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Content Marketing: Are you still using thought leaders?

two people meeting with business equipment and coffee

Are you a thought leader? Is your content marketing full of thought leadership? It’s time to kill off your thought leaders. Trust me on this. A whole lot of people are going to be very happy if you do.

One of the most common requests I get from brands, big and small, is to create content proving thought leadership. They want to position their employees as thought leaders and need content to support it. Here’s the problem; when everyone is a thought leader, no one is a thought leader. I would argue no one ever was – at least not anyone I’ve ever met. Thought leaders see into the future. They’re ahead of everyone else in knowing what’s going to happen. Most of us are happy to get on the front end of any trend and even that’s hard.

man looking into crystal ballA couple of years ago I was complaining about the ubiquitous corporate visionary. I’ve also given innovative thinkers a hard time. With the exception of a very few wildly talented people, visionaries and innovators are absent from business. I would argue the same is true for thought leaders.

One of the few people I would say is a thought leader about content marketing recently outed himself as a failure when it comes to predicting the future. How I Missed On Every 2014 Content Marketing Prediction is Joe Pulizzi’s review of his performance in the thought leadership category. He and Robert Rose dissected their thought leadership shortcomings on their podcast explicitly titled, This Week in Content Marketing: Failed 2014 Content Marketing Predictions. The expertise of  Pulizzi and Rose is uncontested but even they admit it’s difficult to predict the future.

Goodbye thought leader

Thought leaders and thought leadership have reached their sell-by date. If you’re selling yourself as a thought leader, you’re already losing audience because we’re all worn out by the phrase. We don’t believe you. So if thought leaders are dead (or should be) what does that leave?

Hello subject matter expert

What people want more than anything is help making decisions. They welcome any education and insight your brand can give. They’re doing their own research, they’re looking for information and they want you to guide them. They don’t really care about what’s happening in a year or five years down the road. They want help right now. Who can provide that help? Someone who understands a subject better than anyone. Someone with practical experience. Someone that knows a product or service inside out. Subject matter expertise is going to improve conversions.

sales ticket showing subject matter expert offerUsing subject matter experts to improve sales

When I started selling software, I didn’t know the first thing about selling. I had a lot of knowledge about my products because I’d been using them for 15 years. I developed a consultative style of selling, helping my prospects and customers see where they could improve their efficiencies and save money. I spoke their language, I knew their pain, and I had a good answer on how to make life easier. I knew the pitfalls and the path to success.

The role of content marketing

I started developing my own content to prove I knew what I was talking about. This was 20 years ago and no one was calling it content marketing then, but it’s exactly what I was doing. I made my quota year after year. I made a lot of money. I had a great reputation as a salesperson and prospects would ask for me by name.

Isn’t that what you want? I recently heard Jeannine Rossignol from Xerox speak about content marketing. She said Xerox found thought leadership too hard. They killed their thought leadership program and focused on making their salespeople subject matter experts to help close more business.  Xerox creates shareable content to help with lead generation.


Quit calling yourself a thought leader

Please, do yourself a favour. Quit talking about thought leadership. Quit calling yourself a thought leader. Focus on what you know better than anyone and start creating content around your expertise. So you’re not a thought leader. Being an expert isn’t a bad exchange if you ask me.

What’s your take on thought leaders?

Image credit: The Wizard by Sean McGrath and Experts by Adam Engelhart at Flickr.