These are some of the most commonly searched questions about “thought leadership”:

See also some of the most commonly asked questions about CEO blogging

What is thought leadership?

Thought leadership is respected expertise. You’re an expert and you’re known for it. When people think of the ‘experts’ in your space, your name is one that immediately come to mind.

It’s called thought leadership because of the implication that you shape the way that the industry thinks. You ‘lead’ the thinking about your area of expertise.

In the same way we talk about “thought leadership“, you can also think of it as “recognised expertise” or “industry leadership“.

For more detail, on what thought leadership is, see Why thought leadership?

What is thought leadership marketing?

Thought leadership marketing is a marketing strategy focused on building recognition of an individual as the leading expert in a specific market segment.

Thought leadership as a marketing strategy does two things:

  • Establishes front-of-mind awareness
  • Builds trust in your expertise and ability to deliver

Thought leadership as a marketing strategy works most effectively in market segments where it’s difficult to understand the specific quality of the product or service before it has been delivered.

Typically this means thought leadership is most effective with relatively high price points and a substantial amount of customisation for each customer. Because in these segments it is difficult to predict the specific quality of the product or service prior to delivery, trust plays a key role in the sales process.

For example, thought leadership will be more effective if you’re selling engineering or legal services, than air-conditioning systems or excavators. Because you can’t judge the exact quality of the engineering or legal services until they’ve been delivered, more trust is required to complete a sale. In contrast, the air-conditioning and excavator both have a list of product specs that a buyer can assess against requirements.

For more detail, see what is thought leadership marketing.

What are the benefits of thought leadership?

Thought leadership as a marketing strategy does two things:

  • Establishes front-of-mind awareness
  • Builds trust in your expertise and ability to deliver

That means more leads, more sales and a lower cost of customer acquisition.

Expert focused content marketing earns returns by building front-of-mind market awareness of you as the preferred provider in your sector. So when a prospect is ready to buy, you’re their number one choice. As a result, products sold on impulse or at a relatively low pricepoint are less effective candidates for thought leadership marketing.

For more on the benefits of thought leadership, see see Why thought leadership?

Why should executives care about building thought leadership?

In today’s business environment it’s no longer enough to tell people you’re an expert – you have to prove it.

The world has never been this complex. In the face of complexity consumers we seek what we know. As a result, people want to trust people, not brands.

Think about all the benefits of speaking at a leading industry conference. You build reputation, broadcast your message to potential clients, partners and employees. You’re communicating on scale to thousands of industry influencers, all at once. Thought leadership delivers you exactly this benefit, but instead of one conference a year – you have the potential to communicate to this audience once a week, or once a fortnight.
For all the same reasons you would value speaking at a highly relevant industry conference, you should focus on building thought leadership. Building an audience gives you a powerful platform to broadcast your message on a weekly basis.

How important is thought leadership?

The importance of thought leadership is closely related to what you sell.

Thought leadership as a marketing strategy works most effectively in market segments where it’s difficult to understand the specific quality of the product or service before it has been delivered. Typically this means relatively high price points and a substantial amount of customisation for each customer. Because in these segments it is difficult to predict the specific quality of the product or service prior to delivery, trust plays a key role in the sales process.

Typical industry sectors where thought leadership is highly effective include finance/wealth, education, management consulting and technology.

Why is building thought leadership a good investment of time for a CEO?

Thought leadership is highly scalable. You’re speaking to hundreds, or thousands of your most significant stakeholders at the same time.

Built successfully, you’ve got a platform that lets you as a CEO communicate to employees, shareholders, sales prospects, customers, partners and regulators – with complete control over the content that’s published.

How hard is it to build thought leadership?

Building thought leadership is not particularly hard, so long as you satisfy two criteria:
Firstly, You must have specialist areas of expertise, where you know as much as anyone in the country or the world. If you don’t think this applies to you, I’d suggest really looking closer and redefining the space at a smaller scale. If you’re running a successful company, there’s almost certainly areas where you have market leading expertise.
Staying narrow also has the benefit of reducing the level of competition. It’s very hard to be the expert in “board governance”, but it’s much easier to be THE expert in say “board governance when dealing with cross border M&A”. It’s again easier to be the expert in “Board governance dealing with cross border M&A into South East Asia”.

Secondly, you must be prepared to invest the time. Because of the explosion of sources of opinion over the past 20 years, the average consumer just doesn’t trust what they read. With the explosion of digital and social, consumers are exposed to hundreds of thousands, or millions of times more sources of opinion than ever before.

In this environment, as a consumer, scepticism is not an alternative. In this environment, skepticism is how you survive. This means that all buyers, all people take a lot longer to be convinced about anyone’s expertise. That means it takes time to build trust. You must be prepared to commit and stick at thought leadership for an extended period of time to see results.

What are some of the benefits of thought leadership for you personally?

  • Thought Leadership will bring new opportunities to your door. You’re going to see more job opportunities, speaking opportunities, more board opportunities, more speaking opportunities, more business and partnership opportunities
  • When you start the conversation, people will look to you as the authority on the space. This means you’re gong to have journalists ringing you up for comment on the space, and conference organisers trying to get you keynote..

What topics should I talk about?

  • Topics should reinforce your positioning. You should talk about things  that people would expect you to have an opinion on.
  • Talk about issues where you have clear expertise. talk about areas that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.
  • Talk about that one thing that you know as much about as anyone else in the market you’re trying to sell into. Whatever you talk about, you want to connect back to this central point of positioning – your north star.

How should you measure results of a thought leadership campaign?

It’s important to track both top of the funnel and bottom of the funnel metrics.

Top of the funnel metrics means equivalent traffic cost, or eyeballs. You can pay to get an audience. So your first benchmark should be how much would it have cost to generate this level of engagement. Usually that’s going to be in the range of 6-12 dollars a view at the top end of the funnel. This is far from perfect, but it’s a great starting point at the top end of the funnel to judge if you’re actually exceeding the cost of your time.

But top of the funnel is only half of the battle. Bottom of the funnel looks at is this article actually leading to sales (or whatever other tangible result you’re after). So are you seeing an increase in board opportunities that you’re being invited to sit on. Are companies you’re working with saying “that article was fantastic, can you come in and Tell us more”…

You need to have both pieces for a successful campaign. The first will typically lead the second. So engaged eyeballs should be a leading indicator for increased opportunities. But you have to track both to make sure that’s happening

How to write thought leadership articles?

Thought leadership content requires two things:

  1. As a thought leader, you’re speaking about ideas that are dramatically different to current “best practice”.
  2. A tone of inevitability – that this is the future whether the reader like it or not.

It’s easy to come up with crazy ideas about the future of your industry. But it’s often harder to make these seem inevitable.

Thought leadership without inevitability often sounds “crazy”.

For more detail see Crazy ideas + Inevitability = Thought Leadership

How can I write articles for thought leadership?

Three big tips to write great thought leadership articles:
  • Write short paragraphs. No more than 2 sentences in a paragraph
  • Write like you’re talking to someone. If you wouldn’t say that sentence in conversation, then definitely don’t write it down
  • Include plenty of subheadings.

Do headlines matter for thought leadership articles?

Another topic I get asked a lot about is how to write headlines. The simplest advice for headlines is to write a headline that:
1. Describes exactly what the article is about
2. In a controversial or provocative way (without compromising #1)
There is real art and some science in getting this right. Don’t stress too much when you’re just getting started, but do also realise that it can take as long to write the article as a great headline.

How does thought leadership work with content marketing?

Thought leadership is a strategy that’s primarily deployed with content marketing.

Fundamentally, a thought leadership strategy guides the aims, objectives and positioning of expert level content (within a broader content marketing roadmap).

See also why use content as a marketing strategy?

How do you use images for thought leadership?

If you’re looking for an answer to this question, three resources you might enjoy:

One trick for better blog images

Why real photos outperform stock photos (every time)

Images are either scrutinised OR ignored

What is a thought leadership blog?

Blogging for thought leadership is commonly referred to as CEO blogging (regardless of whether the actual thought leader is a CEO, NED or senior executive).

Find out more about what a CEO blog is here.

How long does it take to achieve thought leadership?

You know you’ve got message market fit when you take a week off publishing and people start asking where your article is. At the same time, you want to be tracking the top of funnel and bottom of funnel metrics and making sure you’re really seeing returns.

3-6 months is about the right timeframe to get message market fit. Some people can get there faster than others – but you need to allow months. If it’s taking you years and you’re still not getting there, then you need to be reassessing.

 Should I be promoting myself, or my organisation?

You should be building content on topics that are overall beneficial to the organisations you represent.

The test we use here is – can the companies that you represent republish or broadcast your content for their benefit. If the answer to that question isn’t yes, then you really need to reconsider your positioning, or content choices, or both.