Content marketing is a top priority of businesses, their CMOs and almost all marketing departments inside and out. Content marketing needs to be a strategy for your marketing efforts. One key component of your content marketing strategy should be thought leadership. But what exactly is thought leadership? And why do you need it?

What is thought Leadership?

For starters, it’s a buzzword we’re all used to hearing. In fact, Wikipedia even identifies the phrase “thought leader” as an annoying example of business jargon. However, we like Michael Brenner’s (Marketing Insider Group) definition better. He defines thought leadership as a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business, or from your community, to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience, on a particular topic. You can see his full definition and article on the topic here: What is thought leadership? And when you should use it.

Now that we’re all on the same page, it’s important to understand, annoying jargon or not, why thought leadership is key to your content marketing strategy. By creating thought leadership, you not only establish yourself as a source of educational perspective in your industry, but you become part of the conversation in the buyer journey and allow your audience to get to know you across several different outlets. Once your thought leaders are exposed, you begin to become a more social business (real people with real faces talking to real customers and prospects) and that itself, is bigger than marketing alone. It’s the outcome of a solid content strategy.

5 Tips to Creating Thought Leadership that Drives Results

  1. Identify the questions your customers are asking and prioritize how you’re going to discuss them.
  2. Create deep content on critical subject matters within your industry. Identify the core components of trends in your area of expertise (for Sugar Market, previously Salesfusion, thought leaders, that’s currently marketing automation, account-based marketing and social media marketing … but rest assured, we have plenty of other thoughts we’re sharing) and build the thought leadership part of your content strategy around those topics.
  3. Always give your thoughts away. We know, nothing comes for free. However, it’s important to understand that unless you work for a thought leadership company (i.e. an analyst firm), thought leadership shouldn’t be a revenue stream. The focus with your thought leadership should be on increasing your brand value, not your revenue. Once more publications start seeking your opinion, you’re getting invited to more speaker opportunities, etc. then you will know that you’re establishing authority and others value your thoughts.
  4. Engage with your followers. Thought leaders should understand that their followers are the source of their influence. You should be using various social media platforms and also the comment sections (if available) of your media posts to share your opinions, answer questions, give feedback, etc. Keeping the conversation going and not just remaining one sided helps build a strong, lasting relationship with your audience.
  5. Always search for new audience. Just because you develop a good cadence with a few publications on across social media doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continuously add to your network. Thought leaders should seek new platforms – guest blogging, conference speaking opportunities, podcast guest hosting – to help them grow their popularity and influence.

Ready to establish your thought leadership presence?

It’s important to remember that thought leadership needs to be marketed like a product (without being sold … see tip above). Unless a single speech goes viral (and odds are that it probably won’t), it’s probably going to go unnoticed. Thought leadership pieces need to be turned into a campaign – tweeted, posted on Facebook and LinkedIn, shared on a webinar – and marketed like its own (free) product.

Thought leadership is becoming bigger than marketing itself, but it is one of the outcomes of a solid content strategy. If you’re ready to become a thought leader (or someone else in your business is), take a closer look at your content strategy and begin building customer trust, loyalty and authority within your industry. Finally, as a thought leader, be sure you’re always infusing your own company’s DNA into each piece whether it’s providing links that lead back to educational pieces on your website or offering call-to-actions like webinar sign-ups or eBook downloads. Successful thought leaders are successful because their thoughtful ideas not only represent themselves as an influencer, but also reflect thought leadership from their organization in how they behave, what they create and the customer experiences they provide.