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Thought Leadership Content Strategy: The 8 Simple Steps You Need

Picture of Mo Shehu

Mo Shehu

thought leadership content strategy

Learn how to create a thought leadership content strategy that builds brand authority, generates leads, and differentiates your business.

Table of contents

Thought leadership is about becoming the go-to expert in your field for advice and insights. 

It helps you build your brand, gain trust, and influence others. 

This guide will show you how to create thought leadership content that stands out. 

We’ll cover key points like:

  1. Mapping thought leadership content back to business goals
  2. Addressing issues relevant to your target audience
  3. Grounding your content in data and expertise
  4. Tapping internal SMEs for specialized insights
  5. Working with other thought leaders in your field
  6. Conducting original research for new insights
  7. Using storytelling to connect with your audience, and
  8. Tracking thought leadership performance over the long term

Let’s start with the most important aspect of any thought leadership strategy:

Map thought leadership content back to business goals

Thought leadership without clear goals doesn’t get supported for very long. 

Aligning your content marketing strategy with business goals helps you get the thought leadership resources you need more easily.

4 business goals for thought leadership alignment

There are four main goals you can set for your thought leadership program:

  1. Brand awareness – getting people to know you
  2. Lead generation – acquiring more paying customers
  3. Customer retention – retaining more existing buyers
  4. Market positioning – differentiating yourself from competitors

To align thought leadership content with these goals, you’ll need to:

  1. Identify key themes and content topics that support your business goals. For example, if you want to generate leads, focus on content marketing that solves common customer problems over trend-watching content that attempts to map the future.
  2. Set specific objectives you want to achieve with each piece of content. Objectives might include increasing website visits, generating leads, or boosting social media engagement.
  3. Create targeted content that speaks directly to your audience’s needs, grounded firmly in your tone of voice and point of view. The stronger your company’s opinion, the more memorable the content becomes.
  4. Use calls to action (CTAs) that guide your audience towards actions that support your business goals, like signing up for a newsletter or requesting a demo.

Examples of mapping thought leadership content to business goals

  • Salesforce creates content that showcases their expertise in customer relationship management and supports their goal of being a market leader.
  • Kainos is all about digital transformation, and their blog reflects the company’s goal of becoming the go-to resource within that sphere.

The Salesforce 360 blog

Address issues relevant to your target audience

Thought leadership for its own sake ends up an expensive waste of time and resources.

But addressing your audience’s concerns and challenges helps you build a stronger relationship with them.

This increases the likelihood of achieving the listed goals above goals, and makes getting executive buy-in easier.

6 ways to identify your audience’s key issues and pain points

  1. Conduct surveys and polls about your audience’s biggest challenges and interests. This can unearth insights into what matters most to them.
  2. Monitor social media and forum discussions in relevant online communities, and look for recurring themes and questions. For example, Slofile contains a list of public Slack groups for various communities you can join.
  3. Engage in conversations at industry events, webinars, and online discussions. Listen to what people are talking about and participate in conversations.
  4. Analyze existing data from your website, blog, and social media channels to see which topics generate the most engagement.
  5. Read industry reports and studies to understand broader trends and how they might affect your audience.
  6. Observe your competitors to see what issues they’re addressing. This can show you gaps to fill or new angles to explore.

4 types of content to create

Once you know what your audience struggles with, you can:

  1. Create tactical guides and tutorials on common problems your audience faces.
  2. Do deep dives into relevant topics with comprehensive analyses and actionable advice.
  3. Host webinars and Q&A sessions to engage directly with your audience and address their questions live.
  4. Develop case studies with real-life examples of how problems were solved. See our case study writing guide here.

Examples of thought leaders engaging their audience’s concerns

  • Neil Patel addresses common digital marketing challenges by providing detailed guides, case studies, and actionable tips. His content is highly relevant to his audience, which boosts engagement and trust.
  • Elena Verna frequently discusses the challenges and opportunities in startup growth based on her experiences, observations, and industry trends.

An example of Elena using memes to spark conversations around growth.

Ground your content in data and expertise

Credibility is a core aspect of any thought leadership strategy. Without it, your audience may not take your content seriously. 

You can achieve credibility by sharing your experiences, citing reliable sources, and providing researched insights.

Data adds weight to your arguments and shows your insights are based on facts, not just opinions

4 types of data that can support thought leadership content

There’s data everywhere if you know where to look. You can:

  1. Cite research studies that validate your arguments.
  2. Share data from internal research or company metrics that offer unique insights.
  3. Present data from case studies that illustrate successful applications of your ideas.
  4. Reference industry reports that share broader context on trends related to your topic.

Remember to not just present data — explain why it matters and how it supports your viewpoint. 

Lastly, always cite your sources to allow the audience to verify the information.

Examples of data-driven thought leadership content

  • Pew Research Center produces extensive reports on various topics, supported by robust data and surveys. Their reports are widely regarded as authoritative and reliable sources of information.
  • Harvard Business Review (HBR) articles are well-researched and written by experts in their fields. They often include data, case studies, and references to academic research.
  • McKinsey & Company publishes reports and articles rich in data and analysis. Their content is backed by thorough research and includes charts, graphs, and detailed explanations.

The HBR blog.

Tap internal subject matter experts (SMEs)

Internal SMEs possess deep knowledge and expertise in specific areas within your organization. 

Their insights can enhance the quality and credibility of your thought leadership content.

Different people can play the role of the subject matter expert in any organization:

  • Department heads and team leaders often have extensive knowledge of their specific areas.
  • Long-term employees have a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the company’s operations.
  • Individual contributors with specific skills, such as data scientists, engineers, or analysts, can also provide insights.

3 ways to leverage SME expertise in thought leadership content marketing

Having worked with PostHog, Momentum, and other startups on B2B marketing, we’ve leveraged SME content in different ways:

  1. Interviews and Q&A sessions can help you gather SME insights and perspectives. This can be used in articles, podcasts, or videos.
  2. Guest articles and contributions from SMEs can add depth and authority. Most SMEs aren’t writers, though, so strong editing helps them shine.
  3. Internal workshops and brainstorming sessions allow SMEs to share their knowledge and ideas with your digital marketing team.

Best practices to keep in mind

When co-creating thought leadership pieces with internal SMEs, try to:

  1. Translate complex technical knowledge into clear and accessible language for your audience. This can make a thought leadership article more shareable.
  2. Highlight the SME’s credentials and experience to boost the content’s credibility.
  3. Use direct quotes and testimonials from SMEs to add authenticity and authority.
  4. Align your brand voice and messaging with the co-created content.

Examples of internal SME use in thought leadership

  • Microsoft’s Azure Blog regularly features content written by their internal engineers and product managers. This provides technical insights and firsthand knowledge of their offerings.
  • IBM’s Think Blog taps internal SMEs to produce detailed articles and reports on emerging technologies and industry trends.
  • Moz’s Whiteboard Friday series features internal (and external) experts explaining complex SEO concepts in an accessible way.

The IBM THINK blog.

Work with other thought leaders in your field

Collaborating with external thought leaders can amplify your impact and credibility, broadening your reach to a wider audience.

It allows you to combine expertise, share different perspectives, and create more valuable content, leading to more potential customers. 

How to identify and approach potential collaborators for content creation

Co-creating thought leadership content hinges on mutual compatibility and value. To get started, try to:

  1. Meet other industry experts at conferences, webinars, and industry events. Engage with them on social media and in professional groups, too.
  2. Look for complementary expertise that would make the collaboration more valuable.
  3. Reach out to the industry expert via email, phone, social media, or in-person meetings. Keep your outreach message succinct.
  4. Highlight the mutual benefits of working together. Explain how the collaboration can enhance both parties’ content and reach, and why you want their unique perspective.
  5. Start with small projects such as co-authoring a thought leadership article or hosting a joint webinar. This allows you to build a working relationship before tackling larger projects.

Examples of collaborative thought leadership

Cognism’s podcast, The Loop Live.

Conduct original research for new insights

Original research sets your thought leadership marketing apart by providing insights not found elsewhere. 

It demonstrates your commitment to contributing new knowledge to your field.

This not only boosts your credibility but also attracts attention and engagement from your audience.

Steps to design and conduct original research

  1. Look for a gap in existing knowledge or a question that hasn’t been thoroughly explored. This should be relevant to your audience, field, and business.
  2. Design your study with an appropriate quantitative, qualitative, or mixed method approach. You can use surveys, interviews, experiments, or data analysis to accomplish your research goals.
  3. Gather data systematically, ensuring your methods are robust and your sample size adequate for reliable results.
  4. Analyze the data using statistical tools and techniques. Look for patterns, correlations, and significant findings your audience will find most valuable.
  5. Present your findings in an understandable format with charts, graphs, and visuals to make each valuable insight more accessible.
  6. Provide actionable recommendations based on your findings, showing how they can be applied in real-world scenarios.

Check out our full guide on how to create a B2B research report, and skim through our white paper writing guide.

Examples of original research

Superpath’s Content Marketing Salary Report

Use storytelling to connect with your audience

Stories capture attention, evoke emotions, and make complex ideas and data more relatable. 

This makes storytelling a powerful tool in your thought leadership content strategy.

Four elements of a compelling story:

  1. Use relatable characters your audience can identify with. This could be a customer, an employee, or even yourself.
  2. Induce conflict and resolution – a challenge your character needs to overcome.
  3. Evoke emotions by highlighting the struggles, triumphs, and lessons learned. Emotions help your audience connect with the story on a deeper level.
  4. Ensure your story has a clear message or takeaway that ties back to your main point.

Examples of thought leadership storytelling

Track thought leadership performance over the long-term

Thought leadership performance is measured in years, not weeks. 

Releasing a report one year might bring a small boost to sales, but a ten-year run cements you as an industry leader.

Likewise, one webinar or podcast recording may not do much for your brand, but after 100 episodes you’ll have spoken to the who’s who in your industry and built a deep moat your competitors can’t cross.

In short: the true value of thought leadership comes from showing up consistently over a long period. 

And while the results may not be immediate or direct, consistent tracking will help you measure success over time.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) for thought leadership content

We’ve written a more in-depth guide to content marketing metrics, but the following metrics relate specifically to thought leadership:

  1. Monitor website traffic to thought leadership and product marketing pages. You can apply filters in tools like Google Analytics to isolate key pages.
  2. Track engagement metrics like time spent on page, bounce rate, and social media interactions (likes, shares, and comments).
  3. Measure the number of leads generated through content downloads, newsletter sign-ups, contact form submissions, and other inbound marketing channels. Your CRM can provide data on which leads came from where if you use UTM tags.
  4. Keep an eye on brand mentions and backlinks from other websites and influencers. Ahrefs and SEMrush are good tools for this.
  5. Track audience growth across different segments, such as social media followers, email subscribers, and blog readers.
  6. Monitor audience feedback on surveys, polls, and direct comments to gauge their response to your content.

Interpreting the data

  1. Look for patterns and trends in your data over time. For example, if you see a steady increase in website traffic and engagement, it indicates growing interest in your content.
  2. Compare against goals you set for your thought leadership content. Are you achieving the desired increase in leads or brand awareness?
  3. Adjust your strategy using the insights gained from tracking. Focus on topics and formats that perform well and consider changing or dropping those that don’t.

Examples of when results may not be immediate or direct

  1. Long-term brand awareness: Building brand authority through thought leadership can take time. Initial metrics might show modest improvements, but over time, consistent high-quality content can lead to significant increases in brand recognition and trust.
  2. Lead nurturing: Thought leadership content often serves to educate and engage potential customers rather than convert them immediately. It may take several touchpoints and interactions before these leads convert into sales.
  3. Influence and reputation: Establishing yourself as a thought leader can lead to speaking engagements, media mentions, and partnerships, which may not directly translate to immediate sales but contribute to long-term business growth.

Be patient and persistent. Understand that thought leadership is a long-term strategy. Consistent effort and regular evaluation will yield results over time.

Lastly, communicate results to stakeholders. Use data and insights to show the value and impact of your efforts.

Final thoughts

Creating thought leadership content requires a comprehensive approach that integrates deep knowledge, original research, audience relevance, storytelling, data, collaboration, and internal expertise.

By following the above steps, you can establish yourself as a credible and influential thought leader in your field.

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