose a list of article ideas that align with your business objectives, then ask yourself: Which services do I most wish to promote? What expertise/service do I most want to be known for? Are there services even my oldest customers may not realize my company has to offer? Your answers will translate into publishing ideas.

Next, after answering such questions, go searching for an editor who sees a fit for your ideas with her publication. Pitch to magazines read by decision-makers who typically hire your firm or by referral sources that can spread word of moth about your firm. Create this list using library directories or by googling on the Web.

Example: You can offer a breakthrough software product primarily for high technology resellers. You pitch an idea titled “Five Biggest Mistakes of Hi-Tech Resellers… and How to Prevent Them!” to Reseller Today Magazine (fictitious name).

What’s important to realize at this point is that business editors out there regularly depend on professionals just like you to feed them publishable ideas. After all, they only can know what to include in their pages as a result of input from those of us who live day to day on the business “front lines.” So don’t underestimate the publishability of your most mundane client work, consulting knowledge, expertise or insights. Ideas that might seem commonplace to you could be viewed as a best-kept leading-edge secret when shared with an editor.

After getting published, Stage Two involves speaking at business events. Some engagements may come about simply because a conference planner has read your article and thought to invite you to come and speak about it. Most gigs however get arranged because a published article is leveraged as a promotional tool. To do this, send email announcements to your business contacts e-list, plus a news release announcing your published articles with a link to your article posted on your company’s website. You should also pass out your article to customers, colleagues, prospects, employees, even vendors. Above all, don’t just sit around waiting for people to see it. Instead leap into action, insuring that your work gets read. Build yourself a buzz!

At your actual talks, don’t forget to distribute your article for free, adding a line that announces your availability as a speaker at future events. And when you get offered any kind of speaking gig, don’t turn it down! Larry Winget, a highly sought-after motivational speaker and author, has stated, “The very best way to get speaking engagements is simply to go out and speak!” Exposure breeds exposure, promotion breeds promotion, all of which will exponentially grow your speaking schedule. Speaking can then lead to more article assignments since you never know when an editor may be sitting out there in your audience and ready to approach you after you are done to ask if you’d consider turning your talk into an article for her publication.

By taking such “thoughtleading actions,” your credibility (and that of your firm) will rise dramatically, leapfrogging you past your competitors. Third party “endorsements” from publications and conference planners will solidly establish you as an author/speaker and a leading thinker in your field, elevating your firm’s services as well. Once this happens, bona fide thought leadership will have officially arrived. From there on, enjoy the ride!

Ken Lizotte CMC is author of The Expert’s Edge: Become the Go-To Authority People Turn To Every Time (McGraw Hill, 2008). Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord MA), a consulting firm that transforms client experts into “thoughtleaders,” he is also on the IMC USA Board of Directors, co-founder of the National Writers Union and a seminar leader at Harvard University. Contact Ken at 978-371-0442 or via his website: www.thoughtleading.com

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