The ROI of Thought Leadership, with Stephen Woessner
Today’s episode is going to be a solocast about The ROI of Thought Leadership. A solocast is just you and me exploring a topic with some real depth – and my hope is that you will find today’s discussion particularly valuable as you look to double down on the growth of your business during the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2019 – and doubling down on your thought leadership – sharing the depth of your expertise – ought to be one of your core strategies.
So for today – I am going to share what I think is the recipe behind the ROI of Thought Leadership. But I do want to warn you – once I’m finished with this recording – it will likely be one of my longest, deepest solocasts ever. So buckle in, Onward Nation – we’re going to be together for a while on this one. I’m doing that because I wanted to make this discussion super meaty so it could be helpful to you – and candidly – I really hate lessons that just skim the surface – and my guess is…you do, too.
So get ready for the deep dive.
I’ll break down the core ingredients – and – I will share with you the order for what ingredient to mix together and when to ensure you maximize your ROI opportunities. My guess is – there will be moments during this episode that you feel uncomfortable because I will be encouraging you to give serious thought to your point-of-view – why you do what you do – or – when I push you create weekly cornerstone content and share it with your audience – no matter how large or small…because you ask yourself, “What do I have to share that would be valuable or unique?”
Please know, Onward Nation – when you begin to doubt yourself when you feel yourself starting to resist like that, when you start getting anxious and you look for a way out of the situation, or an excuse to delay a decision…that is the imposter syndrome working against you. You need to recognize it for what it is – kick the fear to the curb – commit to doubling down – and move onward with gusto. When you do – the fear will subside and you will begin to build momentum over time.
Okay – so let’s breakdown what we’re going to cover today.
I’ll start us off by sharing what in my opinion are the two core ingredients to true thought leadership recipe. They are:
- Expertise: a true thought leader is not a one trick pony.
- A true thought leader has a depth of expertise in a particular niche or niches. They have gone an inch wide and a mile deep.
I will break down both ingredients in just a minute so we can pour a solid foundation for what thought leadership is – and isn’t.
Once we have the foundation in place – I am going to walk you through what I believe are the three ingredients to driving ROI from your thought leadership. More specifically – how will your business benefit greatly because you took the time to share your insights, wisdom, and expertise in a super generous way with an audience…your audience.
- How did your business generate more leads?
- How did you drive revenue?
- How were you able to charge a premium price for your services as a result of your thought leadership?
Here are the three ingredients to the ROI of your thought leadership – and I will break each one down during this solocast.
- The first ingredient is to get clear on your point of view or POV for short. Why do you do what you do — and — who do you do it for? I will walk you through the process of uncovering your POV.
- The second ingredient in the ROI recipe is to create consistent cornerstone content that plants your point-of-view deep into the ground…just like you were planting a flag…staking a claim…and saying, “This is my land” to everyone who passes by.
- Monetize your content.
Business owners typically want to go right to monetize – “How much revenue will I generate from my content?” And while it is super important to build out a monetization strategy before you begin creating content to keep yourself on track – it is also important to realize that asking your audience to do something for you before you have given a ton to them – will not work out well.
Out with the Hyperbole, In with Authenticity
Okay – so that’s the framework for today’s solocast. But let me also share why, in my opinion, this thought leadership conversation was important to share with you, Onward Nation.
The words “Thought Leadership” are used so often today that it’s easy to lose sight of the true definition of the moniker.
And it’s difficult to visit social, YouTube, or do a Google search about a topic and not find several self-anointed “thought leaders” with an opinion to share along with a landing page designed to pull you into an automated email sequence and sell you a coaching program where they can “help you reach 7-figures in your business.”
When I hear stuff like that – I roll my eyes and quickly lose interest because most of the time it just marketing hyperbole. The waters have become red because of self-aggrandizement, a whole lot of ego thumping, and very little focus on being helpful to an actual audience that cares. So because of the redness of water — I wanted to give you the recipe behind true thought leadership – and the ROI of that content – so that if and when you embraced the strategy to build your business – you would go down the right path and not be distracted.
True thought leaders rarely use the term “thought leader” when describing themselves or when sharing their background. A thought leader never spews low-value content about their personal brand all over social media — and then chatters non-stop. Instead — true thought leaders are quietly and patiently focused on drilling a deep, deep, deep, deep well of expertise in their craft and within a particular industry (or industries). They work hard, they make mistakes, they have some successes, and they make more mistakes. And they do that over decades. In other words — a true thought leader is an expert – not a one-trick pony. Again – back to the framework for this solocast…expertise is the first ingredient.
Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony
So what do I mean by not being a one-trick pony? Well, let’s go back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. The traveling circuses of the day were referred to as “dog and pony shows.” The shows were given that name because they featured trained dogs and ponies as main attractions during the performances. Utilizing dog and pony acts within the show was necessary because the traveling circuses were typically forced to perform in outdoor venues that didn’t offer much in the way of space and accommodations. But if a smaller show proved to be successful — then perhaps a more elaborate show could be persuaded to make its way to the same small town — and with it — would come an opportunity to perform in front of a paying audience. These dog and pony shows were also credited with the origin the colloquial phrase still commonly used today, “one-trick pony.”
The story could be fact or fiction and is said to involve The Cuffling Circus while they were performing in Oregon in 1905. One of the Cuffling performances didn’t go so well. The featured act that evening involved a pony that unfortunately for the circus and the audience — knew just a single trick — how to play dead. The dull and unimaginative act lacked depth and substance. So much so that the audience demanded a refund. And the phrase, “one trick pony,” was born. To this day, when something is referred to as a “one-trick pony” — or someone is encouraged to “be more than a one-trick pony,”…it implies the person has a single talent and a very shallow depth of expertise…if any.
So a true thought leader is the complete opposite of a one-trick pony.
Do’s and Don’ts of a True Thought Leader
A true thought leader has invested decades perfecting their craft, they have developed a depth of expertise, and when they share their knowledge with their audience — the audience is better for it. He or she has also honed their teaching skills and can creatively share their experience through a provocative point-of-view, which results in attracting an audience who views the world through a similar lens. And they’re focused on being helpful to their audience across multiple channels because this gives them the opportunity to impact more people…faster.
In fact — I covered the one-trick pony topic with some real depth back in Episode 854 of Onward Nation.
Here’s what true thought leaders don’t do. They don’t go to Barnes & Noble one weekend, buy all of the bestselling books on a topic, read them, summarize or “curate” the content, and then add some of their “insights” on top of the other’s work and then expect that level of effort will qualify as their “thought leadership.” It doesn’t. That isn’t thought leadership. That’s charlatanism.
And it’s worthless.
“Thought leader” is a term your audience will use to describe you — when they value you. And they will call you that, or “expert,” or “guide,” or “mentor” — because you have given so much of yourself to help them get better, to improve, to add new skills, or to master your area of expertise. Thought leadership is never self-proclaimed, which takes us to the second ingredient in the foundation of thought leadership.
A true thought leader goes an inch wide and mile deep with their expertise in a niche or niches. Not the other way around – a mile wide and an inch deep.
A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep
Let me share some context with another piece of history. In 1889, American journalist and humorist Edgar Nye introduced the phrase “A mile wide and an inch deep.” He was referring to the Platte River found in the Midwestern and western United States. The Platte is a muddy, wide, shallow, meandering stream with a swampy bottom, which make it difficult to be used as a navigation route. Though the Platte is an important tributary system in the Missouri River Watershed, it was disqualified from use because of its lack of depth. Nye wrote that the river “had a very large circulation, but very little influence. It covers a good deal of ground, but it is not deep. In some places, it’s a mile wide and three-quarters of an inch deep.” Being labeled “a mile wide and an inch deep” was not intended to be complementary to the Platte River and has gone on to be used in business, politics, academia, and other fields to describe people whose knowledge is superficial.
So, Onward Nation – instead of going wide and attempting to attract a broad audience for their cornerstone content – true thought leaders do the reverse.
They confidently niche down and go narrow but they also go deep.
If you want to be seen as a thought leader – you cannot be superficial with your substance and your helpfulness. You need to do the exact opposite of what Nye observed with the Platte River. You need to go an inch wide and a mile deep with serving your audience with your expertise.
As I mentioned a few minutes ago – a true thought leader is not a “one trick pony”, and because of that — they teach from a depth of expertise and there is much to share. They’ve studied and acquired their knowledge by being a practitioner in their industry. They’ve had real-world success as well as some colossal failures. And because of all their comprehensive body of work, they offer their audience content that is narrow, deep, and focused on serving a niche.
In their brilliant book entitled “Niche Down”, co-authors Christopher Lochhead and Heather Clancy wrote…
“Become known of a niche you can own. That way, others will follow you. Others will be compared to you versus you being compared to others. That’s a good thing. You’ll be the person who changes people’s thinking with a different point-of-view.”
So be bold — niche down and go narrow with your cornerstone content. When you do, you will attract clients who are aligned with the niches your business is focused on serving, and you will shorten the time it takes for you to monetize your content and drive ROI.
ROI Behind Being a Thought Leader Recipe
Hopefully, that feels like we have poured a solid foundation around what thought leadership is – what it isn’t — and that I have given you a good push to head down the right path. Now, let’s shift our attention toward why a business owner should have the goal of being seen as a thought leader – or more specifically – what’s the ROI behind it?
In my opinion — there are three ingredients to the ROI of the Thought Leadership recipe.
Ingredient #1: Gain Clarity Around Your Point-of-View
You gain clarity around your point of view by asking yourself some tough questions and being honest yourself around the answers:
- Why do you do what you do?
- Who does your business serve?
- Who don’t you want to serve? Because not every client is an ideal client.
- And what recommendations do you hear yourself making time after time, after time – that will give you a great lens into what you believe.
- And why – like in your core – why is all of this so important to you?
When you get clear on that – you will have uncovered your point of view and you can use that to both attract the right prospects and clients to you and .to repel the clients you don’t want to serve. But you must be bold enough to speak from your POV – don’t hide it – don’t sugar coat it – don’t run from it – be you. And your audience – the right audience – will love you for it.
Ingredient #2: Create Weekly Cornerstone Content Expressing Your Point-of-View
Once you have gained clarity around your point of view – it is time begin creating weekly cornerstone content that expresses your point of view – shareing your expertise through the lens of your point of view…and as a result…you end up planting a flag deep in the ground around your area of expertise.
You show the world – through your content – that you are not a one trick pony and that you are not a mile wide and an inch deep. Week after week…you come to your audience…even if it is super, super small in the beginning…and you give all of yourself. You share. You teach. You illustrate your insights and wisdom in a helpful way. You’re not self-aggrandizing. You’re not bragging. You’re not thumping your chest and talking about how great you are.
No. That’s not thought leadership.
Instead, you are taking the time to be helpful in your weekly cornerstone content – and by doing that – you are building an audience. You are building a nation of true fans. People who love you. People who want to meet you. People who will hop on a plane to spend time with you because they know you have something to teach and share with them – and they will be better for it.
And when you do that over time – and your audience sees and hears how sincere you are – and that you have their best interests at heart – you will be ready to move onto the last ingredient.
Ingredient #3: Monetization of Your Content
When you have something to sell, maybe it’s an in-person workshop, maybe you and your team are rolling out a new service offering, or you’re launching a book…whatever…your audience – not everyone of course – but a chunk of your audience will be eager to support you. Or – perhaps there is a third-party brand that steps forward and says, “Hey – your audience is also our audience – and we’d like to share what we do with them. Could we sponsor your blog, your live event, your podcast, or your weekly e-newsletter so we can get in front of them?”
All of which could be awesome assuming the brand is a good fit for your audience and aligned with your mission, purpose, and values.
But here’s the super important point – the monetization ingredient becomes available to you because you invested in your audience first – way, way, way before you ever asked them to invest in you. You poured everything you had into them — and you did that consistently — and maybe you did that for years — so it is only natural then that after that kind of value exchange – they would be ready and willing to help you when you make your ask.
Overview of the ROI
Okay – so let me summarize by saying…there are a couple core ingredients to true thought leadership and they revolve around your expertise – the depth of it – and the focus you apply to a niche or niches.
And then there are three ingredients to the ROI side of thought leadership…beginning with clarity around your point of view, creating weekly cornerstone content that is aligned with your POV and is helpful to your audience, and finally…monetizing your content – but there is no short cutting – you can’t start out of the gate with content that is all over the place…with a lack of focus, self-aggrandizing, and shallow – and expect you will drive biz dev.
It just doesn’t work that way.
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