Often people ask me: "How do you recommend that I create an effective ____?" (fill in the blank with blog, podcast, white paper, e-book, e-mail newsletter, Webinar, etc.). While the technologies for each form of online content are a little different, the one common aspect is that through all of these media, your organization can exercise thought leadership rather then simple advertising and product promotion; a well crafted white paper, e-book, or Webinar contributes to an organization's positive reputation by setting it apart in the marketplace of ideas. This form of content brands a company, a consultant, or a nonprofit as an expert and as a trusted resource.
OK, so what is thought leadership, and how do I do it?
The first thing you need to do is put away your company hat for a moment and think like one of your buyer personas. The content that you create will be a solution to those people’s problems and will not mention your company or products at all! Imagine for a moment that you are a marketer at an automobile tire manufacturer. Rather than just peddling your tires, you might write an e-book or shoot a video about how to drive safely in the snow, and then promote it on your site and offer it for free to other companies (such as automobile clubs and driver’s education schools) to put on their sites. Or imagine that you run a local catering company and you have a blog or a Web site. You might have a set of Web pages or podcasts available on your site. The topics could include "Plan the Perfect Wedding Reception" and "What You Need to Know for the Ideal Dinner Party for Twelve." A caterer with a podcast series like this educates visitors about their problems (planning a wedding or a dinner party) but does not sell catering services. The idea here is that people who learn through the caterer’s information are more likely to hire that caterer when the time comes.
Mark Howell, a consultant for Lifetogether, is a pastor who works with Christian organizations and uses a thought-leadership blog to get his message out. "My primary targets are people who are working in churches or Christian organizations that are trying to figure out better ways to do things," he says. "So I keep my content to things that seem secular but have broad application to churches. For example, I recently did a post called Required Reading: Five Books Every Leader Needs where I tie broader business trends and marketing strategies to churches."
What makes Howell's blog work is that he’s not just promoting his consulting services but instead is providing powerful information with a clear focus, for readers that just might hire him at some point. "My personal bias, and what I write about, is that for a lot of leaders in churches, the personal passion for what they are doing could be enhanced if they just got a taste for what more secular writers, such as Tom Peters, Guy Kawasaki, and Peter Drucker, are saying," Howell says. "There are so many ideas out there, and if I could just give people a sense of what some of these thinkers are saying, then my hope is that they can see that there is application for church leadership."