The Expert’s Guide to Thought Leadership Marketing: Surprising Tips for Accelerating Your Visibility

Reading Time: 13 minutes

I ride my bike a lot. And since I live in the USA, this means being ultra careful about traffic, despite that I stay on our city’s neighborhood speed-limited greenways that are designed for multimodal transportation (so kick scooters, roller skaters, runners, cyclists, etc as well as vehicles)—roads are roads, which means that you never know what’s going to happen.

So, last year, I started researching how to make my bike rides safer. And I found out that there are a handful of back lights for bikes with built in radar. They detect when someone is behind you before you even hear them, the radar light will buzz your bike computer (a little gadget you mount on the front), and show you how far away they are in increasingly bright colors so you can be more aware of your environment. Cool, right?

What I discovered after I bought mine, however, is an even cooler feature: the closer the vehicle gets to you, the more erratic and random the blinking of the light is.

The Essential Guide to Thought Leadership Marketing

The philosophy with this is that we humans SEE irregular or unexpected things earlier and more often that things that are predictable.

If we accept the premise that we humans pay more attention to things that are unexpected than predictable (and I certainly do—this tracks with my very real experience), does is make more sense to shine brighter, bolder, and bigger than what’s expected?

I think it does.

The internet is noisy and chaotic, but it’s also a vast sea of sameness and predictability. If we want to connect with the right people, it makes a whole lot of sense to be like my erratically blinking light and catch our audience’s eye.

How do we catch the eye of our audience, becoming that erratically blinking, can’t miss bright shining light?

The easiest and more impactful method I know to stand out and become a category of one based on my 20+ years in marketing and communications is actually quite simple: Thought Leadership Marketing.

Has anyone ever called you a thought leader and wondered what on earth they mean? Or perhaps you’ve seen someone on LinkedIn confidently boast that they are a thought leader and you’ve quietly rolled your eyes and hidden their post? Or, have you kind of grown sick of the term altogether? 

“Thought leader” is a term tossed around a lot in business circles, and it often feels like it’s lost it’s meaning—but it’s still very relevant in today’s complex business landscape full of savvy clients who want to work with highly skilled subject matter experts. 

So, let’s set aside the baggage and overuse of the term and think about thought leadership differently and as a real business asset. This guide will provide you with the tools to create an effective thought leadership marketing strategy, without making anyone’s eyes roll—promise!

Additionally, you’ll walk away with belief in the power of authentic thought leadership and how you can use it as part of your personal brand development. Let’s dive in!

What is Thought Leadership Marketing?

Thought leadership marketing is a strategic approach that focuses on positioning you—a subject matter expert— as an original, authoritative voice within your field.

Keep those two words–original and authoritative—at top of mind as we dig deeper into thought leadership marketing. 

Thought leadership marketing is a strategic approach that focuses on positioning you—a subject matter expert— as an original, authoritative voice within your field.
Thought leadership marketing is strategic and purposeful.

Tactically speaking, thought leadership marketing involves creating and sharing high-quality, valuable, and original content to establish credibility, build trust, and influence. We go far beyond traditional marketing tactics by emphasizing thought-provoking insights, unique perspectives, and industry knowledge to engage and educate. 

Again, keep those words—engage and educate—with you on this thought leadership journey.

The Importance of Thought Leadership in Marketing

The data tells us that thought leadership is massively important in today’s competitive, noisy marketing landscape. 

For the best, high quality data about thought leadership, I look to Edelman’s annual thought leadership study

Here are some thought leadership statistics that are essential in understanding the impact of this business strategy:

  • 61% of decision-makers say “that an organization’s thought leadership can be moderately or a lot more effective at demonstrating the potential value of its products/services compared to traditional product-oriented marketing.” (Edelman 2022)
  • 50% of C-suite executives say “that high-quality thought leadership has more impact on their purchase decision-making during economic downturns than when times are good.” (Edelman 2022)
  • Approximately 4 in 10 Final Decision-Makers say there is more thought leadership content than they can manage or that the market is oversaturated with thought leadership content. (Edelman 2021)
  • 48% of decision makers want to see thought leadership include provocative ideas that challenge people’s assumptions. (Edelman 2022)

The numbers tell a clear story: decision makers want to see high quality insights that will steer their companies in the right direction—and trust the people who provide those insights, aka Thought Leaders like you. 

Thought Leadership Marketing Data Infographic

Text reads: 
61% of decision-makers say "that an organization’s thought leadership can be moderately or a lot more effective at demonstrating the potential value of its products/services compared to traditional product-oriented marketing." (Edelman 2022)

50% of C-suite executives say "that high-quality thought leadership has more impact on their purchase decision-making during economic downturns than when times are good." (Edelman 2022)

Approximately 4 in 10 Final Decision-Makers say there is more thought leadership content than they can manage or that the market is oversaturated with thought leadership content. (Edelman 2021)

48% of decision makers want to see thought leadership include provocative ideas that challenge people’s assumptions. (Edelman 2022)
The numbers don’t lie—thought leadership marketing is important to decision makers.

The we have the big issue with the Authority Gap. I’ve discussed the issue of the Authority Gap previously, but it bears repeating. 

Decision-makers over and over again say that very little of the thought leadership they find provides them with anything useful or insightful. And yet, these same decision-makers consider excellent thought leadership as contributing significantly to the value of a consultant’s services.

You absolutely can and should capitalize on this gap on with your own thought leadership marketing.

Long story longer, thought leadership plays a crucial role in marketing by differentiating you from the competition, creating a category of one by establishing trust with your audience, and growing visibility and your bottom line. It allows thought leaders like you to showcase your expertise, build a loyal following, and shape industry conversations. Thought leadership marketing also contributes to your brand visibility, reputation management, and customer retention, making it an essential component of a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Examples of Successful Thought Leadership Marketing

Examples of Thought Leadership Marketing
Examples of excellent thought leadership marketing are everywhere—once you start seeing them.

Despite it feeling a bit trendy at the moment, thought leadership as a marketing strategy is not new—it far predates the internet and online hot takes. Remember newspapers, zines, and—gasp!—printed books? These are all vehicles for thought leadership. But let’s examine a couple of contemporary cases of thought leadership so we have context about the potential of thought leadership marketing.

For example, look at the ubiquitous HubSpot, a marketing app. For years, they have implemented thought leadership content marketing by producing in-depth reports, industry benchmarks, and educational resources, positioning themselves as authoritative sources in the marketing and sales space. Try Googling just about anything about marketing and you’ll find HubSpot at the top of the Google rankings. 

But they’re not just writing to the search engine—not at all.

Remember our criteria for what makes authentic thought leadership? Original, authoritative, engaging, and educational? HubSpot does all of that. They create original research, monitor trends, and build authority with their audience through their content marketing. 

Or, for a small scale example of excellent thought leadership marketing, one of my favorite thought leaders in my world is Rochelle Moulton.

Rochelle is a consultant who specializes in helping solo consultants growth without building large teams, which she calls “the soloist revolution.” (I was recently on an episode of her Soloist Women podcast, by the way.) Whether it’s on a podcast, in her newsletter, or on her blog, everything Rochelle creates is laser focused on original, authoritative, engaging, and educational insights for her target audience: ambitious solo consultants who don’t want to grow firms. 

I’ve got many, many examples of successful thought leadership marketing in my back pocket, but I believe it’s useful to look at those two examples because they’re so different in scale, and yet equally effective. You think digital marketing tips, you think HubSpot; you think solo consulting business, you think Rochelle.

A massive company versus a solopreneur—the result is the same: Authority. 

Building a Thought Leadership Strategy

To create an impactful thought leadership marketing strategy, be sure to include the following key elements:

Step One: Identifying Your Niche and Angle

Understanding your unique strengths, knowledge, and experience is essential for establishing thought leadership. Your thought leadership niche can reveal itself in your case studiesframeworks and models, and in tools you use to do your work. What is it that your clients and colleagues know you for? Why is it different from anyone else’s approach? What are you contributing that changes your industry and surprises your colleagues. This is your niche.

If this is something that you’re still struggle with, that’s normal and okay, but it’s important to continue to reflect and refine until your niche and angle feels unshakeable and unbreakable. I recommend codifying it in a framework similar to what I’ve done with my Alignthority™ system (and this is a copyrightable and trademarkable asset, which adds to your business value if you choose to exit your business). 

Step Two: Addressing Your Target Audience

Knowing the needs, challenges, and interests of your ideal audience—the clients you can serve the best and who write you raving reviews and recommend you to all their colleagues—enables you to tailor your thought leadership content to meet them right where they’re at.

Our client Nequosha Anderson, an intellectual property attorney, shared just how important this audience clarity is for thought leaders—initially in her business, she addressed too much of a beginner audience and struggled to see a strong payoff in her content marketing. 

“It was either making content for people in the beginning [stages]. And not making enough content for the people in the beginning [at a] higher level. But [the] client avatar that lit me up was at the higher level, but yet everyone kept telling me, you need to have this educational content. And so my brain went to basics, but that’s not what I needed to do. I need to answer questions for my higher-level client.”

Ask these questions when developing your target audience profile for your thought leadership:

  1. Where are their knowledge gaps?
  2. What do they misunderstand about your field?
  3. How are they misstepping and what are the risks of that?
  4. How can you challenge their perceptions?
  5. What knowledge can you share that will build their trust? 

Step Three: Developing a Content Strategy

A well-defined content strategy defines your core content themes (in our Alignthority™ system, we call this “Commit to Content”) first and foremost. Our system recommends an initial three themes, with 3-5 strategic, purposefully-developed pieces of thought leadership content within each. 

The Alignthority™ System: Create Your Body of Work

Five intersecting circles with the words: engineer luck, commit to content, rethink resources, create, and Alignthority™ stacked together.
Content and creating a body of work is so important for thought leaders that it takes up a third of our Alignthority™ marketing system.

This can be grown, developed, tweaked, and enhanced over time, but this is a solid foundation for you to start with. The format can be written articles such as this one, podcast episodes, even a YouTube channel—leverage your marketing strengths so your thought leadership is confident and natural. 

Step Four: Leveraging Different Platforms for Thought Leadership

In our marketing system, we advocate for continual rethinking of resources in your marketing thought leadership. Too many thought leaders burn out because they continually create new thought leadership before leveraging what they’ve already created. We’ve discussed one strategy for creatively repurposing content this in-depth previously

When leveraging tools like social media, podcast guest appearances, events, speaking engagements, and other outreach efforts, I recommend focusing first on avenues that will allow you to reach new ears in that target niche versus speaking over and over to the same people—think expansively to grow your visibility as a thought leader. 

Establishing Thought Leadership

Once a thought leadership strategy is in place (because we’re not winging thought leadership—the most effectively thought leadership marketing is purposeful), it’s time for your focus to shift to establishing credibility and influence through the two mission critical tactical actions:

Create High-Quality, Valuable Content

Thought leaders should consistently produce content that offers unique perspectives, actionable insights, and solutions to meaningful challenges. That last phrase is doing a lot of heavy lifting, so let me explain. 

For example, we have a client who’s a web design agency. They have a deep belief that beautiful websites are useless unless they’re accessible to the users of those sites. This is meaningful to their target audience! It’s bold, and it’s industry-shifting. Too often, people are too timid about these meaningful challenges and water down their thought leadership marketing, rendering is ineffective. 

The exact cadence at which you should produce thought leadership content is not a formula. Instead, it depends on your industry, your own bandwidth, and where you’re at in your business journey. However, I like to see 1-2 longform pieces of thought leadership per month, and that supported by smaller content efforts (for example, on social media or speaking) each week, thought it’s highly platform dependent as reach varies so greatly. 

Engage with Industry Trends and Discussions

In your work, you’re likely already keeping youself up to speed on your industry and its rapid changes—it’s just part of the job. You can leverage this to build your authority as a thought leader quite easily—promise!

Don’t be shy about addressing problematic trends, participating in discussions, and offering informed opinions. The worst thing that can happen is someone is mean to you on the internet because they disagree with your informed thought leadership and you have to block them. Their loss!

Utilizing Public Speaking, Podcast Guest Appearances, and Event Opportunities

Put yourself out there! I know it’s scary. I know it’s uncomfortable. I’m an introvert and engaging with the pubic wears me out. However, if you keep your thought leadership to yourself, it won’t build your movement and you won’t have the impact you hope for.

Speaking at conferences, industry events, on podcasts, and webinars provides thought leaders like you to share their expertise, connect with an audience, and further establish your authority.

Thought Leadership Best Practices

Incorporating best practices into your thought leadership marketing efforts ensures a consistent and impactful approach to establishing authority and influence:

Be Brave: Being a true thought leader requires bravery. It's not easy to stick your hand up and say, "But I have a different idea." You're doing a big and brave thing—and that matters.
No one talks about how scary it can be to own your voice as a thought leader.

Be Brave

No one talks about how being a true thought leader requires bravery, and I want to take a moment to acknowledge this. It’s not easy to stick your hand up and say, “But I have a different idea.” It’s far more comfortable to fit in than it is to stand out. But you’re doing it anyway. 

When it gets scary, when it gets hard, remind yourself that you’re doing a big and brave thing—and that’s a big deal.

Be Consistent in Content Creation and Messaging

I know that consistency is hard. But I’d rather your frequency was lower than sporatic and inconsistent. Consistent content creation and leverage of thought leadership content across your marketing channels will maintain visibility and engagement with the audience. In short, they’ll remember who you are and what your message is.

Authenticity and Transparency in Communication

Authenticity fosters trust and credibility, while transparency in sharing insights and personal experiences resonates with your audience. Humans love to hear the stories of other humans—it helps them feel seen and ensures you’re heard. Don’t forget this.

Providing Unique Perspectives and Insights

Offering fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and thought-provoking insights distinguishes thought leaders from others in your industry and captures the audience’s attention. Remember what I said about originality? That does so much work in thought leadership marketing. 

Measuring and Analyzing Thought Leadership Impact

Ever feel like you’re screaming into the void? Me too!

The easiest way to know if you’re having an impact with your thought leadership marketing strategy is by regularly evaluating metrics such as engagement, reach, and influence—and then refine your strategies and optimize your thought leadership content for better results. 

Here’s what I track for my thought leadership marketing metrics:

  • References to verbiage from my Alignthority™ framework by others
  • Actions taken from my thought leadership content on my website
  • Clicks and engagements with specific thought leadership concepts in my newsletter
  • Actions taken after I make an appearance, such as on a podcast (for these I set up a special landing page for each podcast)
  • Aligned collaboration invitations

You can develop your own metrics for measuring the impact and effectiveness—keep it simple so you can quickly evaluate the results each month and adjust your approach as needed. 

Impact of Thought Leadership Marketing

I will die on the hill that thought leadership marketing has a profound impact on both the creator and everyone who experiences it. Too much in our modern world is same old, same old—different, creative, and galvanizing thought leadership is a breath of fresh air to an audience hungry for that which is true, meaningul, and distinctive. 

But let’s get down to brass tacks. What kind of results can you expect to realize when you lean into the power of thought leadership marketing in your content strategy? 

Building Brand Credibility and Trust

Thought leadership establishes credibility, expertise, and trust, positioning you as a reliable source of insights and fresh solutions. Brick by brick, you build unbreakable credibility. 

Attracting and Retaining Clients

By consistently providing those valuable insights and solutions, thought leaders attract new, aligned (this word is important—don’t forget it) clients and more easily retain clients who value your expertise and guidance.

Fostering Industry Recognition and Influence

Thought leadership efforts really pay off when they lead to increased recognition within your  industry, creating opportunities for collaborations, partnerships, and speaking engagements. These opportunities start flowing your way without much effort—like magic!

Overcoming Challenges in Thought Leadership Marketing

While thought leadership marketing offers a ton of incredible benefits, it also can feel challenging a sometimes. Here are some of the obstacles you’ll want to keep an eye out for: 

Establishing Credibility and Expertise Is a Longterm Job

Building a reputation as a thought leader requires consistent effort, quality content, and a demonstration of expertise to gain the trust of the audience. This doesn’t happen overnight. You need to shift your mindset to believe that this work will pay off, and keep track of when it does to motivate you to keep going. 

Balancing Your Personal Identity and Professional Brand

As a thought leader, it’s very easy for your professional brand to become your entire identity and that is the fast track to burnout and overwhelm. Maintaining a balance between your “human-ness” and promoting your thought leadership content while staying authentic and relatable is a challenge that thought leaders often face. I can’t tell you what the right balance is, but I urge you to listen to your gut when it feels like the balance is off and act on that feeling. You can’t make an impact if you’re burned out and overwhelmed. 

Handling Criticism and Negative Feedback

Real talk? People love to be mean on the internet.

Public visibility as a thought leader can lead to criticism and negative feedback, and sometimes those conversations will lead to something incredible. And sometimes, it’s best to just walk away from them.

My advice? Use that mute button to save your mental well-being and save your energy for conversations that matter. 

Key Takeaways About Thougth Leadership Marketing

  1. Thought leadership marketing is a powerful strategy to establish authority, influence, and trust.
  2. By creating valuable, insightful content, engaging with your audience, and consistently demonstrating expertise, thought leaders can make a significant impact on their reputation and business growth.
  3. Thought leadership marketing is not fast, but it does snowball, getting easier over time, so be patient and consistent.
  4. Content marketing strategy is the cornerstone of all thought leadership marketing. Be purposeful and thoughtful in how you approach it. 
  5. Stay laser-focused on your audience and don’t let a few challenges in your thought leadership strategy discourage you—this is completely normal and you’ll be able to overcome it.

Are you ready to leverage thought leadership in your marketing strategy? We specialize in helping consultants and CEOs boost their impact, own their voices, and grow their businesses. Reach out and learn more about how we can do that together, or read our latest Thought Leader Story to see that work in action.

Dig more deeply into thought leadership marketing in these featured articles.

Disclosure: Please note that some links on this website are affiliate links, which generates a small amount of revenue to support the free content we provide.

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