What does Thought Leadership Marketing have to do with Content?

When everyone and their uncle has a website with something to say, how do you show that your material is unique, valuable, and important for customers to find? And how do you show that what you offer is better than anyone else?

Thought leadership marketing is a smarter way to solve many of your online campaign problems.

Here’s a breakdown of how thought leadership marketing works, how you can create real leadership, and how you can turn that into valuable marketing content.

What is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership has gone through several definitions in its time. These days, it’s all too often a business buzzword. But the phrase itself is still incredibly valuable, especially when it comes to your marketing.

Like other forms of marketing, the goal is to increase brand visibility and accelerate market influence. It does so by relying on expert input to create an insightful analysis for your target audience.

Basically, it’s the art of using your best people (your experts) to generate value for your audience.

What is a Thought Leader?

A thought leader is an informed, expert opinion leader. Forbes divides the definition into two parts:

  1. An individual or organization recognized as a foremost authority in their chosen subject matter
  2. An individual or organization who significantly profits from being recognized as such

In short, it’s not enough for your business to offer subject matter experts. Those experts must also be recognized for their thought-leadership contributions in order to be recognized as truly valuable thought leaders.

This is someone who does more than just create content. They tap into the conversation. They contribute meaningfully. More than that, they create leadership content that sets the pace for the entire industry.

This is not someone who simply follows content creation trends. This is someone who can spot trends before they happen and knows how to leverage media to achieve real results, no matter what your unique products and services may be.

Thought leaders do come in every shape and size in any industry under the sun. They can come from any background, with any gender or ethnicity. That said, not everyone can offer true thought leadership.

Thought leadership comes with time. Remember, it takes a long time (years, even) to build the requisite expertise in a given niche. Think about the people you know who seem to know which way the wind is blowing before even the wind knows it. These are the people who have spent a long time refining their craft, who know it like they know their native language. This is what makes them a true asset to your customers.

How Do You Become a Thought Leader?

Becoming a thought leader starts with knowing where you are and where you need to be.

Think about the expertise you can offer. Then, look at the experts in your niche and think about the insights they offer. Think about what separates your content from theirs.

You become a thought leader by slowly building your expertise in your niche. Keep in mind that this is an ongoing process: subjects usually don’t stand still and the most valuable expertise is that which is most recent.

This also means that you need to have enough tenacity and perseverance to commit to the long, hard work of thought leadership. That work involves both learning the niche and learning how to talk about it in a way that’s genuinely valuable.

Remember the second half of thought leadership: profiting from being recognized as a leader. Thought leadership involves offering true insights to your customers. Otherwise, you’re an expert, but you’re not offering value. And that defeats the entire purpose of thought leadership as a marketing strategy.

What is the Purpose of Thought Leadership?

This brings us to the purpose of thought leadership.

Remember that the goal of marketing is to attract potential customers to your brand. You do this in order to cement your business value and encourage people to see your business as the best option for their needs. Thought leadership is a way to further prove that value to your customers. You’re offering them something they cannot find anywhere else: real insight about a topic that matters to them, packaged in a way that solves a problem.

That said, you have to be careful of the “unique point of view trap“. This is a familiar error among executives looking to break into thought leadership for the first time. They think that offering insight means offering content that is completely unique and differentiated from competitor media every single time.

The reality is that your customers aren’t looking for unique content every single day, though unique content does attract their attention periodically. What they’re actually looking for is thought leadership content that offers the best possible answer to their question. This doesn’t necessarily mean differentiating your point of view, but rather offering the best viewpoint on a given question.

This is the true purpose of thought leadership: generating value. A unique point of view is helpful, but the real value comes from offering a better solution than anyone else, and your customers will recognize is as the best solution when supported by genuine expertise.

What is Thought Leadership in Marketing?

Thought leadership marketing is about generating value with your brand. When we talk about the overlap between digital marketing and thought leadership, we’re talking about anything from social media to blogs to emails.

But whatever it is, it’s about reputation.

Thought leadership is really the art and science of reputation management. Basically, you have to be the most authoritative site offering the most value through your marketing materials. Thought leadership contributes by showing that you have the requisite authority and offering that authority to solve problems for your customers.

What is Thought Leadership Strategy?

What is a thought leadership strategy? It’s a marketing strategy, retooled with expertise and a value-first mentality.

This particular marketing strategy is unique because it demands more expertise than many others. It’s not enough, for example, to chatter about social media. You have to get social media in a way that few do.

Your leadership marketing strategy is thus a roadmap to help you make your way through your topics in a way that demonstrates your deep expertise on the subject while also offering answers to questions that matter to your customers. More than that, it’s a roadmap to help you turn all of that material into a cohesive story about who you are as a brand and what your brand can offer that no one else can.

When Should You Use Thought Leadership?

Many brands believe that this is an opportunity to talk about their own products or services, which is why so many brands do it wrong. As soon as you start promoting yourself, people will stop listening.

This is an approach that requires you to offer a depth of knowledge that no one else has, presented as a way to solve a real problem for your customers.

This begins with the long and arduous process of defining your key customer challenges and how to overcome them, which also involves a deep understanding of your real audience. If you don’t know who they are, or if your previous campaigns haven’t produced the results you hoped for, it might be time to circle back to the drawing board and try again.

As we’ve said over and over again, this strategy requires deep knowledge of your niche, demonstrated as deep research and true insights. As such, this strategy is best suited to materials that really go into the topic, taking the time to demonstrate knowledge and show how you reached the insights you offer.

How Do You Develop Thought Leadership Content?

Developing thought leadership content starts by understanding what that content actually is.

Examples of leadership content include things like:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media
  • Email marketing

Basically, any form of content marketing can be repurposed for thought leadership content. That’s good news if you already have a robust content strategy.

The difference between regular content and thought leadership marketing is insight. This is the content that sets itself apart by offering expert advice to the people who might do business with you. More than that, it offers a valuable take that they wouldn’t be able to find in other, similar types of media offered by your competitors.

So, how do you develop thought leadership content?

Start by finding your experts. Have them put their ears to the ground and start taking an active role in your marketing, whether that’s social media, blogs, guest posts on industry sites, interviews, or other. Ask them to have active conversations with your marketing team about how they can turn their insight into genuinely useful content for your business strategy.

If you don’t have leaders on hand, now is the time to find some or develop some. Remember, these are people worth investing in, so don’t be afraid to shop around until you find the perfect fit.

What are Examples of Leadership Marketing to Sell Your Products and Services?

What does thought leadership marketing look like in action?

Let’s say you have an email address, or a few. And let’s say you want to share a post with your email list.

Start by asking, “What question am I trying to answer for my customers? And how can I answer it in a way that offers insight into the problem?” If you’ve got experts on hand, have them work with your marketing team to figure out the biggest questions your clients have and what kind of content they seek to answer those questions.

Then, that material can be packaged and shared with the people on your email list, demonstrating value and attracting loyal customers.

Here’s the thing: you can follow the same process with social media posts and a wide array of other content. Thought leadership marketing is all about turning your materials into a source of genuine insight, and that can take many forms.

Don’t Just Market. Let Your Content Lead

Thought leadership marketing is all about making your materials a source of value. True thought leadership means offering expertise your customers can’t find anywhere else. And while that takes time to build, keep in mind that you’re making an investment in your future success.