Thought Leadership: Differentiating yourself in a crowded commodity field

How to Differentiate Your Business Using Thought Leadership

In today’s cluttered information environment, it’s not enough to just produce content and provide average products and services.
To stand out and differentiate yourself requires that you be a thought leader in your field.

This means vision, innovation, credibility, a depth of knowledge, at times going against popular opinion, being a person and company that people – particularly those within your industry – look to for answers and direction.

It means understanding and predicting trends, and knowing how to capitalize on them. It means recognizing patterns and connecting dots that others don’t see.

Differentiation is usually viewed horizontally, as simply doing things differently than your competitors, such that you are compared side to side.

But thought leadership is vertical, meaning you rise above peers and competitors.

Standard differentiation keeps you trapped in the commodity world, meaning you’ll constantly compete on price.

Thought leadership helps you transcend the commodity trap; people want more than your product or services – they want your depth of knowledge and unique insights. And because they trust your recommendations, you’ll sell more of your commodity.

How to Become & Be Viewed as a Thought Leader

1. Learn
Coasting or resting on your laurels doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to constantly be reading, studying, researching, attending seminars – in short, learning.

And this doesn’t just mean in your narrow field; true thought leaders are well-versed in a broad range of fields in order to see patterns and connect dots.

2. Align With Passion
Passion drives learning. If you’re not profoundly passionate about your business, you’ll never make it as a thought leader.
Through passion, wine aficionado Gary Vaynerchuck became a thought leader not just for his industry, but for the world at large with his book Crush It: Why NOW is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion.

3. Content, Content, Content
Thought leaders are content-producing machines. They use books, e-books, blogs, podcasts, videos public speaking — anything and everything to promote their passion and spread their message.
Seth Godin’s blog helps him sell books and secure speaking gigs. Roy H. William’s Monday Morning Memo establishes him as an expert and drives his advertising business.

4. Speaking, Training, Coaching, Consulting
Garrett Gunderson teaches clients innovative whole life insurance strategies, but his Freedom Fasttrack program is really what sets him apart.
As an established thought leader, you can command speaking and consulting fees. More than selling your commodity, you can sell your knowledge.


We encounter this problem constantly – people want to escape the commodity trap, so they their business model shifts to information.

This is a mistake; your commodity is your primary economic engine. Go after the speaking and consulting gigs, but use them to drive business to your commodity. Take your fees as icing on the cake, but never confuse them with your primary economic engine.

For example, mortgage broker Kenton Brown offers training every Saturday at his office, but he understands that mortgages are his economic engine.

Very few people can have thought leadership as their primary economic engine. It’s a gamble and it takes massive amounts of time and effort. It’s largely dependent on personality and charisma. It’s particularly risky in tough economic environments.

But as a recognized thought leader you can charge more and you’re all but guaranteed to have a steady stream of clients.

“Escaping the commodity trap” doesn’t mean to stop selling commodities; it means building an effective platform to sell your commodity.

Ready to make your mark on the world and differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace? Become a thought leader.

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