"Doing it (thought leadership) well means understanding thought leadership has a structure. Because it has a structure, it can be managed, measured, and optimized as the basis of all of your marketing," I wrote in the previous Pullfillment post, the Pullfillment Gap.
And, in case you are landing on this without having read the prior posts, let me explain what Pull and Pullfillment are: The word “pull” is a clean label for the actions people take to get what they want from companies. They Pull in order to get “Pullfillment”: the experience of using the product or service.
So, back to thought leadership, which is how we can define elevated pullfillment and lead an audience to expect that and only that.
Most of what is labeled thought leadership is demonstrating knowledge with "expert" content.
However, the "expert model" on its own falls short of well-structured thought leadership. Here's a couple of key points to help draw out the distinction:
It's about your audience's thinking.
First, thought leadership isn't just about your thinking. What's more important is how your prospects and customers think about how they use what you sell.
Taken literally, thought leadership simply means leading thought. So thought leadership is leading an audience from old thinking to well-designed new thinking. After all, isn't it more powerful to focus on the ideas rather than the idea-maker?
Relating this point to structure, the 3 main building blocks of the Thaut Process of thought leadership can be most simply called LEO: the roaring, golden king of the jungle at the top of the thought leadership food chain.
LEO: L= Listen , E=Envision, O=Output
Building a thought leadership model to move thinking includes knowing the starting place. There's a reason LEO starts with "L" for "Listen". It's a special kind of listening to learn the high level thinking of the marketplace.
If you don't know the thinking you are leading them from, how can you take them to where you want them to go? If you want to fly to New York and call me for a ride to the airport saying, "I'm somewhere around Charleston" I won't find you and can't get you there. Knowing where you are helps me get you from laid-back, Spanish moss-shadowed Charleston to big, lit-up, dazzling Manhattan.
I find it interesting and disturbing that much of online marketing consists of spying on people to target them with ads that follow them. It seems much more productive to instead listen to learn what they want and give it to them. Then you can respond to their "learning pull" online with content optimized for what they are searching for and lead them from there to somewhere new: your distinctive thought leadership position. And if you've listened the right way, you give them what they might never have thought of, but will love.
The insights that come from this kind of listening are one of the 3 legs needed to hold up the stool of thought leadership called LEO. The "L" of listening combines with "E" - envisioning the thought leadership position creatively and "O"- outputting it effectively to your audience.
There are higher levels of thought leadership than sharing expertise.
Hints about what they will love, in your audience's values and beliefs, reveal themselves in authentic online conversations, where people really speak their minds. These aren't in the blog posts or web copy; those are typically contrived. They are in comment threads in response to polarizing articles. They are on Reddit. So it takes different tools* to find them and parse the language for the leverage that leading with higher level thinking like values, beliefs, and identity can give.
Step back to a broader perspective, one that includes how people use the thought leadership, and you'll see influencing on these higher levels is what transforms. Thought leadership isn't simply showing what you know, it's empowering your audience to get more value Doesn't it demonstrate more expertise to also influence on higher levels than knowledge?
The question then become on what levels of thinking we are listening to and leading on?
You can consider these higher levels the harmonics of pull. They are like harmonics in music. The exquisite sound of an upright bass isn't just coming just the low frequency thump of the root note. It’s these harmonics, these pleasant sounding higher frequencies mathematically related to the fundamental note underneath them, that give the instrument its true character and aid a skilled musician in conveying nuanced subtleties of emotions.
Similarly, the pull expressed through consumer behavior has harmonics as well. These harmonics are higher levels that can be aligned with or led to a new place with thought leadership.
Here's a table summarizing these levels and how to use them in thought leadership. This model, called the "pullamid" as it can take a pyramid shape, is an adaptation of NLP leader Robert Dilts' model "Logical Levels". Like in Dilts' model, change moves downward: higher levels can change lower levels but not the other way around.
The "Harmonics of Pull": Levels of Thought Leadership
|Level of Thought Leadership||Definition||How to Lead and Influence|
|Core Purpose||Their highest mission or purpose in life||Better Align Your Offering With a Higher Purpose|
|Identity||Who they see themselves as in relationship to your offering||Align Your Offering with a Desired Sense of Identity|
|Values||What's important in terms of feelings or state of mind||Shift the values connected with what you sell to more important ones.|
|Mental Models||What they believe about your offering.||Lead Them to Better Mental Models (possibly aligning with higher values, identity, and/or purpose)|
|Skillset||Knowledge and skills||Educate by sharing expertise about your offering. Most "thought leadership" aims only on this level.|
|Pull||Expressed customer demand, what they give up to get what you offer||Directly trigger purchase of your product. Most advertising aims only at this level.|
|Pullfillment||Customer experience in using your offering||Better customer experience, AKA Pullfillment, can "flow down" from higher level influence.|
So, it's about the thought leadership, not the thought leader. And, while it may help to show them what you know and expand their skillset, leading thinking on higher levels like values is more powerful. And since change cascades downward from higher levels, better mental models and values can encourage gaining more knowledge and skills.
If you do it well, once your audience embraces your thought leadership model, they won't consider doing business with anyone else. You teach them how to elevate their experience of what you sell and create a pullfillment gap, that leaves your competition back at the dusty ghost town of "the old way".
In future posts, I will give various examples of this higher-level thought leadership and show how to best design a robust thought leadership model that can move the mind of a marketplace.
*We are currently developing and testing such listening tools at Thaut