Beyond the Buzz: Defining Thought Leadership


Time to read: 4 Minutes

‘Thought Leadership’ is an oft-used but ill defined term. 89% of business decision makers agreed that well made thought leadership content enhances a brand’s reputation. With figures like that there’s good reason that thought leader has become such a sought after title, but what does it really mean to be a thought leader?  

We define thought leadership as a title that is earned over time, through the continued production of high quality content. This is content that not only addresses topics that are relevant to a given industry, but engages with the pressing conversations of the time in a thought provoking way. The definition of thought leadership certainly changes based on who you ask, but to us, it is a process rather than a destination. 

A thought leader is an individual, or entity that gains the confidence and trust of a given industry, in turn becoming a resource for pertinent information and analysis. Under this definition thought leadership is a title that must be earned from peers and clients, and not one that is self defined.


Where does thought leadership start?

Though the title is peer earned, beginning with the goal of achieving this status starts with sending a message that you are attempting to engage with applicable topics to your industry’s current thoughts and woes. Of course, merely saying that you’re a thought leader without putting in the work to immerse yourself and your work in the issues of your industry will fail to produce the benefits of thought leadership. 

Good thought leadership content starts with an understanding of your Market’s current needs and concerns. Providing relevant information and analysis sets you apart as a top-thinker in your industry. The biggest question is ‘how can I find what is relevant to my customers?’ This looks different for everyone, but by keeping a finger on the pulse of your industry you are giving yourself the chance to absorb these needs, concerns, and pain points. Engaging with your market in a way that allows you to better understand their needs and worries allows you to create specifically tailored content. Hyper-relevant language has become a hot topic in the marketing world, and for good reason; by speaking in terms that your client base uses, you can assure that you’re on the same page. Finding these terms, or getting the gauge for the most pressing issues of a given industry is essential to communicating clearly. There are formal ways to find this like surveys, keyword research, or structured interview, but also informal like following the right hashtags on social media, or by being your own customer and noting what resonates with you and your colleagues. 


Balancing relevancy with perspective  

In the age of the internet things are moving more rapidly than ever, and addressing the multitude of topics as they present themselves is essential in becoming a hub for information. However, it is not just about the timeliness of your topic. Rushing through a hot take on your industry’s most pressing problems can actually have a negative effect on how you or your company is perceived, 60% of business decision makers have decided to stop following writers, or companies based on thought leadership content that was ineffective or incomplete. With that being said, the benefits of thought leadership outweigh the risks when done correctly. 

There is a balance to be struck between speed and consideration, quickness and astuteness. If speed is overvalued in the equation, and the full idea hasn’t been fleshed out, you’re left with a reactionary piece of content. If you take too long to evolve your opinion on a topic, it’s likely that your industry may have already moved past it. This is all to say that good thought leadership content must be prompt, without sacrificing nuance. Does that sound difficult? Generally, it is, but like other things that are difficult, it is well worth the effort. 87% of business decision makers agree that well produced thought leadership increases the trust in an organization. Trust builds through the continued understanding that you are contending, thoughtfully, with the pain points they are experiencing. Marketers know that trust is foundational in building customer relationships.


Why forward thinking is important

Another characteristic of effective thought leadership is content that takes a long term view of the issues. Yes this is a challenge our industry is facing today, but what will it look like tomorrow? What do the trends we’ve observed in the past tell us about what is to come in the future? When you engage with the future viewpoint, you move from a passive commentary role to an active role in shaping the vision of the future. 

To engage with the past and present in a way that helps you understand the future, it is important to have data points which stand as signifiers of the way the industry is moving. There is great insight to be gained by taking a step back when addressing the issues of your industry. Taking a historical outlook on the trends as they’ve led to this point allows for a more accurate triangulation of where the industry is headed. 

Under our definition, thought leadership is also content that is driven by data. By basing your arguments on applicable facts and statistics, you can work to build arguments that resonate and stand on their own.  82% of people claim they’d rather read an article based on statistics than one based solely on opinion. Of course, much of thought leadership is based around the proper articulation of one’s opinion, but a tactful use of statistics can justify and strengthen the positions you take. Using data points as markers along the narrative you’re trying to illuminate helps to communicate the story you’re getting across. Check out our blog on data storytelling to learn more about how to effectively weave those two elements together.


Wrapping It Up

All of the qualities that define good thought leadership content are rooted in understanding. Understanding the pain points of your market, and the issues they’re grappling with today are what gives you the tools to develop high quality thought leadership content. Working backwards from your customers allows you to give yourself the best perspective from which to present your ideas in an impactful way. Begin with understanding and leverage that into a useful piece of thinking for your market.

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