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Five Truths of Thought Leadership

Real thought leadership is being seen as the cutting-edge professional, the expert of all experts, the must call for someone in the market for an advisor. 

Thought leadership initiatives enable you to showcase your expertise in a genuine and scalable manner. This is a “pull” rather than “push” marketing strategy. Over time and through repetition, you’re helping your target market see first-hand that you’re a great solution for financial advice.  

The idea of thought leadership can seem a little vague, but by definition, it’s “a person or organization that is a recognized authority in a particular field and whose innovative ideas influence and guide others.” This goes beyond expertise that comes with simply being a financial advisor. Real thought leadership is being seen as the cutting-edge professional, the expert of all experts, the must call for someone in the market for an advisor. 

There is no one path to achieve this, but there are some commonalities of those who do it well.  When we met at Oechsli to discuss this concept, the five following truths came to mind:

  1. You’ll Need an Audience. 

A bigger audience means bigger results. Consider the difference between 50 and 5,000 followers on Facebook. If you have 50, your followers are friends, family, and close clients. Not much potential there. If you have 5,000, you’ve got a significant number of people who may not have engaged directly with you, but do find value in your ideas. These are prime candidates for future business.  

 We don’t need @cristiano numbers for this to work (340 million on Instagram). A thousand or more is a realistic objective, whether it’s on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or YouTube. Ask your clients and friends to follow, run ads to build followers, run promotions and offer giveaways. Most importantly, put out content that is follow-worthy, which leads us to...

  1. Your Content Can’t Be Basic.

Quality content (the things you post to your social channels) is the foundation of thought leadership. When you put time into this content, the subscribers come naturally.  

Too many advisors use third-party applications to post only content from outside sources (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc.). Sure, these advisors are “checking the box” when it comes to social media posting, however, solely relying on outside sources lacks building any true thought-leadership. It’s one step removed from not posting at all.

Think next-level in terms of custom designs, carousels and remember ...

  1. You’re Going To Be on Camera.

If you want to be seen as a thought leader, you have to be seen, so your content can’t be all text-based. Whether through recorded video, live video or a podcast, you’re enabling people to get to know and trust you.  

As Joe Chernov said in The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership, “The reason why thought leadership is a prerequisite [for gaining a competitive advantage] is because trust is a prerequisite, and thought leadership is a way to build trust.”  

This trust-building speeds up your sales process as well. In my early days at Oechsli, people would often need a briefing on the types of recommendations they could expect from our coaching program. Oftentimes now people say, “Oh, I already know all about you guys. I’ve watched a ton of videos.” That did not happen nearly as often when we were only in print media. 

  1. Consistency Is the Biggest Challenge.

It’s really easy to start a new initiative like building thought leadership, only to be sidetracked by the many other important items on your plate.   

First of all, coming up with creative content ideas is a challenge. Trust us, we do this every month for our social media clients. You want to blend personal and professional. The design matters. You’ve got to be timely. There are lots of variables. 

Ideally, you’ll want to use the same creative process every month, from conception to delivery.  When will you brainstorm ideas? How many posts do you need? When will you record videos?  How long will this all take?

  1. Your Results Are Guaranteed To Be Slow.

Your goal is to go from mostly selling (reaching out to people) to mostly lead management (people reaching out to you). This doesn’t happen quickly. Thought leadership really isn’t a sales strategy, but as part of the process leading to a buying decision, thought leadership is very much a part of the sales process. Your followers are gradually “sold” as they are exposed to you and your ideas. As you work towards consistent business coming from your thought leadership efforts, look for some of these signals that you’re on the right track:

  • Your metrics are steadily growing (views, impressions, etc.).
  • Clients and COIs verbally mention your content.
  • Non-clients begin to engage with your content.
  • New prospects reference your content.

So, if this is a lot of work and the results are slow, why bother? Put simply, you don’t have much of a choice. Every year that goes by, your prospects are becoming more digital in their decision making. This isn’t totally new as prospective clients have always engaged the brands and people they know. The difference is the playing field is becoming increasingly digital and to stay in the game, you need to be establishing thought leadership on your digital platforms.

Stephen Boswell is a partner with The Oechsli Institute, a firm that specializes in research and training for the financial services industry. @StephenBoswell

TAGS: Prospecting
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