Why thought leadership programs fail
Typically, leaders become interested in thought leadership when they become aware of the action it is driving for colleagues or competitors. They task someone with developing a program and sit back and wait for the leads to start pouring in.
The program never gets off the ground. Subject matter experts are already overloaded and don’t have time to develop thought leadership content. Or cultural dynamics are at work that keep people from wanting to be too visible.
Technical staff starts pumping out blog content with great enthusiasm. People are reading the content and engaging with it, which is exciting. Six months (and a few paltry leads) later: Leaders start asking questions.
Analytics reveal that while content is widely read, it is read mostly by other technicians who are looking for tips on how they can do a better job for their employer.
If this is happening to you, it doesn’t mean thought leadership doesn’t work. Maybe what you were publishing wasn’t really thought leadership.
What is thought leadership?
Inspiring, authoritative, and helpful content with a distinct point of view that business leaders who are subject matter experts produce in service of their audience, industry and the world.
While we’re at it…
Someone whose expertise, point of view and perspective people seek out because it positively influences what they think, feel, say and do about their business, industry or the world.
The content is not connecting with leaders because it is not written in the language of thought leadership. (Chances are it’s not being distributed properly either, but that’s another post.)
Quelle est la différence?
The best way I can think of to describe this dynamic is in terms of languages and dialect.
For example, Metropolitan French (the way French is spoken in France) is different from Quebecois (the way French is spoken in the province of Quebec, Canada).
While a Quebecer and a Parisian can understand the words each is saying, the attitudes each has regarding the language of French will influence what they will take away from the exchange. (By the way, Parisians and Quebecers have very different attitudes about the French language.)
Quebecers, because they’ve fought so hard to preserve the language of French in their province, are very happy when people try to speak French to them rather than defaulting to English. Parisians, on the other hand are notoriously particular about how French is spoken. That means unless you speak the language the same way they do, you may find they are not that interested in listening to you.
The bottom line is this: If you’re not speaking to your buying audience in the right language they may assume you’re not worth listening to.
This does not mean that the dialect of technicians is less valuable! What it does mean is that if you are a leader with business development responsibilities, you need to be fluent in both.
How to learn the language of thought leadership
If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you know that it can be a challenge under the best circumstances.
Research reflected in Fluent Forever, a new book reflecting a new method of learning foreign language written by Gabriel Wyner, indicates a big key to success in learning a new language is to learn pronunciation first. The reason for this is that it is a lot easier to learn a language once your ear is dialed into what it is supposed to sound like.
Similarly, the most efficient way to learn the language of thought leadership is to get used to what your ideas sound like in that language.
It’s possible to acquire the ability to speak this the language of thought leadership by studying examples and emulating them. Harvard Business Review, for example, is full of excellent examples. The process goes a lot faster, however, if you have someone who can guide you, correct you, redirect you, and cheer you on.
How you learn the language of thought leadership isn’t important. What’s most important is that you begin the process of learning it now. Quality “what you do” and “how you do it” has become table stakes. Speaking thought leadership fluently will assure buyer-leaders you’re worth listening to so you will have a chance to tell them why they should buy.