More than 500 million tweets and 5 billion Facebook posts are shared daily, competing for top-billing in our social feeds. Each year, trillions of display ads vie for our attention (and our hard-earned money when making purchasing decisions at the store). Then there are the dozens of new social networks that seem to launch weekly and the more traditional media channels we read (or, let’s be real, skim for headlines) each day… and the list goes on.

Let’s face it: we’re all competing for a finite amount of attention. How do you ensure your brand stands out and gets heard?

Rise Above the Noise

It’s a key challenge for us marketers and communications pros.

Creating the content is the easy part; it’s the standing out and getting heard that’s much more difficult to achieve with consistency. Click To Tweet

How is your company’s product — pasta sauce, or banking services, or [insert your product here] — better than anyone else’s? This same phenomenon is beginning to plague thought leadership.

Since the phrase was first coined by Joel Kurtzman in 1994 (himself a thought leader), “thought leader” has been used to describe everyone from JFK to Oprah Winfrey. Now, every leader and brand aspires to be one. Google “thought leader” and you’ll get several hundred websites promising to help your company’s experts become the next, highly sought-after guru in your field.

Perhaps this is an inevitable reaction to our increasingly commoditized market. As business leaders find it harder and harder to differentiate products or services, they’ve turned to a thought leadership strategy in an attempt to stand out from the competition. But the field has now become so crowded with self-described thought leaders that they themselves risk becoming a commodity.

How do you avoid that trap? As a company that represents many leading authorities in their respective fields, we’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, find a niche. As Michael Porter has said, “If all you’re trying to do is essentially the same thing as your rivals, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be very successful.” Have an idea about strategy? Great, but so does everyone else. How is your idea about strategy different than that of your competitors? And what idea do you want to be known for?

You’re operating in a cluttered environment; your idea has to break the mold and fill a niche that hasn’t already been clogged by other people with the same idea. Many business leaders can talk about innovation, but only one coined the concept of disruptive innovation.

Be clear. If you have a great theory on why the transmogrification of strategic enterprise and innovative leadership through application programming interfaces, service innovation models and deep sea exploration will be competitively advantageous, fine. But make sure we understand what you’re saying. Our media landscape is currently defined by sound bites, 60-second news stories and 140 characters. You’ll want your idea to be understood and easily grasped.

Far too many thought leaders are either saying something that everyone else does, or their ideas are not relatable—there’s too much jargon.

Be focused and consistent. Stick to your area of expertise — or at least within its ball park. Stray too far from your established area and people will get confused. Inherent in this advice is to know your limitations. You can’t be an expert on everything, so don’t try to be. Pick an area, and stick with it.

Publish. There’s an old saying in academia: Publish or perish. In the era of the internet, we can alter that maxim to read, post or perish. This may seem like a no-brainer, but to be a thought leader — who, by definition, must have followers — you need to have an online presence. Tweet often, update your LinkedIn page, create a Tumblr account. Publish when and where you can. But don’t post for the sake of posting — quantity does not equal quality. Make your content meaningful. Post too much about too little and you risk getting lost in the glut of information, greatly diminishing your value and potentially losing your audience.

Ultimately, no matter how many books you’ve authored or how often you post to your Facebook page, it all comes back to what you have to say. To be a well-known and respected thought leader, you don’t have to be the most prolific. You don’t even have to be the best. But you do have to stand out from the crowd.

With more than a decade at Stern, Ned has had the opportunity to counsel – and learn from – some of the brightest minds in business. A lifelong student, he is always searching for new ways to hone his craft by applying insights and ideas from outside sources. He says inspiration can come from anywhere in the world – from his young children to emerging start-ups to more established brands – which he constantly draws on to infuse creativity into client programming. As vice president, his pragmatic leadership style combines with strategic thinking to effectively connect clients with top-tier media, conferences and industry influencers. If he hadn’t answered the call to become a communications pro, you might have found him as a carpenter crafting wood furnishings and cabinetry.