The Guide to Thought Leadership Strategy

Thought leaders drive the market. They identify trends while simultaneously guiding them. But without a strategy to execute and disseminate ideas, thought leaders aren’t leaders. They’re idea generators. And ideas alone can’t help you reach your goals.

Creating, cultivating, and executing a thought leadership strategy is the ticket to positioning yourself –– and your brand –– as an authority in your market.

What Is a Thought Leadership Strategy?

Thought leadership is foundational to your success. But with endless competition in the digital space, cutting through the noise requires intentional strategy: nearly forty percent of decision-makers in the B2B space say there is more thought leadership content than they can keep up with. And while 54 percent of the same group spend more than an hour per week consuming thought leadership content, 71 percent say half or less than half of that content provides any value.

A thought leadership strategy compiles a brand’s or organization’s original thinking (thought leadership content) to strategically engage with its target audience. It presents your content to position yourself and your business as the source of visionary, innovative expertise. And it disseminates that content to the right audience at the right time.

A well-executed thought leadership strategy will help you reach your engagement and revenue goals. You have in-house thought leaders with valuable ideas and innovation. Implementing a thought leadership strategy ensures you capitalize on that knowledge and get it into the hands of prospective and existing clients.

Why is Thought Leadership Important?

Thought leadership is the foundation of an effective, results-driven inbound marketing approach. Research from Gartner finds that 83 percent of a B2B purchasing decision occurs before the buyer engages with the provider. Decision-makers research solutions, rank options, and benchmark pricing themselves, bearing the weight of self-education in an increasingly digital process. Thought leadership helps you garner the attention of buyers early in the process, creating meaningful touchpoints and engaging users from awareness through purchase.

Thought leadership content provides authoritative insight and education into solutions buyers seek. But the best content also addresses the emotional motivations decision-makers bring to the table. Gartner reports that the buyer’s journey is more complex than ever, with B2B buyers reviewing dozens of pieces of content before making a purchase decision. They want more than product information. So give them compelling reasons to choose you over everyone else.

Thought leadership allows you to educate and engage with your audience and empowers you to resonate with them. Your content can address concerns, preemptively answer questions, and highlight realistic solutions that meet present and long-term needs.

Thought Leadership Objectives

Thought leadership breaks convention with ideas that change and shape how people think about the marketplace. It provides insightful perspectives on buyers’ issues and presents realistic and practical solutions.

The best thought leadership content serves and enhances every aspect of your organization. We explore the objectives of thought leadership below. 

  1. Educate Consumers – Buyers are overwhelmed with content from brands and organizations competing for their business. When delivered via an effective thought leadership strategy, original, innovative, and valuable thought leadership pieces help you educate customers regarding what you do and how you can do it uniquely –– and best! –– solve their problems.
  1. Shape Perceptions of Your Brand – Thought leadership educates and informs while engaging and endearing clients. A well-crafted thought leadership piece will communicate your brand’s advantages and show buyers why you’re the best option to meet their needs. 
  1. Differentiate Your Brand in Competitive Spaces – Regardless of your industry or market, you compete with brands vying for the same clients. Thought leadership allows you to differentiate your brand and business by establishing authority and trust among consumers. If your competition distributes low-quality content or none, you’ve established an advantage for your organization.
  1. Drive Sales – Buyers who trust your brand and view you as an authority within your industry will choose you over your competitors. Thought leadership is critical in influencing decision-makers throughout the shopping and buying process. 
  1. Recruit Talent – Organizations home to industry and market leaders attract the best talent. By positioning yourself as the authority in your field, you attract and recruit new employees who will further your organization. In addition, effective thought leadership helps secure valuable team members in a time of talent scarcity.
  1. Engage Employees – Employee turnover and the associated costs are a business nightmare. So it would be best if you did whatever you could to boost your retention rates and keep employees engaged –– 71 percent of executives say employee engagement is critical to their company’s success.

Quality thought leadership drives company culture and helps team members feel engaged in their roles. In addition, thought leaders inspire and excite, compelling teams to buy into the organization’s success.

The 6 Dimensions of Thought Leadership

Thought leadership comes from within a brand or organization. A multidimensional aspect of your business positions you to stand out in the marketplace and attract, engage, and compel buyers. We discuss the six dimensions of thought leadership below.

1. Thought leadership addresses big questions.

Thought leaders understand the marketplace because they immerse themselves in it. Value-driven thought leadership requires a deep understanding of the market, the economic climate, and consumer behaviors and addresses the questions and concerns of the buyer.

2. Thought leaders generate innovation.

Thought leadership content isn’t copied and pasted. Instead, leaders answer big questions with big solutions. Innovation and originality are hallmarks of authentic thought leadership.

3. Thought leaders stand for something.

A recent report found that 78 percent of consumers made a purchase decision based on values, and 55 percent are much more likely to purchase from a company that shares their values. B2B decision-makers represent a company but have values and ethics influencing their purchase choices.

A true thought leader doesn’t generate middle-of-the-road ideas or opinions; they stand for something. And when they do, their organization benefits.

4. Thought leaders work toward transformation.

Thought leaders are driven, passionate, and engaged in their work. They don’t exist for impartial dialogue or general discussions. Instead, they bring value to the table and want to see their ideas transform the spaces they influence –– and beyond.

5. Thought leadership flows from expertise.

Thought leaders don’t declare themselves so. The title is earned because consumers trust their content, look to them for market guidance, and view them as an authority in their industry. Thought leadership results from expertise that has been proven and is trusted by consumers.

6. Thought leadership is intentional.

Thought leadership is strategic, purpose-driven, and intentional. An individual doesn’t stumble into thought leadership, and passivity doesn’t keep them there. Instead, maintaining a thought leadership role requires continued deliberate investment.

Setting Thought Leadership Marketing Objectives

Thought leadership requires strategic intentionality, effort, and execution. It’s an effective marketing strategy for competitive businesses, especially those operating within the B2B sphere.

You invest yourself and your resources into thought leadership. Then, capitalize on this marketing tool by setting realistic and achievable objectives.

Discover New Products and Services

Digital thought leadership content is the primary way to discover new products and services. The future of your business depends on your ability to forecast market trends and establish a unique viewpoint on how to address the most pressing issues within your industry.

Discovering new products and services will help you move forward in a constantly evolving market, equipping you to withstand storms and obstacles as they come your way. And the best way to make these discoveries is by conducting primary research that provides insight into your growth. Thought leadership is born in these first-hand research and discovery opportunities.

Create Visibility and Credibility

Your brand and products must be relevant to your target consumer. Your expertise in one area or market won’t necessarily transfer to another. Thought leadership empowers you to create visibility and credibility in new markets, establishing your organization as a relevant competitor.

Engage and Attract Prospective Clients

Unknown prospective clients are online right now, looking for your brand’s unique solutions. Thought leadership built around engaging and attracting these potential clients helps them find your brand and learn more about what you offer.

Frequent publishing and SEO-optimized content are foundational to thought leadership pieces that reach potential clients you haven’t yet met. 

Open Doors with Potential Clients

Thought leadership content can help you engage with clients you don’t know. It can also open doors with potential clients you have an established connection with.

Many B2B companies know the clients they’d like to target, but finding an in seems impossible. Thought leadership is a tool you can use to reconnect, re-engage, and restart the conversation with desired buyers.

When you know your target client, take an account-based marketing approach: create thought leadership pieces that speak to their specific issues and highlight how your organization is the solution best suited to meet their needs.

Convert Prospects into Clients

Thought leadership is essential for the awareness and discovery stages of the buyer’s journey. But effective content also helps you close the sale with clients further down the pipeline. Thought leadership content helps set expectations, instill confidence, educate clients regarding your values and methodologies, and cultivate calm amidst large-scale operational change. It provides you with the credibility and authority prospects need to convert to long-term clients.

Deepen and Nurture Existing Client Relationships

Client retention is essential to maintaining your bottom line. Deepening and nurturing existing client relationships reduces resource spend associated with new client acquisition, increasing ROI.

Thought leadership educates existing clients regarding the scope of services and products you offer, allowing you to expand your value to each client. In addition to publishing this content, account managers can share this information directly with the client, further increasing your value and strengthening your relationship.

12 Steps to Create Your Thought Leadership Strategy

You now know how crucial thought leadership strategy is to your brand or firm. In today’s fast-paced and oversaturated digital landscape, establishing yourself as a thought leader isn’t an option; it’s a requirement if you want to compete.

1. Define Organizational Goals and Align Them with Company Strategy

It would help if you didn’t start from a blank slate when creating your thought leadership strategy. For example, what are your organizational goals and marketing strategies? Your thought leadership strategy should support and enhance those efforts, not operate independently from them.

2. Identify the Target Audience

Once you’ve determined your goals and strategic direction, identify the target consumer. Thought leadership content is accessible to everyone but should be created for a specific audience.

Thought leadership exists to support your marketing strategy. Your content should provide unique insights that bring your ideal consumers through the sales funnel, driving them toward purchase.

3. Gather Existing Thought Leadership Content

You likely have existing content even if you’ve never implemented an official thought leadership strategy. Gather previous content and organize it into your new system. If the content is outdated or inconsistent with current company goals or culture, revise and republish it. Or, if it’s irrelevant, get rid of it.

4. Determine Your Thought Leadership Program Approach

No two thought leadership strategies are the same. You’ll need to determine your specific approach as you build your program. Will you guide thought leadership from a research-based approach or adopt position-based strategies?

Research-based programs involve third-party firms to provide data that supports thought leaders’ ideas and objectives. Position-based strategies revolve around the entire organization taking a stance. Most firms create a mix of both research-based and position-based programming to support their endeavors.

5. Cultivate Thought Leaders within Your Organization

Some firms look outward to bring in thought leaders who can establish their brand as an authority. However, many organizations have potential thought leaders on the team. They require nurturing.

Specialists or industry authorities can transition into the role of a thought leader with the right resources and training. Provide potential candidates with writing, interview, and presentation coaching. Consider hiring a stylist for public appearances and webinars. Offer technical assistance and training for presentations and social media.

Many potential thought leaders have the expertise and innovation required for the role. However, to represent your firm to CIOs and other decision-makers, they need nurturing and coaching.

6. Choose a CMS

You need a content management system (CMS) that works seamlessly with existing platforms within your organization. In addition, your CMS should integrate with all content and publication channels.

Remember, a CMS tool should work with your thought leadership strategy, not against it.  

7. Design Content Formats

Brands distribute thought leadership content in a variety of formats. Your content should be accessible, easy to consume, and easy for decision-makers to share with other parties with a say in purchasing.

Much thought leadership is presented as white papers, but your content is distributed through other formats: press releases, ebooks, case studies, infographics, articles, and more.

Intentional design is critical to creating a strong thought leadership strategy. It provides clarity and consistency in your branding across all content and channels where you publish.

8. Create a Content Calendar

Ideas without an execution plan are just that: ideas. Creating a content calendar helps you plan how and when to share your thought leadership content with your audiences. Implementing a set schedule for creation and publishing maintains momentum and keeps leaders and team members organized and on track.

You’ll never stumble into quality content creation. The best thought leadership strategies include a detailed, intentional editorial plan ensuring all projects are completed on time. Your content calendar should include the following information regarding each piece:

  • Topic
  • Author
  • Due date
  • Editor
  • Target audience/client
  • Primary structure
  • Publishing channels
  • Responsibilities and deadlines for contributing teams, including SEO edits, subedits, and content conversion projects

9. Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

Exceptional thought leadership strategy involves implementing thought leadership within the larger framework of your existing B2B content marketing strategy. Your audience exists across various channels, shopping and researching inside and outside typical working hours. How can your content strategy meet them where they are?

Your overarching content strategy answers the following questions:

  • Who is the content for?
  • Where will you publish the content?
  • What differentiates this content from other pieces addressing similar topics?
  • What do you want the reader to do?

Partnering with a digital marketing agency like Emulent helps you develop and execute your content marketing strategy, helping you set, meet, and surpass your content goals. 

10. Publish Content

After your thought leadership content has been written, edited, optimized, and reviewed by the appropriate parties, it’s time to publish. Review content a final time in your CMS to ensure correct formatting. Finally, your content is ready for readers.

11. Cultivate Organizational Culture around Thought Leadership Content

Organizations create and publish thought leadership content to attract and engage potential clients. But thought leadership shapes internal perceptions of your brand, too.

Thought leadership content helps you communicate and implement a clear vision of your brand’s goals, values, mission, and culture. In addition, it allows you to bring all team members to a unified understanding of your organization and helps them see your brand through the same lens as clients taking in your content.

12. Collect Impact Data

Measuring the impact of your content is the final step in implementing your thought leadership strategy. Some metrics are easier to measure, like sales. But others, such as brand perception or market positioning, require in-depth and often costly research.

You can observe various metrics and KPIs to determine your success, but your conversion rates are the most concrete representation of thought leadership impact. Have you seen direct sales linked to thought leadership content? If so, you know your thought leadership strategy has yielded success.

Once you’ve acquired data on the efficacy of your strategy, you can move forward, reworking approaches as needed to set and achieve new goals.

Optimizing Thought Leadership Strategy

As a brand competing in today’s marketplace, you must consider thought leadership and how you can optimize your online presence to establish yourself as an authority. In a digital-first environment, thought leadership is more central to your success than ever.

You need strong partnerships that support and enhance your efforts to execute an effective thought leadership strategy. Emulent brings decades of experience to work for your brand or organization, providing insight, guidance, and support when and where you need it. Reach out today to learn how our team of digital marketing experts can help you create and implement your thought leadership strategy.