That's sound advice: to be visible, buzzed-about, and viewed as having a positive repute that drives leads and sales, they've got to step up and be seen as being at the head of the pack in terms of their intellectual capital, innovation and willingness to support the category -- and its constituents -- with information and education.
So what are some basic points to keep in mind if you're angling to be perceived as a "thought leader"?
Thought value: You need to put great information -- what we're calling "content" nowadays -- out there, but it needs to be deeply useful to the audience you're really and truly trying to influence. Copyscraping a list of tips-and-tricks won't do it, because they've probably seen the same kind of content in a lot of places.
Being a thought leader means whatever you're putting out there -- white paper, Webinar, blogging, podcasts, or any other means -- has to be not just relevant, but insightful. It needs to provide new answer -- or a least just ask new questions.
Bake it in: To really present yourself as a thought leader, the best route is to actually be a thought leader -- and that means making it part of your company culture and marketing mission, from top to bottom. Can the village idiot pass himself off as Albert Einstein? Not damn likely.
Take a look at your competitors, or even non-competitors, who've got a rep as being in the vanguard in terms of innovation. How do they do it? And how do they communicate that leadership without coming off as arrogant or elitist? Here's foolproof method: drive home a service mentality within your marketing and sales teams, where great ideas are a result of closer engagement with customers.
Distribute it pervasively: Use every occasion and touchpoint in your business calendar to put your "th0ught leadership" foot forward. It should be part of your branding across the board, not something you only include intermittently.
This doesn't entail selling as much as it does -- here comes that word again -- service. Held conference events and post white papers and e-books that avoid pumping up your own stature while giving real insights and useful guidance to prospects. Your product may be the natural solution to their challenges, but first show you've got to demonstrate an understanding of those challenges.
Give your intellectual capital away for free, in other words, to prove your value and get them into the sales funnel.
Treat it like (hard, hard) work: You can't be half-in, half-out when it comes to espousing thought leadership. It takes a lot of work, a willingness to share wisdom and some nuggets from your bag of tricks you may not be eager to share, and it may not clearly or immediately show up on your bottom line.
But to bootstrap your perception as the industry brainiac or the steward of category advancement, you've got to put in the work.
One day, you'll realize you're not just being perceived as a thought leader...you've actually become one.