Is THIS Thought Leadership?

In content marketing, thought leadership is an important type of content to include near the top and middle of your marketing funnel. These pieces are intended to help the audience get to know your brand and overcome any hesitations about buying from your company—whatever that looks like. That’s how you achieve content marketing ROI. By showing more of your philosophy and insight to the world, along with your services or products, you convince potential customers you are trustworthy and deliver on the promises you make.


Sometimes, these thought leadership opportunities are self-created, like an authored blog, newsletter from a company leader, or posting on LinkedIn Pulse. Or they may be earned media opportunities like getting featured in a news article or having a press release get picked up. Other PR opportunities like getting featured in expert panels or profiled in industry publications may be earned or could be paid media achieved through sponsorship.


Regardless of how your thought leadership gets out in the world, it only works when created with authenticity, resulting in compelling content.


When I say “works” I mean “drives new or existing business growth.” 49% of B2B buyers said their opinion of a company decreased after reading poor quality content. Quality is inherent in everything from the grammar and syntax of the writing, to the ideas and values reinforced by the thought leader.


So how do you write good thought leadership content? Or even know if you’re doing good enough thinking to be thought leadership material?


The best-performing thought leadership pieces on social media and in executive publications are those that predict and analyze trends.  Perspective on current issues in the industry also performs well. Basically, pieces that add to the conversation in a meaningful way get the most engagement.


If you have opinions on issues specific to an industry–like how companies need to pivot to overcome the labor shortage, or the best use of technology for efficiency, or changes in public policy—you are ready to start doing thought leadership!


“Authenticity develops when allowing yourself to be vulnerable at key moments like questioning the future or not being clear on what comes next.”


But it won’t work to just share your opinion. Online content marketing, and the internet in general, is full of bad content that makes claims without proving them.  Storytelling best practices since the times of the ancients dictate you should perform a little research as a thought leader. Support your opinion with the evidence of facts. It’s not about scrutiny or “proving yourself right”, but rather about what the audience wants and needs.


Over 70% of people read to keep up with current events and do research about topics that interest them, at least some of the time. To meet that demand in your audience, you’ll need to rely on outside sources. And your audience will expect you to be a resource if they are going to keep coming back for more…especially if they will make a buying decision at some point.


From my personal experience and perspective, research and incorporating data into thought leadership content also provides more opportunity to integrate keywords organically. If the thought leadership content will be published on an affiliate blog or in a magazine or digital journal, you might not have to worry about SEO. But when publishing thought leadership as ungated content on your company blog, you may need to include the use of keywords in your planning.


So…back up to that statistic I shared a few paragraphs ago about 70% of people reading to learn about stuff. You’re reading to learn how to write thought leadership, right? What I did there was find a data point to reinforce the need I described for doing outside research. I did this because it’s possible my reader might not consider such a step is necessary. Maybe you are resistant to the need for third-party sources in thought leadership content. Applying a statistic like this is one way to use data in thought leadership pieces. Data can prove your perspective when you have to make a point your audience might not agree with or take your word on. Don’t just tell them—show them.


This is using data for content marketing storytelling. The success or failure of your piece depends on how well you tell the story. If your audience doesn’t end up agreeing, are you really a thought leader?


I usually work backwards in these cases and decide what I want to prove before I go try to find the data. This is the best way to keep your perspective as a thought leader first, rather than getting lost in research and confused about your message all over again.


Of course, this sometimes causes me to decide what I want to prove, then realize it isn’t prove-able. Womp womp. Sometimes, the data just doesn’t exist, and far more often, the data does exist, but says something different than I imagined. The correct action in that situation is to change the message and learn from the data you do find. This is called leading versus being stubborn and opinionated. In the end, if you are sharing an opinion that is against the evidence of facts, you should at the very least be aware you are doing so. I would add that you would be ethically required to share facts with the reader anyway and then explain why your idea should be preferred despite the facts. Then again, I am known as demanding.


“Quality is inherent in everything from the grammar and syntax of the writing, to the ideas and values reinforced by the content.”


High-performing, creative content marketing, including high-performing thought leadership content, relies on a lot of elements. Thought leadership content is one way to build brand authenticity, which 86% of people say matters when they are deciding which brands to support. If part of your authentic brand is speaking a hard truth about your industry or talking about values or process in a new way, that’s a good thing. Authenticity develops when allowing yourself to be vulnerable at key moments like questioning the future or not being clear on what comes next. It’s not a coincidence this is also in line with the best performing thought leadership content. This kind of piece is the perfect medium to channel your ideas and predictions about the future. Follow up with the data and history that proves people should pay attention as you keep thinking out loud.



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