‘Let’s do thought leadership’ is often where the conversation begins. Followed by ‘we could write some blogs, do a webinar, create a lead magnet, do some speaking’.
When thought leadership is viewed as a series of marketing tactics, its value is measured in traffic and clicks. It’s often disconnected from the business vision, and the thinking is outsourced to non-experts, leading to neither original nor authoritative content.
Genuine thought leadership content is insightful, forward-looking, engaging, relevant, and actionable. Its impact is measured in awareness, engagement, relevance, and trust.
What is thought leadership?
There are many definitions of thought leadership; here’s my take:
Thought leaders are created, not assigned, i.e., you must genuinely be an expert in your field. Content marketing is how a thought leader gets their thinking out into the world. Blogs, social media, speaking, podcasts etc., are the channels by which content is shared.
When it comes to using thought leadership to market a business, there are shades of grey. But in my book, no matter the objective, context, or distribution method, it all begins with the business objectives and original thought, opinion, or insight you want to share with your audience.
A well-executed thought leadership programme brings benefits beyond basic marketing metrics:
- Helps develop customer trust and confidence by demonstrating sector expertise.
- Supports the entire sales cycle from discovery to purchase.
- Enables an organisation to break into new verticals or customer segments.
- Contributes to customer retention by exposing the complete product or service offering.
- Disseminates knowledge internally and aligns teams to a common purpose.
The benefits of aligning thought leadership to business strategy
For content to be authentic thought leadership, it must come from the business strategy and vision and not just from the marketing department. A programme that involves the entire business has the following benefits:
Many voices, one vision
Thought leadership can and should have many voices working together to help advance an organisation towards its goals.
Multiple voices bring breadth and depth to your content exploring subjects from various angles. For instance, what sales teams are interested in is not necessarily what account or product teams seek.
While multiple viewpoints are important for demonstrating expertise, all voices must align with and reflect the business vision.
Marketing teams may ultimately produce thought leadership, but it takes an organisation to distribute.
Authority comes from individuals, not companies. When thought leadership is a business strategy, the entire organisation is invested in the activity.
- Sales teams may share thinking with prospects and clients directly.
- Product teams may use it to fuel future development.
- HR may use it for training new employees or upskilling existing staff.
- Account teams may use it to help existing customers extract maximum value from your product or service.
Relevance as well as authority
Equally, your product and sales teams, account managers, and customer service personnel can feed insight into your marketing teams to inform content. Rather than marketers using only SEO tools, your competitors, or best guesses, they can draw inspiration from people within your organisation who are closest to customers.
Pain point SEO is a tactic I include in the thought leadership mix, although it’s not strictly thought leadership in its truest form. Pain point SEO draws its content from issues customers care about, which an organisation can help solve.
Grow and Convert, who claim to have invented this term, say: “If you know your customers inside and out, you’ll be able to come up with content ideas that your competitors won’t target because they’ll be focused on traffic while you’ll be focused on helping your customers and future customers solve problems.”
With pain point SEO, rather than beginning with keywords like traditional SEO, or original thought like thought leadership, content originates from customer insight.
Reframe the question
To align your thought leadership to your business strategy, vision, and values, you must ask your organisation different questions. Here’re some examples:
- What is our unique view of the world, our sector, or specific themes?
- What are our ‘earned secrets’?
- Which themes do our customers care about that we should have a point of view on?
- What pain points are our customers experiencing that our product/service solves?
- Who within our organisation is qualified/experienced to talk about these things?
Get in touch if you’d like to discuss whether thought leadership is right for your organisation.