It all depends on comprehension. The term “thought leadership” and “thought leadership content” has lost their meaning as more and more people continue to use it to describe different things. 

It can be a brand-differentiating asset only to those who have the right comprehension of the term and the means to use it. Really, it is more than just having a strong opinion.

When you get into content marketing you make the internet your competitor. That is not particularly daunting if you do not need your audience’s attention for functioning. So, how can one scheme through the extremely crowded landscape of content marketing? 

The answer is this. One has to get to the roots of “thought leadership content” and try to master the craft for the betterment of the brand and the people it serves. In that enormous endeavour, this blog will help you take the first crucial step: comprehension.      

Thought Leadership Content: Definition and Examples 

First things first, let’s make this clear that thought leadership content is not a type of content. It is not the same as blogs, YouTube tutorials, webinars, or eBooks. 

So, what is thought leadership content? 

The term indicates a certain approach to content. 

To elaborate, if you wish to get into creating thought leadership content, you are aiming to change how your brand is seen, by competitors and customers alike, in a powerfully positive way. 

To do that, you have to create content that is authentic. It has to reflect your unique expertise, experience, and perspective. It does not call for complete originality, but it should carry a significant resemblance to your brand. 

Let’s take a look at some thought leadership content examples: 

Grow by Acorns and CNBC

content example

The micro-investment app Acorns paired with media outlet CNBC and created a blog together that covers every aspect of financial wellness. Grow became a blog that contained interviews with billionaires, financial experts, and much more to cover a vast ground of that particular subject. 

It is noteworthy that there was little content about investing, which is Acorn’s industry. This comes from knowledge and intrinsic security that ensures satisfied readers can and will reach out to be their customers in future. 

American Express Business Class Blog

example website

Within a given industry, content can be a very effective way to showcase a company’s expertise. Like American Express did with their blogs. 

This financial giant, with its Business Class blog, helps small companies and start-ups with prudent advice. They craft this section with inspiration and insight to help businesses grow and expand beyond their expectations. 

They are using the trust the name American Express has built throughout the years within the banking and financial market, and using the content to help a huge number of people thrive in the industry. 

REI’s Blog

REI's blog

REI’s blog is another great example of that approach. 

This outdoor brand posts on a variety of topics related to outdoor living and activity with “expert advice” in the heading. They made it thorough enough for anyone, willing to go for a hiking adventure, to find everything necessary. Additionally, a reader can also get that item from their online store too.     

By using real experts in the given field for advice, they are positioning the brand at a place of trust.   

  • Deloitte’s Research Page
Deloitte research page

A few major accounting firms in the United States handle the vast majority of financial research that the internet knows about. 

Among those few, Deloitte is a significant name. They are working to spread ideas from their extensive research through their blogs. They cover highly important topics such as consumer trends and retail shopping surveys through the medium and help companies make better decisions.   

Now, you have a more or less clear idea that you have to prepare yourself to produce grounded and authentic content to establish your brand as a thought leader in your space. So, it would be beneficial for you to take a look at the resources you have at your disposal that can help you achieve that.  

Five Sources of Thought Leadership Content

sources of information

You create thought leadership content with the knowledge you gained while figuring out something difficult. You share that unique knowledge (or, earned secret) through your content that informs your audiences of the philosophy of your brand. 

Here are the five sources or inputs that will help you to generate excellent thought leadership content: 

1. Industry Analysis

If you pay attention to the industry that surrounds you and what works in it and what not and figure out why that is so, you get high-quality source material to craft analysis-based technical content

You can start by choosing a framework, applying that to a famous SaaS company, and evaluating the company based on the framework.  

2. Network Connections

Your network can be your product. If you are a venture capitalist firm, the founders, operations team, and vendors you work with are the features that pull new deal flow into your firm where connections turn into value-added features that work as a powerful content marketing tractor beam. 

However, if you are not a venture capitalist firm, you can still create network-based content by recognising and elevating insight in others. 

3. Data Storytelling 

Data is an extremely potent engine that helps one generate high-class content. However, data directly does not produce such content. Data enables one to gather insights and form analysis that helps one to produce. 

One can use data driven thought leadership content as an effective brand marketing strategy by gathering data about how the industry and the target audience engage with a product.  

4. Personal Narrative

A story about your journey can be an excellent way of doing thought leadership. Of course, the story should have something valuable (unique in the relevant space) to offer that can compel people in the industry to engage.  

Furthermore, as you gain experience in such storytelling, you would be able to find new insights to share by going back to the core experience over and over again. 

5.Counter-narrative Opinions 

You are a fit candidate for a counter-narrative thought leadership content if you have a strongly held opinion that differs from the traditional wisdom. 

However, a counter-narrative is not about just coming out with a flashy opinion that attracts attention, it also carries the responsibility of making the industry a better place.  

How to Determine if You Should Do Thought Leadership Content or Not? 

Before doing thought leadership one should check if the following conditions are met:

  • Credibility

Credibility is crucial in all types of content marketing. It is even more so when it comes to thought leadership content. Credibility comes from knowledge that gives you clarity over which topics you have authority over and over which you do not. Yes, only years in the business does not build credibility.   

  • Ability

As thought leadership is very closely tied to your brand, it demands your close attention to bear any real fruit. So, you cannot order thought leadership content off the menu that perfectly represents your brand.  

If you want outside help, you would have to share your opinions, tell personal stories, provide proprietary data, offer industry analysis (for the third party to mine insights from) etc. 

Furthermore, going into thought leadership means you cannot stay in your comfort zone. Your powerful opinions about the industry would surely provoke someone invested in the status quo, and you have to settle into this discomfort (if it is a discomfort). 

The Importance of Thought Leadership Marketing

importance of thought leadership marketing
Data Source: Semrush

Now, let’s take a look at what thought leadership marketing is and what it does for a business. 

Thought leadership marketing lets one get recognised as an expert in the industry who is a go-to resource in the field. 

Through thought leadership marketing a company can: 

  • Substantiate Brand Authority

Your brand profile gets a positive boost when you have something original and valuable to say. With this, your brand profile will get more and more established and the number of people caring about what you have to say would increase. This would make you an authority in your field. 

With this authority, you can change your audiences’ perspective little by little, by pushing important ideas and letting them engage with them freely.   

  • Generate Backlinks, Mentions and Shares 

Thought leadership marketing in itself is not an SEO strategy, however, a strong SEO profile is its by-product. Your content would naturally encourage people to refer to and share as it would contain valuable data and research-backed opinions.  

It would generate plenty of backlinks, mentions and shares, however, you should not aim for that as that would lessen the impact.  

  • Attract Prospective Clients

Once again, this type of content does not have conversion as its main purpose. However, being authentic, it builds a loyal audience and attracts prospective clients.

How to Build an Effective Thought Leadership Strategy

To master the art of thought leadership you have to understand that the elements depend on the stature of your business. 

The one-size-fits-all approach would not work as your company makeup comes into play; however, a few pointers stay consistent regardless of the company’s stature and reputation. 

Here follows the six core steps that you can call a general guide to building an effective thought leadership strategy:   

1. Define Your Goals

thought leadership goals

When you position yourself as a thought leader, the first step of the strategy is to expound on what you want to achieve from all angles. To do that, you have to go through each of your existing marketing goals and consider how thought leadership is going to help achieve them (or not). 

Furthermore, clearly identifying who your audience is is also a crucial part of this process. Audience identification is necessary to design the ideal buyer persona or personas. Additionally, consider people who will be greatly benefiting from your opinions and experiences in the industry. 

You have to keep in mind that all of your audience would not become your clients; however, they will expand and include more and more potential buyers gradually. 

For example, are you looking to contact and communicate directly with purchasing decision-makers, other CEOs, or marketing managers? In an ideal scenario, you should try to reach a wider audience who would help to increase awareness about your brand, act as brand advocates, and become an integral part of your community. 

2. Go Through Existing Thought Leadership

market competition analysis

The 2nd step involves research and observation of the variety of already existing thought leadership content. However, you should only care about the ones related to your niche. The research also involves analysis of you and your competitors. 

You need to explore several communication channels in your field such as: 

  • Online and offline news resources
  • Online forums and communities
  • Personal brand platforms like Medium and LinkedIn 
  • Journals and trade publications
  • Seminars and webinars
  • Conferences 
  • Social media 

From here on, you would start to increase your knowledge and build an idea about the current thought leadership trends. But, why do you need that? You need it to understand the concurrent issues in your field and where you can contribute to solving the problem. 

Furthermore, it will help you figure out who the current thought leaders are. 

Do not forget to keep track of your competitor’s activities. Take note of the kinds of stances they are taking, whether they are producing thought leadership content or not, how are they delivering it, etc. You can analyse all that and apply it to your strategy. 

You have done your research, and you have studied your competitors, however, you should also go through your previous blogs and communications to get a clear understanding of your past opinion about certain subjects.  It will eliminate the chances of contradiction and confusion. 

3. Identify Your Brand Focus and Its Thought Leaders

identifying targets

Where your thought leadership lies on an organisational level? You have to find an answer to that in the third step. 

To decide who is going to be your company’s authentic thought leader, consider your specialisation and expertise, your wider brand story, whether you seek any change as a company or not, etc. 

A roster of thought leaders is a good idea if you want to talk about a variety of topics. To make, consider key experts working at or with your organisation.

Here are five things that thought leader role models have in common:

  • Powerful opinions and innovative ideas
  • Alignment with your brand 
  • Proficiency in sharing experiences 
  • Industry expertise
  • A loyal following 

However, the last one (a loyal following) takes time. 

4. Create Your Thought Leadership Content 

thought leadership content creation

Learning how to write thought leadership content is a crucial part of content production. Follow these five pointers: 

  • Focus on Your Strengths: 

It will help you stand out from the average quicker. Concentrate more on original insights, research and data for better results. 

  • Exhibit Depth:

Do not shy away from investing time or other resources while going deeper into an issue or subject matter. 

  • Solve a Real Problem: 

Your aim should be to provide effective solutions for problems that your target audience face.  

  • Use Storytelling:

It is a time-tested method of delivering information to people that results in good retention. 

  • Be Concise: 

Go for long-form content only if the subject requires it; otherwise, make the most out of every word. 

5. Distribute and Promote Your Content

content distribution

If you are experienced in the field your thought leaders would already have a network of contacts that are willing to promote your content, however, if that’s not the case you have to find out other ways for effective content promotion

Start-ups and small businesses can consider the following tactics: 

  • Pitch it to publications, journalists, and other industry influencers
  • Team up with influencers and opinion leaders
  • Market it on external and internal company channels
  • Form an alliance with non-competing brands 
  • Analyse content creators in your field 

Additionally, you can consider using sponsored content too if you have a budget for paid promotion. 

6. Measure the Results

marketing results

Success with any strategy depends on this factor. Measurement of performance ensures success and sustenance.  

It is crucial to know if your thought leadership marketing is reaching your goals or not. 

Here are for essential content metrics to measure the performance: 

  • User Behaviour: 
  1. Users
  2. Page Views
  3. New and returning users
  4. Bounce rate
  5. Average time on page 
  6. Traffic sources
  7. Pages per session 
  • Engagement 
  2. Upvotes/likes and shares
  3. Mentions
  4. Incoming requests
  5. Re-publications 
  • SEO Outcome
  1. Backlinks 
  2. Organic traffic
  3. Dwell time
  4. Keyword rankings
  • Company Revenue 
  1. Conversions
  2. New lead generated 
  3. Existing leads nurtured
  4. Content marketing ROI
  5. Cost per acquisition 

Final Takeaway

Now, we understand that thought leadership content takes deep understanding, ideas and expertise to try to challenge the traditional ways of thinking or taking action. However, the “try” only gets successful when the communication with a target audience is effective and consistent. 

Therefore, conducting in-depth topic research and choosing relevant topics that your audience would stay interested in is crucial to make that effective communication stay fruitful.  

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Who invented thought leadership?

Joel Kurtzman first used the term “thought leadership” in 1994. He was the editor of Strategy+Business. According to Forbes’ report, for a series of interviews conducted by the editor himself, the term is used as a theme and he defined a term as someone having ideas “that merited attention”. 

2. What are the content pillars for thought leadership? 

The thought leadership strategy framework has four pillars: credibility, concept depth, prolific writing, and profile. 

3. How to identify a thought leader? 

To identify a thought leader, find the following traits in an industry influencer: possessing extensive knowledge, bringing a unique perspective, welcoming debate, strong communicator, being passionate, and not shying away from hard times.