Become a trusted authority, not a thought leader

Thought leadership is a familiar concept in content marketing. Companies want to use content to build thought leadership as a strong foundation for their relationship with the public at large. In my opinion this is not necessarily a good idea. Instead of thought leadership I usually advocate aspiring after trusted authority because it is a much more client-oriented approach.

Striving after thought leadership means you are using the organisation’s expertise for marketing purposes. Still, knowledge alone is not enough. You need vision as well. Thought leaders introduce innovative ideas and opinions into their sector or field of expertise. One example of thought leadership content is ‘Think with Google’. The company itself describes it as “Google's take on fresh marketing insights and a look at what’s next.”

Reputation and change

Acting as a visionary expert makes it possible to build a reputation within a certain field and forges a relationship of trust. Mignon van Halderen, CEO of Leading Thoughts, believes that ‘thought leader organisations can break conventional thought patterns and offer customers and other stakeholders innovative insights’. In other words, thought leadership is linked to change. Companies look to thought leaders to prepare them for the future. And because they are a source of innovative ideas, journalists are always interested in thought leaders as well.

Why not?

I’m not saying that thought leadership is useless but I think it is in the interest of most companies not to pursue it. Personally I wouldn’t want to be a thought leader, for several reasons. In every sector there is only room for a few thought leaders. There are many more companies than there is room for thought leaders. Also, having interesting thoughts doesn’t necessarily make you a thought leader. A thought leader has an innovative, controversial opinion. But most of all thought leadership is marked by a strong focus on the leader’s own area of activity, his or her own company or ego, etc. This is not the case with a trusted authority. Trusted authority is all about the customer.

Credibility and trust.

Like thought leadership, trusted authority cannot simply be claimed. Your company must show that it understands what the sector is about (authority) and prove that the brand aspires after and realises these goals (trusted). Trusted authority is based on credibility, and credibility leads to trust. Onora O’Neill gave a good summary at a TED talk: ‘We should think less about trust and more about credibility, about how to prove our credibility in an adequate, useful and simple way’.

Content can play a crucial role in this regard. Forrester identifies four pillars:

  • Making a strong commitment to training and information
  • Disseminating sharable content on specific topics
  • Creating unique content that is typical to your brand
  • Catering to the daily routine of your customers

(The Forrester reports costs $499).

Three tasks for trusted authorities

With regard to content marketing, I see three core tasks for a trusted authority. Your content must be geared to

  • helping (educational content)
  • inspiring (providing useful ideas)
  • and entertaining (presenting insights in an engaging way)

your target group.

This will make your content the foundation for trusted authority.

PS: Did I just set myself up as a trusted authority or as a thought leader?