September 6, 2023
If you’ve lost count of how many times you've seen the term ‘thought leadership’ thrown around on LinkedIn, you’re not alone.
But what the f*ck does it actually mean?
A quick Google search will yield a wide range of definitions – Is it a person? A marketing tactic? A KPI? Bleh.
Thought leadership content presents groundbreaking ideas and strategies that can reshape industries. By offering invaluable insights on crafting quality online content, the works of digital marketing pioneer and content expert, Ann Handley, serve as great examples.
That said, creating thought leadership pieces in content marketing’s much easier said than done.
While many think good thought leadership requires depth of expertise, others argue it should mainly inspire critical thinking and kindle meaningful conversations. Malcolm Gladwell's work, for instance, stands out for its ability to challenge norms and provide readers with fresh perspectives.
Not everything labeled as ‘thought leadership’ truly meets the mark.
Many, for instance, mistake news recaps lacking depth or analysis as thought leadership posts. Similarly, content that focuses on promotion over genuine value is often viewed in the same light.
The term 'thought leadership' has stirred a lot of mixed feelings and interpretations. But we’ve had enough of the confusion. Given the wide range of views, we’re stepping in to bring clarity to the chaos.
So what really is thought leadership?
At Third Wall Creative, we believe thought leadership content is all about establishing credibility and authority in a specific field. How? By delivering deep insights. Sure, many can rehash the same old ideas, but true experts bring depth and uniqueness that’s tough to match.
Whether it's through research-backed content, explaining the "why" behind your actions, or sharing your approach to business success, thought leadership posts should offer personal takes and predictions about industry trends, issues, and events.
Apart from adding educational value, they should also spark debate and discussions. But you don’t have to accurately predict the future or give an absurdly controversial take. True thought leadership is about showcasing your unique insights and demonstrating your depth of expertise on the subject.
Positioning yourself as a thought leader will make you stand out in your industry, establishing you as a trusted voice and a go-to resource for your audience. This not only attracts potential customers, but also boosts brand awareness and strengthens customer loyalty.
But that’s only our opinion. Now that we’ve shed some light on the matter, let’s dive into what others think:
According to Dan, a good thought leadership post should possess certain qualities to effectively engage and educate readers.
“For me, there are four key considerations of a ‘good’ thought leadership piece. First, ensure it’s from someone credible in that field (i.e. not marketers sharing opinions on HR principles). Second, it should have a controversial stand with a strong headline. Third, it must share genuine first-hand experience. And lastly, it needs conviction, whether it aligns with or challenges conventional thinking.”
Dan also emphasizes that while a piece doesn't need to be outright controversial, it should offer a unique perspective compelling enough to capture the readers’ attention.
“When a thought leadership post encompasses all four key elements, it greatly increases your chance of gaining 'attention.’ That could mean driving shares, new leads and followers, and other metrics. But the goal shouldn’t be to go viral, but educating your existing audience.”
With over nine years in the startup industry, Dan has encountered a lot of thought leadership content. But 37Signals/Basecamp’s Shapeup resource remains his top pick.
“What I love about it is that it merges opinion-based leadership pieces into an epic online resource. It also covers many of the considerations I mentioned, including a good structure and visual elements that make the content engaging.”
In his article “F*ck Keywords. Write Barbecue Content,” Jason best-describes thought leadership as “barbecue content.”
“Barbecue content covers topics that your ideal client would talk about if they were at a barbecue with their colleagues. It’s interesting, current, value led topics that they actually want to know about,” says Jason.
Essentially, it’s about topics that spark engagement — something that elevates the group's energy rather than dampen the conversation.
“Imagine you’re at a barbecue… you want to bring up a topic that gets the party going. You want the group discussing, disagreeing, laughing, waving their hands around and generally just loving the vibe of the group who all understand why the topic in question is so interesting or polarizing. That’s barbecue content.”
While writers without deep experience in one specific field can tackle various topics, Ankit believes good thought-leadership articles should ideally be written by experts on the subject.
"Thought-leadership articles, in my opinion, are pieces written by the experts who have hands-on experience on the topic they're writing about. Yesterday, I was reading Ben Sailer's (Director of Inbound Marketing at Automattic) article on the CoSchedule blog. If someone else who doesn't have experience leading a marketing team would have written this article, it'd not be as impactful. Ben, however, has incorporated his personal experience naturally in this piece.”
According to Marc, thought leadership is important for technology companies because they are defining the future, and it's essential to take people along with them if they want commercial success. Many people, departments and organizations are perfectly content with the status quo when it comes to work. There is always a level of organizational inertia and resistance to change.
“For technology to be adopted successfully it has to overcome this inertia and instill a motivation for change. It has to instill a belief among lots of different audiences (middle managers, IT professionals, subject matter experts, C-suite) that technology offers a route to getting things done more quickly, with less fuss and better commercial results,” says Marc. “Only thought leadership content is going to be able to do that for you.”
While crafting impactful thought leadership content can be resource-intensive, its rewards are well worth the effort.
At Third Wall Creative, we believe that thought leadership is a crucial part of any content strategy. It helps establish your credibility as a brand so you can lead conversations in your respective industry.
We offer an end-to-end content marketing service that showcases your expertise. We’ll work with your team to bring your ideas to life by interviewing your executives, developing a strategy to meet your goals, and producing and distributing your content.
Want to learn more? Book a free content audit with us today!