content marketing technology vs thought leadership marketing

The Power of Thought Leadership Marketing


What To Know

  • While content marketing is essential for companies in all industries, I believe nothing pulls in leads and boosts long-term return on investment like a well-planned thought leadership marketing strategy.
  • Thought leadership is a more strategic form of content marketing focused on positioning your company leaders as forward-thinking experts on industry trends.

Why Thought Leadership Should Be Central to Your Content Strategy

While content marketing is essential for companies in all industries, I believe nothing pulls in leads and boosts long-term return on investment like a well-planned thought leadership marketing strategy.

Nearly 90% of C-level decision-makers say thought leadership content influences their opinions of a company, according to a 2020 study by Edelman and LinkedIn. Meanwhile, only 17% of decision-makers would call most of the content they consume either “very good” or “excellent.”

That data underscores the need for more high-quality thought leadership. With so many companies competing for attention online, you have to publish content that stands out and positions your organization as an authoritative leader.

So how can you elevate your content above the noise?

The answer lies in understanding the key differences between general content marketing versus thought leadership. Then you can craft an intelligent strategy that leverages the power of both for maximum impact.

As a Founder of a leading brand publishing company in Africa that specializes in thought leadership, I’ve seen how powerfully this type of strategic content attracts leads when done right.

In this article, I’ll break down what sets thought leadership apart from standard content marketing and why it deserves a central place in your approach.

Defining Thought Leadership Marketing and Content Marketing

Before diving into how thought leadership and content marketing differ, let’s quickly define what each entails:

Content marketing refers to creating and distributing valuable, relevant content to attract and retain customers. This content addresses topics your target audience cares about and answers their questions to build trust and credibility for your brand. It comes in many formats like blogs, videos, ebooks and more.

Thought leadership is a more strategic form of content marketing focused on positioning your company leaders as forward-thinking experts on industry trends. Thought leadership establishes your authority on topics that matter most to your audience. Its aim is to influence opinions by offering new ideas and unique perspectives.

The Key Differences Between Thought Leadership and Content Marketing

Now let’s explore some key ways thought leadership content differs from run-of-the-mill content marketing. Understanding these distinctions will help you allocate budget and resources appropriately between the two types of content in your strategy.

(1) Content Marketing Solves Problems. Thought Leadership Sparks Conversations.

Effective content marketing directly answers your audience’s burning questions and solves relevant problems for them. It’s designed to be helpful and practical first and foremost.

Use Case Scenario of Content Marketing:

For example, let’s say your company sells accounting software. Some solid content marketing topics could include:

  • How to reconcile your books each month
  • 5 accounting trends to watch
  • Mistakes to avoid when choosing small business accounting software

These articles provide readers with tactical advice and quick wins. They establish your expertise in areas your audience cares about.

Use Case Scenario of Thought Leadership :

Thought leadership operates at a higher level. Rather than addressing present-day problems, it anticipates emerging trends, technologies and market shifts.

Strong thought leadership content gets ahead of changes on the horizon to spark meaningful conversations:

  • How automation will transform the accounting profession in the next 5 years
  • Rethinking accounting in the era of decentralized finance (DeFi)
  • Building the transparent accounting function of the future

As you can see, these topics take a more visionary posture. They go beyond the familiar to get decision-makers thinking about what’s next and where their industry is headed.

(2) Thought Leadership Focuses on Quality Over Quantity

  • When it comes to content marketing, more is often better. Search engines reward websites with large volumes of fresh, high-quality content. Plus, you can target lots of keywords and buyer concerns by producing content at scale.
  • For established brands, HubSpot recommends publishing 3-5 blog posts per week. But for thought leadership, less is more. Focus on publishing less content but making each piece incredibly substantive and forward-thinking.
  • Don’t force yourself to churn out thought leadership content on a fixed schedule. The ideas have to be worthwhile enough to merit the investment. Work backward from the insights and build content around the most compelling concepts.
  • Long-form formats like ebooks, research reports and slide presentations are well-suited for thought leadership. Take your time crafting posts that show deep thinking on topics that will shape your industry for years to come.

(3) Content Marketing Aims to Sell. Thought Leadership Informs and Educates.

There’s nothing wrong with using content to pitch your products and services. In fact, that’s an essential part of attracting customers. But thought leadership should educate and challenge paradigms rather than promote what you sell.

For instance, a piece on the future of online banking could highlight trends like:

  • The decline of cash and checks
  • Banking with smartphone apps rather than branches
  • Open banking and financial data portability

These insights help executives at financial institutions understand shifts underway in the industry. By showcasing your unique vision and grasp of the landscape, you build confidence in your team’s ability to guide clients into the future.

Of course, eventually you want leads to buy from your company. But thought leadership builds reputation and trust as a trusted advisor first. Overt product promotion has no place in thought leadership content if you want to stand out from the pack.

(4) Thought Leadership Requires Research

You can create decent content marketing based on knowledge you already have about your industry and customers. But thought leadership requires dedicated research to uncover non-obvious insights.

There are two main forms of research to incorporate in your thought leadership strategy:

  • Primary research entails surveying your audience and interviewing experts, customers and other stakeholders to map industry trends and concerns first-hand. Consider conducting focus groups, sentiment analysis using AI and other tools to gather primary data.
  • Secondary research means reviewing existing research from analysts, universities, government agencies and think tanks for relevant statistics and insights you can leverage. Compile findings from reports to spot patterns.

For example, by combining learnings from primary surveys of your audience with secondary data on market shifts, you can identify intriguing content areas, like:

  • How leaders in X industry can prepare for disruption from artificial intelligence applications in the next 3 years.
  • Study: 50% of customers say they would switch brands for more personalized mobile messaging.

Original research is like rocket fuel for thought leadership. It allows you to deliver content and ideas your competitors simply can’t match. And your audience will instantly recognize and respect the effort you put in.

(5) Content Marketing Informs. Thought Leadership Predicts.

As discussed earlier, content marketing focuses on present-day information needs. It strives to guide customers where they are in their journey right now. Thought leadership looks to the future.

The goal is to forecast trends before they happen and recommend how readers can get ahead of changes to come in their market.

For example, a forward-thinking hospitality brand could publish thought leadership content like:

  • Beyond room service: How hotels can retain their relevance in the era of Airbnb
  • Catering to millennials: What coming generational shifts mean for the hotel industry
  • Personalization and privacy: Navigating the paradox for travel brands

Each of these takes a predictive posture, anticipating major changes that will disrupt incumbents that fail to adapt and innovate. With thoughtful insights instead of reactive content that simply comments on current events, you elevate your positioning and authority.

(6) Thought Leadership Influences and Sparks Action

Content marketing persuades readers to buy your solutions or sign up on your website, delivering concrete business value. But the influence of truly insightful thought leadership runs deeper. It sticks in your audience’s minds and drives change.

Strong thought leadership shapes perceptions, redirects strategy and accelerates transformation across your entire industry, not just within your own company.

For example, Salesforce founder Marc Benioff has impacted how companies approach corporate social responsibility and giving back to local communities where they operate. Leaders worldwide now recognize the need for ethical capitalism and equality as competitive issues thanks to Benioff’s trailblazing.

That’s the transformational power your own thought leadership content can wield when you think big. By laying out a bold vision and principles, you can reframe perspectives and standards. Leaders will look to your content for guidance on what tomorrow holds and how they should navigate it.

(7) Content Marketing Supports. Thought Leadership Leads.

This last distinction sums up the differences covered so far. Content marketing follows—reacting to customer questions and providing helpful resources. Thought leadership forges ahead, guiding customers confidently into the future unknown.

  • Effective content marketing says “Follow us, we know the way in the current environment.
  • Thought leadership says “Follow our lead into a new era.” The latter is far more compelling.

Thought Leadership Strategies to Fuel Your Content Engine

Hopefully the contrasts above make it clear why thought leadership should play a central role in your overall content mix. When properly financed and staffed, it can pay dividends by cementing your status as an agenda-setting industry leader.

Practical Avenues to Fuel Your Thought Leadership Content Engine:

  • Research emerging trends and conduct surveys continuously to spot topics. Frame issues before competitors do.
  • Allocate budget for high-quality design and production value. Thought leadership content is premium.
  • Let subject matter experts and top executives author posts under their names to build influence.
  • Syndicate content and promote it heavily on social networks and LinkedIn. Aim for virality.
  • Repurpose insights into multiple formats like video, podcasts, whitepapers and infographics.
  • Develop a thought leadership content calendar and share it internally. Ideate topics cross-functionally.
  • Consider collaborating with partners, academics and analysts to co-develop perspectives.
  • Treat thought leadership as an ongoing initiative that evolves based on external change. Adapt it continually.
  • Set specific KPIs for thought leadership content separate from general marketing. Track awareness, leads and engagement over time.
  • Feature thought leadership prominently on your website, emails and sales enablement materials to multiply impact.

Mastering the mix of thought leadership content and everyday marketing content is key to building sustainable mindshare and visibility for your brand. The companies that consistently invest in research and bold ideas become recognized as trusted navigators of change.

Lead the Way with Visionary Thought Leadership

In closing, I urge you not to underestimate the power of thought leadership in propelling your content strategy to the next level. It requires creativity, insights and vision to craft truly compelling thought leadership that shapes your industry’s narrative.

But companies willing to devote resources to understand the future and lay out insightful roadmaps will reap the benefits for years in the form of trust, referrals and accelerated growth. Your audience is hungry for guidance, not just static information.

Position your brightest minds and executive team members front and center as the thought pioneers your customers rely on to blaze the trail ahead. Take a stand for what you believe the future must look like and lead others there.

When thought leadership flows directly from genuine passion and conviction, you have a framework for content that breaks through clutter, drives action and creates change. So carve out budget for research, put in the hard work to form forward-looking perspectives, and watch your authority grow.

What are your best tips for creating thought leadership content that leaves competitors in the dust?

Click to Share your top lessons and ideas!

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