Education Public Relation

Four Steps to Building Education Thought Leadership

By June 24, 2021No Comments

Use your personal brand to propel your company’s mission

If I asked five people who worked with you to describe what makes you memorable, would they all say the same thing?

Whether by design or default, everyone has a personal brand. An effective thought leadership strategy draws on your unique brand to help you define, deploy and achieve your professional goals.

CB&A’s 2021 Education Marketing Trends survey found that the coronavirus pandemic prompted many education companies to increase their activities in key channels, including thought leadership (42%). Those seeking to establish their voice and position must work proactively to create and deploy their own unique thought leadership strategy.

In our June 2021 CB&A Expert Series event, CEO of LIDA360 and author Lida Citroën drew from her new book, “Control the Narrative: The Executive’s Guide to Building, Pivoting and Repairing Your Reputation”, to share how education leaders can build their personal brand and use it to create a thought leadership strategy.

Here are the highlights.

The education industry is service-oriented.

Whether it’s K-12, postsecondary or early childhood, education is very service-oriented. Many of us are drawn to the education industry because it provides an opportunity to improve the world in one way or another.

“People get into the field of education to be thought leaders. It’s such a service-oriented calling, that oftentimes we forget to promote ourselves as we’re promoting the cause, mission or initiative we feel so passionately about.” –Lida Citroën, author and CEO of LIDA360

Education marketers can positively impact educators, students and communities through their company’s products or services. A thought leadership strategy supports this through credibility, empathy and authenticity.

As shared in 3 Strategies to Drive EdTech Sales Post-COVID, when conducting an edtech sales conversation, it’s important to first consider how you are presenting your company, product or service to prospective customers, then work to meet their specific needs.

Citroën agrees, explaining that “many of us believe that if we show up a certain way, perhaps acting in a role someone else has written a script for, we will be rewarded with more opportunity, visibility or thought leadership. But that isn’t the way it works. It’s important that we take ownership back of who we are and how we present ourselves.”

Brand is often misunderstood– it’s what we want others to feel when they touch a product, encounter a service or see our company represented. Personal branding uses influence, inspiration and impact to drive value.

“Whether your goal is to influence and be more respected in your thought leadership, be more motivating and inspiring in the way you communicate or are concerned about the level of impact you have in your industry–these are the problems personal branding solves.” –Lida Citroën, author and CEO of LIDA360

Step #1: Establish credibility

You can’t shortcut credibility – but there is a proven formula to achieve it: your personal values, plus action.

  • Values: These need to be personal. Lida recommends reflecting on your values, and then stripping out anything that isn’t meaningful to you. Are you claiming values instilled by your parents, or an experience in the military as your own? Instead, draw upon your unique experiences, knowledge and beliefs.
  • Action: Without action, you can’t build credibility. Similarly, if you take action but don’t have clear personal values to support it, you’re going to have a tough time earning trust from peers and other stakeholders.

Step #2: Recognizing your personal brand

Building a personal brand is centered around strategy.

To craft your thought leadership strategy, you must first consider the current state of your personal brand. What’s your reputation? How are you, and your company being perceived by your target audience? Use this as a baseline, then build upon it by considering:

  • What makes you unique?
  • Are you memorable?
  • What do you offer?

“In the process of building your brand, it is important to take inventory of what your brand is today. Though feedback and other mechanisms, we need to assess what our reputation is right now, because it gives us a baseline.” –Lida Citroën, author and CEO of LIDA360

Step #3: How do you want to be remembered?

What do you want to be known for? What do you want your education company to be known for? Harness the passion that gets you up every day to do what you do. The actions you take personally and professionally should contribute to your mission.

“We’re all on the same treadmill, and eventually we’ll all get to a point where we won’t have the opportunity to make a difference in how we’re remembered­. But, today you do.” –Lida Citroën, author and CEO of LIDA360

Step #4: Reaching your target audience

“Your target audience, the people who need to see you as relevant, compelling, and a thought leader, are the people who matter.” –Lida Citroën, author and CEO of LIDA360

Regardless of the specific audience, your education company must understand the mission, values and challenges of their institution. Finding shared values is key to helping an administrator, principal or teacher understand what you’re bringing to the conversation. It’s also critical for separating you–and your company–from the competition.

Understanding the role functional and emotional needs play in the decision-making process could mean the difference between making and losing a sale.

Functional Needs: The “check the box” items customers must consider.

  • Is your edtech product cost-effective?
  • Does your company have experience in the education market?
  • Do you understand the challenges a school or district leader faces?
  • Does your solution solve a relevant problem?

Emotional Needs: Human beings act on logic, but we buy on emotion.

  • We are motivated by how a product or service makes us feel.
  • Sometimes, the target audience we serve is very different than us. In this case, our own behavior may need to be modified to effectively address the emotional needs of our target audience.
  • It is not about changing who you are, it’s about modifying your behavior to build critical connections.

“Who you are is absolutely perfect and right, but we have to be sensitive that if our target audience needs us to be more nurturing, calm, more excited or passionate about their mission, it’s in our best interest (and theirs) to arise to that occasion.” –Lida Citroën, author and CEO of LIDA360

Put yourself first.

To remain authentic, you must stay true to your personal brand and values. There is only “you”, and when refined and positioned correctly, that “you” can move mountains, and make a positive difference in the education industry.

In the words of Citroën, “never compromise what’s right for you personally – it can negatively impact your credibility, and your brand.”

Your brand in action.

After defining your personal brand, put it into action. Narrative, networking, social media and image are essential for polishing your thought leadership strategy and establishing your voice.

  • Narrative is storytelling, communication and language. The story we communicate about our value and worth starts with ourselves, and eventually spreads out to others. You want to make sure the message that’s being spread is consistent with what you believe.
  • Networking: These are the internal and external audiences you serve who need to understand your value, because they’re going to tell other people about you. As a result of the pandemic, networking is at an all-time high because we need real connection. Citroën explains, “networking is about being ‘other-focused’; You have to talk to me and ask me personal questions to network. That’s how you’re going to learn how you can help me.”
  • Social Media: This is the same as networking, but online. The principles are the same–how can you be authentic online? If you’re going to make a statement or claim, it should be genuine. When somebody celebrates your success, you should do the same in the return.
  • Image & Body Language: The optics. What we see and hear account for 80-90 percent of the information that’s being communicated. We’re more prone to trust what we see, rather than what we hear.

Building and promoting leadership presence.

Last, but certainly not least, Citroën shared important characteristics for building and promoting your presence as a leader.

  • Gravitas: Project dignity and confidence through your actions and words.
  • Vulnerability: Leaders don’t need to have all the answers. Instead, they share vulnerability to build rapport and connection with their audience.
  • Authenticity: Adopt a “what you see is what you get” mindset to be truly genuine. Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation, a keynote presentation or an article, the message that you communicate must remain consistent.
  • Accountability: Put systems in place to holding yourself and others accountable.
  • Image: Consider how the way you present yourself is impacting the perception of your audience. How do you dress? How do you carry yourself? When you’re in a video call, are you looking at the camera–or are you distracted by the monitor? Small changes can make a big impact here.