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The Content Strategy of Thought Leadership (CS Forum 2013)

It’s not surprising that Stacey Gordon mentioned that the first rule of Thought Leadership is “Don’t mention Thought Leadership.” In her CS Forum talk, she went on to explain how it is the result of an attitude and behaviour, not a manipulatable marketing tool. It just happens to have great results when it is a natural result of expertise.


Fundamentally, thought leadership is the consequence of being an expert and a pioneer within your field. It is about expanding a discipline; giving to the community.  As such, while there are huge rewards to be garnered in the form of professional reputation, and consequently marketing value, it is not a “game” that can be cheated. It is not a marketing strategy. (This notwithstanding, the term has such strong connotations, almost two thirds of business-to-business companies think they are involved in it.)

The real leaders are not those who shout the most, or the loudest. The leaders are the ones whose actions and ideas produce results and change. They are insiders, people who know their industries so intimately that they can see beyond the problems others are facing. They are also strong communicators: it is not necessarily the person who coins an idea who will be considered the leader, but the one who propagates the idea.

A misunderstanding about what thought leadership really is means that many organisation think they can fake it, or use the concept as just another tool in their marketing box. It is seen as content marketing with kudos, so subjected to the requirements of quantity.

Well-presented thought leadership has much in common with good journalism: a meaningful opening that gives a good overview, while inviting you in to discover more, followed by layers of refinement and detail. It is unbiased. It is a public service, which just happens to be good for client acquisition and – because it creates value and strengthens relationships over the long term – retention.

Raw notes:

  • There is a difference between thought leadership and content marketing. (Details to come.)
  • Thought leadership isn’t just “anything that isn’t pitching a product/service.”
  • Thought leadership is one of the worst forms of marketing terminology. Over- and misused
  • Real thought leaders are addressing the biggest questions business leaders are wrestling with.
  • Of B2B content marketing, 64% of companies think they are involved in thought leadership.
  • Just publishing thoughts does not make one a thought leader.
  • The word “leader” is grossly overused in marketing copy. (That many leaders, all pulling in different directions.)
  • A real leader is the one with the best ideas, not the one with the biggest mouth.
  • Real thought leaders are authorities on industry issues. Because they have spent time on the front lines.
  • Usefulness and relevance are critical to thought leadership. Great ideas badly presented do not lead.
  • Thought leadership can just be about repackaging great (new) ideas and making them digestible/understandable.
  • Content marketing is just another box in marketing – to drive more business.
  • Thought leadership is an embedded principle in an organisation, seeded from business leadership.
  • Content marketing focuses on quantity. Thought leadership is focused on quality.
  • Many organisations have trouble writing unbiased – non-sales – content.
  • Thought leadership is layered: summarised lead-in, with layers of details available through context.
  • Content marketing measures success through lead generation.
  • Thought leaders create value which strengthens the relationship; it’s longer term.
  • Approach thought leadership as a public service. It will strengthen client acquisition, _and_ retention.
  • Does thought leadership belong to the organisation or the individuals? Tough question.
  • Tier content per its function; then each can have its own criteria, tone, etc.

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