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In the last few years, thought leadership content has emerged as a leading content marketing strategy. Brands looking to differentiate themselves use thought leadership to present new ideas, educate customers and prospects, and influence buyer behavior.

Thought leadership content is effective across the entire sales funnel. A survey of more than 1,300 business decision-makers by Edelman and LinkedIn found that 91 percent of business decision-makers in general, and 73 percent of C-suite executives in particular, considered thought leadership either important or critical. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed spent one to three hours a week reading this type of content.

What makes thought leadership content effective? When done well, it establishes the brand as an authority in its space.

Customers, whether B2B or B2C, want to do business with brands and people they trust. Thought leadership content provides the sales and marketing teams with a steady flow of content that helps develop that trust.

What Is Thought Leadership Content?

Simply put, thought leadership content presents your brand as a leading, authoritative voice in your industry. Its purpose is to inform, educate, provide insights and help increase organic reach. This is why thought leadership content is not:

  • Self-promotional content aimed at touting your brand,
  • A marketing piece about a service or product offering, or
  • Content created largely for purposes of SEO.

Thought leadership content comes in a variety of formats, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Contributed content to other publications
  • Infographics
  • Original research papers
  • Virtual events such as webinars
  • Video

Keys to a Successful Thought Leadership Program

Thought leadership content emphasizes quality over quantity. In fact, in the LinkedIn/Edelman survey, 45 percent of decision-makers and 53 percent of C-suite executives said they lost respect and admiration for an organization due to its poor content.

To be successful, your program needs to:

  • Use a systematic, consistent approach.
  • Integrate your sales, marketing and branding goals.
  • Create a broad library of high-quality assets.
  • Use a variety of distribution channels.
  • Have measurable KPIs.

5 Steps to Creating a Thought Leadership Program

Your approach to thought leadership content will depend on your content marketing goals. Use the following steps as a guideline to creating your own roadmap.

1. Define your strategy: You need a blueprint that drives your content decisions. While thought leadership is not sales copy, as discussed above, you’re using it to advance business goals. Your strategy must align with your brand positioning, target market and sales objectives.

As part of your strategic planning, take the time to understand your customers’ pain points. To stand out, thought leadership content must provide original ideas, and the best way to do that is by knowing your customers.

2. Create a playbook: To keep your thought leadership content consistent with your brand voice and style, create a playbook that outlines those specifics. A style guide, for example, should contain standards for word usage, point of view, grammar, etc.

A playbook is important because thought leadership involves many people outside the marketing team. Whether your experts are creating content in-house or you’re outsourcing to a creative team, a playbook will maintain the voice and personality that your audience expects from your brand.

3. Find your in-house experts: Engage experts from all levels of your organization. Different teams can provide valuable insights into interesting developments as well as the expertise that’s essential to creating unique content.

You’ll also need to identify your leaders who will serve as the company voice. While not all your content will be bylined, formats such as contributed articles typically carry the byline of a person inside the company rather than the brand.

4. Establish a process: Since thought leadership content involves many hands, a process will help the content progress smoothly through all the editorial and approval stages. Some tools to consider include:

  • An editorial calendar: A detailed plan for your thought leadership campaign flow
  • A content architecture: A map that shows how the thought leadership assets support specific sales and marketing initiatives
  • A content management platform: An app or platform that helps streamline the editorial process

5. Inventory assets: If content marketing is already part of your growth strategy, then chances are you have a variety of content that you can repurpose. An inventory will ensure you’re optimizing your efforts as well as helping identify content gaps.

Once you’ve established a strategy and processes, identified your experts and your team (whether in-house or outsourced) and created an inventory, you’re ready to start flexing your thought leadership content muscles. Tracking your metrics will show you what’s working and what you need to rethink. Use your KPIs to continuously improve your approach.