You’ve spent blood, sweat, tears and the better part of your hair building up a thriving and shiny startup. What you may have failed to realise is that in this frantic, stressful time, your business is not the only thing that has emerged changed – you have.
Your education, experiences, the trials and errors, the plotting and plodding, have made you valuable. The pressure has transformed you into a diamond, or in more mundane parlance, you’re a thought leader.
Thought leadership in technology is the next logical step in building your startup business and should be an integral part of your brand strategy. Engaging in thought leadership allows you to:
- Create better quality leads and sales
- Differentiate yourself from your competitors
- Show the warm, smart, funny, passionate humans behind the business facade (especially important if you’re a b2b business).
And contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to do a TEDTalk, be the founder of a social network or have a sizeable and vocal interest in chuffing off to Mars (though admittedly these things all help). You just need to be able and willing to put yourself out there and talk about what you love. Below, we’ll take you through the steps to make sure you (and your business) shine bright like a diamond.
1. The person. The business. The brand. The leader.
Ok, so the above sounds like a really dodgy/excellent movie about a star who soared too high too fast, but the dichotomy applies. When you are embarking on becoming a thought leader you have to be mindful of two strands: your personal brand and your business brand.
Both are important, and as the diagram shows, they leverage the other creating what’s known as the halo effect. In essence, you are using the trust one generates to build the other.
For example, Steve Jobs used his personal brand to both drive and inform Apple. His well-known uncompromising quest for excellence, his emphasis on cohesive minimalism and his drive to change the world, are all values that we now associate with Apple. His brand was so strong that you can’t think of your iPhone (or black turtlenecks for that matter), without remembering Steve Jobs.
The inverse works as well. A representative of a well-known thought-leader such as IBM or GE will automatically attract interest at an event, because their business brands are so intrinsically associated with innovation, which provides a great way for the senior stakeholders of the business to boost their profiles. Startups tend to use this model to create a profile for the MD or founder, then using that to increase brand reach for the business.
2. Get involved
You may have noticed that the diagram above outlines the types of content that help to solidify business and personal brands. Before you attempt to create any content however, you need to ask this question:
Where is my ideal customer and what might they like to see?
To find this out you can:
- Set Google Alerts with key terms your buyer might use
- Subscribe to industry publications, newsletters and emails
- Join industry LinkedIn groups
- Assess what your competitors are doing
- Attend industry events
- Keep an eye out for newsworthy or controversial events that are affecting your industry and develop a stance.
This latter point worked particularly well for a client of ours, Booking Boss. Booking Boss operate a travel ticketing and operations platform and have a team with a wealth of tourism and travel experience. In the past, industry heavyweight TripAdvisor made the news when the company changed its policy so visitors could no longer book attractions that came into contact with wild or endangered animals. Booking Boss offered a speedy reply on the changes and how it may affect attraction operators. That blog post became their most viewed pieces of all time. This leads us to our next point:
3. Thought leadership is not the conduit through which you sell your product
The Booking Boss piece worked well because they are experts who are amply qualified to comment on industry matters. The ban doesn’t really relate to their main point of business (automated ticketing platforms), but it does relate to their brand values of being ethical, agile and informed travel gurus.
What is important to note, is that at no time do they mention their platforms. If they had, it would have been like seeing a bear sitting on a cake table; distracting, off-putting and frankly, a little upsetting. You are letting your would-be customers get to know you, your values and your place in proceedings. To hammer them with a sales-pitch is boorish. Expert content is best when it’s addressing an issue or a pain-point for a customer or an industry and your qualifications and value should come through by demonstrating how you articulate and tackle such an issue.
Here at Bc, we are huge fans of Jason Fried, co-founder of Basecamp, an online project management system. Fried’s output is enviable. He writes regularly about issues that affect his business, his hatred of meetings, and his decision to narrow his business offering to the basecamp platform. He also recently gave an excellent TEDTalk titled Why work doesn't happen at work.
The talk discusses why the office and the two big M’s (management and meetings), are an anathema to productivity and to deep thinking. He offers some great and simple advice about how management can create a space where their teams can actually get some solid work done.
It is inspiring, thought-provoking and controversial (well, to those wedded to meetings). What is impressive (and why Fried is such a good leader) is that he is addressing a very common problem for his audience, a question he responds to with great insight, depth and originality (and he doesn’t mention Basecamp even once).
4. Play to your strengths
When building up a profile for your team, you wouldn’t have the COO commenting on branding, or your Head of Marketing talking about the issues with retaining great talent in the IT industry. Your commentary – your speaking engagements, your guest posts and even your social should be geared to the topics within the business that you are the expert on. The best way to do this is to create an editorial calendar, get some content topics and assign them to appropriate members of your team.
Another mistake businesses make is to say yes to all publicity and speaking opportunities that come their way. Please don’t. Be strategic. Really stop to think about how you could add value to the event and whether the event is a good fit for your current business goals.
5. Sparkle on
We hope that these tips give you a good sense of what’s involved in building your personal and business profile. Thought leadership in technology can take a bit of work and time away from the nuts and bolts for the business, but it’s not only useful for the business, it can be enjoyable and energising to have an avenue to speak about what you love and impart all your hard-earned knowledge to others.
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