Are you on a quest to find a clear and actionable Thought Leadership content guide?
After reading so many blogs, your head is just unable to make any concrete definition of it?
I’m no psychic, but I’ve been there too. Actually, this was a challenge for my entire team, since we weren’t capable of reaching common ground.
It was often confused with quality content, editorial-only content, ABM strategies, case studies: Each one had their own work to prioritize or results to achieve, and even other concepts that simply made it harder to co-create something new and tailored to our brand.
Now that we’ve finally done it, I want to share with you the process that helped us come to our definition. And remember, the focus here is the process, this long and detailed path, not the final product.
I say that because what fits Rock Content may not fit your company in the exact same way.
You will understand why.
A Thought Leader brand is one that recognizes and shows its individuality and, due to that, is able to create valuable knowledge for its audience, not just copy it.
It means being distinguishable from others due to a strong and almost personal perspective of reality, a vision of what the brand stands for, and that is closely related to the brand’s narrative — it is actually the core of that narrative.
That vision generates specific opinions and points of view (knowledge) that are unique. If that is valuable to the audience and market itself, then your brand becomes a pioneer, an authority — a Thought Leader.
I came to this conclusion after reading a lot on the subject, but also combining it with brand building lessons (big thanks to Giuseppe Caltabiano) and this spectacular Jam Session we had with him and Andy Raskin, about strategic narrative — it was a true game-changer for me.
With that in mind, it is now easier to understand the content’s role inside this whole new concept.
Thought Leadership content is the strategy brands use to share that valuable knowledge (again, a product of the brand’s individuality) with the world.
Our own case study on how to generate leads without using ads is Thought Leadership content.
It talks about our own experience, it’s backed with data, and supports our vision that Content Experience is the go-to strategy to generate sustainable growth, an opinion we’ve been following since day one and always applied to our business.
This is our truth and how we were able to be successful in staying coherent with it.
Thought Leadership content needs to present that vision, even when we’re not talking specifically about us.
Remember: our narrative is beyond us, it’s about the best for our audience, and we are the ones that can help them achieve it.
Although the case study is a great example, it is still important to understand that Thought Leadership content doesn’t get noticed by itself.
For the idea to gain traction and attention, we need to put effort into promoting it and creating related memories of it across time, as part of a long-term strategy — just like brand building needs it to be, otherwise it will be only an activation piece.
That way, each and every piece of TL content needs to have a plan for its promotion and we should give it a reasonable time. A good starting point for larger projects is periodic launches.
We did that for many years for our Portuguese and Spanish speaking audiences when publishing complete researches on Content Marketing, Digital Marketing, Freelance work, and even with our Rock Content Magazine.
That periodic characteristic, combined with quality content and data, made people familiar and excited for future launches. It works like magic, but it takes time and a lot of commitment.
This LinkedIn piece on Thought Leadership content, a really good one, gives Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report as an example of it. And it’s very difficult to find a single soul in this industry that has never seen it or heard about it before.
Another approach is to connect different smaller TL pieces to the same core theme and use them as the same campaign, or even just launch the content and keep promoting it frequently.
That is also very common, but you and your team will need to be very aligned to make it effective.
Summing up: TL content is valuable knowledge, a product of the brand’s individuality, and it needs to be strategically shared with the industry.
I almost forgot, from that definition we forged, that Thought Leadership content is not a type of content and shouldn’t be restricted to it. The same with size.
This made everything clearer and we stopped trying to fit it into the common “boxes” we were used to as content editors.
We also defined a few guiding principles that are actually the essence of our strategy and should always be fresh in our minds when producing and proofreading TL content.
To help you never settle for less than that, here is a motivational stat: 38% of decision-makers say that poor Thought Leadership has decreased their respect and admiration for an organization.
As said, usually brands do TL content with brand building in mind. This is the common path since the idea is to create memorable pieces that will help your brand grow.
When not promoted correctly and without paying attention to creating something memorable, it will probably become another activation piece.
To Rock Content, we chose the first path — focusing on brand building. But it doesn’t mean that the piece can’t have activation elements, it just isn’t the main focus.
That will reverberate in the metrics we will use. Focusing more on traffic, mentions, rather than on conversion numbers.
In order to research topics to create our agenda, we did this:
When a theme is chosen, there are several approaches you can take and they will help you extract the juice from it, its essence and, after a serious thinking session (guided by the topics mentioned before), you will have created something valuable and not just copied from a bunch of other sites.
A good approach is:
Start with a small question, or punctual event, analyze it and bring it to a bigger picture.
This can be made thinking of what’s the essence/cause of that event. e.g. the fact that FB changed its privacy policies is a sign that X is happening. Or its impacts: XX IPO will impact the industry because……).
With this way of thinking and analyzing a situation, you can either go back and do a causal analysis (diagnostic analysis) or go forward and do predictive analysis.
Usually, a predictive analysis first needs a diagnostic analysis, but you can choose what your focus will be for that exact piece of content.
This approach will work very well when producing different types of content, such as opinion pieces, market analysis, and even case studies.
You can also search for other creative/critical thinking or analysis techniques to help you bring unique ideas to life.
As said, there is no one exact type, but we surely found out that some were easier to produce and would have a bigger impact on our market.
We decided to start with these 5 different types:
In this type of content, counter-narrative opinions work very well. To produce those, we need to reflect on common sense to see what is true and what is not, and find a “right way” that is related to our narrative.
It is like finding the “old way” and showing “our way, the new way”, as Raskin says.
For example: growing organically was only a counter-narrative opinion (and still is) for a lot of people.
It can be also a new approach to the same model/argument, something that has been “ignored” or just needs more attention.
These subjects can also be related to a trend or a hot topic relevant to our audience, but it needs to have a timeless value.
The authors should, preferably, be people from the company itself who dominate the proposed subject.
Apart from being written by the author himself, another way to develop this category of content is through interviews. From an interview with the author, the opinionated text is developed.
It can be a personal narrative — our own case or someone from the company — or a customer’s story.
The idea here is to share a story where we learned something or achieved a goal when using a strategy/method/mindset that resonates with our narrative.
It should also be very empirical and show those results and really focus on the storytelling, where we have a great chance to connect with the reader.
This usually starts with analyzing a company or a sector in depth, doing a diagnosis of its current state, asking questions like:
Just like every TL content piece, this will need to relate to our brand’s narrative somehow.
We also had good results by producing content on how a specific sector (one that was the focus of our ABM strategy) was using Content Marketing and what it meant in terms of branding to a couple of huge brands in that market.
Beyond having a great impact at that time, it also brought us a lot of customers who were interested in being as successful as their competitors.
This can be made by performing complete interviews (those that follow the ping-pong style), use parts of different interviews to create content, or even enriching the content and give a weight of evidence from an expert on the subject.
The interview can be about the person’s trajectory, their business, something they are experts on, and on which they will be able to provide valuable tips.
To interview someone, the most common ways are:
With the transcript in hand, an editor must clean the text so that it is presentable for reading and ready for publication — highlighting the most important parts of it.
Data Storytelling is one of the best ways to create new knowledge that will benefit our audience.
We can do that by gathering data from our own historical strategies, from customers (if possible), from the audience itself (like we did with reports), from partners, and more.
Is important to be credible, to use methods that work, and are “scientific” (remembering the mantra: correlation does not equal causation).
Someone that does a great job with it is Cyrus Shepard, from Moz.
Here, we are considering the look and feel of the TL content piece — its design, the title, and everything that works to make the experience more interesting.
If you have an incredible blog design that is perfect for your message, great — but don’t stop there.
Thought Leadership content should have tailored visuals that are valuable and help to highlight concepts and important information.
They also should have interaction points, such as quick polls, calculators, and infographics that are able to immerse the reader.
When thinking about larger campaigns, such as a report, we can go even further on that, creating a special identity to it — used in every single content (blog, social, email).
A good example is what Microsoft has been doing on its “stories” page, where there are different visuals and audios and everything is personalized, they even flirt with a couple of interactions. Take a look at it here.
Titles should be creative, unique, and provoke emotions — we should go beyond SEO titles! Revolutionize those titles. H1 titles at least.
Think about the company’s branding, and add some distinctive assets to it. For us, rock music is vital to our culture, so adding subtle rock music elements can be a nice way to do that — getting their attention and even making them associate us with a nice, innovative idea.
Examples of good titles for us:
There is still a lot of space for more direct titles, as it is “not only your online events that have an engagement problem”. That is, you can change the way of creating a title.
As presented in the introduction, promotion is essential to TL content. We also know that a good performing promotion campaign depends on planning, time, and budget, a good amount of it
That said, we should follow a timeline to make everything possible:
You can also invest in partnerships to amplify that promotion.
This is a very basic plan. You should always brainstorm that with your team to define new ways to perfect our promotion — crazy ideas are always welcomed.
Our Rock Content Magazine was, until the pandemic, printed and delivered to our community. A lot of people thought we were crazy by going back to print, but it made sense and worked really well. We were innovative being retro.
Remember: create a plan to make those ideas famous!
To test if you’re TL content achieved its goal before going live, ask yourself and your team:
A month after it’s published or even in the next quarter:
If the answer is yes, you have true Thought Leadership content. Congrats, because that isn’t an easy task.
In the beginning, I said to focus on the process and its essence, because although I showed you how we do it, this is our perspective and even our definition.
I strongly advise you to use that only as a reference to create your own thoughts, definitions, questions and to begin to trial your own long road towards building a strategy.
Rock Content can help you search for the ideal content strategy for your company to become a thought leader in its segment. Talk to one of our consultants now to start growing your business!