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How to Use Thought Leadership to Distinguish Your Brand

Keith Shields

Keith Shields

Partner at Designli
Keith Shields is a partner with Designli, a digital product studio that helps both entrepreneurs and startup-minded businesses launch problem-solving apps and web apps. Designli's proprietary SolutionLab process brings new customers from a simple concept to a fully defined, designed, and prototyped "project blueprint" that is entirely development ready - all within 30 days.
Keith Shields

When it comes to setting yourself apart, the challenge of differentiating your company and what you sell is a tough one. Unless your product or service is truly industry-disrupting (and most successful ones aren’t), it can be difficult to communicate how your company is different. After all, everyone is touting their “quality customer service.”

But there’s a way that even non-revolutionary products and services can stand out against competitors. Thought leadership can help you gain a firm foothold in the marketplace by demonstrating your unique value in a way that customers can understand and remember.

Thought leadership isn’t a new idea. But many founders aren’t sure how to leverage it. In this post, you’ll learn a step-by-step process for using thought leadership to distinguish your brand.

Uncover your true UVP

First and foremost, you need to figure out what you do especially well — and from your customers’ perspective. What do you bring to the table that your competitors either don’t bring at all or don’t bring well? The intersection of what you do exceptionally well and what your customers value is the sweet spot for targeting your thought leadership.

How can you uncover your true unique value proposition (UVP)? There’s no better way than talking to your customers. Ask them what they appreciate most about working with you. Find out what it is that they always share when making a referral or recommending your company. Ask them why they chose you over your competitors. The answers may surprise you. Often, your UVP from your customers’ point of view isn’t what you thought it would be.



Create a content strategy around your UVP

Next, come up with a series of broad topics around your UVP. Then, mind map subtopics for each of those broad topics. Once you’ve completed your brainstorming session, put a star by the topics that allow you to highlight the areas where you shine — your expertise, your perspectives, your process, your ideas.

Using these starred topics, identify your topic clusters and consider which would be ideal topics for a book, a talk, a lead magnet, guest articles that you could contribute to publications your target audience reads, blog posts, etc.

Finally, create a spreadsheet with your plan, attaching target dates for publication to each item.

Get out there

The third step is to publicize and pitch your thought leadership material. This step can be the hardest, especially for founders who are introverts or ambiverts. But you can’t attract customers if they don’t see your thought leadership material!

Create a promotion strategy that identifies which publications you’ll pitch, which conferences you’ll submit speaking proposals to, and how you’ll build your email list using your lead magnet. Then add your promotion plan for each item to your spreadsheet.


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Tips for greater success

Once you have your thought leadership plan in place, it’s time to start putting it into action. But just creating content isn’t the goal. You want your audience to pay attention and engage. Here are a few tips to increase your rate of success.

  • Look at what’s already out there, and take a different angle. No one wants to read the same regurgitated articles over and over. Doing a quick Google search on your proposed topic will tell you what’s already been covered. Aim to tackle your topic from a different angle, or go deeper than existing content does.
  • Don’t be afraid of controversy. Controversy attracts attention. While you don’t want to be contrarian just for the sake of it, if you have a strong opinion based on the values your company is based on, speak out. You may turn some people off, but you’ll attract those who share your values like a magnet. Follow Starbucks’ playbook, or HubSpot’s — make your position loud and clear.
  • Partner with others who share your target audience. Partnering gives you exposure to a wider audience. Host a webinar with an industry organization or a company that offers a complementary product or service to yours. Get interviewed on podcasts that target your audience. Create a special offer with a company that offers a complementary product or service.

Thought leadership is one of the most powerful ways to differentiate your brand because it’s lasting. Once you become known for something, people will not only associate you with your UVP, they’ll also better communicate your value to others.

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