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So what is a Thought Leader?

By JAMES COAKES Published 17th Feb 2015
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Thought leadership is a critical factor that can help you develop meaningful relationships by becoming known as someone who has valuable insights. Once considered to be mostly the domain of B2B marketing, it's a term that's increasingly applied to individuals as well as organisations. But what is it exactly, and how can you develop this trait for yourself?

What is Thought Leadership - and why is it important?

Thought leaders are people who create and distribute content that's valuable, relevant, and informative, with the intent to attract and engage a specific target audience. The most respected people or organisations in their fields, they're often the ones whose opinions are sought whenever expert knowledge of those fields are needed. On the internet, these people are sometimes called content marketers, a term that has somewhat more casual connotations, but refers to the same concept.

Whether thought leader or content marketer, there's a lot that you stand to gain from taking up this role as part of a long-term marketing strategy. The objective of the content is typically to drive sales, but this isn't always the case; there are other positive actions that audiences can take that might not directly involve a purchase, but may provide other benefits, or lead to sales later on.

  • It gives you the opportunity to set you apart from the competition
  • You can showcase your expertise to potential customers
  • Creating content starts conversations that can lead to sales or fruitful business relationships
  • Increase social media visibility, get more site links, and improve search engine rankings

Be a Thought Leader by creating innovative content

According to Circle Research 43% of B2B marketers say that content is critical to their marketing strategy. But not just any content; to become a thought leader, you have to create the kind of high-value content that people want to read and share.

For example, one of the biggest mistakes that new content marketers make is latching on to the latest hot topics, whether or not they're actually relevant - a strategy that might get you a few readers, but not necessarily people who are interested in the products or services you provide. The better strategy is to create content that's relevant to your target audience. What questions do they have, or what problems need solving?

Valuable thought leadership content is thought that's backed up by facts. You always need a factual starting point, whether it's a news story, a statistic, a survey, or a report. Larger companies often develop their own research groups, but for smaller organisations and individuals this is typically not an option. So, it's also important to get creative when finding sources, too, whether it's looking at reports from large market research companies, or news alerts for relevant topics.

Your content also needs to provide some unique value. Thought leaders don't rehash old content, they have something new to say. Give your content a fresh spin by looking at what other people in your field are talking about, and then identify the related issues that aren't being discussed yet. Or, as you gain in confidence, you can think about going off in a completely new direction, to find unclaimed topics that you can call your own.

Some will resist the phrase 'Thought Leadership' because it sounds like another buzzword. However, the bigger buzzword at the moment is content and there is a significant problem around content that is rehashed, contains few researched facts or out of date information and is generally poor quality. Anything that encourages a better standard has to be a good thing. 

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