How to Be a Thought Leader

by Sir John Hargrave on 05/26/2020

In the media and communications world, everyone wants to be a “thought leader.”

But there are two requirements: you need original thoughts, and you need to be a leader.

During the CoronaCrisis, it’s easy to see the true thought leaders. They’re putting out great stuff — from original research to blog posts — that helps us make sense of these trying times. They’re helping us understand what the heck is going on.

Elon Musk is a thought leader. You may love him or hate him, but he’s changed the way we think about everything from electric cars to space travel to baby names.

Jack Dorsey is a thought leader. He changed the game on corporate America by recently announcing that Twitter employees don’t have to go back into the office ever again.

Richard Rohr is a thought leader. The Franciscan friar is one of the preeminent voices in religion today, with nearly 100,000 Twitter followers and a bestselling book.

It’s not easy being a thought leader, because you need thoughts and you need to be a leader. Both are difficult. But what’s more important is you need consistency and persistency. (That’s not a word, but it rhymes.)

Consistency and persistency. Let’s explore these two attributes of great thought leaders.

Consistency: Repeat the Same Message Three Times

There’s a kind of “common wisdom” in marketing circles that people have to be exposed to a message several times before they remember it. Depending on who you ask, this number may be seven times, twelve times, or a hundred times (especially if you’re talking to someone whose job is selling you a hundred ads).

The research on this shows there is no “magic number,” but there is a concept called effective frequency. The most helpful way to think about this concept is to repeat the message three times.

This theory was first put forth by Herbert Krugman, a cognitive psychologist who studied how people react to advertising. Let’s say you’ve got a new idea you’re trying to introduce to the public. Krugman came up with the rule of threes.

1) The first exposure to a message makes someone ask, “What is it?”

2) The second exposure makes them ask, “What of it?”

3) The third exposure makes them ask, “What will it cost me?”

He calls these three phases Curiosity (what is this thing?)Recognition (why is this thing important?) and Decision (is this thing right for me?)They work for anything, from a brand logo to a nonprofit’s message to a Google ad.

Anything after three exposures, he says, is gravy. It’s just a repetition of the third exposure, with the person continually asking, “Is it right for me?” or “What will it cost?”

To be a thought leader, aim to repeat your message at least three times. Three times and it sticks. (And if you’ve read this far, you’ve already been exposed to this idea three times.)

Persistency: Not a Word, But it Rhymes

Thought leaders have to also be persistent with their messages. It’s not enough to say it once; you’ve got to repeat it over a long period of time. Frequency matters, but so does duration.

You’ve also got to recognize how people communicate today. They don’t read a single blog post and change their minds; effective communication means hitting them with blogs, videos, Google ads, and all their social media feeds.

With our CoCo (Coronavirus Communication) project, for example, we created a “Campaign Brief” for each idea. Let’s say we were trying to communicate the idea of a “New Normal.” We created:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Newsletters
  • Hashtags
  • Social media graphics

If this seems overwhelming, remember these items can be reused across channels. A blog post can feature a video. Your newsletters can use a social media graphic. Your videos can use a hashtag. This is how you build a persistent “campaign” around a single idea.

Over time, your ideas become a “thing.” By repeating them (consistency) across every channel (persistency), they start to take root in the public imagination. And from there, if they’re any good, they grow.

Not all thoughts catch on. But some thoughts do. (How many times have you heard #NewNormal now?)

Change Minds and You Change the World

Thought leaders literally change the world, by changing our minds. They recognize that it doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a gradual change over time, with messages that are both consistent and persistent.

But the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s a great time to become a thought leader, to help us make sense of this post-pandemic world.

The journey of a thought leader begins with a single tweet.

5 Business Best Practices During the Coronacrisis:

> Look for ways you can become a “thought leader” to your co-workers or your community.

> Be consistent: beat the drum on a regular basis.

> Be persistent: try to get your message out across multiple channels.

> Remember: leaders don’t get involved in Twitter wars. Rise above.

> Spend 10% of your time helping others.