Thought leadership is useful in content marketing, but creating this content is tougher than it seems.
Marketing Content Strategy

What Thought Leadership Means in Content Marketing

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Companies around the world figure to spend $100 billion on content marketing in the coming year, but they do so in the face of daunting uncertainties: 35 percent of those brands aren’t sure what type of content their audiences want.

Amid that confusion, many marketers are united in a belief that thought leadership is key to their brand’s success. Eighty percent of respondents to Euromoney Institutional Investor’s recent report said they plan to increase spending on thought-leadership-geared content within the next three years—in some cases, significantly so. That investment is coming despite tepid results thus far: Only 40 percent said their current efforts were meeting expectations.

There is clear confusion about what this form of content marketing is, what goals it accomplishes, and how it should be delivered to an online audience. Even as it remains hard-to-define for some professionals, the fact remains that authoritative brands carry clout among their consumers (think Google, Starbucks, Netflix), and many companies are eager to ascend to that pinnacle.

Thought Leadership

Defining Thought Leadership

The most important thing to remember is this: Building an authoritative voice for a brand can be interpreted by companies in different ways. When you ask a dozen marketers to define this concept, you’re likely to get several answers.

As the Euromoney Institutional Investor report states: “At its simplest, it is this: creating fresh, insightful and actionable content that answers some of the biggest questions on the minds of the people or companies your company does or wants to engage and do business with.”

Entrepreneur offers a more practical explanation, defining this form of content marketing as an attempt to build brand affinity by tapping the resources within your company. Utilizing talented and experienced employees who can offer passionate viewpoints and perspectives to your target audience is an easy way to become a source for information, insight, and direction. It can establish you as an authority in contrast to your competitors, increase trust in your brand, and serve as a catalyst for increased consumership—when done correctly, of course.

This form of leadership depends on an effective content marketing strategy to push out new content and reach the intended audiences, but the focus should be on tackling big questions and ideas, and presenting the brand as a source of innovation.

Measuring Campaign Success

There are obstacles to gauging the true efficacy of thought-leadership content, starting with the channels used to amplify that content. Euromoney Institutional Investor reports that social media, blogs, and opinion articles garnered the greatest support from active marketers identifying the best content promotion channels, followed by round-table events and seminars.

Yet with so much uncertainty about the best practices, and with brands having seen only mild success thus far, it’s too limiting to accept these trends as rules. Brands will need to push the envelope and experiment with new delivery methods. Entrepreneur highlights the value of social as a vehicle for driving brand affinity, which is one of the best measures of authoritative content, but brands should test out a variety of delivery methods, using A/B testing to compare results across channels.

Since the makeup of an audience will greatly influence the how, where, and why of content consumption, individual case studies will be necessary to uncovering true markers of success. But look to your content goals for some basic markers that measure campaign performance, including lead generation, new product awareness, client retention, and increased influence among key stakeholders.

Establishing leadership is no simple task, but content marketing can be foundational in building that reputation. The trick is knowing your audience and leveraging your internal resources to build a better brand identity.

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