Thought leadership is one of those concepts that can raise hackles when used in certain circles. Yes, it’s business jargon. Yes, the term has been thrown around indiscriminately by people who don’t have a clear grasp of what it means.
However, none of the reasons that make the idea of thought leadership politically objectionable have any effect on its core value. Thought leadership still remains one of the best ways to build a law firm’s brand and effectively differentiate that brand from the competition. Not to mention Google explicitly says it ranks websites better that have clear expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (EAT).
A good place to start a discussion of thought leadership is by defining exactly what the term means. This is especially true given some of the obvious confusion surrounding the concept.
To begin with a thought leader is someone who has the knowledge and experience to be seen as an authority in an industry. It follows then that thought leadership involves using that knowledge and experience to answer the questions that your target audience is asking and doing so in ways that differentiate you from your competition.
Typically, thought leadership is demonstrated through content. However, this is not content designed to sell. Rather, it is content designed to convince and to educate. Oftentimes, a thought leadership article will explore a subject in depth, laying out background, diverse approaches, choices and potential outcomes from a client’s point of view. Think of it as one stop shopping for information on a subject.
The whole point of thought leadership is to build a brand. Authority and confidence build trust with a target audience. Once that trust is established, it becomes much easier to convert prospects into paying customers.
So what does it take to effectively utilize thought leadership to build a firm’s brand? Here are seven things to consider when utilizing a thought leadership approach as a part of an overall law firm marketing strategy.
1. Have a clear intention.
The initial part of any thought leadership strategy is to have a clear understanding of what it is that you’re trying to achieve. You want to make your intentions as narrow and as focused as possible. This means that brand promotion is not a sufficiently adequate intention. Determining the exact purpose behind promoting your brand is a far better definition of your intention.
2. Understand who you are talking to.
It’s important to have a message. It far more important to have a message that connects with the people who are viewing your content. In order to accomplish this you have to not only know who those people are, you also have to tailor your message to fit their needs. As we will talk about next, the most well researched and authoritative content will fall on deaf ears unless it is designed to tackle subjects that interest the target audience the most.
3. Understand your audience’s needs.
Once you know who your audience is, the next step is to zero in on what it is that they want. Far too many firms take blind stabs at guessing what their audience’s needs are. Worse yet, they simply mimic another’s firm’s content and hope for the best. In order to have a productive conversation with your audience, you have to be prepared to engage them. The only way to effectively do this is to put yourself in their shoes. What motivates them? What itch do they need you to scratch? Your audience’s needs are paramount, not what you think they need.
4. What’s your angle?
Face it. There are dozens of firms in any given location that practice in the same areas of law as your firm.
So, how do you stand out in the crowd? How to you clearly communicate to potential clients the things that sets your firm apart from the competition? How do you differentiate your message from the dozens of similar messages available to your audience? The answer to these questions is actually deceptively simple. Your message doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It doesn’t have to be unique. All it has to do, from a thought leadership perspective, is answer their questions more thoroughly, more effectively and more convincingly than your competition.
In short, differentiate when necessary, but don’t make the mistake of trying to always differentiate. A simple and clear demonstration of your knowledge and experience will win the day every time.
5. The medium is an important part of the message.
You know your angle. You know your audience and you know their needs. What next? In a word, delivery. You could have the most complete and convincing answers to the questions troubling your audience. However, if you don’t deliver those answers in a way that the audience expects and, more importantly, in a way that appeals to them, the whole thought leadership process derails. The manner in which you deliver your message matters as much as the message itself. So, mix your content delivery up. The written word is fine. However, don’t neglect audio, video and graphics. Some of your biggest thought leadership gains can come from taking existing content and repurposing its message in another medium.
6. Expose your message to the masses.
Too many firms neglect the content delivery platforms that different portions of their potential clients prefer. That means that their message is muted and will not be heard by important segments of their target audience. In order to be a thought leader, you have to reach out to your audience through multiple channels. This means that your leadership pieces need to be in multiple media formats, being pumped out on the popular platforms that match that specific media. You need to utilize blogging, social media, print and online magazines, live speaking engagements, podcasts and YouTube in order to effectively demonstrate your knowledge and expertise.
7. Finally, you’ve got to stay the course.
Developing a reputation as a thought leader takes consistent effort and time. If you keep the message on point in terms of audience appeal, maintaining a steady volume through multiple channels, your efforts will yield results. The target audience will begin to see your firm as the leader in your practice area for your location. It is at that point that the role of thought leader will begin to pay dividends in terms of increased client volume and revenue.
Platforms: It is not enough to deliver your content in the format your audience wants, you also need to deliver that content in the channel your audience prefers. There are many different platforms for content deliver today: Blogs, social media, newspapers, magazines, conferences, podcasts, webinars, YouTube, radio, television, etc.
Plan: The next step to attaining thought leadership is to come up with a strategic plan that puts all the pieces together. The plan should include your audience, their needs and objectives, your theme, your content and how you are going to deliver your content. A great way to start on your plan is to put an editorial calendar together. This calendar will enable you to map out your content strategy during the year and will ensure that you stay committed to the plan you develop.
Connect: As previously mentioned, you are going to need help in becoming a thought leader. Once you have your plan, your next step should be to identify influencers and other thought leaders that can help you attain your goal. Reach out to them and develop a strategic relationship with them. Tell them what your goals and objectives are and ask them for help. If you are genuine about your efforts and humble in your approach, most thought leaders will be happy to lend a hand and help you to connect with their peers and their audience.
Learn: A true thought leader never stops learning. In order to become a true authority, you must continue to enhance your knowledge and learn from others. Watch and learn from other thought leaders, do research and read voraciously within your area of interest. Keep up with the latest trends and explore new ideas and new methods. Stay on top of your game.
Execute: As I mentioned above, attaining thought leadership takes a significant amount of time, effort and determination. Thought leadership is not something you can buy or take short cuts with. You need to hone your knowledge and skills, execute your plan and be relentless in your pursuit of greatness.