When I talk to marketing managers and they tell me…

We want to build authority in our industry

We want to be the go-to resource for everything related to {insert industry topic} 

… I immediately know what they’re really asking for is thought leadership content.

They want to be seen. They want to be respected. 

They want their brand to be known as #1 in their industry.

All good desires; you (and I) have them, too. 

It’s why I’m writing this article. I have something to say, and I’m saying it. And it gets me everything I’ve listed above: visibility, authority, etc.

This is how to build a thought leadership position in your industry: publish uniquely helpful, thought-provoking content — and do it with consistency.

And all that content you create is what we call “thought leadership content. But let’s put a proper definition to it: 

What, really, is thought leadership content?

As the term implies, thought leadership content is any material you use to share your thoughts on issues/topics that are important to your target audience and your industry — with the aim of building your brand as an industry thought leader at the same time.

Essentially, to be a thought leader is to have thoughts, opinions, ideas (content) that place you in a leadership position.

This type of content almost always spawns from having deep experience in your industry. The more relevant industry experience you have, the more leadership your content can exude.  

Add some content creation skills + consistency to your industry experience, and you’re well on your way to turning your brand (and/or yourself) into a thought leader.

Thought leadership is built with industry experience, consistency, and content creation

(Author’s note: I’ve invited Sam Kuehnle from Refine Labs and Ran Yosef from Graduway to come share their experience with this topic, so you’ll see their contributions as you read on).

Here’s Ran’s definition of thought leadership content:

At the core level, thought leadership content amplifies a brand’s differentiated point of view. And when it comes from employees, sharing their unique perspectives via the company’s blog, posting consistently on LinkedIn, live videos, and contributing their very own opinions on the company’s podcast — this is where the magic happens.

“IMO, the more you encourage thought leadership from within, the more successful you’ll be in building a powerful brand and establishing your presence as a niche authority.”

Sam puts another simple but fine definition to thought leadership content:

Easily accessible content that adds value to your ICP or network.”

Where to get solid ideas for thought leadership content

There are several sources you can look to find solid ideas for thought leadership content, but I’ll share the three major sources I found:

Content idea source #1: Your unique industry experience

If you have several years of experience in your industry, you have a special advantage here. 

You’ve known your audience for years. And in those many years, you’ve experienced a lot of nuances. You’ve seen trends rise and fall. You know what works and what doesn’t.

All that experience arms you with tremendous opportunities to be a thought leader. You have a bank of knowledge you can tap into to create and publish thought leadership content consistently.

For example, in his recent article about hiring a head of growth, startup investor Andrew Chen talks about how it’s been a decade since the term, “Growth Teams,” has become so popular in the startup world. 

He added how he saw the trend start from folks in companies like Facebook, Uber, LinkedIn, and so on. Andrew has been in the industry for so long — so he knows what he’s talking about. This is the sort of years of experience I’m referring to here that helps you build thought leadership. 

Andre Chen's example of thought leadership content

Andrew’s drawing from his wealth of industry experience to talk about issues important to his audience. 

And by sharing how he’s seen a trend take off over a 10-year period, he’s showing he’s a veteran while providing tremendous value to his audience. 

When I asked Sam and Ran how their unique experiences in the marketing industry influence their thought leadership content creation efforts, here’s what they said:

Ran:

Definitely! The more experiences I gather along the way, the more thought leadership content I can create.

“What I love to do, though, is not just present a problem in my content, but also share the potential solution. And this, I think, helps me establish myself as a thought leader within my domain. That’s what thought leadership is all about — creating value and ask nothing in return. It’s about your own unique perspective, your voice, talking about real problems and giving real value by showing how to solve these common challenges a group of people have.

“Your opinions must be realistic and actionable, otherwise you’ll just be another voice lost in a crowd.

Here’s Sam’s opinion on how his experience has influenced his thought leadership content:

The thought leadership content that I share stems entirely from my experiences. I share the things I’ve learned from both successes and failures, and how others can apply those insights to their current roles.

Another significant source of thought leadership ideas is big conversations happening in your industry — which leads to my next point.

Content idea source #2: Big conversations happening in your industry

There’s always at least one big conversation happening in your industry. You just have to be around long enough to notice them.

And sometimes, it doesn’t even take that long to spot them.

Why is it important to find big conversations, you ask? Because those are the conversations your target customers want to have right now.

And when you join in on those conversations with your unique thoughts (whether contrarian or not), you get noticed — provided you’re sharing something really valuable. It’s an age-old tactic to build thought leadership, but still effective today.

So how do you find those big conversations? Go to channels where your target audience is having conversations every day and see what they’re talking about the most.

For example, as a content marketing consultant, I know my potential customers (marketing/growth/content managers) are almost always talking about thought leadership. 

I know this because I see how they rave about it everywhere: 

a post about thought leadership on LinkedIn

(Notice the number of comments as well)

They’re always talking about it on Twitter, too — pouring their hearts out about what they think thought leadership should or shouldn’t be; here’s Klaviyo’s content strategy director Tracey Wallace weighing in on the topic…

a tweet about thought leadership

More industry people talking about it…

On top of all that, there are 27,000 searches on Google for content on this topic every single month (data from Ahrefs).

There, I have all the proof I need; thought leadership is a big conversation among my potential clients — and sharing my unique thoughts about it (as I’m doing here) does my business a lot of good, especially when I’ve got quite a lot to say about it.

Bottom line here is: big conversations in your industry are a gold mine for thought leadership content ideas. Find the biggest topics your audience is talking about on any platform and weigh in on them. Your opinions on those conversations get you the opportunity to build thought leadership.

Sam shared where he typically gets his content ideas from: 

Many of my ideas come from my peers and clients. Whether it’s conversations with teammates, discussions on LinkedIn, meetings with clients, or listening to podcasts, those are the times when I’m doing the most thinking.

Ran says he gets his best content ideas from sales calls, LinkedIn, and industry podcasts:

​​Sales calls.
It’s no secret you can get the best content ideas by just listening to Sales calls. The insights you can pull out and the things that your customers are saying in most cases turn out to be GOLD. 

LinkedIn.
I get lots of great ideas from LI, from industry leaders, my community, and some great brands I follow.

Industry-related podcasts.
Podcasts are great, no doubt about that. The one thing that makes them best for me is the fact that I can listen to genuine opinions of interesting people, from different companies.

Next, I’m sharing how to find good thought leadership content ideas from recent reports created by industry leaders.

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Content idea source #3: Recent reports by reputable industry leaders

Reports are a goldmine for fresh content ideas.

They show you what new trends are forming in any industry, new best practices stakeholders are working with, and so on.

All of which are great sources of ideas to fuel your thought-leadership-building efforts.

For example, at the end of 2021, McKinsey published a report that said 57% of surveyed executives cite cybersecurity as a relevant risk to using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

If you’re operating or marketing a cybersecurity business, this means many (if not most) of your potential customers are interested in learning about AI cybersecurity. 

They want to learn about how to protect themselves from cybersecurity risks that come with using AI to simplify their work processes.

So if you published a piece with a title like “An Expert’s Guide On AI Cybersecurity” — chances are high they’ll want to hear what you have to say.

Now, let’s dive into some steps to follow to create thought leadership content:

A step-by-step guide for creating thought leadership content

Five steps to follow to create thought leadership content:

Step 1: Draw from industry content & personal experience

The more content you consume, the more ideas you get; in fact, your IQ can increase by 20 points just from consuming good content.

This, of course, doesn’t mean “consume any garbage you come across,” but identify credible sources for high-value content in your industry and pay attention to those.

Ran puts it this way:

I found it easier for me to develop my own unique content when I’m reading 2-3 high-quality pieces of content on a weekly basis rather than reading 10 pieces of content.

For instance, in my industry (content marketing and SEO), there are experts I follow and blogs like Content Marketing Institute, the Ahrefs blog, etc.

I don’t read them every day, but when I do, they expose my mind to fresh ideas.

But Sam shared a major caveat here: consuming content isn’t the only factor that gets you relevant ideas to share; you have to mix your content consumption with real-world experience before you can share content that builds thought leadership. Here’s how he puts it:

Just because you consume doesn’t mean you understand. I could consume tons of medical books, but I wouldn’t be qualified to operate on someone just because of that.

“Similarly, just because you listen to podcasts about B2B software, that doesn’t mean you’re ready to lead a strategy for a company. Experience is invaluable. You can only get so much from “theory” before you have to scrape your knees and learn “in practice”

Bottom line here is: identify the good podcasts, blogs, resources, etc. in your industry and consume their content as much as possible. It’ll expose you to relevant ideas you can use to create content and build thought leadership. 

But as Sam pointed out, you also need to have personal experiences and be qualified to write about any topic you want to talk about, which leads to my next point.

Step 2: Identify topics you’re qualified to talk about

As you’re consuming content & digging through personal experiences, one thing you’ll likely notice is how easy ideas will flow to you.

But you don’t just want to pick random ideas that come to mind and spend time and money creating content on them; you want to do three things here:

  1. Pick ideas you’re passionate about or have experience with — so you can form unique, thoughtful opinions about them.
  2. At the same time, pick ideas that are closely related to your brand or product/service — just so your thought leadership content helps to impact revenue.
  3. Make sure your audience is interested in the topic(s) you’re choosing

For example, take Drift’s CMO Katie Foote.

Katie has been leading marketing teams for about 11 years, according to her LinkedIn profile.

And over time, she’s created a process for building revenue pipelines (which is a big conversation among Drift’s target customers — marketers and salespeople).

In this article, Katie shares her unique playbook, showing her audience how she typically builds a pipeline that generates $500M+ in revenue.

It’s a topic she’s 100% qualified to talk about, and that’s why the article oozes so much experience and expertise; she talked about how “Generating pipeline is never an accident. What I’ve learned over the years is that the best companies stick to a unique framework to ensure the success of their business.”

You only get to make statements like this when you’re addressing topics you have experience with or are passionate about. 

And see how the three steps I shared earlier come into play in Katie’s article? 

First, Katie is writing about something she’s got years of experience with; this helped her form unique opinions about the topic she’s addressing. Second, she’s writing about something that’s closely related to her product (Drift helps marketers and salespeople build revenue pipelines). Third, the topic is one her audience is super interested in.

This way, she’s identified a topic she has years of experience with, identified a unique angle to add, and she’s using all that to build thought leadership.

Step #3: Share content about your unique opinions

It’s easy to consume other people’s content and just regurgitate the ideas you see.

You read X… you publish the same X… you don’t have to think about anything groundbreaking… walk in the park. It’s super easy.

But what truly sets your brand apart and helps you build thought leadership is your own unique ideas. You have your unique experiences, tone, ideas, approach to work, education, and so on.

All that sets you (and your brand) apart from the crowd.

Case in point: Katie, from my previous example, has a unique idea on the topic, “generating revenue pipeline,” that she calls 3 P’s.

It’s her unique angle/approach to the popular topic. Her audience will read that and attach this idea to her. They’ll likely also remember Drift for it.

Plus, sharing your own unique angles like this means you’re embracing creativity — and being creative has proven to increase marketing ROI by a landslide.

This is how you build thought leadership — bringing your unique or original ideas to big conversations happening in your industry, so you don’t sound like anyone else. 

Even if you’re going to say something similar to what other people have said before, your style will still be unique. 

I asked Ran and Sam, “How important do you think it is to create your unique angles on popular topics you write about? And how do you typically make sure you’re sharing unique ideas and not rehashed ones from other people’s content?”

Their responses:

Sam:

If you’re only echoing others and not adding your own POV (point of view) to items (topics), you might as well just re-share those posts and leave it at that. Creating your own unique angles is where you internalize what you’re learning and figure out how those topics do (or don’t) translate to your company.

Ran:

Authenticity is highly valued in today’s world. 

“There are many ‘Gurus,’ ‘Advisors,’ ‘Ninjas,’ and ‘Experts’ out there that are basically re-sharing other people’s posts/opinions, but people who are experienced enough can spot that those opinions are not original — and that can be a red flag.

“With time, I’ve realized that the best content I can come up with is the type of content (not topic) that no one talks about, or talks about, but are not giving CLEAR guidelines on the HOW.

Step #4: Select your execution partners

If you’re doing thought leadership just for your personal brand, you may go at it alone and succeed at it.

But if you’re doing it for a company, your thought leadership strategy would mostly need a team to execute it. For instance, this is the team structure Rennie (my partner) and I set up for each of our clients here at Premium Content Shop:

  • Chief thought leader [usually a subject matter expert (SME)]
  • Content strategist [usually a (content) marketing manager]
  • Content creator(s) [writers and designers]
  • Editor(s) [copy editors and proofreaders]

Let’s break these roles down for clarity:

  • Chief thought leader: this is usually a subject matter expert on my client’s team who leads the thoughts/ideas/opinions coming out of their brand. They typically have years of experience in their industry, are passionate about it, and have expert opinions on varying issues in the industry.
  • Content strategist: this is either me or someone on my clients’ team. They will identify goals, set up channel-specific content calendars, hire writers (content creators), set up distribution strategies, determine the relevant metrics to track success, coordinate all team efforts to achieve set goals, and prepare reports to show results.
  • Content creators: I’ll collaborate with your chief thought leaders (subject matter experts) to learn from their experiences and create educational content that resonates with your audience and promotes your brand’s unique points of view.
  • Editors: Our professional editors will review and edit the content to make sure all our content creators have communicated our client’s ideas clearly and maintained our quality standards for our thought leadership content. Basically, they make sure our content is flawless enough to go live.

Step #5: Monitor results; identify what does or doesn’t work

If you’re like most marketers, you’re not doing thought leadership just because you feel it’s a gracious gesture. No, you’re doing it to get specific results.

You’d typically kick off by creating a content marketing strategy, which would then have a thought leadership strategy within it.

So if you’ve designed your content marketing strategy to drive specific results, your thought leadership content should do the same.

Which metrics should you monitor for thought leadership?

  • Traffic, 
  • Average time on content page, and 
  • Qualified inbound leads. 

Tracking these three metrics will typically give you a clear picture of how you’re doing thought leadership-wise.

Once you start seeing an increase:

  • in traffic,
  • time visitors are spending consuming your content, and
  • inbound leads

… then you know your thought leadership marketing strategy is working.

However, one important thing to know here is, thought leadership is a long-term play. But it can also drive short-term results. 

For example, when you publish a piece of thought leadership content and share it through paid and owned channels (email list, social platforms, etc.), you can get quick spikes in traffic and leads — depending on the relevance and quality of content.

Longer-term results are what you get when you start to see a consistent number of visits or leads per day/week/month. At this stage, you’re not experiencing irregular spikes anymore, you’re now getting consistent results.

Ran and Sam also shared what they typically use to measure results:

Ran:

The first thing that comes to my mind is: How does it influence revenue?

“But obviously, there’s a list of metrics I like looking at when measuring thought leadership efforts like:

Number of company followers (LI company pages)

Number of followers after publishing thought leadership content

Number of website visits came from thought leadership content source

Number of demo requests (MQLs) came from thought leadership content source

Number of DMs (relevant conversations) coming from thought leadership content source

The number of branded queries in Google search.

Social mentions for your brand / personal brand.

Sam:

I monitor things like:

Engagement from the people I want to be engaging with. 

Are they adding to the conversation? 

Are they agreeing/disagreeing? 

“Is it being shared with marketing leaders of companies?

Now, let’s see some great examples of thought leadership content.

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Thought leadership content examples

Here are a few examples of great thought leadership content I’ve found:

Intercom

Key lessons from Intercom’s thought leadership content marketing

  • Have a central message you want to be known for (in intercom’s case, it’s customer support and experience)
  • Bring only experts to create or contribute to your content
  • Prioritize thought leadership content but also optimize for the search channel 

Drift

Key lessons from Drift’s thought leadership content marketing:

  • Content focused on pain points of ideal customers
  • Showcase your in-house Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) as credible authors
  • Use visuals (videos and infographics) to reinforce your content

Sales Hacker

Key lessons from Sales Hacker’s thought leadership content marketing

  • Build a community where thought leaders can have conversations with each other
  • Have a podcast and use that to publish valuable content
  • (If possible) Allow comments on your content to encourage conversations

Wrapping up

Building authority in any industry requires experience, consistency, and content marketing know-how. Get these three things in place and you’re good to good. 

And if you’d need help with planning and creating thought leadership content, see how I can do it for you.