Alyssa Patzius

Alyssa Patzius is the vice president of sales. Intero Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency whose Content & PR Division helps businesses improve their lead generation, SEO, sales enablement, and thought leadership — all powered by content marketing and PR.

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A green marble rolls ahead of stagnant white blocks.

What Every Marketer Needs to Understand About True Thought Leadership

What Every Marketer Needs to Understand About True Thought Leadership

Alyssa Patzius, Vice President of Sales • Intero Digital • April 27, 2022

A green marble rolls ahead of stagnant white blocks.

As a marketer, you’re up-to-date on all the latest brand-building techniques. Your company has a killer blog and an airtight social media strategy, and you’re already thinking about how you can use TikTok to connect with your target audience.

You get content, but you may still be unsure about thought leadership — what it is, how it differs from content marketing, or whether it’s just another buzzword. We’re here to help.

In a nutshell, a thought leader is an individual or firm that clients, prospects, and competitors view as an authoritative voice in an industry.

By consistently publishing unique, insightful content that leads the conversation around a few specific topics, you can become a resource for commentary and trends and solidify your company’s reputation as a thought leader in your space.

Although this process might sound similar to traditional content marketing, understanding the differences can help you execute your thought leadership strategy with precision.

How Thought Leadership Differs From Content Marketing

Although thought leadership and content marketing look similar in execution, the strategy and the end result distinguish the two. 

According to the Content Marketing Institute, “content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Although you can write and distribute content without the intention of becoming a thought leader, this reputation should naturally follow as a result of reaching the right audience with a unique message.

Ultimately, thought leadership is a result of a strong content strategy.

“Both thought leadership and content marketing can very effectively build your awareness and brand, but that true thought leadership is much rarer,” says Jon Miller. “Thought leadership consists of ideas that require attention, that offer guidance or clarity, and that can lead people in unexpected, sometimes contrarian directions (think of Seth Godin). Thought leadership needs to be educational and ideally provocative; content marketing can simply be fun or entertaining.”

As you can see, thought leadership dives deeper than a typical content marketing strategy. It challenges the status quo and builds on an individual or company’s expertise.

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula, and many times, the definition varies from industry to industry. But at its core, thought leadership accomplishes these goals:

  • It advances the conversation and positions you as a knowledgeable expert in a specific area. To really lead a conversation in your industry, you have to know a particular area inside and out. Content can cover any range of topics, but thought leadership content covers a few specific topics, if not just one area.
  • It educates a specific audience through insightful topics and strategic publishing. With a traditional content marketing strategy, you can create content with a general audience in mind, but thought leadership content educates your company’s narrowly defined audience.
  • It segues into meaningful relationships. The purpose behind thought leadership content goes beyond brand awareness. It aims to establish richer, more meaningful relationships with the people you’re trying to reach. According to Daniel Rasmus, thought leadership should “intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.”

How to Deploy an Effective Thought Leadership Strategy

Some of our expert clients have been executing thought leadership strategies for years, while others are just getting started.

For each of our clients, our account strategists draft a thorough “Thought Leadership Strategy” that allows us to identify important marketing information to guide our content creation and distribution efforts.

Here are three key aspects we always include in these strategies:

  1. Target audience: Pinpointing the audience you want to reach is a fundamental step. This lends insight into potential article ideas and publication choices that reach this specific group.
  1. Industry analysis: Get a clear understanding of what your competitors are doing by studying the market. Take advantage of untapped areas for differentiation. Then you can charge ahead with new ideas and angles.
  1. Pain points your prospects face: Your thought leadership content should not only address an issue, but also offer action steps for readers to take. Raising these concerns and tackling them in your content can also move prospects through the sales funnel.

To see a content strategy for thought leadership in action, consider our client Ross McIntyre. His software development firm helps businesses with digital innovation, so he wrote an article for The Next Web geared toward the tech community. He draws on his own experiences and shares insights to help software companies deal with inflation.

On a broader level, this is just one article connecting back to his thought leadership strategy. And when his audience consistently reads his insightful industry analysis, they’ll view him as the knowledgeable and credible expert he is.

How to Leverage Content to Establish Your Thought Leadership

Of course, getting published doesn’t automatically make people view you or your company as a thought leader. It’s important to leverage your content after it publishes. Otherwise, there’s no guarantee anyone will see it.

When working with clients, we teach them how to amplify their content’s impact after the work is published. We advise our clients to:

  • Link to their latest posts in their email signatures.
  • Reconnect with colleagues by emailing them their articles.
  • Share their published content in relevant LinkedIn Groups, and solicit feedback to boost exposure and spark a conversation.
  • Tweet at other thought leaders to ask for their feedback. (Make sure you only reach out to experts you’ve engaged with before; otherwise, they’ll be skeptical of your intentions.)

Together, these four simple tactics can help create a ripple effect for your company’s brand.

Using your content to start a conversation and interact with key players is absolutely essential for reaping the benefits of your thought leadership strategy. With so much time, planning, and energy put into creating content, you want to maximize its reach any way you can.

When done effectively, thought leadership can help position your company and its leaders as trusted sources of information, add a human face to your brand, and allow you to influence people who matter.

How is your company leading its industry, and how could you communicate that through educational content?

Are you leaving content marketing opportunity on the table?

Alyssa Patzius

Alyssa Patzius is the vice president of sales. Intero Digital is a full-service digital marketing agency whose Content & PR Division helps businesses improve their lead generation, SEO, sales enablement, and thought leadership — all powered by content marketing and PR.

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