Thought Leadership: What Every Business Needs To Know



May 18, 2021 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

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Thanks to technological advances, including the internet, you can now access as much information as your brain can handle, and businesses are providing a huge chunk of that information.

For this reason, information bombards the average consumer of today from all angles. A significant amount of that information is in the form of ads. In today’s world, the average consumer sees anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads in any given day!

Ponder on that for a moment.

This kind of information assault may explain why the human attention span has been decreasing significantly over time.

There is an overabundance of marketing information. As a result, people have far too many choices and sometimes spend little time on topics that interest them.

If you run a business that needs to market to consumers, the overabundance of information is harmful for you. You must fight much harder to make your mark and stand out from your competitors. Your brand will add to the thousands of ads consumers are already dealing with.

You not only must fight to attract the attention of consumers, but you must also work harder to keep it long enough to persuade them to buy. Attracting and maintaining the attention of consumers can be challenging. The good news is that you have many ways of standing out. One of the most effective ways to do this is through thought leadership.

What Is Thought Leadership?

People have different thought leadership definitions, but one way to define thought leadership is that it is a process through which an individual or organization establishes itself as an authority in its niche by sharing relevant information with the target audience. During this process, you will share your expertise to educate the audience while building brand awareness.

Because this process seeks to improve one’s credibility through content, it falls under content marketing. You can use a variety of thought leadership content. It includes videos, articles, books, white papers, and podcasts.

Image via Pixabay by John Hain

Thought leadership is about sharing knowledge to build your brand. With time, this content will improve your credibility in the eyes of your peers, business partners, and clients. When they need information about a topic you are familiar with, they will automatically think of you first. Thus, they are more likely to prioritize buying from your brand before they consider your competition.

The term “thought leadership” traces its roots as far back as 1887. It has associations with Henry Ward Beecher, a famous Protestant spokesperson of his time who was a renowned anti-slavery activist. During that time, people described Beecher as “one of the greatest thought-leaders in America.”

The thought leadership meaning experienced a revival in 1994. The late Joel Kurtzman, the former editor in chief of Strategy+Business magazine, was responsible for its come-back. He used the term “thought leader” in the first issue of the magazine, and it has been in use in a variety of ways since then.

Some people consider thought leadership to be a buzzword, but that is not the case. It is more than that. When you use thought leadership strategically, you will achieve excellent marketing results.

You will be able to influence the existing narratives and even get rewarded for doing so. People will embrace your brand. They will associate it with expertise and innovation.

You don’t need an academic education to be a thought leader; your life experience can make you one. The life and business lessons that you have learned as an industry leader will prove your expertise if you share them.

Seth Godin and Neil Patel are excellent thought leadership examples who are well respected within the entrepreneurship and digital marketing space. The former is known for creating bite-sized advice on different life issues. Patel creates long-form and video content that tackles digital marketing topics.

Tim Ferriss is also another excellent example of a thought leader. He dominates the self-improvement space. His book, “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9–5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” (2007), dominated multiple bestselling book lists.

When Should You Engage in Thought Leadership?

While thought leadership is a crucial aspect of content marketing, it’s not the only tool that you have at your disposal. There is a time for thought leadership, though. You need to know when to engage in thought leadership. These times include when you:

Have Something Unique and Relevant To Share

People are not interested in generic content anymore. There is already too much of that kind of information available everywhere.

People search for information because they want to learn something that they don’t know. If you have experience, passion, and talents that make you an expert with unique knowledge to share, then it’s time for you to embrace thought leadership.

Find a way of teaching people something new. You can also offer them a fresh perspective on an existing topic. And if your knowledge extends to a trending topic, then take advantage of that to market yourself by producing related thought leadership content.

One thing you need to bear in mind, however, is that you cannot afford to share promotional information. People will reject your content.

Want To Build Credibility  Among Consumers

Credibility is very crucial in the world of business. According to one report by SurveyMonkey, trust in a brand influences at least 68% of consumers when purchasing products.

To even get a chance to make a good impression on your target customers, you need to engage in thought leadership. By building yourself as a trustworthy brand, you make your audience more likely to buy from you.

Need To Attract the Best Talent to Your Organization

Gone are the days when money was the only thing that attracted employees. Studies show that 84% of employees consider the reputation of a company when applying for a job.

You can boost your company’s reputation in several ways. Thought leadership is one of those ways. When done right, it portrays your organization as an industry leader. People will view you as a trustworthy authority in your field, including potential employees that you would like to hire.

Who Should Engage in Thought Leadership?

Anyone can engage in thought leadership.

It doesn’t matter whether you are an individual looking to stand out or part of an organization that wants recognition as an industry leader. As long as you implement the right thought leadership strategies, you can improve how the public views you.

Thought leadership works for both B2C and B2B businesses. Consumer-facing companies can use this form of content marketing to become memorable.

However, companies that work within the B2B space stand more to gain from thought leadership marketing.

According to a 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study:

  • 58% of decision-makers spend one or more hours reading thought leadership content.
  • 82% of decision-makers will engage with a brand if someone they know and respect shares its thought leadership.
  • 55% of decision-makers will increase the amount of business they do with an organization based on its thought leadership.
  • 47% of C-suite executives will share their contact information after reading good thought leadership content.

B2B companies would, therefore, benefit a lot from thought leadership.

If you are a marketer, thought leadership will enable you to differentiate the solution you present to your customers.

Even if you are a small cog in the wheel of your organization, you should still use this method to build credibility. It will help you stand out among your peers. You should also do the same if you are a solopreneur looking to compete in the big leagues.

By becoming an authority figure in your niche, you will gain respect. Decision-makers will sit down and take notice. Creating excellent thought leadership content will earn you that respect.

Where Does Thought Leadership Come From?

Thought leadership comes from everywhere.

Neither your work nor the position you occupy matters. You could be a CEO, janitor, product designer, customer representative, or stay-at-home mother and still have something worth sharing.

Suppose you grew up in circumstances that are less than ideal, but you have worked hard to overcome many challenges to become successful. Your life lessons can help you become a thought leader. These lessons will vary based on your religion, culture, ethnicity, financial status, etc.

Thought leadership content also comes from research. You could choose to interview industry experts on different topics. You can also conduct regular research into various subjects.

You can also provide thought leadership if you are a pioneer in your field. If you created a business from scratch, came up with a new product that the world has never seen, or are the first person of your kind to achieve success in your field, that’s enough to make you a thought leader.

The kind of job that you do also provides fodder for your content. Some weird, unique, and interesting jobs, like being a chocolate consultant, professional mourner, island caretaker, or professional snuggler, are worth discussing.

The more unique your job is, the more interesting information you will have to share. And when you share this information consistently to educate and entertain others, you can become a thought leader in your niche. In the end, that could open up other opportunities for you. These include public speaking jobs. You could end up being the main highlight of the next TED Talks event in your locale.

Regardless of your station in life, you can become a thought leader. You are unique. Therefore, you can offer a unique perspective on life and business. You just need to know how to express your native ideas through content.

Why You Should Implement Thought Leadership as Part of Your Content Strategy

Thought leadership should be part of your content strategy. It offers many benefits. Below are some of the reasons why you should implement thought leadership when marketing through content.

It Is a Way for You To Give Back by Sharing Your Expertise

People search for information online because they simply want to gain knowledge for its own sake. Sometimes, they read for personal entertainment. But many times, they read as a way to research before making buying decisions.

About 77% of buyers will consume at least three or more pieces of content before deciding on what to buy. These include videos, case studies, blogs, webinars, survey reports, white papers, and eBooks. That is how seriously people research before purchasing products or services.

So, when you engage in thought leadership, you give back to others. You educate people and you help them make buying decisions that are right for their needs. Your expertise is necessary and much appreciated.

It Helps To Improve Your Brand Value

The way people perceive your brand matters. The monetary worth of your brand is something that should concern you. You should, therefore, try to make your brand as valuable as possible.

One way thought leadership improves brand value is by changing the perceptions that people have concerning your business. Your ability to shape conversations in your industry will determine your company’s reputation. The bigger your ability to influence the way people think and act, the more valuable your brand becomes.

Studies show that thought leadership influences 88% of decision-makers in how they perceive an organization. These are people that you want in your corner. They make decisions that have a direct impact on the growth of your company and its brand value.

Trustworthiness is another aspect of your brand value that should concern you. Do not underestimate the impact that thought leadership has in this regard. Over 80% of buyers will trust a company based on its thought leadership. That trust will make them loyal to your brand, so ensure that your content is authentic and meant to help your audience.

Thought leadership marketing also differentiates your brand from the competition. By providing relevant and insightful content that helps others, you will build a reputation as an authority in your field. If you do this consistently, you will stand out. That enables you to differentiate your brand from the competition.

It Helps You Generate Leads for Your Business

To grow your business, you need to attract more leads that show an interest in what you have to offer. But lead generation is not as easy as it may seem. That is why it’s still the top priority for marketers.

Some content creators may underestimate thought leadership and its ability to generate leads. Don’t be one of them. Content of this kind tends to increase your visibility. That occurs when people share your top-tier content with others. It may also happen when you start to get press mentions because your thought leadership content shapes industry conversations.

With time, your increased visibility will enable you to reach a bigger audience that was not aware of your brand before. That is how people become leads. The more leads you generate, the more sales you are likely to make in the future.

It Improves Your Sales and Revenues

People usually go into business to make money while solving an existing market problem. However, thought leadership marketing is less about making money and more about improving your visibility and brand value. In the long term, it will still increase your sales and revenues if you do it right.

The 2020 Edelman and LinkedIn Survey results show that 49% of decision-makers would invite an organization to bid on a project based on their thought leadership content. That means your thought leadership can open up doors that were closed to your business before. But you must do it right.

Top-tier content could be the opportunity that you are looking for to play in the big player leagues and make more money.

Also, bear in mind that 96% of people that visit your website are not ready to buy from you. To get them to buy, you must persuade them to hand over their hard-earned money.

Part of that nurturing process will be in the form of thought leadership content. When people are in the process of deciding on what products and services to buy, they rely on content to educate them.

If you provide relevant content that addresses their pain points, they will consider you an expert. And your top-tier content could be the reason they decide in your favor.

Another challenge that most businesses have is keeping their existing customers loyal. Research shows that retaining customers is always much cheaper than getting new ones.

Existing customers are 50% more likely to try any new products you offer. They will spend 31% more money than new customers. That alone puts your business in a much better position to generate more sales and revenues.

However, the business world is competitive. Your competitors will always try to get your existing customers away from you. To prevent this from happening, you need to continue to engage them regularly. Thought leadership content offers you the ability to do just that.

You can provide expert advice concerning the products and services you have already sold. That could be in the form of tutorials and webinars. You could also include a round-up of customer-generated content that enables your existing customers to enjoy your products better.

For example, if you sell kitchen equipment such as blenders and food processors, you could ask for recipes for your company blog. You could combine those recipes based on specific themes and offer free recipe eBooks to all existing customers. That would be an innovative way to enable them to enjoy their purchases more, and it will make you stand out and keep your customers loyal.

Finally, thought leadership improves sales and revenues by cutting advertising costs. It does this by enhancing loyalty and improving referral rates. Once consumers decide to follow a brand on social media, they will continue to engage with it in various ways. About 85% of those that do this will eventually recommend that brand to people that they know.

Becoming a thought leader that people follow should be your goal. These followers will recommend your brand to others at some point. That means you will generate more leads, and thus sales and revenues in the future, at no additional cost to you.

It Increases Business-Related Opportunities

Generating more sales and revenues is the ultimate goal for every for-profit business. But expanding your business into other markets or starting a new company is a different ball game altogether. The latter is much harder to do.

However, by becoming a thought leader, you will find your foray into new markets smoother. That’s because thought leadership enables you to build new connections and goodwill. It also cements your good business reputation as an industry leader.

By the time you launch a product or service, you will already have many potential customers that trust your brand. And you can use that to your advantage to fuel your company’s growth and take advantage of other opportunities that come your way.

It Positions Your Company as the Ultimate Employer

Everyone wants to be associated with success, including employees.

One thing some look for is an employer that has a higher purpose. They want to work for businesses that are about more than money. Your company may not have a big enough budget to take on social corporate responsibilities that greatly impact many people, but it can always share its expertise with others.

Being known as an industry leader that cares about teaching people is a good thing. It would improve your business reputation among employees looking for companies with a higher purpose. Therefore, you would be in a better position to attract good talent.

The Disadvantages of Thought Leadership

Every good thing is not perfect. So, you do need to also think about the disadvantages associated with implementing your thought leadership strategy.

Thought Leadership Is Not for Everyone

You cannot just wake up one day and decide to become a thought leader. You need to see the bigger picture and that takes vision, which some content strategists don’t have.

If you cannot find a way to pull together different types of content while sharing your knowledge, then your thought leadership strategy will fall apart. The content that you provide will not be cohesive, which means you will give off mixed messages. And instead of coming across as a thought leader in your industry, you will end up putting off potential customers.

Thought Leadership Requires an Investment in Time, Money, and Effort

Some of the content that people create will not qualify as thought leadership content. Thought leadership is good-quality content that provides people with information that they do not know. Generic content won’t cut it.

There is the issue of consistency. Businesses cannot afford to produce content when they feel like it. Neither can they afford to create a small amount of content then assume that would do it. They must invest in many types of content so that they are accessible throughout the year on a wide variety of media platforms.

For example, if you choose to become a thought leader via blogging, you need to create about three to five blog posts a week if you have a large blog and two to four times a week if you have a small blog. This kind of production takes a lot of time, which you may not have.

On the other hand, if you prefer videos to communicate, you may have to invest $880 to $1200 per video. That could add up quickly if you intend to create video content throughout the year.

You must, therefore, invest time, money, and effort to produce expert content that people will be interested in.

About 47% of B2B marketers outsource their content creation tasks for a reason. It ensures that professionals create their thought leadership content. These people have the right set of skills to do a great job. Businesses that do this will have enough time to concentrate on their core business operations.

But you also need to remember that quality matters in the long run. According to the Edelman LinkedIn 2019 study, 55% of decision-makers tend to vet businesses with which they want to work simply based on their thought leadership marketing content.

So, low-quality content is likely to make you lose business directly. You are expected to lose future business opportunities if those decision-makers unfollow you or dismiss your brand altogether.

How To Implement an Effective Thought Leadership Strategy

You need to learn how to become a thought leader. There are specific things that you need to do or bear in mind. These include the following:

1. Create and Document a Content Strategy That Factors in Thought Leadership

A content strategy is a framework that guides the creation and distribution of content. It lays out the kind of content you should create, the buyer personas the content should target, and the platforms through which you distribute content.

Think of a content strategy as a map that helps you achieve your business goals through content marketing. It makes content planning, development, and distribution much easier to accomplish.

Despite its importance, 63% of marketers don’t have a documented content strategy. So, if you develop this framework to guide your thought leadership content, you will automatically be better off than most businesses that engage in content marketing.

You can implement your thought leadership strategy without struggling to determine which content works best, what platforms you should use to publish, or which audience to target.

2. Create Content That Consistently Aligns With Your Brand Values

Thought leadership is incompatible with self-promotion, but you can work around those limitations.

One way to do that is by creating content that aligns with your brand values. Your company needs to have brand guidelines. These will lay out the way you present the brand in every way. That includes how you present your editorial content.

For example, if your brand is fun and entertaining, your content should have a similar voice. All the images, fonts, color, and content type you publish for thought leadership purposes should enforce this perception.

Remember, consistent brand representation can improve your company’s revenues by as much as 33%. Your audience should get a consistent impression of what your brand is all about always. That ensures that there is no room for confusion among everyone that consumes your content.

3. Prioritize the Needs of Your Target Audience

Thought leadership is about positioning yourself as an expert in your niche. But you must use it while bearing in mind that it is not about you. It’s about what your audience wants and needs.

People have different content needs. You need to have content for buyers at the awareness, consideration, and decision stages, and this content must address the pain points at each stage. That way, people will feel that you have addressed their issues properly.

The top-performing marketers tend to put their audience first. So, you should do the same thing to create thought leadership that works. If you focus on educating people rather than selling, they will reward you with their trust and loyalty.

But to prioritize the needs of your audience, you must know your ideal buyers, partners, and peers. Since these are the people you want to impress, you must know what they like and hate.

You must also understand their needs, preferences, and belief systems. Ensure that you segment your target audience based on the information you have gathered. Those that share similar traits should belong to the same group. That way, you can create personalized thought leadership content that is specific to their needs.

4. Invest in High-Quality Content

To become a thought leader, you must create thought leadership content better than everything there is out there. It must be top-tier to qualify as thought leadership content. Otherwise, no one will take you seriously.

Your content should not be generic. It should also be free of grammatical errors. You should also take the time to ensure it is well-researched and backed by reputable studies and statistics. Alternatively, the content you produce should contain expert opinions from well-respected industry leaders.

Top-tier level content is also relevant. It should revolve around current conversations within your industry. Also, think about finding ways to create thought-provoking content. You want people to feel strong emotions when they read your thought leadership content. They may disagree with your view, but they will not forget your content. And they are more likely to share it with others.

But great content takes time and effort. That is why 65% of companies find it challenging to produce engaging content. If you feel you don’t have the time to pull off this kind of thought leadership marketing content, think about outsourcing it. Since 84% of marketers already outsource their content creation, why shouldn’t you do the same?

5. Be Open to Creating a Wide Variety of Content

You should be open-minded about the kind of content that you can produce for thought leadership. Doing that enables you to address the needs of your target audience in a format that works best.

Some of the content formats you could incorporate within your thought leadership strategy include:

  • Blogs.
  • White papers.
  • Interviews.
  • Expert round-up articles.
  • Surveys.
  • Videos.
  • Infographics.
  • eBooks.
  • Checklists.
  • Customer-generated content such as testimonials and case studies.
  • Product reviews.

Also, think about the length and duration of your content. While long-form articles may work best for thought leadership articles, don’t dismiss social media posts. The latter are usually shorter. But when done right, they can pack a punch and influence conversations.

6. Promote Your Expertise Shamelessly

Becoming known as a thought leader will need some effort on your part. That means you must step up to the plate and promote yourself to gain a bigger following.

One way to promote your expertise is to take part in conversations going on within your preferred platforms. When people ask questions or comment on current topics of interest, also put in your two cents worth. Ensure that your comments stand out so that people can take a look at your profile. Be memorable.

You can also choose to share your expertise on forums such as Reddit. On subreddits such as Ask Me Anything, you can share with members what you do and invite them to ask you questions.

This kind of open-ended discussion enables you to deal with issues people may have while showing off what you know. It also helps you to boost your public online profile. If your discussion is engaging, it may attract media mentions.

By interviewing experts and sharing their opinions on various subjects you want to tackle, you can become a thought leader. This kind of content creation works well in the form of videos and podcasts. And it provides a win-win situation for both you and those that you interview.

Interviews also give your audience access to many expert opinions. Oprah Winfrey is someone that has successfully used this content format to become a thought leader in her own right. She has also boosted the profile of some of her guests by hosting them on her various shows.

Partner with influencers to distribute content. People with more significant followings than yours can help you improve your brand’s visibility and increase your following. That is why 89% of marketers prefer it. Its ROI is equal to or greater than other forms of marketing.

Influencers can promote thought leadership content for a fee or exposure. The kinds of content that do best include eBooks, software, and online courses. However, if you produce excellent research, influencers may end up using and sharing your results for free.

SAP, which is already considered a thought leader in the enterprise application software market, maintains its position by regularly partnering with influencers. Many of these influencers are industry experts.

In 2017, the company invited several influencers to a customer event held in Germany to give their expert opinions on selected topics. These included data analytics, machine learning, and innovation. This was the thought leadership content produced on behalf of SAP.

These influencers ended up being responsible for 50% of the social media mentions concerning the event, and the event trended for two days.

Another effective strategy of promoting yourself as a thought leader is to inspire your customers to generate content on your brand’s behalf. Believe it or not, 50% of consumers want brands to tell them what content to create and share. Despite this fact, only 16% of brands usually tell their customers what to do.

So, be smart enough to be among the few brands that let customers promote them as thought leaders. You could do this in a variety of ways. For example, you could run a contest and award a few customers who purchase your thought leadership content. Awards could include recipe books and guides.

You could also encourage people to ask people to share videos and audio concerning your product. Let them share how they have benefited from your products. Then use that to create case studies promoting you as a thought leader. That could work great for thought leadership content such as online courses and how-to videos.

Burberry is an excellent example of a company that promoted itself using user-generated content to become a digital fashion thought leader. Once a struggling luxury company, it changed its fortunes by building a solid online presence.

But it was the Art of the Trench campaign that revolutionized the brand. Burberry used this campaign to encourage customers to share their photos wearing the brand’s trench coat products. The customers got to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, and their admirers could share their images and purchase similar products that appealed to their fashion senses.

By the end of the campaign, Burberry had managed to break into foreign markets, increased their followings, and generated higher sales and revenues. It also managed to become a tech awareness thought leader even though Burberry has a heavy fashion focus.

Therefore, when done right, user-generated content can boost your thought leadership goals significantly.

When coming up with your overall content marketing strategy, you should incorporate thought leadership. However, this aspect of content marketing is long-term. Therefore, you must be prepared to invest time, money, and effort into establishing your position as an industry leader. It is subtle, but when you do it right, it offers plenty of rewards that will make your efforts worthwhile and your business will benefit from it for a long time to come.

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CopyPress writer

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