If you are following the development of content marketing then you’ve probably heard the term ‘thought leadership’ bandied around. It may sound like an ill-defined buzzword, but as a content strategy the benefits of positioning your brand as a thought leader are many. Essentially, a thought leader is a trusted source of innovative ideas within an industry, an informed voice at the forefront of developments that others can learn from and share ideas with. As the digital presence of brands has developed, though, the position of ‘thought leader’ has become less the reserve of academics and leading businesspeople, and more one that brands can occupy with the right content.
Though both certainly come under the umbrella of content strategy, it’s important that we distinguish thought leadership from content marketing in terms of both what it offers the audience and what it expects from them. Where traditional content marketing will largely relate to the brand’s product – a Blockchain startup posting about the opportunities presented by Blockchain, for example – thought leadership needn’t be so direct. Brands can cultivate an image of authority, give audiences a reason to visit organically, and ensure that their employees have an in-depth knowledge of the industry they’re working in. Let’s look at those positives in more detail:
Particularly within the B2B space, it pays to be considered an authority in your industry. On the most basic level, if you are choosing between two potential companies to work with, and one has an established thought leadership blog with well-researched content around its industry, it will stand head and shoulders above one that doesn’t. When company employees are sharing innovative, technical ideas about the industry they work in, it creates an image of expertise that is otherwise difficult to instill.
Imagine that you’re looking to outsource your data analysis efforts, and the contact leading you through a company’s product has a wealth of articles and blog posts that are at the forefront of the conversation in terms of data use. The level of authority and, ultimately, competence that this suggests would make you far more likely to work with them. It takes a very long time to become a brand with authority in almost any B2B industry, and thought leadership marketing strategies are an effective way of promoting just how knowledgeable and effective your employees are.
From that position of authority, brands can expect to see boosts in their number of (and quality of) inbound leads. This is where thought leadership again differs from more conventional content marketing. Rather than being sent email after emails littered with CTAs entitled things like ‘Harness The Power Of [Product]’ and ‘Why You Need X’, the hope is that your audience will come to you. They’ll likely find you more organically, particularly if your content is of value and is shared as a result, but crucially they’ll return to your site. If you had a positive experience reading genuinely engaging thought leadership content that informed your decision-making in your own role, would you not be inclined to see what else the person who published it had to say?
The position you are ultimately attempting to get to with thought leadership content is one in which audiences come back to your content of their own accord time and time again, with very little relation to your actual product. This may sound counterintuitive, but gently trying to sell to an audience that trusts your voice and has already built up a relationship with your brand is far easier than chasing leads through outbound marketing.
Culture of learning
One positive of thought leadership that it might be easy to overlook is that your employees actually have to possess the ideas to share them. It’s one thing for a brand to position itself as a thought leader, but it can be equally lucrative for individual employees to raise their profiles individually. A focus on this can instill a culture of continuous learning within an organization, where employees are encouraged to keep their fingers on the pulse of developing trends and fully understand them enough to become an authority on them.
It’s difficult to quantify just how much of an impact having engaged employees can have on a company at large, but fostering an environment in which creative ideas are championed not only internally but externally (as part of the brand’s content strategy) is certain to push a business forward. Also, it benefits employees personally to have a wealth of content behind them, so inspiring staff to position themselves as innovators isn’t difficult.
Content marketing is here to stay and is a resounding success in the age of display ad bombardment. Through thought leadership content, though, brands can offer greater value to their audiences and build deeper connections with them as a result. It takes time, requires genuine knowledge from the employees producing it, and may be a slow burner initially, but every brand can benefit from positioning themselves as an authority in their field.