Thought leadership: Content marketing’s secret weapon

A new study by the Economist Group on thought leadership content says 75% of executives have become more selective about the content source, mainly due to the increasing volume being pumped out by marketers.

The good news is, there is still around a third of executives who consume thought leadership content on a daily basis, with some having increased consumption “a lot” over the past year.

To approach thought leadership in a way that delivers lasting value, brands need to take a step back and evaluate how this fits with the overall content marketing strategy. 


What is thought leadership?

Some confuse between the two terms “thought leadership” and “content marketing,” and use them interchangeably. Some say the former is about long-term effect and the latter about what exists today.

The truth is thought leadership is a branch of content marketing, or better yet, the “platinum standard of content-based reputation enhancement.”

Source: QuickTapSurvey
Source: QuickTapSurvey

Hence, it would take time before you see the results of thought leadership. People don’t become experts overnight.

As you can see from the diagram above, thought leadership is different from other content marketing activities in terms of effectiveness and scale, yet it still needs coordination/support with other channels.


Why bother?

Remember Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion/influence? “Authority” is the main principle at play with thought leadership content.

Source: QuickTapSurvey
Source: QuickTapSurvey

According to the aforementioned Economist Group’s study, the benefits of thought leadership are clear:

  • Three-quarters of senior executives are influenced in their buying decisions
  • 67% would be willing to vouch for that brand externally
  • More than 80% would be influenced in their choice of business partner



To reap rewards of thought leadership, the content brands create needs to be “innovative, big picture, credible, and transformative.”

To validate the thought leadership quality of your content, here are some questions to ask:

  • Does it propel readers towards action? Or is it actionable content?
  • Does it provide new or compelling insights?
  • Does it encourage a two-way conversation?
  • Does it steer clear of self-promotion (whether of product or service)


Ways to start building thought leadership

The usual content marketing practices apply: content curation, creation, editing. To elevate it to the top of the pyramid mentioned before, it takes research, staying up to date with industry trends, analysing and identifying the knowledge gap that your content can fill.

Remember the audience

Although true in any marketing activity, it’s especially crucial in thought leadership content to address a specific audience. Because it is more about depth, not breadth. The more you zoom in on your target audience, the more you understand their challenges and thus provide relevant content that helps them.

Subject matter experts

If you want people to trust your ideas and insights, tap the knowledge of experts, whether internal or external. A lot of companies are still not involving these stakeholders in thought leadership content development.

Content formats

Brands can create a content hub which is rooted in a core service. Example: IBM has the THINK Marketing hub around their machine learning service, and the Smarter Planet hub around their smart technologies.

To spur conversations around your thought leadership content, consider expert roundups. This works on the Consensus and Reciprocity Cialdini’s principles too.

Following from the point above, guest blogging has proven effective for many thought leaders.