Jeff Bradford, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is the founder of the Bradford Group and president of Bradford Dalton Group, a full-service public relations and advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Jacksonville and Nashville. We asked Jeff why thought leadership is such an important element of effective marketing and brand awareness. Here's what he shared:

Executives searching for ways to generate brand awareness for their business and raise their profile as a trusted industry authority should turn to a time-tested, effective public relations tactic: writing thought leadership articles.

Thought leadership articles are an excellent opportunity for leaders to demonstrate expertise and credibility by sharing their insights on a business problem that affects consumers or companies in your industry. In today's increasingly connected digital world, it also fosters engagement with current customers (who you want to retain) and prospective buyers (who you want to convert into paying clients).

A 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B study found that 55 percent of decision-makers increased business with their current partner due to thought leadership content. The survey also reported that 60 percent of decision-makers purchased a product or service they were not previously considering due to thought leadership articles and videos.

As the founder of a PR agency that's been in business for 20 years, I've witnessed firsthand how thought leadership articles have helped increase awareness and improve lead generation for our company and our clients. Published thought leadership articles also have another significant benefit. Similar to a news story, the article implies a third-party endorsement because the media outlet's editorial staff deemed it worthy of the reader's attention.

Here are six tips for writing unique, compelling thought leadership articles to raise awareness about you, your company and its products and services:

1. Focus on what you know

To be accepted as a thought leader and subject matter expert, it is essential to focus on industry topics and issues that you know best. Commenting about challenges and solutions in industries where you have minimal experience or a limited track record of success can damage your credibility. Pick a niche, build an audience and then look for opportunities to expand your reach.

2. Address real-world business problems

To be effective, your thought leadership article must address a real business challenge and provide a novel solution. It is vital that the article clearly convey why current approaches are not working and explain why your solution is better than others currently being proposed or offered in the market. Weave elements of written case studies into the article to guide the reader along the journey. Briefly summarize the challenge customers are facing. Describe the strategies and tactics to obtain positive outcomes. Summarize the results and lessons learned.

3. Thoroughly research the topic

Take time to thoroughly research the topic before typing one word on your keyboard. Most likely, other people have written about the same issue. Read articles on mainstream business media outlets, key trade industry news websites and research reports from industry trade associations and management consultants (Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, Ernst & Young). The research will help you to differentiate your article and, in journalism vernacular, advance the story.

4. Back up your thesis with data

No article is complete without timely, credible data that validate the thesis of the article. Relevant and interesting data--combined with great storytelling (see below)--will hook the reader and bring your ideas to life. If company policy prohibits publishing certain data (such as information about revenue, profits or number of customers), then write about how the numbers have increased in terms of percentages. Customer surveys are another great tool to support the findings and solutions outlined in your article.

5. Focus on storytelling

Storytelling should be at the heart of every thought leadership article. Storytelling brings the article to life and taps into the emotions of readers. It gets them thinking about how your company's products and services can solve a business problem. To keep readers engaged, make sure the article has a compelling opening paragraph and flows smoothly from section to section.

6. Don't hype

One of the easiest ways to lose credibility and the reader's interest is to hype your company's product or service. Readers are one click away from moving to another article--don't give them an excuse by being self-promotional. Avoid words like "transformational," "disruptive" or "bleeding edge." Readers will see right through it because they know very few products or services fit those definitions.

Writing compelling thought leadership articles can be challenging and time-consuming. The effort, however, will be worth it as you build your audience and leverage your articles to help grow your business.