The Content Marketer's Guide to Thought Leadership

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Rebecca Riserbato
Rebecca Riserbato



Oprah. Dave Ramsey. Seth Godin.

thought leadership

Besides being highly successful in business, these people are considered thought-leaders – or experts — in their industry.

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Similarly, as a marketer, being an expert in your field is crucial. To do that, you have to drive traffic to your site, nurture and convert leads, and build brand authority and reputation. That's where thought leadership comes in.

Below, let's review what thought leadership is and how to use it in your marketing strategy. We'll also explore the best examples and types of content you can consider creating.

A person or company might use thought leadership as a content marketing strategy because providing value to your audience demonstrates your brand helpfulness. Then, down the road when someone is seeking a product or service like the ones you provide, they'll turn to you first.

If you're good at it, you'll increase awareness among your target audience, generate more leads, improve social proof, and boost engagement online.

For instance, Brian Dean is a thought leader in the SEO space. By regularly posting content related to his expertise, he's proven his value as a content marketer worth following. More on him later.

But first, how do you incorporate thought leadership into your marketing strategy? Here, we'll analyze the top thought leadership marketing tips.

Thought Leadership Marketing

Now that we've covered what thought leadership is, let's review some best practices before you get started.

1. Know your audience and continue learning about them.

Knowing your audience is the key to succeeding with any marketing strategy, and thought leadership is no different. It starts with your buyer persona. What motivates or inspires your audience? What are their pain points? What questions are they asking? 

To figure this out, look on social media or conduct customer interviews. Once you know these things, you can begin answering their questions with thought leadership content.

Additionally, it's important to continuously check-in and reevaluate your buyer personas. Are your customer's questions changing over time? Do their pain points look the same today as they did when you first began as a company? People evolve, and so will your audience.

2. Be active on social media.

Social media is an effective vehicle to build your brand and authority. First, social media keeps you active and engaged with your community. Second, you can use it to comment on industry news and ensure your brand voice is heard in conversations regarding relevant industry trends.

Plus, you can use social media to promote thought leadership content in an organic way without seeming too promotional.

3. Publish a variety of content — in a variety of places.

Creating thought leadership content doesn't just mean posting on your blog. It also means being active on social media, guest posting on other sites, and speaking at events or on podcasts.

It's important to mix it up with owned media versus other media sources. Consider having a combination of written, video, and audio content, like podcasts.

Ultimately, thought leadership content should show up wherever your audience is.

4. Analyze what your competitors are doing.

If your competitors are creating thought leadership content, analyze what they're doing. How often are they posting? Where are they posting? Don't be afraid to get inspiration from your competitors.

On the flip side, you can also look and see what your competitors are missing. Perhaps you can fill in gaps in the content they're putting out.

5. Create valuable content.

In order to truly succeed at thought leadership, you need to create valuable content. Show that you're an expert in the industry by speaking intelligently on specific issues in the industry. It's important to dig deep and show off your expertise in one subject area at a time.

For instance, it can be tricky to prove yourself an expert in marketing as a whole (at least in the beginning), but you can have the director of SEO at your company create content for your blog or LinkedIn to demonstrate your brand's specific expertise in SEO.

6. Be genuine.

We can't say it enough, but being too promotional doesn't connect with your audience. In fact, it'll probably annoy them. You should produce content that is genuine and authentic to your brand.

Additionally, you want to make sure your content makes sense to everyone, offers perspective, and is supported with market-backed research that'll help inform your audience's opinions or decisions. Using examples, facts, and quotes will go a long way.

Once you've thought about adding thought leadership to your marketing strategy, it's time to dive into the type of content you'll want to create.

So, how do you come up with content ideas to talk or write about?

To start, you could do some keyword research to see what people are asking. This goes back to understanding your audience so you can create content that answers their questions.

You'll also want to keep in mind industry news. Is there anything pressing going on? Are there any issues being discussed in your field? If so, address those and forecast the future of your industry.

Additionally, you can't go wrong with articles using formats like tips, how-tos, or best practices. You'll just want to ensure you're producing long-form, educational content that your audience wants to read.

After you've considered the format and type of content you want to produce, it's time to dive deep into the strategy.

Thought Leadership Strategy

Before you jump into thought leadership, you'll want to have a strategy and a game plan for how you're going to move forward.

Here's a simple step-by-step process you can use as a starting point:

Step 1: Set a SMART goal. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals. Before you begin working on thought leadership, have a goal for what you want to get out of it, whether it's increased traffic to your site or lead generation.

Step 2: Brainstorm content ideas. Think about your personas. Is your content focused and strategic to what they want to read or watch? What are they searching for and asking on social media? Answer these questions during your brainstorming session.

Step 3: Analyze competitors. To kickstart more brainstorming ideas, answer questions like, "Who is my audience currently going to for answers?" Again, you'll want to fill in the gaps in their content and talk about what they aren't.

Step 4: Create and distribute content. Once you've decided what content to create, make sure you have a point of view and personality. Your content should be easy to consume and easy to share.

Step 5: Measure results. Track your results in order to see if your thought leadership content has been effective. Use your SMART goals to determine what metrics you're tracking.

1. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey, former talk show host and media mogul, spoke at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism commencement ceremony in 2018.

She took some of her time to speak on the role of journalists today. She said, "You will become the new editorial gatekeepers, an ambitious army of truth-seekers who will arm yourselves with the intelligence, with the insight and with the facts necessary to strike down deceit. You're in a position to keep all of those who now disparage real news — you all are the ones who are going to keep those people in check."

Throughout the years, Oprah has earned her title as a media expert. Her advice and opinions on the industry are considered thought leadership because of her expertise, which she spent her career cultivating.

2. Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey is a personal finance expert. He has a degree in Finance and Real Estate, and is known for counseling people on paying off their debts. Ramsey became a thought leader when he continued to produce content in the industry, including hosting a radio show, writing books, and podcasting.

One of the best examples of his thought leadership content is his podcast, the Ramsey Show. He posts episodes almost every day on topics such as personal finance, leadership, and career growth."

You can also follow his Twitter where he shares bite-size financial tips and advice. 

Dave Ramsey TwitterImage Source

3. Seth Godin

Seth Godin is an entrepreneur turned business mogul. He's written books addressing marketing, advertising, and leadership. He's also in the Marketing Hall of Fame, launched by the American Marketing Association of New York. He became a thought leader because of the successful content he delivers, including speaking engagements, books, and his blog.

Let's do a deep-dive on his blog. Here, he regularly writes about his areas of expertise, including marketing and business. For instance, in this blog post, he writes about the difference between reassurance and encouragement. He says, "Reassurance always runs out. Reassurance implies that the only reason to go forward is because it’s certain to work. Encouragement means that someone sees us, understands us and believes in us. Even (especially) when things don’t turn out as we hoped."

4. Marie Forleo

Marie Forleo is a life coach, speaker, author, and host of her own YouTube channel She is known for creating and selling online courses, especially in regards to entrepreneurship. She became a thought leader because of her expertise in business coaching.

One example of thought leadership content she's produced is this video on her YouTube channel:

Here, she speaks on her expertise in content by discussing how to find fresh content ideas every week. She delivers three strategies her viewers can use to generate content ideas for their blog, podcast, or videos.

5. Brian Dean

Brian Dean is an SEO expert. After he created a successful online business, he decided to create a blog – Backlinko — that chronicled the lessons he learned along the way. Essentially, he created a thought leadership site meant to boost his credibility.

He uses long-form content that is educational and valuable to his audience, such as "17 Untapped Ways to Find New Content Ideas."

Additionally, he also uses social media to share articles and comment on SEO trends.

Brian Dean TwitterImage Source

6. Sallie L. Krawcheck

Sallie L. Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, a digital advisor for women, is an expert in finance. Before she started her company, she was the president of Global Wealth and Investment Management at Bank of America.

Throughout her career she's become a thought leader because she is widely published both on social media and traditional media such as television shows.

One example of thought leadership content she's created is on LinkedIn. Here, Krawcheck proves her expertise in finance by publishing articles and organic posts about finance. This boosts her company's value and brand awareness.

Thought leadership is a great strategy that every content marketer should be thinking about, particularly since it allows you to prove expertise in your industry while simultaneously expanding your reach and helping your readers and customers grow.

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Topics: Leadership

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