A basic guide to thought leadership marketing

What is it and should your organization be using it?

Daniel Rosehill
Apr 16 · 7 min read
Image: HippoPx.com. Creative Commons Zero / CC0.

Are you curious about what thought leadership entails? Perhaps one of your competitors has been engaging in it with success and you’d like to know whether it’s worth adding to your marketing playbook.

A lot of uncertainty surrounds thought leadership and many are skeptical that it’s a buzzword (we’ll get to that!).

In this resource, I’d like to clarify some thought leadership FAQs and link to more articles in All About Thought Leadership that will allow you to learn more about this powerful form of communication.

What Is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is all about leveraging the power of sharing big ideas.

But that’s only one half of the definition. Thought leadership is also typically about sharing ideas — or at least somewhat original ideas.

Of course, most prospective thought leaders don’t want to become thought leaders for the sake of it (although vanity a motivation for some!).

Rather, most want to be able to demonstrate a positive return on investment (ROI) from engaging in the activity. For companies and their executives, thought leadership is typically a marketing activity. And we’ll get to typical objectives later.

What Are The Benefits Of Engaging In Thought Leadership?

If you’re thinking about throwing budget into a thought leadership campaign, then you’ll want to see results.

Research on the potential value of thought leadership comes from Edelman/LinkedIn who have repeatedly commissioned a study looking into the benefits of thought leadership. Others, including marketing agencies, have looked at its benefits for specific sectors.

Detail is in the article above but the main takeaways are that:

  • Established thought leaders frequently report that they are able to charge a premium for their goods or services
  • Thought leadership can favorably improve “soft” metrics like a brand’s reputation
  • Thought leadership can also shift the needle on hard metrics like a company’s prospects of inclusion in a tender / RFP opportunity

Is Thought Leadership A Type Of Content Marketing?

There are differences between thought leadership and content marketing.

To the extent that thought leadership involves leveraging ‘content’ — big ideas — to realize sales objectives, then yes, thought leadership is a type of content marketing.

But thought leadership definitely shouldn’t be approached in the same manner that “traditional” content marketing is. Here are some salient differences (more detail in the article above):

  • Thought leadership is more commonly a peer to peer marketing activity whereas content marketing can be more hierarchical. This calls for a different tone of voice and approach.
  • Thought leadership — in the author’s view — typically fits higher in the marketing/sales funnel than content marketing. Thought leadership is great for getting on the recipient’s radar and introducing one’s company to the reader. Content marketing can be deployed throughout the funnel — from blogs to build awareness through to case studies and testimonials to drive purchasing decisions.
  • Classical content marketing is often about exchanging useful information in exchange for deferred purchasing decisions. With thought leadership, we’re instead leveraging the caliber of an organization’s thinking on an issue.

Who Can Become A Thought Leader?

Thought leadership is an earned title rather than something that individuals can self-proclaim!

To become a true thought leader is to be recognized by one’s peers as a true authority on a subject matter. When we think about household name tech visionaries, nobody’s doubting their expertise on what they’ve built their careers on.

While reaching the level of being a true thought leader is dependent upon social proof, an external consideration, there are many gradations along the way to that point.

Becoming a thought leader may be a long journey. Like content marketing and inbound in general developing a thought leadership plan is a long game. But that doesn’t mean that one can’t start out on the journey today.

The short answer is that anybody can become a thought leader. Although those typically leveraging thought leadership marketing in the commercial sense tend to be entrepreneurs or prominent company executives.

What Do I Need Do To In Order To Become A Recognized Thought Leader?

As we’ve seen above, to become a thought leader — and to maintain one’s status as one — really depends upon external validation.

Thought leaders are recognized experts upon a specific topic or a collection of them.

The key to becoming a thought leader is therefore to get one’s big ideas about an industry out of their head and onto paper — or into the world. Of course, it’s also important that one’s ideas resonate with a peer group — so some degree of validation is required here too.

One can start with some of the following activities:

  • Seeking out opportunities to become an expert media contributor and getting quoted in the media. The popular HARO platform is useful in this respect although proactive methods also work well.
  • Contributing op-ends and opinion pieces to trade media publications.
  • Giving speeches, and keynote address, at industry events, meetups, and conferences.
  • Getting interviewed on podcasts, TV, radio, and internet video channels.

One’s status as a thought leader isn’t built overnight. Rather it accrues with time. Because the journey is likely to be a long one, it’s best to start early.

Do I Need A Strategy In Order To Become A Thought Leader?

In order to derive maximum value from thought leadership, it’s important to understand the differences between it and content marketing (for more, see above).

Approaching them as “basically the same thing” is likely to lead to poor results. But once you understand the differences, they can be a powerful combination in synergy.

Of course, for any activity in which you’re thinking about channeling budget spend it’s better to have a strategy in place than to make things up as you go along. The benefits of formulating a thought leadership strategy document are therefore two-fold:

  • You’ll be encouraged to think about what you wish to achieve with this activity that’s not already covered under the rubric of content marketing
  • You’ll have an editorial calendar and other planning assets in place to help guide the process

Where Can I/We Publish Our Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership can be published:

  • On self-owned / managed resources. Examples of these include LinkedIn profiles, Medium accounts, and blogs
  • On external and editorial resources. Examples of these include trade media outlets and other journalistic publications

Remember that to become a thought leader we want to get our thinking out in front of an . Simultaneously, thought leadership doesn’t exist in a vacuum within the overall marketing playbook. There are advantages to publishing onsite (especially in the realm of SEO) that one forsakes by publishing even on a popular news website.

A mixture of the two approaches tends to work well and provides both:

  • Exposure to diverse audiences
  • The benefits of onsite SEO

I Want To Become A Thought Leader. Where Do I Start?

If you’re ready to set out on the journey towards becoming a thought leader:

  • Clarify what the “target market” for your thinking is. Who would comprise the peer group that you’d like to have your expertise in your business area validated by?
  • Ask yourself honestly whether you truly have original thoughts (or studies) to share on key topics in your industry. If you don’t, then there’s a risk that your attempts to be regarded as a thought leader will come across as pretentious. They’ll also likely be ineffective.
  • Develop a strategy document in order to coordinate your core messaging and make sure that you’re not overlapping with your efforts in the realm of content marketing.
  • Execute on the strategy document by creating content, speaking at events, and engaging in media opportunities that will begin building your brand awareness and establishing your reputation as a thought leader in your field.

Interested in learning more?

DSR Ghostwriting is a writing service and marketing consultancy specializing in working with tech companies and executives to help plan and execute strategies to turn tech experts into thought leaders.

All About Thought Leadership

Thought leadership and how to do it well

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