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.
What Is Thought Leadership?
Thought leadership is a tactic content marketers use to build credibility for themselves or leaders in their company. The main goal of thought leadership is to become recognized as an expert and used as a go-to resource in your field. To become a thought leader, one might create and promote educational, helpful content and become active in the industry community, particularly on social sites.
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.
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.
Thought Leadership Content
Thought leadership content could include public events or conferences, webinars, blogs, podcasts, guest posts, ebooks, videos, or social media. Creating and publishing thought leadership content takes time, and is a long-term marketing play.
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.
Thought Leadership Examples
- Oprah Winfrey
- Dave Ramsey
- Seth Godin
- Marie Forleo
- Brian Dean
- Sallie L. Krawcheck
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.
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.
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.
Stop Writer’s Block, Imposter Syndrome, and Other Content Fears
When writing for content marketing, the process becomes even more challenging. You have no time to sit and wait for inspiration or the muse to help you craft engaging text. You have content plans to follow and deadlines to meet.
That’s when fear arises.
Raise your hand if one of these whispers creeps into your mind when you try to write:
- “A better article exists already. My content is a pathetic copy.”
- “I’m not good enough. I can’t write better than [your guru’s name here].”
- “So much info! Can I structure all of it? I’ll miss something essential.”
- “What should I write?”
- “They won’t like it. I’ll get rejected.”
- “My draft sucks; it’s boring.”
- “Johnny writes 1,000 words every day. I’m too slow.”
Writing fears fall into two categories: doubts about your abilities or concern over others’ judgment of your work. You can tame blank-page syndrome, imposter syndrome, writer’s block, or whatever stops you from creating great content with these seven simple yet effective tricks.
1. Practice therapeutic writing
Therapeutic writing will help prevent blank-page syndrome – staring at the screen with no idea how to start a content piece. Some blame this on a lack of inspiration, while others use grimmer diagnoses like emotional burnout or even workplace depression. Skeptics are less euphemistic, calling it nothing but the fear of writing crap.
To beat it, develop a daily writing habit. You may have heard about Morning Pages – a system that has you write (in long hand) three pages of stream-of-consciousness text first thing in the morning. Following free-writing practices and keeping a diary also fall into this category. If these exercises work for you, great. If not, you can try therapeutic writing.
Keep a journal where you regularly write a letter to a chosen addressee, telling them about daily events that made you angry, sad, anxious, or happy. You may publish these as short sketches on social media.
In the post below, the author at handle @heyamberrae pens a letter to her followers about “experiencing the most extraordinary love” she’s ever known.
How can therapeutic writing help with professional content writing?
Practicing such reflective writing makes you less likely to freeze at that intimidating text cursor. You’ll beat the fear of an imperfect draft and use the “write-first, edit-later” rule we all know (but often forget).
2. Start a ‘clever-thoughts’ notebook
A notebook with clever thoughts is not a collection of quotes from writing gurus and influences, though that could be an inspiring practice.
A clever-thoughts notebook contains the ideas, sentences, and interesting facts you learn during the day from books, websites, etc. An average person has around 6,000 thoughts daily but forgets most by evening, so the notebook will help you remember your best ones. And that list will come in handy next time you need to write text but worry you have nothing to say.
3. Record your voice
Сreative content ideas, topics, and arguments may come to you when you’re nowhere near your laptop or a notebook. Haven’t we all had a brilliant idea caught in the dead of night, only to forget everything by morning?
Other times your thoughts flow freely – until you try to write them down. When you sit down to summon the right words, you forget what you wanted to say.
It’s like this meme, which I tweaked for content writing: You envisioned a real-life dog, but your writing only produces the socket puppet version.
To avoid writer’s block and still get your idea down, record your thoughts when they come to you. Then transcribe the recording or use the voice-typing feature in your writing app. You’ll be able to structure your dictated thoughts into content assets later.
4. Opine on opinions
This trick can help you beat the you’re-not-good-enough writing fear.
After reading an influencer’s thoughts and insights on a topic, think of supporting arguments or counterarguments. Then, write them down as if you were having a dialogue with that person.
The tactic helps you think critically, develop arguments, structure the facts, and manage your information priorities. It serves you in crafting more comprehensive content, whether you write about restaurants, create cause-related posts, or practice guest blogging to reach content marketing goals.
5. Mirror your favorite writer
It stands to reason that content creators read a lot. As my favorite author, Stephen King, says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
And, as my second yet no less favorite writer Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s no friend as loyal as a book.” Not only can these loyal friends make your content better, but they can help smash the fear of rejection and not being good enough to write.
(Confession: I had both those fears before pitching my first article to the Content Marketing Institute.)
Who is your favorite writer, essayist, or blogger? Do you analyze their writing style while reading? Do you notice language tricks they use?
Mirroring a writer is among the most efficient techniques for developing a writing style. It helps enhance your vocabulary, add a few alternative writing tactics to your content creation toolkit, and conquer your fear of criticism.
(Confession: Once I learned that Stephen King got 30 rejections before his book Carrie was published, there was no room left for the “not good enough” fear.)
6. Read the news and niche resources
The daily habit of reading the news and niche blogs brings benefits for content writers. These include:
- Better cognitive skills and brain functioning
- Enriched vocabulary
- New ideas for content creation
- Writing style inspiration
But please note: This trick won’t work if you read everyone and everything. Make a list of professional resources that inspire and educate you at the same time.
(Confession: I learned the art of web writing from Ann Handley and Jon Morrow. And Henneke Duistermaat’s works help me feel the beauty of English and make peace with my inner critic. Plus, her list of writing fears inspired me to create this article.)
This tweet from Henneke describes how she used to think of herself as a writing wimp and pondered why she couldn’t be as confident as others. But she discovered that writing fears are normal – the fear signals that you’re out of your comfort zone and writing something that matters.
I used to think I was a writing wimp.
Why couldn’t I be as confident as everyone else?
But I’ve discovered: Writing fears are normal.
Fears are sign you’re out of your comfort zone & you’re writing something that matters.
— Henneke Duistermaat (@HennekeD) November 3, 2022
Who is on your list of resources to follow?
7. Stay in a professional space
A great practice to smash fears and self-doubts for content writers is to stay in the professional space. Attend seminars, participate in conferences or webinars, visit local meetings, communicate with interesting people on social media, etc. These interactions can prevent you from hitting a plateau and enhance writing productivity.
Social participation can trigger happy chemicals in the brain to satisfy the need for excitement. This excitement acts as an inspiration to write more and “forget” the imposter syndrome and other writing fears for a while.
Ready to say goodbye to your writing fears?
Fears (of a blank page, failure, rejection, writing crap, or not being good enough) act like little beasts, gnawing at your writing ego and preventing you from enjoying the content creation process.
Once you name your beast, you can arm yourself with one or more of these tricks to help you smash them.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute