Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry

A while back, I shared a little joke with a PR friend. She had invited me to attend a small-scale business launch event on the basis that a client was looking for “KOLs” to participate. As a digital marketing company, we typically contact and interact with KOLs on our clients’ behalf. However, the term “KOL” (or Key Opinion Leader) is loosely defined. Whether he or she has an opinion is not the most important thing. Rather, it is the number of fans and his or her desirability in the eyes of the public that matters.

I tried all means to graciously decline, to which my friend would not accept no for an answer. She persisted in explaining that the client was searching for a few real industry experts to participate. In response, I suggested that she adopt the term “Thought Leader” instead when inviting others since it was a more business-oriented term. She, later on, conveyed her profuse thanks when the rest of her invitations went smoothly without further hiccups.

KOLs need to develop a niche

The term KOL has been inflated several times. Just like the job titles of some managers and directors in the corporate workplace – when their scope of work was no different from what they did before. From Blogger, YouTuber to KOL and Influencer – those with fewer fans call themselves “Micro-influencers” – there seems to always be a title available on the Internet. A true KOL should be someone who possesses expertise as well as unique insight and influence. At the same time, it should be something that others call you, rather than a title that you bestow on yourself. Due to my personality, when people refer to themselves as “KOLs”, I always like to ask in what niche and look at how many followers he has. To be a KOL, you have to find your niche and original perspectives. I would regard Hins Cheung as a KOL in the breakfast world since he has spoken plenty about having carbs for his breakfast.

Brands strive to be the thought leader of their industry

I’m not trying to rank a bunch of nouns, but in terms of real-life application and technicality, I work more in terms of establishing thought leadership. A “Thought Leader” is very similar to KOL in terms of meaning, in that they refer to leaders who are prominent and vocal in expressing certain views. Due to my background in media, I have been doing this type of public relations work for my clients.

However, a “Thought Leader” is not limited to individuals. Last year, many brands sought to establish themselves as “Thought Leaders” in their domains. Many B2B services were fiercely contested, and while marketing efforts are not as popular as B2C, they have established themselves as pioneers in this particular domain. Projecting such an image is a good way for clients to stand apart.

What does your branding look like?

When I teach my online marketing courses, I usually invite my students to tell me what they would like to learn in our final class. To my surprise, “defining a personal brand” was a popular choice among my working students. Whether you are a budding entrepreneur or run a corporate company, having a good personal brand does wonders for your business. This includes leaving a good impression for your future investors. Marketers with good personal branding are also a bonus to bosses, and not to mention, valuable to the industry and for your next job.

We have created more than 50 items for executives to check off to establish themselves as thought leaders. And here are three things which you can do immediately: 

  • Google your name in both English in Chinese, and then formulate a plan. 
  • Take a proper professional-looking photo – don’t just reuse your ID photo! 
  • Update your LinkedIn headline – unless you’re an executive or founder of a well-known enterprise, refrain from using your company title. 

Then, it’s time to act!

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