MarketingProfs B2B Forum 2023

The 4 Pillars of Thought Leadership with Ashley Faus

What’s it take to be a Thought Leader?

In this excerpt from 2022’s B2B Forum, Ashley Faus (director of Integrated Product Marketing at Atlassian) shares the four pillars that support thought leadership.

Watch this insightful excerpt or read Ashley’s transcript below. And for more excellent presentations and sessions on being a market leader, join us at B2B Forum in Boston this November!.




The four goals of our [Thought Leadership]  framework:

First, assess current efforts.

How many of you are doing “thought leadership” in some form or fashion at your company? Right? How’s that going for you? It’s going good for Christopher… Devon’s like, “I don’t know.” Like you there, you don’t know, right?

So step one: we wanna assess whether what we’re doing is actually working, right?

Step two, we wanna create a consistent and holistic plan.

Next, we wanna create a pipeline to scale. If you only have one person, what if they get sick? What if they take parental leave? What if they leave the company? What if they have a scandal? We’ve been seeing a lot of that recently, right? Social media has allowed us to expose some of the things that maybe we didn’t wish were so exposed. And so if that person is no longer the person that you want to be, the face and the voice of the company, who’s behind them?

And then finally, have actionable recommendations. So if you found someone who’s smart and credible and it’s like, man, you could be a thought leader. I hear this a lot. “We have a lot of really smart people. They could be a thought leader.” Okay, well why aren’t they? “Well, we just don’t, we don’t know what to do with them.”

Great. Let’s create a toolkit to give ’em some actionable recommendations!

So before I share the framework, I want to frame the framework first. It is confined to knowledge workers. So we’re not defining celebrities, entertainers, musicians, sports stars, or other famous people. I see this a lot where people will start to compare someone to, like, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Okay, I’m sorry, B2B marketer. You’re probably not gonna be him, right? That’s not how this works. You’re not gonna become Magic Johnson.

This is confined to knowledge workers. This is intentionally for folks like yourselves in B2B marketing.

Next, you have to have a thought, okay? You have to be making improvements. You have to be executing in novel ways and otherwise iterating or introducing something new and original.

If you take the phrase thought leadership, at its core, it’s two things. Have thoughts. Be a leader, which leads me to my next item. “Good at your job” does not mean you are a thought leader, right? You can be very smart, you can be making a ton of money for yourself, for your team, for your company.

But if you’re not codifying that great work and sharing it externally, you’re not a leader.

So with that framework in mind, let’s talk through these four pillars.

First, we have credibility. This is really about that expertise, that authority. Do people believe you when you say things?

Next, profile. And this is what a lot of people think of when they think of thought leaders. Oh, this is someone famous. They have a lot of followers. They’re well known. Yes, you need to be well known. You need to have that audience—but it has to work in tandem with the other three pillars. 

Next, being prolific. So this is long form content, short form content, asset types, different channels. Are you speaking? Are you on podcasts? Do you have a book? This is very controversial. I struggle to say that you must have a book, but you will find that a lot of the most well-known thought leaders do have some form of long form content, whether that is a podcast that’s been going for years, or a book that you can buy off the shelf.

And finally, depth of ideas. So this is that piece of the new, or novel, or shaping, or driving the conversation forward. Influencing the industry trends.

So the pillars work together in tandem. And this is not a linear thing, right? You have to figure out where you are on this spectrum. You rate yourself in each pillar, and that then tells you, okay, how do I move up? What next action do I need to take?

I would say that you don’t actually have to get to the very top of every pillar to be an effective spokesperson, influencer, subject matter expert, face of the company, right?

That’s a lot to tell somebody: “you have to be a visionary, especially in this depth of ideas. You have to be pioneering new methods.” That is kind of stressful, right? “You have to be a big company with a big title and be a celebrity in your topic area.”

That’s a lot.

I actually think you can be an effective thought leader, if you have strong credibility, a strong profile, you are highest in the prolific pillar. And that’s because that’s the one pillar. That’s a hundred percent in your control. You are in a hundred percent control, you or your team, of how often you’re sharing, speaking, posting, and publishing.

And then, depth of ideas. I think you can be effective if you’re at that tactical level. In a lot of cases, this would be taking new tactics and applying it to a different domain or at the strategic level where you’re coming up with the new tools, new processes, and new knowledge components.

Published 4/26/23

How do you measure in Ashley’s four pillars of credibility, having a public profile, being prolific, and having depth of ideas?

Where could you improve?

And where can you feed yourself great ideas to spark your imagination?

Join us in Boston for B2B Forum 2024 this coming November 12-14, 2024. Early buyers get B2B Forum tickets at their lowest rate, and discounted hotel rooms are available while they last.


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