Here’s Why Being a Thought Leader Isn’t Just Fluff

August 18, 2016, 1:00 PM UTC
Ezra Bailey Getty Images

Thought leadership.

It’s been one of the top buzzwords in business for nearly a decade. Yet many seem to write it off as just that a buzzword, nothing more.

Thought leadership is another form of content marketing where you tap into either your own experience or someone on your team’s experience in order to communicate with your target audience. Becoming a thought leader isn’t something that happens overnight, nor is it a result of your pedigree or education. My ability to be a thought leader is born from genuinely listening to my audience and providing them with answers based on personal stories and experiences. And it’s been essential to my business.

So as a business leader, what do you need to become a thought leader? Most importantly, will it actually make a difference for your business? I can’t answer those questions for you for that you’ll need to look at your individual business and your conditions of satisfaction. However, if you intend to increase your businesses exposure through media outreach, it’s time to start establishing yourself as an expert in your field. If you do decide to use a thought leadership approach, here are some things to consider.

Content is king

As with any form of content marketing the actual content is the most important. Today’s audiences are extremely aware of a sales pitch and while 66% of consumers trust editorial content, they aren’t looking for an advertisement from their thought leaders. In fact, they’re looking for original, and at times, personalized content.

Marie Forleo is often considered a thought leader for the next generation. When she visited with me on my podcast, she explained how she earned that title. Her first steps were identifying her own expertise, who she could help, what information was already available in that area, and what was lacking. Then it was time to put together some killer content and a platform to share it on. She did this first through courses on her website and now has her own digital show, Marie TV.

Related: 10 Strategies for Negotiating Like a Pro

Be yourself in everything you do

Do you have a brand identity? If not, you should!

What is a brand? It’s something we put on a cow and occasionally, a horse. That’s where the word ‘brand’ originated, which eventually transferred to the representation of a company. When you look at the essence of what a brand is, it’s not the logo, it’s not the product, it’s not the colors. A brand is a promise delivered. So as a thought leader your message should always be genuine and truly representative of your brand. In order to have the biggest impact with your thought leadership messaging, you’ll need to be the biggest, ‘baddest’ version of yourself. BUT never say you’re something that you’re not. People will catch on and then all you will end up being is a fraud.

Get over yourself

This one goes hand-in-hand with being true to yourself and your brand. Don’t let your newfound title as a thought leader go to your head. You don’t know everything and your audience won’t expect you to. In fact, they’re looking for you to be an expert in one field, not to explain the meaning of life.

Here’s what I mean: I sometimes go fishing in a remote area of Canada — accessible by driving across the border to a floatplane where we meet our host, ‘Trapper’ Bob. We stay in his cabin, and he regales us with stories. Every year, Bob serves this blueberry jam that has become a favorite of mine. One year, I bought a case of it before we drove home. While the jam itself wasn’t too expensive, I paid a fortune to ship it back to South Dakota. When I got home, my wife immediately questioned the need for so much jam, to which I responded that this was the best jam in world and it’s only sold in a remote area of Canada. Six months later, my wife and I were at our local grocery story and what did we see? A huge display of my favorite jam which, apparently, is not only sold in a remote area of Canada. Good thing I didn’t decide to become a jam expert!

The key to being a successful thought leader isn’t how much you know, but how you decide to spread the message and to whom. No interview opportunity is “too small.” We all start at a small pond and move on to bigger ones. Don’t let your arrogance get in the way of what could be a rewarding experience, personally and professionally.