Thought Leadership Best Practices: How to Show Your Expertise

thought leadership research best practices
thought leadership research best practices

How much do your customers and colleagues trust you? If you haven’t thought about this question, then you should because it matters and impacts if they buy from you.

One of the best ways to gain trust and credibility is through thought leadership. By executing a thought leadership strategy, you can gain credibility and showcase your expertise.

So, how do you do it right? We decided to compile some of the most important thought leadership best practices from recent research and surveys.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Thought leadership is a content marketing approach that spotlights expertise to build credibility.
  • Thought leadership content includes three vital attributes: expert insights, influence, and a point of view.
  • Your organization can benefit from using thought leadership, including boosting traffic and lead generation efforts.
  • To reap these rewards, you’ll want to follow thought leadership best practices based on data, surveys, and research.

What Is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership describes an approach in content marketing that involves tapping into your internal talent, passion, and expertise to answer the most burning questions of your target audience, relative to a specific topic.

It’s not dependent on having a certain pedigree. You cannot call yourself a “thought leader” (or an “influencer,” for that matter). That’s a term you have to earn from others. And that comes from developing content that answers the questions your audience is asking.

Here’s a quick explainer of what thought leadership content marketing includes.

Is Thought Leadership Right for Your Brand?

Thought leadership can span across almost any industry, and companies big and small. In considering executing on thought leadership best practices, you should make the decision based on your ability to provide in-depth knowledge to your audience.

You should also consider your audiences’ key challenges and pain points.

Thought leadership content is based on answering questions and providing solutions, it’s not a place to hype your products or services. And it’s certainly not about talking about how great you are.

Thought leadership makes a lot of sense in most B2B content marketing scenarios, typically because the buying cycle is longer and may require multiple approvals. Building the relationship involves trust and respect. With the right thought leadership content, you can inspire these things.

What’s the Secret Recipe for Thought Leadership?

If you’re ready to start building a strategy, then you’ll need to consider several different aspects, which all are related to thought leadership best practices.

Expert Insights

What sets thought leadership content apart from other content marketing is that it includes expert insights, research, and data.

Or it involves the unique experience of the thought leadership content creator.

For your thought leadership content to have this quality, you’ll depend on:

  • Original research (i.e., surveys, polls, and other data gathering that you do)
  • Innovative ideas (i.e., new concepts for an old problem, patents, novel ideas)
  • Subject matter experts (SMEs): compiling the thoughts and ideas of others can be an effective form of thought leadership

Becoming Influential

Another unique aspect of thought leadership content marketing is that it can be two-fold. Your personal brand can considered a thought leader, and your subject matter experts can be as well.

I recommend building both because each is a reflection on one another. The true leader relies on the insights and experience of others. Thought leadership is not the outward content created by an ego maniac!

And titles aren’t as important as we might think. In the 2020 Thought Leadership Research Report, 68% of respondents said they consider thought leaders to be experts in the field.

Who counts as a thought leader

The report also reveals that thought leaders don’t have to be high-profile. For audiences to be persuaded by their content, they think it should be educational, drive action, use data, say something new, and cause discussion.

To become influential, your brand and SMEs should create a presence online through social media and other channels, such as being quoted in industry articles or presenting at conferences.

Having a Strong Point of View

This last attribute is tricky because it’s what keeps organizations from being all-in on thought leadership. Believing you must have a unique point of view in every piece of content will just cause delays. You don’t need to search for something that is completely original or never been said before.

It is great to have an angle, but my advice is don’t get too caught up in it. Instead, be consistent in your output of authoritative content. Your audience is more interested in your motives and purpose than in how “different” your perspective is. And they need to know that the motivation is aligned with their needs.

The Benefits of Thought Leadership

So, why put all this time into building thought leadership content? Will it really provide gains and advantages?

Most content marketers are prioritizing this type of content because they’ve seen the benefits.

In the Thought Leadership research report, marketers said thought leadership improved website traffic, lead generation, media mentions, email subscribers, customer relationships, and backlinks.

how are marketers benefiting from thought leadership

Why does it help you perform so well in these categories? It all comes back to credibility. If your thought leadership content has the above attributes, people will consume it.

Some additional thought leadership research:

According to a thought leadership study by LinkedIn, 58%of buyers read one or more hours of thought leadership each week. And 53% use it to vet a potential provider of solutions.

Additional research supports the theory that thought leadership is responsible for revenue generation. The 2019 Thought Leadership Impact Study found that 55% of buyers bought more than one product due to thought leadership.

Additionally, 60% of executives said they purchased a new product or solution they had never considered after interacting with thought leadership content.

So, how can you realize these same benefits? Let’s dive into thought leadership best practices.

Thought Leadership Best Practices to Master Branding

When it comes to becoming a top thought leader in your industry, there are many pieces you need in place for it to have a meaningful and lasting impact.

Know Your Audience Now and Stay Updated

To deliver the content that answers the big questions, you need to understand your audience deeply. You need to know what their challenges are, as well as what motivates them. You should have well-developed buyer personas that include demographics, their preferences, and what matters to them.

Keep in mind that buyers will change as internal or external circumstances arise. When anything disrupts their industry or the world at large, it will cause them to shift priorities. When things occur, you need to revisit your buyer personas.

Looking to understand what are the biggest questions your audience is asking? Here are my favorite thought leadership research  tools and tips.

Be Consistent on Social Media

This thought leadership best practice is applicable to your corporate blog as well as to individual posts from your aspiring thought leaders.

On social media sites, you have the opportunity to build a community by sharing more than just your own content.

Brands can also use their official social media platforms to showcase their internal teams’ expertise, including when they present at events, get mentioned in the press, or are part of an industry group.

For the individual thought leader, the profile should not only post content that lives on your website that they were involved in but also use LinkedIn publishing to post their own versions of content. This is important for two reasons:

  1. It creates a backlink to your site from a high-authority website.
  2. It expands the reach of your content because a thought leader may have different connections and followers than your brand pages.

Individual SMEs should also use their social media profiles to comment on other stories relaying some examples or past experiences for context.

One good way to engage on social media is to pose questions about topics that are buzzing in the industry. These approaches turn social media into a two-way conversation.

Another format that brands and individuals can use is video. Video is, of course, one of the most popular types of content. It doesn’t have to look like it came from a movie studio.

Instead, with the right lighting and a simple smartphone camera, you can create short videos that star your SMEs. They can talk about specific events that are impacting the industry or simply share some perspective on a situation.

Videos can be very powerful in thought leadership, driving deeper connections. (Between us, I struggle with this one.) Someone who us doing a great job with this is my friend Marcus Sheridan on Linkedin.

Get Your Thought Leaders Seen and Heard

Your SMEs have a lot of expertise to share, so it’s vital to get them exposed. You can do this in several ways:

  • Get active in associations: Most thought leaders have membership in industry associations, so they should make use of it. This includes being active in local chapters or serving on committees. Your thought leaders will begin to grow new relationships and be further revered.
  • Submit proposals for speaking: If you want to get the attention of your audience at a trade show (when they return), you’ll have more luck hosting a presentation than standing in a booth. The key is what you submit to present. It should be a topic that your thought leaders have extensive experience and, if possible, one that you have internal research to support. Surveying your field on a topic and developing a report based on this will be well received.
  • Guest star on webinars and podcasts: Your SMEs will make perfect guests for your webinar or a partner’s. They’ll be there to offer their expert opinion. Podcasts are another vehicle for getting heard. Check into the podcasts that are relevant to your audience and connect with those hosts.
  • Make connections in the media: No matter what field you are in, there are likely many niche publications that cover it. Find ways for your SME to network with these journalists so when they need a quote from an expert, they’ll reach out. You can also pitch stories to journalists on platforms like Haro and JournoRequests.
  • Look for guest blogging opportunities: Look for opportunities to submit original content that names your SME as the author in guest blogging. Possible outlets are industry publications, partners, and even customers. Here’s an example of my attempt at finding time to guest blog at G2 and CMI.

Make Sure Your Team Is on the Same Page

In the B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study noted earlier, there were also some surprising results about alignment. Only 39% of sales professionals believed that thought leadership attracts new leads.

producers and sellers undervalue sales impact

That’s despite the number of buyers and executives who cited it as important. It’s evident that thought leadership affects buying decisions, so it’s imperative to get content marketing buy-in from your team.

Everyone that is involved in your thought leadership strategy – leadership, SMEs, content marketers, and sales – should all be apprised of the impact of thought leadership on positive returns. Having a solid strategy in place that outlines how you’ll execute on the best practices keeps everyone in the loop.

As you continue to produce thought leadership content, you’ll also generate more data on its returns. Sharing this with stakeholders will let them know how effective the strategy is and what formats resonate the most with your audience. For example, if your short video pieces are seeing high engagement, then work on a new series of those.

Identify Thought Leadership as a Spoke of Marketing Transformation

Thought leadership has a role in marketing transformation. Content is the fuel for your marketing transformation, and thought leadership is a critical aspect of it. As your business evolves and begins to transform, thought leadership will be crucial here as it’s a building block of your brand’s voice. As it has nothing to do with self-promotion, it’s facilitating that transformation from being feature-specific to being benefit-specific.

To ensure there is a connection to thought leadership and marketing transformation, establish it as a goal for your strategy to evolve. This guarantees it will also be a guiding principle for how you’ll bolster your relationships with customers.

Get Started with High-Quality Content

It takes considerable time and effort to put out thought leadership content consistently. You may not have the resources to meet your content objectives. You don’t have to go it alone. Tap our team of expert content marketers to build a program for you.

If you are ready to get more traffic to your site with quality content published consistently, check out our Content Builder Service.

Set up a quick consultation, and I’ll send you a free PDF version of my books. Get started today – and generate more traffic and leads for your business.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.