The term “thought leadership” has become a common buzzword in recent times. However,  Joel Kurtzman, the founding editor of Strategy+Business, is the pioneer who coined this term in 1944. But what does it stand for?

Thought leadership is about establishing yourself as an authority in a field- as someone who can offer insights and reflect on the matters related to; but not limited to; the industry he or she is a part of. Thought leadership marketing, hence, is all about the process of establishing yourself as an authority figure.

However, it is not about blowing your own trumpet. Thought leadership marketing is a type of personal branding, in which you cement your position as an authority figure without being brazenly self-promotional. So, how can you strike that balance? Let us find out. 

What is Thought Leadership Marketing?

Gone are the days when designing advertisement campaigns and recruiting copywriters were enough for creating and establishing a brand.

This is an age wherein consumers are quite sceptical about the claims you make about your brand.

Hence a strategy involving self-promotional activities and conventional advertisements will not work.  You need to adopt a marketing strategy that consists of the concept of thought leadership. 

Through thought leadership marketing you can aim at providing genuine brand value to your customers. And this will not necessarily involve self-promotion techniques. By building a network of trust and credibility, you would earn more clients and broader sales. 

Now that we know what thought leadership marketing strategy is, let us try and define what thought leadership is all about. (7)

What is Thought Leadership Meaning?

Thought leadership is when one comprehends the business they are in, values their customer’s needs and pays attention to the overall broader marketplace.

Their peers, customers and industry experts label them as thought leaders. Thought leadership is also when you have original ideas, distinct perspectives and new insights. (1)

There have been many changes to the definition of thought leadership from the time it has come into existence. According to Kelsey Raymond, co-founder and CEO at Influence & Co describe thought leaders as those who are industry experts.

These individuals have the capability of sharing their expertise with a broader audience to educate them, while simultaneously improvising and making value additions to the industry at large. (1)

Thought leadership is not only about being industry experts but also about being owners of a business or having entrepreneurial skills.

Thought leaders are people who involve themselves entirely in everything about their industries; they not only understand the ropes of their businesses, but they also know their audiences and competitors well. (1)

More about thought leadership

Thought leaders are considered effective communicators who can act instrumental in engaging a  specific group of audience.

These individuals are incredibly passionate and creative, hence they are called as active agents of change.

However, you must know that being a thought leader or inculcating a practice of thought leadership is neither easy nor it comes naturally. You have to invest time and energy for the same. (1)

Difference between Corporate Thought Leadership and Personal Thought Leadership

Personal thought leadership is when an individual shares their insights, perspectives and beliefs, whereas corporate thought leadership is when they share ideas from the perspective of a brand.

Thus both these types are dynamically different with regards to their source.

While corporate thought leadership may be guided by a large number of voices within, an individual’s voice governs personal thought leadership. (3)

Why adopt thought leadership?

 To gain some great ROI, it is essential to adopt particular industry best practices about thought leadership. Some of them are- 

1. Thought leadership must bring in trust and build credibility

You would always want to believe someone who has a proven record.

Creating credibility among your audience and building trust will help you get connected to a broader audience.

This is because, as a thought leader you are always sharing ideas, knowledge and your experiences,  or giving suggestions; and mostly these are without charging anything. As a result, people often take your help when they need tips/ideas.

This further helps you to connect with more people and give you a chance to fulfil your goals of driving more traffic to your page, getting offers as a speaker and boosting your business. (1)

2. It sets you apart

Not many people can become thought leaders. But if you have it in yourself you must pursue this.

Being a thought leader, you would find yourself sharing your success and failure stories with a large number of people.

This, in turn, will inspire a lot of them to follow you.

However, you must note that you do not have to indulge in controversies to stand out as a thought leader. You could become one by just sharing honest experiences and unique ideas. (1)

3. Your approach must be in lines with your content marketing strategy

You become dynamic as a thought leader when you can combine it with your content marketing strategy.

But before this, you need to have a thorough knowledge of your target audience, their pain areas and the content they would be interested in. Make sure you are guided by authenticity and ingenuity when you create content for your target audience.

This will help you come across more significant opportunities, widen your follower base and close more deals. (1)

4. Helps create a culture of learning

When you become a thought leader, you create ample opportunities for a more extensive section of your audience to learn continuously.

Since you would be in a position to share a lot of knowledge, ideas and experiences, your business partners and employees will have frequent opportunities to be in a continuous learning process.

This will further enable them to develop innovative ideas and gain a competitive edge over others. (1)

5. It is a self-sustaining process.

Though it takes time and effort to become a thought leader, it eventually becomes a self-sustaining process.

Once your ideas get recognized by a broader set of your target audience, you gain a lot by teaching thought leadership. (1)

Types of thought leadership

Most of the brands these days are aiming to get noticed by following thought leadership.

Here you need to note that there is no one single formula behind successful thought leadership. It is essential to understand your overall marketing strategy, as this would define your content marketing strategy in turn.

You must identify the gaps in your brand influence and strategize which type of thought leadership you should adopt. This will help you gain more customers and also retain the existing ones. (2)

Depending on the organization size, industry type and your business goals, you may adopt any of the following types of thought leadership- (2)

1. Industry thought leadership

This would include perspectives on news and trends. Industry thought leadership aims to-

  • Help a small and concise market base primarily when you intend to stay in touch with current trends. (2)
  • To help develop and build new disruptive ideas about the latest developments within your market niche. (2)
  • Industry thought leadership believers consider the customer as their king and factor them in all critical decisions and their implementations. (2)

2. Organizational thought leadership

The ethos and vision of your organization symbolize this. Organizational thought leadership aims to-

  • Uphold the organization’s motto and vision. (2)
  • Mirror the company’s work culture and how it stands unique. (2)
  • Create harmony between the perception and image of the brand that the organization caters to. (2)

3. Product thought leadership

This type of thought leadership aims at providing the best solutions to your customers. The objectives of this type of thought leadership are-

  • Design success paths for the organization. (2)
  • Devise a practical approach to achieve organizational goals. (2)
  • A strategy to achieve organizational goals. (2)
  • Develop a product/service that meets all customer expectations. (2)
  • Keep striving for content that is par excellence. (2)

What is thought leadership marketing plan?

When you position your organization as a forerunner in its domain, by building world-class content, you develop thought leadership marketing plan.

By publishing articles and researches, uploading videos or any other form of relevant content, you can connect with a large number of potential customers, members of your community.

This is turn helps you to create a brand that is recognized worldwide. (3)

Individuals like Peter Drucker and Malcolm Gladwell exemplify thought leadership marketing in the best possible way.

They achieved this through their published ideas,  and the blog posts sharing their knowledge and experiences. Thought leadership marketing techniques are better than any other online marketing activity, as this brings in an excellent ROI for your business.

If your thought leadership marketing plan resonates with the audience at large, you will have a more considerable sales lead, and eventually a higher number of customers who are willing to pay the price you demand. (3)

Besides helping you maximize your revenues, thought leadership marketing can also be beneficial in several ways-

  • Bring in new talent. (3)
  • Receive vast media exposure. (3)
  • Excellent business development opportunities. (3)
  • Frequent public speaking opportunities. (3)

What are the benefits of thought leadership marketing?

There are some great benefits of adopting thought leadership marketing strategies in your business. If done accurately, it will turn into a strong asset for your organization. Thought leadership marketing strategy enhances the profile of the business owner and in turn the organization. 

Here are some of the common benefits that this strategy brings in- (8)

1. Enables you to echo the real voice of your customer

Thought leadership marketing allows you to connect with your clients and build a relationship of trust. By adopting this strategy, you become part of your customer’s buying journey and provide them with the best product and service.

This will also help you build trust with your prospective clients, by substituting direct promotional messages with genuine, authentic and authoritative thought leadership content. This content will help and guide customers in all their pursuits.

Thought leadership marketing enables you to understand customer queries and build a disruptive conversation around them.  (8)

2. Helps owning a marketplace and not just a campaign

When competition is high, you need to make your business stand out among the others in the marketplace. Thought leadership marketing helps you do that. it creates a point of differentiation that will take your business ahead. 

A customer would want to buy products and services from a source that exhibits a level of authority and demonstrates competence. This happens when your business indulges in thought leadership marketing strategies. (8)

3. Helps in championing customer engagement

Thought leadership is a very effective tool in creating customer engagement. It can make B2B buyers feel they are part of the ‘company conversation’ which spurs positive engagement.

This is because an ideal B2B buyer is always craving for new ideas, information on the latest trends, and investigating new ways of doing things to stay ahead.

By discussing sector relevant trends, issues and solutions which are personal to their interests; thought leadership marketing strategy acknowledges and responds to their needs which creates positive engagement.

During a time when disruptive marketing is taking the world by storm, thought leadership sits right up there providing an excellent way for you to communicate with your target audience so putting your business at the forefront of their mind. (8)

How to do thought leadership content Marketing?

You need to remember that reliable content will always support a great brand. The way you design your content will guide more customers towards your site, thus increasing the traffic, you will have a higher number of subscribers and more significant sales. Therefore, while adopting thought leadership as an essential tool to maximize your brand value, you must remember to incorporate the following points around content creation- (4)

1. Know your target audience

While preparing your content you must not assume which channels your audience may be on. It is wiser to know their requirements, once you have identified the target demography. Next, you must develop your brand identity based on the audience’s needs and then work towards the relevant SEO strategies. (4)

2. Understand the importance of incorporating videos

Incorporating short videos in your content will draw in more people. To make a video successful you must prepare your script in advance, host it on a platform that is widely recognized, optimize it by adding relevant keywords and titles and finally adhere to a strict schedule of video distribution throughout your channel. (4)

3. Re-purpose your content

When you prepare content and share it on your social media handle, a set of audience is automatically interested in visiting your page. However, after a point of time, the enthusiasm shown by the audience dies down; it is then vital for you to re-post the same content on another social media handle to initiate new engagements. By re-purposing your content, you can reach out to an entirely new audience, thus helping you, increase your SEO. (4)

Types of thought leadership content

The different types of thought leadership content that you can consider for your business are as listed below- (5)

1. Experiential thought leadership

  • This helps to understand the buyer’s customer journey. (5)
  • It helps in uniting sales and marketing. (5)
  • Experiential thought leadership helps in developing relevant content that caters to journalists, supports presentation decks, elevates sales pitch and generates more leads. (5)

2. Consumer Research Thought Leadership

This is a quantitative approach and much more expensive than experiential though leadership, but at the same time extremely practical. This type of thought leadership helps in the following way- (5)

  • When and how consumers various channels. (5)
  • What motivated them to use these channels. (5)
  • What methods of interactions should digital marketing firms indulge in with their customers and how to make them useful. (5)

3. Peer Research Thought Leadership

Before developing your content, you must understand the marketing strategies that your peers are adopting. It is essential to understand what their budget is, what they are trying to accomplish through emails, social media and technology in whole. (5)

4. Product Usage Thought Leadership

Most organizations have a large amount of data that guide their content creation. Hence it is vital to use data that has been collected from your product or services, to bring in more leads. (5)

What is B2B thought leadership marketing?

In a B2B scenario, a customer’s purchasing tendency is heavily dependent on their belief towards the brand. And this is successful only when the brand strategizes their content well. This is well guided by the thought leadership marketing strategies that you adopt, as this leverages the knowledge and experience in your organization to answer customer queries. While designing a B2B thought leadership marketing strategy, you must remember the three different categories of thought leadership content- (3)

1.Industry: 

  • All news, insights and the point of view that you hold for your organization and what would be the way ahead. (3)

2.Product:

  • A thorough idea about the solutions you provide your customers, how they use it and how can it be compared with the others. (3)

3.Organizational

  • A complete study of what your brand stands for. (3)

Why is B2B thought leadership important?

According to a survey on crucial business decision-makers, conducted by LinkedIn recently, it is significant to note how B2B thought leadership has a great impact on brands. Some of the findings are- 

  • Thought leadership consumption is increasing: Weekly readings by decision-makers increased by 8 points every year. (3)
  • More than half of decision-makers (55%) quote thought leadership as an important way to vet organizations. (3)
  • 47% of C-suite executives say they shared contact information after reading thought leadership. (3)
  • 45% of decision-makers say they thought leadership helped them invite an organization to bid on a project. They had not considered them previously. (3)
  • 57% of them say thought leadership directly led to much more rewarding business. (3)
  • 61% of C-suite executives say they’re more willing to reward well to work with an organization that has a well-articulated vision. (3)

Conclusion

Thought leadership marketing is no longer a business fad. It is a growing trend.

It not only helps you go ahead of all but also stay there.

When done right, thought leadership marketing ensures that you develop a strong relationship with your audience, leads to enhanced marketing partnerships, and other better strategic business opportunities.

Thought leadership is an extremely beneficial marketing strategy that many individuals and some firms or brands are adopting. However, it is important to note that by adopting this strategy, you will be inspiring a large section of the audience to follow you. So, you must practice what you preach and stay authentic.

Hence before becoming a thought leader, have a thorough knowledge of who your audience is, is your brand well equipped to cater to their demands, does your brand utilize the right SEO tools to bring in more potential clients, does your brand promise to fill in the gaps that your competitors are not able to meet. If the answer to all these questions is yes, you must go ahead and embrace thought leadership strategy in your business.

Organizations that pair thought leadership with empathetic leadership will be the ones to make a difference in the lives of their customers and overall business patterns. (6)

Branding, Integrated & Digital Marketing Wizard and Founder of BrandLoom Consulting (A $1m startup). I help companies generate more revenue through digital marketing. I have successfully led Business and Marketing operations of several Large & Small; American, European, Chinese & Indian Brands and Startups. In totality, I have worked with over 100 Brands during my 21 years of professional career with a proven track record of Building Sustainable & Profitable Businesses.

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