Updated on April 27, 2022. Originally published on Nov. 6, 2014.
As a marketer, you’re up-to-date on all the latest brand-building techniques. Your company has a killer blog and an airtight social media strategy, and you’re already thinking about how you can use TikTok to connect with your target audience.
You get content, but you may still be unsure about thought leadership — what it is, how it differs from content marketing, or whether it’s just another buzzword. We’re here to help.
In a nutshell, a thought leader is an individual or firm that clients, prospects, and competitors view as an authoritative voice in an industry.
By consistently publishing unique, insightful content that leads the conversation around a few specific topics, you can become a resource for commentary and trends and solidify your company’s reputation as a thought leader in your space.
Although this process might sound similar to traditional content marketing, understanding the differences can help you execute your thought leadership strategy with precision.
Although thought leadership and content marketing look similar in execution, the strategy and the end result distinguish the two.
According to the Content Marketing Institute, “content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”
Although you can write and distribute content without the intention of becoming a thought leader, this reputation should naturally follow as a result of reaching the right audience with a unique message.
Ultimately, thought leadership is a result of a strong content strategy.
Learn how to create a content strategy for thought leadership:
“Both thought leadership and content marketing can very effectively build your awareness and brand, but that true thought leadership is much rarer,” says Jon Miller. “Thought leadership consists of ideas that require attention, that offer guidance or clarity, and that can lead people in unexpected, sometimes contrarian directions (think of Seth Godin). Thought leadership needs to be educational and ideally provocative; content marketing can simply be fun or entertaining.”
As you can see, thought leadership dives deeper than a typical content marketing strategy. It challenges the status quo and builds on an individual or company’s expertise.
There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, and many times, the definition varies from industry to industry. But at its core, thought leadership accomplishes these goals:
Some of our expert clients have been executing thought leadership strategies for years, while others are just getting started.
For each of our clients, our account strategists draft a thorough “Thought Leadership Strategy” that allows us to identify important marketing information to guide our content creation and distribution efforts.
Here are three key aspects we always include in these strategies:
To see a content strategy for thought leadership in action, consider our client Ross McIntyre. His software development firm helps businesses with digital innovation, so he wrote an article for The Next Web geared toward the tech community. He draws on his own experiences and shares insights to help software companies deal with inflation.
On a broader level, this is just one article connecting back to his thought leadership strategy. And when his audience consistently reads his insightful industry analysis, they’ll view him as the knowledgeable and credible expert he is.
Of course, getting published doesn’t automatically make people view you or your company as a thought leader. It’s important to leverage your content after it publishes. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee anyone will see it.
When working with clients, we teach them how to amplify their content’s impact after the work is published. We advise our clients to:
Together, these four simple tactics can help create a ripple effect for your company’s brand.
Discover more ways to maximize the reach and value of your thought leadership content:
Using your content to start a conversation and interact with key players is absolutely essential for reaping the benefits of your thought leadership strategy. With so much time, planning, and energy put into creating content, you want to maximize its reach any way you can.
When done effectively, thought leadership can help position your company and its leaders as trusted sources of information, add a human face to your brand, and allow you to influence people who matter.
How is your company leading its industry, and how could you communicate that through educational content?
I'm the president of Intero Digital's Content & PR Division. My goal is to create an amazing experience for our clients from their very first interaction with us. My happy place is anywhere with good wine and cheese.