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Avoiding thought leadership tryptophan: 3 strategies for storytelling success

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Public Relations

When the audience has an attention span shorter than a goldfish, what you say better act like a triple espresso, not Thanksgiving turkey.

Thought leadership too often reads like word salad and plays it safe. Everyone talks about delivering value or innovation, and risk aversion or recycling someone else’s opinion screams unoriginality.

Engaging thought leadership starts with the ability to be a good storyteller. It shares how and why a business operates, makes a product, or an industry needs to change, allowing the creator to shine and spark action. For example, a Harris Poll of Fortune 100 executives reported that thought leadership has an ROI of 14-to-1 and 90 percent of respondents feel it’s critical to building authority.

Top thought leaders carefully decide what they want to talk about and take advantage of the bully pulpit they have—resulting from media consolidation and digital platform reach—to broadcast perspectives and influence readers, viewers, or listeners.

This first article in an ongoing series will concentrate on setting yourself up for storytelling success by avoiding three frequent traps when deciding the focus of your thought leadership effort and how you want to express your expertise and opinion.

Operational vs. original

No matter what industry, the reality is most companies provide a product or service similar to their competitors. That’s why thought leaders must think beyond the grind of what they do on a day-to-day basis and instead concentrate on what drives the decisions made now or factors impacting the industry moving forward.

Start off by asking yourself the following questions, as the responses will help create an authentic and effective thought leadership platform:

  • What is it that our business or I personally do so well or uniquely that others would benefit from knowing or learning? And how is this different from our competitors?
  • Am I passionate about this idea?
  • Am I willing to be outspoken (and see any downside)?
  • Is the topic already owned by a competitor or the conversation very crowded?
  • Is this topic reinforced on my company’s website or a social media profile?

If you can identify the whitespace, have a distinct voice, and show not just tell, your thought leadership foundation will be strong.

It’s not you, it’s me

No we’re not breaking up. Rather, I am talking about a mistake rampant in thought leadership. 

Solely focusing on what you or your business bring to the table can come off as a “hard sell.”  The best thought leadership is written standing in the shoes of your audience. The challenges they face. The solutions, regardless of origin, currently available. Or the issues that need an army (industry) to fight vs. a single soldier (your organization).

To be clear, thought leadership is a tool to market your company. However, rather than be the selfish one in the relationship you are trying to build, engage your partner. The goal is to get to the “second date” by being interesting, funny, or engaging, not just relying on your devilishly good looks.

Stand pat and go forward

As discussed, risk aversion and lack of originality are enemies of good thought leadership.

In a battle for your audience’s attention, you have to grab them by the shirt collar. And once you have their attention, they are likely watching a video or staying on your page for less than a minute.

The following are three guidelines to breakthrough and engage your target audience:

  • Say what everyone is afraid to say out loud without undercutting your business objective or being outrageous for the sake of clicks.
  • Take a stance that you are willing to defend and think it through in consideration of our polarized society.
  • Be clear and direct. Verbosity or a professorial tone need not apply.

In addition to saying something engaging, it’s important to also share something new. You are not writing something in stone. You are advancing a thought, and so with context (and measured caution if part of a publicly traded corporation), explore possible outcomes, actions, or solutions.

This can also be a natural way to build-in your call to action which takes a different form in thought leadership. More than just a website or phone number plug, this is when talking about yourself or business is appropriate. This can take the form of speaking to a particular product or service or inviting the reader to join you in a certain activity.

Avoiding mistakes and demonstrating foresight and fortitude, can give yourself the thought leadership foundation to realize ROI. Now the question is, are you ready to get out of your own way?

Shawn Warmstein
Shawn Warmstein is Vice President & Partner at rbb Communications.

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