How to become an authority in your industry in 2024? Content marketing vs. thought leadership

July, 21 2023

If selling products and impacting your revenue are your primary goals, don't invest in thought leadership. Consider investing in content marketing or, even better, in ads instead. The ROI of thought leadership activities is difficult to measure, and only some B2B companies will succeed. However, thought leadership marketing is on the rise, and 99% of our clients come to us wanting to build thought leadership. Why? Let's explore.

Thought leadership vs. content marketing. What is the difference?


Content marketing 

When a B2B company sits down to create a content strategy, they typically build it for thought leadership and brand awareness. And this is where they often go wrong. Instead of being recognized as an authority in their field, a B2B company could be far better off focusing on helping customers make purchases. 

Believe it or not B2B buyers are having a hard time trying to make a purchase! Gartner calculated that 77% of B2B buyers feel that making a purchase is complicated. They called it “time-consuming” and even “painful.” Buyers have a lot of doubts when it comes to making a decision. And B2B marketers MUST make it easier for buyers to purchase. Here is where content marketing comes in. 

Content marketing solves problems. It simplifies decision-making and directs B2B buyers to purchase

But wait. Does it mean no thought leadership for B2B companies? 

Not so fast. 

Thought leadership

Thought leadership is a powerful tool in the long run. Thought leadership content is timeless and can pay dividends over time. When you see older content pieces still working after two years, they are most likely thought leadership content. People comment on and quote these pieces, reach out to argue or support and become clients. This is because what you shared wasn't based on news or a trending topic but was a perspective, opinion, belief, or industry insight that can stand the test of time. Thought leadership content sparks conversations and shares ideas.

Thought leadership means being an expert in your field and having something new and exciting to say. It's not just for big names, it's for everyone with knowledge and fresh perspective. Thought leadership is also about proving your status by, e.g. appearing in publications, industry events and podcasts. 

But it is neither PR nor advertising. 

If you or your PR team pitch a journalist to write about you, that's press. If you or your digital marketing team run an ad to get a customer to buy your product, that's advertising.

Thought leadership marketing falls somewhere in the grey area between the two. Although it accomplishes many of the same goals as press and advertising, such as exposure and brand awareness, it does so in a less overt manner. This approach feels more like education.

Why does thought leadership work?

When comparing different companies or services, customers research by looking up the company's background and founding team. Everyone does it. 

They try to determine which company is more effective in getting the job done. If people search for your company's name and see your employees giving statements about the industry in publications, they are more likely to believe that your solutions fit the job. 

And as a bonus, having a vast library of thought leadership content will engage your prospects with your brand, whether they agree or disagree with your opinions.

Another good argument for thought leadership content is that it becomes the foundation for your larger marketing, advertising, and press strategies.

Our client's marketing efforts are informed by the articles we create. Working exclusively with founders, executives, and company leaders, we gather material around their vision and industry perspective. We often uncover new insights and ideas by asking the right questions and encouraging them to speak freely. We then organize their thoughts into articles that can be used for social media, websites, emails, sales, and PR outreach.

A good example is our client BayoTech. We collect the company's knowledge, framed in the sharp messaging on their blog, and reuse this content for different purposes.

Thought leadership works usually generate more press than traditional PR. It also opens up opportunities for other innovative forms of marketing, such as publishing a book.

Before starting a publicity campaign, it's crucial to objectively assess your own business, competition, and market to determine if thought leadership is the right path to success. Innovators and disruptors often excel in thought leadership, while traditional companies may find more value in content marketing. For example, we suggest our clients in clean tech focus on thought leadership because the industry currently shaping and leading the discussion will pay off. However, there is no hard and fast rule, and you must choose a strategy based on your vision and goals.

How can you start building thought leadership for your company?

So, how do you become a thought leader?

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  • Get quoted in the paper
  • Snag a byline in a top-tier publication
  • Get your executives interviewed on a top-tier or industry podcast
  • Post on one's platform
  • Let your employees speak at industry conferences or events
  • Write a book
  • Other types not listed here include TV appearances, blog post, TED talks, webinars, panel discussions, white papers, research reports, and contributing to industry forums or online communities.

In fact, the format is not important. The only thing that truly matters is what you say and how you say it. This can take the form of written material, video, voice, public speaking, or anything else.

It's all about your unique and authentic expert voice. But of course, there are some tricks and best practices to consider as well:

  • Share an unpopular but justifiable opinion you hold in your field.
  • Discuss a problem that everyone is talking about but nobody is solving.
  • Comment on a relevant news story in your industry (known as "newsjacking").
  • Demonstrate your expertise. As a thought leader, it's not enough to simply quote other experts. You need to explain why your insights are unique and valuable and why readers/listeners/viewers should listen to you as an avant-garde thought leader.
  • Frame the topic for your audience. Consider who you are pitching your idea to and why. This will help you avoid thought leadership ideas that are too promotional, not actionable, or relatable enough. This is especially important for anyone using thought leadership as part of their content marketing strategy. If the goal is to sell, you must come across as more salesy.
  • Stay on brand. 

Long story short

To sell products or increase revenue, content marketing or advertising may be more effective than thought leadership. While thought leadership is a powerful approach, it can be challenging to measure its ROI, and only some B2B companies succeed in it. However, thought leadership is growing in popularity, and many companies are interested in building it. It can spark conversations, inspire idea-sharing, and provide a foundation for marketing, advertising, and press strategies. To establish yourself as a thought leader, share your unique expert voice through various media, such as writing, video, speaking, or podcasting. Discuss industry problems, comment on the latest news, and showcase your expertise. Frame your ideas in a way that resonates with your audience, and avoid being too promotional.


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