By Nathalie Lagerfeld & Jaimie Seaton
Think of the best thought leadership piece you’ve ever read. Now think about why you remember it. Did it offer a new and perhaps bold perspective? Did it impart knowledge about a subject that only an expert or insider would know? Did it make you feel inspired? Good thought leadership should do all of those things, and more.
Developing thought leadership ideas that reach this standard can seem intimidating, or even mysterious, but it’s neither. You probably have some great ideas brewing inside your head already—all you need to do is get them out onto the page. Read on to learn the steps of the process we use to help clients create bold, memorable thought leadership ideas that end up in publications like VentureBeat, Entrepreneur, and Forbes.
Decide What Your Goals Are
When developing thought leadership topics, start by identifying your goal. For example, do you want to build brand awareness of your company as a whole, or to establish yourself as an expert in your field? If it’s the first one, you probably want to focus on topics that can tie into your company’s existing marketing messaging. If the second one is your priority, you have more latitude to explore topics that are relevant to you. Identifying the goal of the piece will help you hone the subject to meet that goal.
Decide Who Your Audience Is
Next, think about your target demographic and where the piece will be published. A good thought leadership piece explores a problem that’s relevant to its readers. If you want to place in Entrepreneur, you’ll be more successful with a topic that speaks to the concerns of entrepreneurs, not executives of Fortune 500 companies or computer programmers. The audience will determine your writing style for the article, too. If you are writing a piece for a trade publication whose readers will all have a certain level of technical expertise, you don’t need to take as much time to define terms and explain basic technical concepts as you would if the article were to be published in a general publication. Regardless of the subject of your piece, it should be written in a way to meet the knowledge level of your intended reader
Don’t Be Afraid To Have An Opinion
Once you have your goal and target in mind, it’s time for a brainstorming session. “Stay positive” is good advice in many areas of life, but not in developing thought leadership: the easiest way to come up with an attention-grabbing topic is to be a little critical. Some questions to consider are: What does everyone in your industry believe that you think is wrong? Did you read an article recently with which you disagreed? What is missing from the conversation in your industry? What is something that people in your industry are taking seriously that you think is silly? Don’t be afraid to be bold here, even outrageous—remember, we’re not actually writing the article yet. Even writing down random sentences about a subject can help to develop it further.
Use Your Voice
Writing a thought leadership article isn’t like writing a research paper or reported article, where you can never use the pronoun “I.” In fact, it is actually preferable to tell a first-person anecdote or two if possible. Too many thought leadership articles sound like they were written by committee or in a staid “company voice.” Sounding like a living, breathing individual will make you stand out among the many submissions most editors receive daily—and it also makes for a more compelling, well-written article. When you’re developing thought leadership ideas, any idea that has a good story attached to it should go to the top of the priorities list.
Identify A News Hook
You can make your article more attractive to editors by answering the question “why should I publish this now?” The trick is to link your message with a recent statistic or current story in the news. For example, if the problem you’re writing about impacts automobile safety, you could start a thought leadership piece by talking about a recent high-profile accident, or sharing the latest government statistics on road safety. Again, the goal is to produce a story that is newsworthy and will be of interest to readers (and editors). Often this kind of news tie-in can also clarify why readers should care about the consequences of the problem you’re writing about, too.
Support Your Ideas With Research
Once you have your basic ideas, the next step is to do a little research. Research is very important for developing thought leadership pieces because it takes it from being one person’s unformed idea into a credible, informative story. This can be as simple as Googling your subject. The process of researching will actually help to focus the piece, as results will take you down different paths. Depending on the type of article and where it will ultimately be published, you might want to seek out appropriate experts to interview. Even if you are writing an opinion piece, it can be very effective to bring in other voices to support your position.
Regardless of the topic, target audience, or where the piece is ultimately published, good thought leadership will strengthen your brand and build trust and establish credibility between the writer (or company) and the reader. Developing the right thought leadership topic can be a significant time investment, but in our experience that investment has great returns.
Want help developing your next thought leadership piece? Get in touch with Hippo’s experienced editorial team.
Nathalie Lagerfeld is the Executive Editor of Hippo Thinks, and Jaimie Seaton is the Associate Editor.