The Authority Maturity Model

December 12, 2023

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Written by
Beth LaGuardia

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If your goal is to elevate your impact as a thought leader, use our Authority Maturity Model to evaluate your current Authority level. The Authority Maturity Model helps you identify areas for improvement and make strategic decisions to enhance your Authority. Over time, retake the assessment to track your progress and discover new opportunities to grow as a thought leader.

Building one’s Authority, also called thought leadership, has become critical in today’s media landscape. The main reason is that consumers increasingly are demanding that leaders take center stage in representing their brands.

This need has emerged from a combination of drivers, principally:

  1. Growing lack of trust in media, which means rented media platforms are less and less believable;
  2. Increasing access to consumer-generated media that allows us to get reviews from other consumers to help assess products and brands; and
  3. Societal desire to buy based on alignment of purpose with one’s own values, making it important to understand where leaders stand on issues that are important to them.
  4. Creating trust in this increasingly skeptical landscape can be done but requires a modern Authority plan!

Creating trust in this increasingly skeptical landscape can be done but requires a modern Authority plan!

Defining Authority

At its heart, we define Authority-building as the systematic process of positioning yourself as a mission-driven thought leader with something to teach rather than an operator with something to sell. Done effectively, the outcome earns you an Authority Advantage. This “advantage” separates you from competitors as you become known as a source of information for your category, allowing you to make a far bigger impact with your message.

Before embarking on the Authority journey, it is important to remember three fundamental truths:

  1. The definition of success is individual in nature. The ultimate goal may not be to achieve the strategic or differentiated Authority level, or at least in every area – and that’s perfectly ok. Even modest levels of success can be game-changing for one’s professional fulfillment.
    In fact, it’s most important to define what success looks like for YOU, so we can focus our attention and resources. Over time, your definition of success can also change, especially as new doors open for you and your potential grows.
  2. The path to success has to be highly individual. You want to play to your strengths and interests and align the milestone goals with the appropriate and realistic balance of resources. It is said that you can have two of three, but not all: faster, better, cheaper. This applies to Authority-building too. Making strategic bets that have a multiplier effect and allow for sustained results will be important to keeping those resources working smarter, not harder.
  3. Authority-building is never-ending. Ideally, you create a level of Authority that opens the doors that make it sustainable and much less resource intensive (especially on your time!) to maintain. There will be constant tradeoffs and there is not really a finish line.
    Once you reach a level of Authority, you have to work to maintain it. While remaining relevant in your field takes some level of continuous effort, the journey can become quite fun and fulfilling – something that you simply can’t imagine not doing.

Reasons To Build Authority

As Simon Sinek would say, let’s start with the “why.” What propels people to build their Authority in the first place? Ironically, many of the excuses for not putting energy into building one’s Authority are the very reasons to do it.

Time & Money

Yes, building Authority takes time. But so do the alternatives AND they often are not sustainable. Our ultimate goal is to make you a master of your time. Think about the leader who puts all growth effort into the path that creates short-term results, such as paid lead generation. Repeated paid media campaigns are costly and limit potential audience reach to only those people who are in the buying process right now. You will have to keep running these campaigns over and over just to reach the next group of buyers.

And what about the behind-the-scenes leadership who only employees or investors see? Imagine they put some of their time into meeting audiences from the perspective of a teacher, not an operator with something to sell. Then, when that audience is searching for a solution to buy, their minds will already be made up about who they trust.

Leaders who do not build trust with audiences before they are in the market to buy will have to work harder (Discount more to earn business? Spend more to get a similar share of voice?) to even get part of their fair share of business.

Competitive Differentiation: The Unfair Advantage

Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars that some brands spend trying to earn business – and then those who “seem” to never advertise but win in their category. Having leaders out front is critical in this day because audiences know what you stand for and whether they can trust you. People buy from people.

You can earn trust so that future buyers are already sold before they enter the buying process. This strategy allows you to stand out among a cluttered field of competitors who are waiting like sharks in a feeding frenzy. The buyer simply ignores their efforts because they already trust you.

You may be concerned that you will give away precious secrets. You may fear you are doing the work to drive interest in the sector just to have competitors pick them off when the time is right. Some buyers will look at other options, there is not a doubt. But many will have already made their airtight decision, and this is where the power of trust comes in.

You have been working hard to build trust and add value to your audience. You’ve saved them time searching for information and sifting through good and bad to assess alternatives and what attributes will separate one from another. You have already saved them time, money, and stress – and they will likely reward you, their trusted advisor.

For those who don’t have a solution to sell or traditional competitors as described already, consider that if you have a message to share with others and an impact you want to make in their lives, then do have competition. You are competing for your intended audience’s attention against other priorities. Including against the information overload coming at them from the media and against other “shiny objects” that fly in and limit their attention span.

Think about the information that is easiest for us to ignore: that which appears to be selfishly motivated and possibly untrustworthy. We look for signals of credibility in fractions of seconds, and this determines which messages we will give even additional seconds of our time. Breaking through the clutter requires us to establish trust and credibility, to position as an Authority that can be trusted. This is the power of Authority: it creates a defensible difference that separates us from our competition.

Fulfillment

Once you have success with creating an audience that trusts you, you have the ability to improve their lives and it feels great to be making that kind of an impact. You likely will receive feedback that you have made a difference to someone or many someones, and that can fuel you to sustain your efforts.

What’s more, substantial Authority actually gives you the ability to manage your time as you want because doors begin to open for you. These doors could be in the form of business growth, new partners who want to be associated with your brand. Or new employment, paid speaking opportunities, or the attraction of A+ talent to work with you.

You may be able to attract a higher level of client and charge more for your services, and that gives you more fulfillment and free time to spend on other pursuits. Bottom line: Authority gives you the ability to control your own destiny.

The 3-Step Process to Building Authority

Building authority takes time, but a strategic plan can help you expedite the process by placing time and energy where it matters most.

Step 1: Assess Your Current State of Authority

First, we leverage the model to assess the “on ramp” where leaders are entering their Authority-building journey. Simply knowing current strengths that can be leveraged helps direct the focus of the “next” resources that need to be filled in.

What are we doing well, and where are the gaps that may be holding us back? What is “next” – do we need to focus on foundational elements of building a brand strategy or are we further along and ready to tackle multipliers such as speaking or writing a book to open new doors?

This isn’t a competition! Your score may not be high, and frankly most people don’t start with high scores, but you have an idea of what levers can be pulled to grow your Authority just as a result of taking the assessment. Resist the feeling of being overwhelmed with the options. Your Authority Advisor can recommend the right places to start and create a roadmap for you.

Step 2: Create a Master Plan for Building Authority

Once you know where you are and where you want to be headed, you should create a Master Authority Plan that outlines the various strategies and skills to develop to achieve your desired outcomes.

Outcomes may be:

  • Paid speaking as a meaningful source of income
  • Offsetting 50%+ of your paid media spend with earned and organic audience conversion
  • Any number of business or personal goals that tend to reveal themselves in Step 1

Your roadmap may first help you fill in foundational gaps if needed, such as a personal brand strategy and the creation of visual and storytelling assets for your website to help build trust and credibility. It should include short- and long-term goals, including quick wins with ways to repurpose strategic assets in your portfolio today.

Don’t underestimate the ability to get more mileage out of assets you already have. For example:

  • You can turn a book into articles and articles into social posts
  • You should also display the icons from media outlets where you have earned placements in order to convey instant credibility. Audiences view earned media as an objective endorsement that you are an expert.
  • Create a list of your existing network you can connect with over your new content

Brand Associations:

Brand associations can create a huge multiplier effect for your Authority-building efforts. Make a list of people or brands in your network today that can help you expand your audience reach or credibility, or both. This could include customers, partners, or acquaintances. Get them involved! Tag them and share their content, write about their expertise, interview them, sponsor a joint event—the possibilities are endless.

Endorsements and Networking:

Also make a list of leaders and brands that you aspire to have endorsements from and network with them. Send them copies of your book, if you have one, and offer to create a personalized webinar for their customers on your topic, share their content on social, etc, etc. You get the idea. Once your Authority is established, return the favor and look for up-and-coming Authorities you can endorse and support.

Proactive and Reactive Content:

You should have a plan that includes a proactive and a reactive content strategy.

The proactive plan will include content creation and amplification (distribution) of unique content on your topics of expertise. This will live on your owned properties, such as your website, and in rented media, such as LinkedIn.

The roadmap will focus on growing your “owned” audience through rented media and brand associations with other leaders or brands that invite trust and reach with your target audience. You may publish two original posts each week that offer a variety of content covering your topics of expertise, with first-hand accounts and unique perspectives. You should also offer personal stories (photos and videos invite more engagement) that help the audience relate to you as a person.

As important as planning proactive content, you should also think about reactive opportunities to join trending conversations “in the moment” to convey your perspective. To do this, build in time and tools to help you quickly identify trending stories and capitalize on them by creating and posting content where audiences are gathered. There are skills to doing this well and practice will make it easier.

Tactics and strategies to accomplish these goals with efficiency but also sustainability will be critical. To provide an analogy, you don’t want to put up a house in days versus months only to find out the work quality is shoddy and things have to be redone or the house will fall apart.

“Planning is a process of choosing among those many options. If we do not choose to plan, then we choose to have others plan for us.” – Richard I. Winwood, Creator of the Franklin Day Planner

By now, you probably realize that having an organized plan and some help executing it may be necessary to go further, faster. You are the expert, and the things you enjoy and the energy spent in front of audiences, showcasing your expertise, is best for you to take on.

Other “behind the scenes” work that can better be done by experts in PR, branding, and content marketing, may best be left to your support team. These are things you’ll want to consider as you plot your Authority-building plan. In summary, plan the work and work the plan, and you will start seeing the results you want to see.

Step 3: Measure Your Progress & Make Refinements to Stay Relevant

Let’s talk about facts and data. As you go forward with your Authority journey, it’s important to measure your progress with factual data to look at performance and re-assess the environment and your goals to determine whether adjustments need to be made.

Much of the Authority-building strategy is a long game. There is sometimes a slower build but then a compounding effect once results start building on one another. For example, it may take months to get earned media placements secured. However, one builds on another because the reporter may come back to you for another story. Then other reporters see the stories and accept you as a credible resource. This may then lead event organizers to take interest in you for their speaking roster—because you are seen as an expert in trusted news sources.

When they visit your LinkedIn page to learn more about you, they see significant follower volume and engagement, and lots of rich content you have produced. Plus, you have a photo with you speaking to a large audience visible in your profile and on your website, along with a speaker’s reel. Boom! The speaking engagements start. But the trickle may require patience at the beginning of the journey. This is sometimes where you have to trust the process, and experiment wisely.

While you will look at results in real time, weekly and monthly, and adjust as needed, we recommend formally measuring your progress quarterly. We do this with an Authority Quarterly Business Review. This is a place to more comprehensively assess your results and determine where strategic bets need to be made. We can also address unexpected wins that we should lean into and external opportunities or process improvements that may need to be considered to keep the momentum we want to see.

Start Your Authority Journey

If you’re ready to embark on the Authority journey, we would be honored to work with you. Our commitment is to meet you where you are and help you think bigger about your Authority opportunity.

You can start by taking our Authority Assessment.

beth laguardia cmo headshot

Beth LaGuardia

Chief Marketing Officer

Beth LaGuardia Cooper provides leadership direction grounded in a nurturing culture that strikes a balance of performance, efficiency, and innovation. Key tenets of her marketing ...

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