Why thought leadership is integral to your content marketing mix

There’s a reason your core leadership team is trusted with senior roles. Your C-suite is chock full of industry experience, advanced problem-solving skills, keen insights, and an ability to motivate and inspire team members. Conveniently, these strengths are also assets when it comes to your company’s content marketing: thought leadership articles help to build brand credibility and prestige. You’ve likely seen this type of content in your LinkedIn timeline or on Fast Company’s homepage, where executives share their industry successes, failures, perspectives, and predictions. Leveraging your leadership team’s existing expertise into compelling copy is an effective way to add heft and authority to your content strategy.

An experienced leg up: the benefits of thought leadership

Content that pulls from your team’s experience stands to boost your messaging in the long run. Overlook thought leadership in your marketing mix, and you overlook the following perks.

Providing authenticity

Today’s audiences can spot a hack a mile away. Brands that churn out advice and recommendations without establishing their authority in the space risk sounding hollow—a first-year economics student likely wouldn’t be your first choice for financial advice. Thought leadership gives your brand a way to show its credentials, bolstered by the expertise of your C-suite, while providing value to the reader in return. Insightful articles, bylined by your own executives, communicate transparency and accessibility that can help earn the trust of clients and stakeholders. Delivering consistent, knowledgeable, and well-articulated thought leadership is the best way to develop this type of deeply-rooted credibility.

Putting a face to your brand

Thought leadership can inject a dose of personality into your content, and into your brand as a whole. Your audience can gain business insights from any number of sources—but spotlighting your rock-climbing CFO in a piece about how finance can reach new heights gives your content a relevant hook. In a sea of competitors, you have the opportunity to be the company with distinguishable features and relatable stories. And customers always like knowing there are real people behind a brand.

Positioning your team as timely and tactical

Sharing best practices and first-hand experiences not only benefits other individuals and organizations in your industry, but it also demonstrates that your leadership is tackling current industry issues head-on with custom solutions. Thought leadership that highlights consumer pain points and provides solutions positions your company as the go-to source for advice and guidance within your industry. It also facilitates a more productive conversation in your field as a whole, creating the opportunity for other professionals to weigh in and contribute observations of their own.

Placing your content to access new audiences

Trust in traditional advertising is at an all-time low, which is one of the main reasons companies are making the shift to content marketing. Audiences have more confidence in earned and owned channels over conventional paid media, and thought leadership is a type of content that can be placed within credible online publications and shared among a new audience. By participating as thought leaders in these channels, executives are able to engage with prospects and clients, and their content can generate the organic traffic that can surface your brand in the marketplace.

A winning blend: integrating thought leadership into your content strategy

Whether you’ve experienced varied success with thought leadership in the past, or are taking a step in a new content direction, there are several rules of thumb to keep in mind as you press further into the thought leadership space.

Use who you have

While it’s always an option to source a thought leader from outside your organization, don’t overlook the strengths your team already has. When building your initial thought leadership content plan, look for team members who are already interested in sharing their knowledge. Perhaps you have business leaders who speak at conferences or teach at universities—they’ll be poised to provide similarly-relevant insights to your content initiatives. If that’s not the case—or if your senior staff needs convincing—team leads and mid-level managers likely have area expertise that would be extremely valuable to the right reader. Once you have some examples and wins, you can begin to earn participation buy-in from other members of your team.

Avoid the hard sell

Thought leadership topics should relate closely to your brand goals and tie into the services you offer, but they shouldn’t directly promote your products. Consider what types of high-level advice your clients seek from your team, and what kinds of problems your products and services solve for them, then focus on those issues. Leave the sales-heavy stories at home—it’s very possible for excellent thought leadership to go out into the world without ever mentioning the name of the sponsoring company. Thought leadership needs to be authentic and genuine, and packed with valuable knowledge. Work closely with your executives and other authors to develop angles for their thought leadership pieces that tell an interesting story above all else.

Show your work

When you’ve landed on a story idea, be sure to establish authority on the topic. It’s important for executives to either deliver reliable research on the subject, or communicate the research they’ve already done. They can also speak from firsthand experience, as long as their perspectives are evidence-based and applicable in practice. For thought leadership to be successful, your executives need to present a depth of knowledge and point of view that is interesting and adds value—you can’t just regurgitate what’s been said before. Even if you are referencing previously published materials—as you should—be sure that your thought leader is providing unique context, analysis, and opinion.

Take the easy road

Coordinating busy schedules and getting C-suite face time can be a challenge when assembling a thought leadership piece. The luckiest marketers will have a leadership team that likes to write complete articles—and writes them well. But for most companies, this isn’t the case. Don’t be afraid to approach thought leadership strategically and take the most effective route to a finished product. If your thought leader doesn’t have the time to pen their own pieces, consider sending them prompts and assembling a Q&A-style story. Book an interview yourself and take notes, or hire a content partner to do the heavy lifting for you. Build on your executive’s ideas within existing time constraints. You’ll win them over by showing how little effort is required on their end to produce a great story based on their unique insights and ideas.

Unlike sales-focused content, which can be tracked and attributed in Google Analytics, it can be tough to measure the impact of thought leadership in terms of conversions. But supplementing your content marketing efforts with thought leadership will humanize your brand and establish a voice for your C-suite. It will also position your organization at the forefront of your industry, helping to differentiate you from your competitors. Effective thought leadership enables your organization to take on the role of a trusted advisor, so that when your readers are ready to book that consultation or make that purchase, your brand is already top of mind.

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