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The Content Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership



The Content Marketer's Guide to Thought Leadership

Oprah. Dave Ramsey. Seth Godin.

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

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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The Complete Guide to Becoming an Authentic Thought Leader



The Complete Guide to Becoming an Authentic Thought Leader

Introduce your processes: If you’ve streamlined a particular process, share it. It could be the solution someone else is looking for.

Jump on trends and news: If there’s a hot topic or emerging trend, offer your unique perspective.

Share industry insights: Attended a webinar or podcast that offered valuable insights. Summarize the key takeaways and how they can be applied.

Share your successes: Write about strategies that have worked exceptionally well for you. Your audience will appreciate the proven advice. For example, I shared the process I used to help a former client rank for a keyword with over 2.2 million monthly searches.

Question outdated strategies: If you see a strategy that’s losing steam, suggest alternatives based on your experience and data.

5. Establish communication channels (How)

Once you know who your audience is and what they want to hear, the next step is figuring out how to reach them. Here’s how:

Choose the right platforms: You don’t need to have a presence on every social media platform. Pick two platforms where your audience hangs out and create content for that platform. For example, I’m active on LinkedIn and X because my target audience (SEOs, B2B SaaS, and marketers) is active on these platforms.

Repurpose content: Don’t limit yourself to just one type of content. Consider repurposing your content on Quora, Reddit, or even in webinars and podcasts. This increases your reach and reinforces your message.

Follow Your audience: Go where your audience goes. If they’re active on X, that’s where you should be posting. If they frequent industry webinars, consider becoming a guest on these webinars.

Daily vs. In-depth content: Balance is key. Use social media for daily tips and insights, and reserve your blog for more comprehensive guides and articles.

Network with influencers: Your audience is likely following other experts in the field. Engaging with these influencers puts your content in front of a like-minded audience. I try to spend 30 minutes to an hour daily engaging with content on X and LinkedIn. This is the best way to build a relationship so you’re not a complete stranger when you DM privately.

6. Think of thought leadership as part of your content marketing efforts

As with other content efforts, thought leadership doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It thrives when woven into a cohesive content marketing strategy. By aligning individual authority with your brand, you amplify the credibility of both.

Think of it as top-of-the-funnel content to:

  • Build awareness about your brand

  • Highlight the problems you solve

  • Demonstrate expertise by platforming experts within the company who deliver solutions

Consider the user journey. An individual enters at the top through a social media post, podcast, or blog post. Intrigued, they want to learn more about you and either search your name on Google or social media. If they like what they see, they might visit your website, and if the information fits their needs, they move from passive readers to active prospects in your sales pipeline.

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How to Increase Survey Completion Rate With 5 Top Tips



How to Increase Survey Completion Rate With 5 Top Tips

Collecting high-quality data is crucial to making strategic observations about your customers. Researchers have to consider the best ways to design their surveys and then how to increase survey completion, because it makes the data more reliable.

→ Free Download: 5 Customer Survey Templates [Access Now]

I’m going to explain how survey completion plays into the reliability of data. Then, we’ll get into how to calculate your survey completion rate versus the number of questions you ask. Finally, I’ll offer some tips to help you increase survey completion rates.

My goal is to make your data-driven decisions more accurate and effective. And just for fun, I’ll use cats in the examples because mine won’t stop walking across my keyboard.

Why Measure Survey Completion

Let’s set the scene: We’re inside a laboratory with a group of cat researchers. They’re wearing little white coats and goggles — and they desperately want to know what other cats think of various fish.

They’ve written up a 10-question survey and invited 100 cats from all socioeconomic rungs — rough and hungry alley cats all the way up to the ones that thrice daily enjoy their Fancy Feast from a crystal dish.

Now, survey completion rates are measured with two metrics: response rate and completion rate. Combining those metrics determines what percentage, out of all 100 cats, finished the entire survey. If all 100 give their full report on how delicious fish is, you’d achieve 100% survey completion and know that your information is as accurate as possible.

But the truth is, nobody achieves 100% survey completion, not even golden retrievers.

With this in mind, here’s how it plays out:

  • Let’s say 10 cats never show up for the survey because they were sleeping.
  • Of the 90 cats that started the survey, only 25 got through a few questions. Then, they wandered off to knock over drinks.
  • Thus, 90 cats gave some level of response, and 65 completed the survey (90 – 25 = 65).
  • Unfortunately, those 25 cats who only partially completed the survey had important opinions — they like salmon way more than any other fish.

The cat researchers achieved 72% survey completion (65 divided by 90), but their survey will not reflect the 25% of cats — a full quarter! — that vastly prefer salmon. (The other 65 cats had no statistically significant preference, by the way. They just wanted to eat whatever fish they saw.)

Now, the Kitty Committee reviews the research and decides, well, if they like any old fish they see, then offer the least expensive ones so they get the highest profit margin.

CatCorp, their competitors, ran the same survey; however, they offered all 100 participants their own glass of water to knock over — with a fish inside, even!

Only 10 of their 100 cats started, but did not finish the survey. And the same 10 lazy cats from the other survey didn’t show up to this one, either.

So, there were 90 respondents and 80 completed surveys. CatCorp achieved an 88% completion rate (80 divided by 90), which recorded that most cats don’t care, but some really want salmon. CatCorp made salmon available and enjoyed higher profits than the Kitty Committee.

So you see, the higher your survey completion rates, the more reliable your data is. From there, you can make solid, data-driven decisions that are more accurate and effective. That’s the goal.

We measure the completion rates to be able to say, “Here’s how sure we can feel that this information is accurate.”

And if there’s a Maine Coon tycoon looking to invest, will they be more likely to do business with a cat food company whose decision-making metrics are 72% accurate or 88%? I suppose it could depend on who’s serving salmon.

While math was not my strongest subject in school, I had the great opportunity to take several college-level research and statistics classes, and the software we used did the math for us. That’s why I used 100 cats — to keep the math easy so we could focus on the importance of building reliable data.

Now, we’re going to talk equations and use more realistic numbers. Here’s the formula:

Completion rate equals the # of completed surveys divided by the # of survey respondents.

So, we need to take the number of completed surveys and divide that by the number of people who responded to at least one of your survey questions. Even just one question answered qualifies them as a respondent (versus nonrespondent, i.e., the 10 lazy cats who never show up).

Now, you’re running an email survey for, let’s say, Patton Avenue Pet Company. We’ll guess that the email list has 5,000 unique addresses to contact. You send out your survey to all of them.

Your analytics data reports that 3,000 people responded to one or more of your survey questions. Then, 1,200 of those respondents actually completed the entire survey.

3,000/5000 = 0.6 = 60% — that’s your pool of survey respondents who answered at least one question. That sounds pretty good! But some of them didn’t finish the survey. You need to know the percentage of people who completed the entire survey. So here we go:

Completion rate equals the # of completed surveys divided by the # of survey respondents.

Completion rate = (1,200/3,000) = 0.40 = 40%

Voila, 40% of your respondents did the entire survey.

Response Rate vs. Completion Rate

Okay, so we know why the completion rate matters and how we find the right number. But did you also hear the term response rate? They are completely different figures based on separate equations, and I’ll show them side by side to highlight the differences.

  • Completion Rate = # of Completed Surveys divided by # of Respondents
  • Response Rate = # of Respondents divided by Total # of surveys sent out

Here are examples using the same numbers from above:

Completion Rate = (1200/3,000) = 0.40 = 40%

Response Rate = (3,000/5000) = 0.60 = 60%

So, they are different figures that describe different things:

  • Completion rate: The percentage of your respondents that completed the entire survey. As a result, it indicates how sure we are that the information we have is accurate.
  • Response rate: The percentage of people who responded in any way to our survey questions.

The follow-up question is: How can we make this number as high as possible in order to be closer to a truer and more complete data set from the population we surveyed?

There’s more to learn about response rates and how to bump them up as high as you can, but we’re going to keep trucking with completion rates!

What’s a good survey completion rate?

That is a heavily loaded question. People in our industry have to say, “It depends,” far more than anybody wants to hear it, but it depends. Sorry about that.

There are lots of factors at play, such as what kind of survey you’re doing, what industry you’re doing it in, if it’s an internal or external survey, the population or sample size, the confidence level you’d like to hit, the margin of error you’re willing to accept, etc.

But you can’t really get a high completion rate unless you increase response rates first.

So instead of focusing on what’s a good completion rate, I think it’s more important to understand what makes a good response rate. Aim high enough, and survey completions should follow.

I checked in with the Qualtrics community and found this discussion about survey response rates:

“Just wondering what are the average response rates we see for online B2B CX surveys? […]

Current response rates: 6%–8%… We are looking at boosting the response rates but would first like to understand what is the average.”

The best answer came from a government service provider that works with businesses. The poster notes that their service is free to use, so they get very high response rates.

“I would say around 30–40% response rates to transactional surveys,” they write. “Our annual pulse survey usually sits closer to 12%. I think the type of survey and how long it has been since you rendered services is a huge factor.”

Since this conversation, “Delighted” (the Qualtrics blog) reported some fresher data:

survey completion rate vs number of questions new data, qualtrics data

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The takeaway here is that response rates vary widely depending on the channel you use to reach respondents. On the upper end, the Qualtrics blog reports that customers had 85% response rates for employee email NPS surveys and 33% for email NPS surveys.

A good response rate, the blog writes, “ranges between 5% and 30%. An excellent response rate is 50% or higher.”

This echoes reports from Customer Thermometer, which marks a response rate of 50% or higher as excellent. Response rates between 5%-30% are much more typical, the report notes. High response rates are driven by a strong motivation to complete the survey or a personal relationship between the brand and the customer.

If your business does little person-to-person contact, you’re out of luck. Customer Thermometer says you should expect responses on the lower end of the scale. The same goes for surveys distributed from unknown senders, which typically yield the lowest level of responses.

According to SurveyMonkey, surveys where the sender has no prior relationship have response rates of 20% to 30% on the high end.

Whatever numbers you do get, keep making those efforts to bring response rates up. That way, you have a better chance of increasing your survey completion rate. How, you ask?

Tips to Increase Survey Completion

If you want to boost survey completions among your customers, try the following tips.

1. Keep your survey brief.

We shouldn’t cram lots of questions into one survey, even if it’s tempting. Sure, it’d be nice to have more data points, but random people will probably not hunker down for 100 questions when we catch them during their half-hour lunch break.

Keep it short. Pare it down in any way you can.

Survey completion rate versus number of questions is a correlative relationship — the more questions you ask, the fewer people will answer them all. If you have the budget to pay the respondents, it’s a different story — to a degree.

“If you’re paying for survey responses, you’re more likely to get completions of a decently-sized survey. You’ll just want to avoid survey lengths that might tire, confuse, or frustrate the user. You’ll want to aim for quality over quantity,” says Pamela Bump, Head of Content Growth at HubSpot.

2. Give your customers an incentive.

For instance, if they’re cats, you could give them a glass of water with a fish inside.

Offer incentives that make sense for your target audience. If they feel like they are being rewarded for giving their time, they will have more motivation to complete the survey.

This can even accomplish two things at once — if you offer promo codes, discounts on products, or free shipping, it encourages them to shop with you again.

3. Keep it smooth and easy.

Keep your survey easy to read. Simplifying your questions has at least two benefits: People will understand the question better and give you the information you need, and people won’t get confused or frustrated and just leave the survey.

4. Know your customers and how to meet them where they are.

Here’s an anecdote about understanding your customers and learning how best to meet them where they are.

Early on in her role, Pamela Bump, HubSpot’s Head of Content Growth, conducted a survey of HubSpot Blog readers to learn more about their expertise levels, interests, challenges, and opportunities. Once published, she shared the survey with the blog’s email subscribers and a top reader list she had developed, aiming to receive 150+ responses.

“When the 20-question survey was getting a low response rate, I realized that blog readers were on the blog to read — not to give feedback. I removed questions that wouldn’t serve actionable insights. When I reshared a shorter, 10-question survey, it passed 200 responses in one week,” Bump shares.

Tip 5. Gamify your survey.

Make it fun! Brands have started turning surveys into eye candy with entertaining interfaces so they’re enjoyable to interact with.

Your respondents could unlock micro incentives as they answer more questions. You can word your questions in a fun and exciting way so it feels more like a BuzzFeed quiz. Someone saw the opportunity to make surveys into entertainment, and your imagination — well, and your budget — is the limit!

Your Turn to Boost Survey Completion Rates

Now, it’s time to start surveying. Remember to keep your user at the heart of the experience. Value your respondents’ time, and they’re more likely to give you compelling information. Creating short, fun-to-take surveys can also boost your completion rates.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2010 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Take back your ROI by owning your data



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Other brands can copy your style, tone and strategy — but they can’t copy your data.

Your data is your competitive advantage in an environment where enterprises are working to grab market share by designing can’t-miss, always-on customer experiences. Your marketing tech stack enables those experiences. 

Join ActionIQ and Snowplow to learn the value of composing your stack – decoupling the data collection and activation layers to drive more intelligent targeting.

Register and attend “Maximizing Marketing ROI With a Composable Stack: Separating Reality from Fallacy,” presented by Snowplow and ActionIQ.

Click here to view more MarTech webinars.

About the author

Cynthia RamsaranCynthia Ramsaran

Cynthia Ramsaran is director of custom content at Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land and MarTech. A multi-channel storyteller with over two decades of editorial/content marketing experience, Cynthia’s expertise spans the marketing, technology, finance, manufacturing and gaming industries. She was a writer/producer for and produced thought leadership for KPMG. Cynthia hails from Queens, NY and earned her Bachelor’s and MBA from St. John’s University.

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