HATE thought leadership, LOVE marketing? Time to change your mind

When you compare thought leadership with other forms of marketing, it can seem to lack focus, with objectives that appear vague and hard to measure.

Does this make thought leadership a lesser form of marketing, or not even “proper” marketing at all?

The answer to these questions is a definite no. I’ll explain why, by looking at how thought leadership works as a marketing technique.

Hopefully, this should help you decide whether it’s an approach that suits you*.

*(If you’re an entrepreneur, founder, business owner or freelancer, I’m confident you can maximise the potential of thought leadership to grow your enterprise.)

Thought leadership marketing

Marketing definitions and methods

Let’s begin with what we understand marketing to mean.

Investopedia describes it as:

Activities a company undertakes to promote the buying or selling of a product or service.

CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) has this definition:

The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

Basically, you do marketing to promote something. Next, we come to two different forms of marketing, outbound and inbound.

  • Outbound is marketing in its most traditional form, where you push your messages out to your potential customers.
  • Inbound operates a pull rather than push method, where you seek to attract potential customers to you.

Typical outbound marketing methods include direct mail, email marketing, trade shows, exhibitions and telemarketing.

Inbound marketing tools include blogs, articles, ebooks, videos, seminars and workshops. Another word for inbound marketing is content marketing. Content is the key ingredient in this marketing method.

So where does thought leadership fit into all this?

Is thought leadership content marketing?

Thought leadership isn’t the same as content marketing, but it is a form of content marketing.

It works on the same principle as other content marketing techniques, that you use content to pull your audience towards you.

Therefore, while thought leadership and content marketing aren’t interchangeable, they are closely related. Both should increase the visibility of your brand. By increasing this visibility, you should, ultimately, increase your sales.

Thought leadership aims to boost this brand visibility by attracting an audience with content that contains knowledge, expertise and insight. This type of content usually has an identifiable author – it comes from a person rather than a company.

Here, the credibility of the author and content become interdependent: thought leadership content builds the authority of the person publishing it, which in turn lends more weight to the material they publish.

The other core relationship that thought leadership supports and strengthens is between the personal and commercial brand.

It enhances the author’s personal brand while making a clear connection between their credibility and authority and the commercial brand they represent.

How to engage person to person

Why do brands seek to create their own personalities? Because this makes them relatable to their prospects and customers.

But thought leadership offers opportunities for brands to speak to their audiences through real individuals, using their genuine voices. This can create powerful content that connects with people profoundly and builds trust in audiences.

It also highlights a central pillar of content marketing: People don’t like to be sold to until they’re ready.

Content marketing has come of age in the internet age. The average online user doesn’t want to be bombarded with ads popping up all over their screen. They’re used to searching for what they want and feeling that they’re in control.

Consequently, the competition for online businesses centres on being searched for successfully.

But this competition is fierce and basic SEO will only get you so far. Somehow, you’ve got to raise audience awareness of who you are.

And again, everyone’s doing this. They’ve got optimised websites, landing pages, special offers and mountains of content.

So how will you differentiate your brand to make it stand out when the audience you’re aiming at is searching for answers?

You need to connect. To connect, you must engage, and to engage you must attract.

This brings us back to being relatable.

If your content speaks to your audience at a personal level, giving them the benefit of your wisdom and knowledge, how much more value will it have for them?

How does thought leadership content offer intrinsic value?

The chances are, like most of us, you’re in a line of business where there’s competition, and therefore carving out your customer base is an ongoing challenge.

Here’s what I believe. Your personality is the thing that’s unique about you. Therefore, if you can use it as the launchpad for your content, this is how you’ll establish and promote your USP.

Thought leadership content is ideal for expressing this uniqueness.

This isn’t simply adding value. It’s not an additional feature or bolted-on quality to your core product.

Thought leadership offers intrinsic value – it can create content that works as a long-term asset for your brand and business.

It has the potential to be transformative.

Intelligence and insight are assets​

If you were attending an interview for a job, you’d want your intelligence and insight to stand out.

They’re natural assets, so why wouldn’t you make the most of them in your content?

Thought leadership is the perfect way of employing them.

  • To build powerful connections with your audience, they need to trust you. If you give them good reasons to have confidence in you, this builds trust.
  • Think about your accumulated knowledge and experience and how you can use them to address issues that matter to your target audience.

What personal angle can you take when looking at an issue in your industry that will highlight your expertise?

Marketing principles of thought leadership

A potential hurdle in getting to grips with thought leadership is its name. It sounds unattractive and could be misleading.

But don’t let this detract from its intrinsic value as a content marketing technique.

It’s not about leading from the front but getting others to buy into your knowledge and wisdom. Thought leaders command attention but they shouldn’t be attention-seeking.

Thought leadership still follows fundamental content marketing principles:

  • FULFIL your audience’s needs
  • COMMUNICATE consistently in a unique, human and relatable voice
  • EXPRESS a clear point of view
  • BE DISTINCTIVE among your peers.

What’s the ROI of thought leadership?

This is the crux. Content marketing and thought leadership don’t generate instant or rapid profits.

At the start of this blog, I quoted from CIM’s definition of marketing as a management process responsible for

identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.

For anyone considering thought leadership, that last word in the sentence raises a big question. How can thought leadership be profitable?

The answer is indirect but highly valuable, mirroring the content marketing process.

Let’s say you attend a networking event, meet several potential prospects and connect with them on LinkedIn.

One of these prospects reads thought leadership articles you’ve posted on the platform, highlighting your industry knowledge.

You bump into them again at another event. They refer to the article. You discuss it further. You begin to build a relationship.

Now, this might not immediately lead to a contract, but if it does eventually, or if that contact refers you to someone else who decides to work with you, then the original thought leadership content has done its job.

Research suggests that well-executed thought leadership captures customers’ attention and helps to transform it into positive results. Moreover, it helps remove risk from the buying process.

Like other consumers, B2B buyers research before they decide. Thought leadership can become a critical part of the material they source about a company they’re thinking of buying from.

Thought leadership may not be a primary sales-driver, but it is a vital cog in the decision-making mechanism.

Don’t let the name fool you – thought leadership is proper, measurable marketing activity.

But it’s not short-term. To gauge its success, you must consider the longer-term benefits of raising awareness of your brand and building your personal profile.

Another thing about thought leadership is that it expands the possibilities for your promotional activity. Rather than thinking only of ways to promote your product or service directly, you can add more to your marketing mix.

Thought leadership is as much about brand-building as it is marketing. It’s a way of strengthening your brand structurally and communicating its purpose through your own acquired knowledge and wisdom.

I’ll help you define your expertise and position within your industry with magnetic content that establishes your authority.

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