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The Role of Thought Leadership in SMEs

In life there are leaders and followers; the same can be said in business. To those unfamiliar with the term, ‘thought leadership’ may sound like just another corporate buzzword used to impress rather than inform, but becoming a thought leader is something more and more businesses are aspiring to be, and for good reason.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what a thought leader is and why it’s important to both B2C and B2B businesses. We will also explore the opportunities that exist for businesses that establish themselves as thought leaders and the barriers that can prevent them from doing so successfully.  

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What is a thought leader?

A thought leader is an individual or firm that’s recognised as an authority in a particular field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. More simply, thought leadership is all about having the answers to your clients’ and customers’ questions and being the company prospects turn to when they need advice. It’s often the case that thought leaders are the most successful individuals or businesses in their respective fields. They have the most knowledge, or at least are perceived to have more knowledge, and provide the best answers or advice.  

Thought leadership can come from any source within a company, whether it’s the business owner, product managers, the marketing team, customer service reps or sales people. Anyone who has knowledge, experience and a respected point of view about a product, service or sector has the potential to become a thought leader.

Why is thought leadership important?

Thought leadership has always been an important part of creating and differentiating a brand, but now, with the growing role content marketing plays in buying decisions, thought leadership has become more influential than ever before.

Many brands see content marketing as an opportunity to talk about their products and services and how they are better than everything else, but that is a sure way to make an increasingly informed audience tune out and lose the trust you have worked so hard to build.  Instead, with such a wealth of information out there, decision-makers are looking for resources they feel they can trust that answer the questions they have and allow them to make the most informed purchasing decisions.

By providing the most up-to-date, well researched and accessible information, thought leaders can establish themselves as the authority in their field and be the go-to brand for consumers searching for answers to their questions. By supporting the buyer through their journey, thought leaders build trust, create a brand affinity and greatly increase the likelihood of becoming the consumer’s final destination when it comes to making a purchase.

What are the benefits of becoming a thought leader?

Thought leadership is simply a different type of growth strategy. SMEs that take the time to assess, package and share their own case studies, knowledge sets and best practices early in the buying journey become part of the conversation. In doing so, they drive engagement with large numbers of potential customers, allow the audience to get to know them and build trust, all of which is key when it comes to the final buying decision.

Ultimately, like any marketing strategy, thought leadership is all about increasing sales, but unlike traditional marketing techniques, becoming a thought leader allows a brand to become a social business – that is, real people with real passion for the products and services talking to customers and buyers.    

Brands that successfully establish themselves as thought leaders experience numerous benefits. That includes:

  • Gaining a competitive advantage through differentiation – As a thought leader, prospective customers will perceive your brand as a cut above the rest.
  • Creating goodwill By answering questions and helping customers make their buying decisions you create invaluable goodwill towards your brand.
  • Building trust – Trust is an extremely important factor in all buying decisions, particularly in professional services. Offering a steady stream of impartial, expert advice shows you understand your prospects’ problems and have the level of expertise they need.
  • Improving client relationships – Offering free assets that provide value to your clients can improve the relationships you have.  
  • Increasing profitability – Thought leadership can help to create higher than average margins and lead to improved internal efficiency and work quality.
  • Improving your offering through development and innovation – Thought leaders have to be ahead of the curve and that forward-thinking attitude can lead to product and service improvement and innovation.
  • Opportunities to speak at events and contribute to third-party publications – Thought leaders have the opportunity to reach new people by appearing at industry events and writing articles for third-party publications.

What are the barriers to becoming a thought leader?

With such a compelling range of benefits, you’d think every SME would want to be a thought leader, but becoming an authority in your industry is not that simple. The truth is that establishing your brand as a thought leader is difficult and does not generate instant results, which can lead to financial trouble and company debt. Here are the reasons why many SMEs are reluctant to become thought leaders in their industry:

  • It takes time – Resources are tight. Most SMEs cannot dedicate the time it takes to become a thought leader, particularly when other more pressing matters constantly demand your attention.
  • It can be difficult to track ROI – Many SMEs are reluctant to dedicate time to marketing initiatives they cannot track the success of, particularly when budgets only allow a limited number of initiatives at a time.
  • Expectations are too high – SMEs can give up their attempts at becoming thought leaders too early due to unrealistic expectations. Any business owner knows that EVERYTHING takes longer than you expect.  
  • There are so many other options out there – With limited budgets, SEO, social media campaigns, Facebook ads, YouTube videos and any number of other marketing techniques can seem more appealing.  

Your audience is looking for help. By becoming a thought leader you can provide the assistance they need and boost your brand at the same time. But are you willing to put in the necessary work to become a thought leader? If you don’t, someone else will.

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