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This article was published on February 1, 2014

How marketers can build thought leadership

How marketers can build thought leadership
Brian Honigman
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Brian Honigman

Brian Honigman is a marketing consultant and an adjunct professor at NYU. Get his free Content Marketing Style Guide. Brian Honigman is a marketing consultant and an adjunct professor at NYU. Get his free Content Marketing Style Guide.

Brian Honigman is a marketing consultant, a freelance writer and a social media enthusiast. This post originally appeared on Adknowledge.

Marketing is a highly competitive, continually changing field. Innovations in social media and mobile have cultivated an ongoing dialogue and education between consumers and businesses.

In order to stand out as a marketer today, you can’t simply follow the requirements of your role at an agency or a brand. It’s critical that you continually move past your job description and contribute to the industry conversation on a larger scale. Without doing so, you risk blending in as just another marketer in a very crowded and noisy profession.

Building thought leadership throughout your career is a helpful way of differentiating yourself from those around you. A thought leader is someone regarded as an authority in his/her field—someone other professionals in the field look up to.

It’s a term first coined 21 years ago in the pages of Strategy+Business, the publication from consulting firm Booz & Company. Through consistent education of other marketing professionals, you’ll slowly be recognized as a leader in your area of expertise.

Since the marketing industry is so vast, there are many areas of expertise that a professional can become familiar with and really own—like wearable tech, social media marketing, mobile advertising and more.

Education is the key to establishing yourself as a thought leader in your field, which can be executed in a multitude of ways through different forms of content and media. How each individual establishes thought leadership depends on skill set, interests, and most of all, comfort level with specific subject matter.

Much like networking online today, it’s important to test different techniques to see what works best for you and what resonates well with others.

Try one (or a few) of these approaches to help establish yourself as a thought leader in your area of marketing expertise.

1. Write consistently

One of the best ways to contribute to the conversation in the marketing industry—and build your credibility at the same time—is through writing about marketing news, strategies, your perspective, industry trends and more.

The writing you’re doing to help build conversations around you as a professional should live in a couple of different places to help reach different audiences interested in what you’re saying about the marketing world.

A marketer should attempt a combination of writing on a personal blog, writing for an employer’s blog and for third-party publications through guest blogging and syndication to get the most reach.


Marketer and writer Sabel Harris of TrackMaven executes her writing using this very technique to help build thought leadership for both her employer and herself. She frequently writes on her own blog about a variety of topics focused on both marketing and personal interests, on the TrackMaven blog about the marketing industry, as well as company updates.

She also occasionally contributes content on other industry blogs like Buffer’s blog or Fast Company.

Emulate Harris’s approach to building thought leadership through writing by finding a variety of websites where to can publish your content. To begin, start blogging on your own website—but do it consistently to build your credibility, confidence and writing style. That will prepare you for writing for your employer and eventually third-party publications.

2. Participate in speaking engagements

Not everyone is a good writer or enjoys writing; nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities to build thought leadership through public speaking as an additional way to share your expertise.

Whether you’re speaking with an audience in person at a conference, online through YouTube, Google+ Hangouts or on a TV segment, you’ll be able to articulate your unique perspective on the industry.

Look for speaking opportunities at a local Meetup, a business association, well-known conference like SXSW and more to get in front of the right audience of other professionals interested in marketing.


Start taking notes from thought leaders like Lewis Howes, who’s built his entire brand through speaking online and offline, through articles, hosting events, appearing in TV segments and more. When Howes appears on a Fox News segment, he’s asked about his expertise on building websites, marketing businesses on social media and other topics that he’s frequently spoken about on YouTube, written about in Entrepreneur Magazine and more.

Each opportunity a professional can take to help market himself as a thought leader is a step in the right direction, since each appearance or article offers promotion for more interviews, speaking engagements, articles, etc. It’s a virtuous circle.

3. Facilitate networking opportunities

As a marketing professional today, there’s always a fear of becoming obsolete due to industry changes. Many professionals attend networking events in order to grow their professional connections and remain relevant on the latest trends, platforms, companies and ideas.

However, thought leaders not only attend networking events but they help create and host them to foster connections in the larger marketing community and further grow their personal brands. Take the initiative and start your own Meetup, Twitter chat, Google+ Hangout series or conference related to your industry. They’ll be of value to other members in the marketing community.

Tonight! 8pm ET #SmallBizChat w/ @AnishaRKeeys How To Submit a Proposal to a Prospective Sponsor

— Melinda Emerson (@SmallBizLady) October 23, 2013

Melinda Emerson is an expert on small business success and is referred to as the @SmallBizLady on Twitter, where she’s started the Twitter chat #SmallBizChat in 2009.

The chat reaches 2.5 million Twitter users every week as Emerson, participants and guest experts discuss how to grow as a small business. The chat has become a resource for small business owners, a means of connecting small business professionals and a way to grow Emerson’s personal brand as a successful online marketer.

Starting a networking event online or offline about your area of expertise can help better associate your personal brand with your niche. It’s an effective way to grow your network, learn from others in the field and stay relevant on emerging trends; but it’s also a powerful way to lead the conversation about your industry.

4. Use social media to answer questions

Offline thought leadership opportunities are arguably more effective than online, since the speaker is presenting in front of a live audience rather than being in front of a computer. But online platforms and tools allow marketers to build thought leadership at a scale like never before.

LinkedIn Groups, Twitter, Quora, Spreecast, Google+ Hangouts and more allow you to communicate with a large audience from the comfort of your own home, at a greater scale than possible in real life.


First, visit social channels like Twitter, LinkedIn and Quora to look for questions about your expertise in marketing and then answer them in real time on these networks. Consistently do so across social media to associate your expertise as a professional with the topics you’d like to be an expert in, whether that’s mobile marketing, SEO, data analysis or another marketing discipline.

This is a long-term commitment to answering the questions of others in order to become a thought leader in a subject area.

Take searching across social media for questions about your expertise to the next level by calling for a question and answer “office hours” on one of your social accounts. Once you’ve built an engaged following, frequently remind them you’re here to help and would love to answer some of their questions.

Important question: What can I do for you? Keep it #reasonable please

— Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) January 2, 2014

Entrepreneur and marketer Gary Vaynerchuk uses this approach on Twitter and other platforms by calling out that he’d like to help his followers, answer questions and provide value as often as possible. This is one tactic for providing your expertise, perspective and influence to help others and establish yourself as an authority on a subject for the long-term.

Don’t think about what you’ll get in return; instead, experiment with your social channels to see what you can do to help the greater marketing community around you.

What tactics and strategies have you found helpful when it comes to growing your personal brand?