Thought leadership is a buzzword with definitions as numerous as they are diverse. Everybody talks about it, but no one speaks the same language. Establishing real thought leadership – the kind that positions a subject matter expert, an authority, a guru, a visionary, as a trusted source worth “buying” from – isn’t some kind of promotional ploy. To payoff, it takes work, lots of creative content and a smart content marketing strategy to market it.
Any content strategy intends to satisfy the needs, challenges and questions of potential customers – motivating them to click, read, download, trust, return and eventually, buy. To do this, you need a foundation of expertise and a nuanced understanding of your target audience. So you can see why thought leadership is such an organic (and logical) extension of content marketing; it positions your company and its leaders as true innovators through high quality, objective content.
While thought leadership and content strategy are each integral on their own, when combined, they make for a strategic, powerful force for driving not only brand awareness, but also (and perhaps most importantly) demand for your products and services. Follow these four steps and start making content marketing magic happen:
Align Your Thought Leadership & Content Strategy
- Know thy audience. Being an expert in your field is great, but it means nothing unless it’s married to those who need your expertise most. Similarly, content that doesn’t speak to and reach those that matter is meaningless. What makes your target audiences tick? What are their needs, wants, interests, motivations? Create a buyer persona profile for each of your target audiences. Who are they? What are their problems and challenges? What is important to them? Who influences their decision to buy or take action? Where do they go for information and how do you they consume it? This is your sweet spot, the crux of both your thought leadership and content marketing strategies.
- Deliver value. Take your audience profiles and run with them. Remember, people no longer solely buy products; they buy into ideas and solutions from like-minded people and brands. Likewise, thought leadership content doesn’t sell anything. It offers expertise. It answers questions and identifies untapped opportunities; it’s informative and insightful. Ask yourself: is this [insert content type here – e.g. blog or infographic] something I would bookmark – or delete?
- Be authentic. Your customers are smart people. They do business with other smart people – and companies – who they trust. Your content must communicate both of these qualities: intelligence and confidence. Eliminate the jargon and help them make sense of things. Offer perspective, informed opinions and market-backed research that will influence their point-of-view, inform their decisions and open them up to new ways of thinking. Use examples, facts and quotes. A little humor now and then doesn’t hurt either.
- Produce, publish, promote, repeat. This is where the rubber meets the road. Get into a production rhythm. Assemble a core content team. Assign responsibilities and set deadlines. Set regular connection points with your primary thought leader(s) to gather first-hand insight on issues and solutions. Map out a content calendar – external, internal, news-driven, evergreen, existing, fresh. Aim to create and publish content consistently, but don’t stop there. Distributing your content is equally, if not more, important. Consider all the channels: media (both earned and paid), newsletters, social networks, presentations, blogs, video. Test formats, days of the week, times of day to maximize exposure and optimize return.
At the end of the day, thought leadership and content strategy work best in parallel. Each supports and informs the other. And they’re truly stronger together. Keep your strategies in sync and you’ll soon be producing quality content that converts. Isn’t that our shared mission?