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Thought Leadership Marketing: darts in the dark or hitting the bullseye?

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

What do well-known names like Kamala Harris, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Shah Rukh Khan, and Kevin Hart have in common? The fact that in their immensely successful and long careers, these people have not only seen the industry change but have also driven many of the changes in their respective fields.

Every time you see them on television or see an article with their name, you know you’re in for a unique insight! Instead of fact-checking what they say, you hold their word against everything else. Just like these distinguished individuals, venerable businesses and brands like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc., also have a reputation for shaping the evolution of their respective industries. This combination of reputation, credibility, and trust is the very basis of thought leadership.

Entrepreneurs worldwide understand this, and they’re trying hard to use thought leadership for marketing their businesses by establishing themselves and their businesses as thought leaders.

What is thought leadership content?

Thought leadership content involves delivering content that uses the expertise, insight, and experience of the author, to share that wisdom with others. Creating such content is increasingly being seen as one of the key tools for building a strong brand, and using thought leadership for marketing is becoming a strategy for businesses to build credibility and brand reputation, and position themselves as reliable solution providers.

What sets such content apart from the usual content marketing? Thought leadership content goes beyond providing information and instead poses questions, explores new ideas, and encourages readers to engage in meaningful discussions. It is typically authored by what would be called subject-matter experts who possess extensive knowledge, experience, and expertise in their respective domains. It also frequently includes personal narratives or stories that illustrate the author's journey, lessons learned, and real-world experiences which allows readers to connect with the author on a deeper level. And rather than immediate or short-term topics, thought leadership content focuses on macro perspectives, long-term trends, industry shifts, and emerging ideas.

An illustration of a person speaking from a podium to four individuals. The illustration conveys that different individuals connect with different aspects of what the speaker is talking about.
Thought leadership content often includes personal stories connecting readers to authors' journeys, lessons, and experiences.

Thought leadership content includes a range of content including conferences, talks, webinars, blogs, ebooks, audio podcasts, and videos. In a way, it is safe to say that thought leadership content marketing can be done by every organisation, as they can choose the types of content that align with the organisation's abilities, audiences, and goals. It is said to be especially significant for B2B companies because of the greater competition and a diverse customer base and is coming to be seen as a crucial element of B2B content marketing.

The illustration is a bar-graph that shows the kind of content usually created for thought leadership marketing. The percentages are: Articles and blog posts: 91.4% Videos: 44.1% Webinars/Events: 36.2%  White papers: 33.2% Research: 33.2% Ebooks: 29.9% Podcasts: 21.7% Data Visualization: 20.7%
From insightful articles to engaging videos, discover the diverse ways thought leaders share wisdom and shape industries.

Are businesses successfully implementing thought leadership marketing?

In recent years, there has been an increase in thought leadership content on the internet. According to a survey conducted by SemRush, 65% of organisations currently include thought leadership content in their marketing, while 29.5% are planning to incorporate it. This points to the fact that as many as 9 out of every 10 organizations are in favour of thought leadership marketing.

But at the same time, only 26% of businesses are confident that their endeavours are highly successful.

Illustration that states that businesses favoring thought leadership (9 out of 10) and those with low confidence in successful outcomes (1 in 4).
The Thought Leadership Paradox: Embraced by many, mastered by few.

To the uninitiated, thought leadership marketing looks easy. Just depute a content strategist and a content writer to paraphrase content from the internet and upload content daily on various platforms, and establish itself as an industry leader. This is precisely what a lot of companies do, and it is exactly why only 26% of businesses are confident that their thought leadership endeavours are highly successful.

When it comes to thought leadership content, each piece is an opportunity to build a relationship with your industry. Thought leadership marketing efforts are highly dependent on the quality of content and if your content is not adding any value to the reader or viewer, it's becoming a part of the mountain of chaff on the internet where it will stay untouched.

How can you create high-quality thought leadership content?

If only there was a straight answer! The truth is, high-quality leadership content is many things. It can be an article that starts a conversation in an industry; it can be a TED talk that encourages people to take that leap of faith; it can even be a LinkedIn post that talks about an upcoming trend. Still, there are hallmarks of good thought leadership content, with authenticity, originality, relevancy, and value-addition being the most principal of them

You can also experiment with different types of content. It can be analysis-centric, which often sparks conversations that lead to conversions. Podcasts are a great example of this, as they allow industry leaders to share observations based on their experiences. Also remember that good podcasts often get bookmarked that people keep going back to, from time to time.

Illustration showing icons for high quality thought leadership content platforms: TEDx, blogs, and podcasts

Your content can also be created from an organization’s internal data. Such pieces draw insightful observations from data and can be used to create content that provides value to readers. Semrush's blog is one example of this. Semrush's extensive databases and research-backed blogs are a boon to every digital marketer.

Another example of a helpful blog is Grow by Acorns (a micro-investment app). Grow is a great example of how an already-established name can help turn new brands into credible sources and thought leaders. Acorns did this by creating Grow in collaboration with CNBC, a renowned information provider.

Speaking of credible blogs, this list wouldn’t be complete without First Round Capital’s First Round Review, a community-sharing platform that harnessed the power of authenticity to establish themselves as leaders.

Personal narratives, too, can make for great content. Plus if there's a good story, it deserves to be told a hundred times in a hundred different ways, which is what Gary Vaynerchuk (better known as Gary Vee) has successfully done over the years. Gary is an entrepreneur, author, and business expert. He started vlogging in the early 2000s (through grainy videos on YouTube) and is a well-known content creator on Tiktok, Instagram, and LinkedIn today. He creates motivational content by sharing anecdotes from his life and business journey, so not only he gets the attention of industry experts but also the younger crowd.

Measuring the impact of your thought leadership marketing efforts?

Leadership and credibility can certainly not be measured, it is in the eyes of a beholder how they perceive the content, but some of their effects can be seen.

Some metrics that you can track are website traffic, follower count, signups, and lead generation. An increase in branded queries is also a good sign that your content is performing well. Backlinks, which are links that lead you to another website(see what we did there?), are a great way to know how others are talking about you.

Illustration saying "backlinks are like cool kids, and if you are friends with cool kids, you appear even cooler"

Bear in mind

While good thought leadership content can be life-changing for a brand, substandard content can just as easily cause harm. According to a recent Edelman-LinkedIn study, 30% of decision-makers distance themselves from companies if they view their thought leadership content poorly. Here are some things to avoid on your thought leadership journey.

  • Always remember that good thought leadership content is not a sales pitch. So: Inform first, sell later!

  • Businesses often claim unoriginal concepts as their own. Not only is this unethical but also it leads to producing shallow material which lacks any real value.

  • Would you have confidence in an article that talks about smartphones but was written in 2010? Outdated content is highly unappealing and given the rapid pace of change in the world, it's crucial to consistently stay relevant.

  • You wouldn’t willingly choose something unpredictable over something reliable, right? Similarly, remember that inconsistency is unpredictable and will surely hamper your progress.

  • An unverified third-party insight can harm your credibility much more than it can ever build it. Your business does not deserve such risks and you should place research above all.


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