Attention is a privilege a founder has to earn. 

Before customers and investors will pay attention to your big ideas, they first need to understand why they should give you the time of day in the first place. 

The best way to do that is to establish yourself as an expert. Once they perceive you as an expert, you earn the right for people to pay attention to you and your big ideas for the future. 

But establishing yourself as an expert doesn’t happen overnight. It’s more than just writing a few blog posts or being featured in one media story. Becoming a thought leader is a long journey that requires significant investment of your time, energy and resources. 

This article assumes you have checked the boxes for what’s needed before you invest in thought leadership. Here are three concepts to keep in mind to help you through this journey.

#1: The more crazy the idea, the more perceived expertise you need.

Being a thought leader requires developing an audience of people to lead. To do that, you need to first capture their attention and today, that’s harder than ever to do. Having some venture capital and an innovative product isn’t going to make your customers immediately drop what they are doing, listen to every word you say, and immediate trust you to lead them.

Getting that to happen take time. Instead of being delusional that it will happen over night, you need to to focus on securing a foundation of trust and credibility to build on top of. Over time, as customers become more familiar with you and become more conditioned to the message you push, they start to buy in and believe in you. Eventually you have a loyal audience of people that trust you to lead them into the future.

Here’s how we like to this about this: the more innovative and different your ideas are, the more important it is to have a foundation of trust and credibility to build on top of. When you decide to invest in thought leadership, you need to keep this in mind as you work through your journey. Here are the three levels of thought leadership you will encounter as you go.

#2: There are three levels of thought leadership to work through.

Three Levels of Thought Leadership

There are three levels to establishing thought leadership. 

The first level is all about getting your brand on the radar of your target customers. This is all about getting exposure every way possible. 

The second level is all about getting them to believe you can do what you say you can do. You do this by repeatedly getting in front of them and establishing a reputation by providing useful and actionable insights. 

The third level comes once you’ve succeeded at generating exposure with your target audience and have earned their trust. This leads to building a following of people who believe in what you are doing. Your words matter, your views and opinions are sought after, and when you speak, people pay attention. You have influence. 

Once you reach this level, it becomes far easier to get your innovative ideas for the future adopted. People will trust that what you are saying makes sense and you are the one who can make it happen.

#3: Every thought leadership asset contributes to your depth of expertise. 

As we’ve discussed — attention is a right you have to earn. You need to demonstrate that you are an expert in the topic and prove to your customers why they should listen to you in the first place. 

This is what we call building your depth of expertise, and it can be achieved by developing thought leadership assets that showcase your expertise.

Every piece of content you create, media coverage you secure, and podcast interview you do all become assets that support your claim to be an expert. The more depth you have, the better.

Building Your Depth of Expertise

Example: Lab-grown meat startup that sells to restaurants. 

To establish your position as an expert — and separate yourself from all the others working to do the same — you need to consistently add more value to the topics your customers care about than anyone else. 

Remembering It’s a Journey 

Keeping these three concepts in mind as you go about building your thought leadership can help set you up for the long term. 

Becoming a thought leader is a journey. If you keep that in mind as you work your way through, you can prepare yourself for success.

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