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9 min read

From trash to treasure: How to create thought leaders

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This article originates from a presentation at the Revenue Marketing Summit in Denver, 2023 when Andrea was the Head of Marketing at Trulioo. She has since changed roles. Catch up on this presentation, and others, using our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your membership dashboard.

Embarking on the journey of thought leadership is akin to transforming trash into treasure. It's a process of finding hidden gems in your experiences and expertise, then refining and sharing them in a way that resonates with others. 

I'm Andrea Lechner-Becker, Head of Marketing at Toolio, and my expertise lies in not just strategizing but also in the art of creating thought leaders. Whether you're directly responsible for this or work with a content team, understanding the importance of thought leadership is crucial. 

In this article, I'll guide you through the nuances of identifying and nurturing a thought leader, utilizing the right frameworks and strategies. We’ll explore how to effectively communicate your unique insights, connect with your audience, and ultimately establish a strong personal brand.

Understanding thought leadership

Let's delve into what truly defines a thought leader. While it may seem straightforward, there are essential nuances that are often misunderstood. 

A common mistake is equating thought leadership with a company's message. This is not the case. A thought leader is an individual, a unique human being who offers distinct insights and perspectives based on their personal experiences. This distinction is critical.

Image courtesy of Andrea Lechner-Becker - Screenshot taken from Kim Kardashian's Instagram story.

Thought leader vs. spokesperson

It's important to differentiate between a thought leader and a spokesperson. In the context of a conference or a corporate event, a spokesperson is aligned with and promotes the company's brand message. However, a thought leader stands apart due to their independent thoughts, shaped by years of unique experiences.

The first element is the idea itself, which should be original and innovative. The second element is the approach to these ideas. A thought leader's method of addressing and presenting ideas should be as unique as the ideas themselves.

The cornerstone of thought leadership is experience, which includes the insights and lessons learned through various professional endeavors. My own journey in creating thought leaders and the successes I've had in this realm make me confident in guiding others. Sharing these insights, I aim to help you understand and embrace the process of cultivating true thought leadership.

The unique attributes of a thought leader

Let's consider an example: Kim Kardashian offering advice on cryptocurrency. While she is a renowned influencer, does her influence extend credibly into the realm of crypto advice? The answer is likely no. This distinction leads us to explore the differences between an influencer, a spokesperson, and a thought leader.

Unlike an influencer, a thought leader is characterized by experience and the trust that experience cultivates. Thought leadership is not just about connecting with an audience – something Kim Kardashian excels at – but also about earning trust and imparting knowledge. 

People should feel that engaging with a thought leader is a valuable use of their time, expecting to learn and benefit from the interaction.

Identifying thought leaders in organizations

Often, CEOs, particularly founding CEOs, naturally emerge as thought leaders. Their palpable passion for their work makes them effective in this role. In specialized fields like cybersecurity, you might find Chief Security Officers (CSOs) as thought leaders due to their technical expertise and ability to connect with a knowledgeable audience.

Platforms like LinkedIn have become stages for emerging thought leaders in the marketing technology (martech) sector. Employees at companies like Marketo or Chili Piper are becoming thought leaders, leveraging their specialized knowledge to engage with their audience. Whether in sales tech or martech, these individuals become valuable resources due to their expertise.

While CEOs and C-level executives are prime candidates for thought leadership, don't overlook others in your organization. Individuals with unique experiences and insights can offer immense value.

Whether they are in sales, marketing, or another department, their knowledge and experiences can be instrumental in establishing trust and connection with your audience.

The pink sheets framework for thought leadership

Welcome to the heart of the framework I use for developing thought leadership - the Pink Sheets. This methodology is designed to transition from abstract concepts to specific details, catering to diverse thinking styles.

Written by:

Andrea Lechner-Becker

Andrea Lechner-Becker

Andrea is the co-host of OWNED, an AudiencePlus show. She has extensive experience as CMO and CSO at multiple companies, and recently had a stint as Head of Marketing at Toolio.

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From trash to treasure: How to create thought leaders