Thought leadership is one of those extremely alluring phrases that has wormed its way into everyday usage in the marketing business, becoming an official part of our professional jargon. In legal marketing it has acquired a particularly powerful appeal, in large part thanks to the Code of Professional Responsibility, which makes lawyers squeamish about branding themselves as experts or specialists, in the absence of any objective basis for doing so. But anyone can be a thought leader really -- all you need is few blog posts and a certificate from the Matchbook School of Thought Leadership Marketing.
No doubt for many of us, thought leadership will figure prominently in our resolutions and marketing plans for the coming year - either that we may become one ourselves or maybe just better help others to do so. So we are pleased to devote this special Holiday Season edition of the Marketing Brief to point out a few newly-emergent and essential rules of thought leadership marketing.
Rule Number One. The first rule of thought leadership marketing is simple and axiomatic, much like the first rule of Fight Club. Never, ever refer to yourself as a thought leader. And never, ever let your marketing department put out a press release that trumpets your recognition as a thought leader, as demonstrated by this cringeworthy example from the Cadwalader law firm. In fact, I would suggest if some legal publication ever offers you or someone you know recognition as a "Go-To Thought Leader" in your practice area, the only sensible thing to do is to immediately turn them down. Thought leadership is a form of promotion that ought never dare speak its own name and is almost equally dangerous in the mouth of others!
Rule Number Two. The path to authenticity lies somewhere between two extremes. This essential truth was best expressed by Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa, who was also known as the Rebbe of Rebbes among 19th century Hasidim. Talk about thought leadership! But Rabbi Bunim's advice is that we should always have two slips of paper with us - keeping one in each pocket. When you're feeling lowdown and depressed, reach in the right pocket and read the first slip which says "all the world was created for me." And when you're feeling high and mighty, reach in the left pocket and read the reminder "I am but dust and ashes." Put in parlance that the marketing department might be more familiar with, we all suffer from imposter syndrome just as we are all capable of great thought leadership. A trusted advisor (or a trusted person for that matter) is someone who acknowledges both tendencies, while steering for a middle course.
Rule Number Three. Being a thought leader with tens of thousands of followers just ain't all that it was once cracked up to be. Not long ago, it seemed, thought leadership stood as a great prize for any ambitious member of the professional class, like a merit badge in our digital world, which only comes within reach once you amass a sufficient number of followers. But as the currency of social media followers has been severely debased, it turns out that the merit badge of thought leadership has likewise become tarnished. Thought leaders have become a dime a dozen, really. And you don't have to take just my word for it, but look here at what Jay Harrington says. Jay has been one of the real thought leaders in thought leadership marketing -- sort of like a Rabbi Bunim for the digital age. And as he explains in a recent blogposts, it's no less important for you to be inner directed as outer directed when building your marketing platform; you should focus more on your own "zone of genius". In other words, true thought leadership is measured far more by the depth of your conviction than it is by the number of your followers.
So there you have it - three new rules of thought leadership marketing to guide your marketing efforts into 2021 and beyond. Don't be fooled by the numbers. Some think, others lead. Only rarely do the two coincide. Happy holidays everyone!