Thought Leadership: Creating Compelling Content to Position a Brand and Improve Visibility

Leadership is one of the most sought-after traits in the business world. After all, leadership is what makes the difference between a good organization and a great one.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, described the ultimate “level 5 leader” as someone humble but willing to do anything in the company’s best interest.

However, the term “thought leadership” has now become a catchphrase thrown around aimlessly.

So, what exactly is thought leadership and how can you use it to improve brand visibility and increase conversions in the long-term?

Thought Leadership Basics

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In general, leadership is the ability to lead, that is, to guide people, individually and collectively, toward a goal or objective.

For most observers, leadership is a quality exhibited by exceptionally charismatic people. Nevertheless, a good leader isn’t always in the limelight. Leadership is about adding value to people’s lives. Therefore, good leaders improve the lives of those around them.

The emergence of the term “thought leadership” places a different spin on conventional leadership. After all, leadership isn’t just about meeting objectives. Leadership is also about possessing exceptional capabilities. Likewise, a person or organization is a thought leader if others in their chosen field consider them an authority in a specific area. Consequently, individuals and organizations seek the thought leader’s knowledge to solve a problem or improve upon a situation.

Thought leadership is a vital part of content marketing. In this type of marketing, thought leaders can offer their knowledge and experience to their followers. In turn, followers can find solutions to their problems while expanding their understanding of a specific topic.

By regularly providing this valuable content, thought leaders position themselves and their brands prominently in their readers’ minds, and sales ultimately follow.

Using Thought Leadership

Content marketing provides useful and actionable information that followers can use. And through content marketing, brands can use thought leadership to assert their expertise. Thus, thought leadership is successful when an individual or organization has the depth of knowledge needed to position themselves as a go-to expert in their chosen industry or field.

It’s also important to note that thought leadership is not about selling.

Thought leadership is about providing value that can eventually convert interested parties into paying clients.

Thus, it’s a question of positioning your brand as the go-to choice when the time comes to spend money.

It’s worth noting that thought leadership isn’t for everyone. Additionally, it isn’t the answer to every problem. Instead, thought leadership is ideal for individuals and companies that seek to position themselves as go-to experts in their respective fields.

As thought leadership is about building credibility, regurgitating common knowledge does not improve credibility. Meaningful content that can add value is what drives thought leadership.

Circa Interactive’s George Bradley offers this insight:

“There are times where it may be best for a business not to position itself as a thought leader. When making this decision, a company should always look at its customer base. Is making a particular stance going to divide your customer base? Could this lose you more clients or customers than it is likely to gain? If the answer is yes, then sometimes the bottom line has to come first, and it may be best to position yourself where the company will thrive.”

Often, thought leadership implies sharing knowledge freely. There is one caveat, however: Thought leadership does not mean self-promotion. Great content can get quickly overshadowed by self-promotion. Thus, focusing on the topic is always the best course of action.

Sherrilynne Starkey of Thornley Fallis Communications poignantly sums up this point:

“Start with from a paradigm of generosity. Freely give news and information to assist and support the people in your target audiences. Give them real value in terms of ‘how-to,’ ‘why you need to know,’ ‘here’s how to do it’ type stories and content. By being generous and focusing on giving value, you’ll reach more people, build loyalty, and gain market share.”

Valuable thought leadership can emerge from practically anywhere. Individuals can derive contributions from their personal and professional experience, formal training, and academic study. And organizations can pool the talents of their members into a compilation of knowledge and experience.

Generally speaking, there is a potentially infinite number of sources for thought leadership within an organization. These sources enable individuals and organizations to build their point of view and distinguish one authority from another by contributing their unique talents and skills.

After all, it would be impossible to stand out without having a unique point of view. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers. It is a question of offering value at all times. A unique perspective can deliver value consistently.

Benefits of Using Thought Leadership

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Using thought leadership as part of a content marketing strategy can yield significant benefits. On the whole, these benefits help individuals and organizations stand out above their competition. In particular, five benefits often prove to be the most meaningful.

1. Positioning the Brand

The most immediate benefit of thought leadership is personal or professional brand positioning. For example, professionals such as lawyers, doctors, and consultants can position themselves as experts in their field by using thought leadership. As for corporations, they can use their members’ collective skills and experience to provide their clients value.

It’s important to note that brand positioning is also not about selling. Instead, it is about becoming the go-to source in a specific area.

According to Lily Ray of Lilyray.nyc, a widely acknowledged thought leader in the content marketing space:

“Thought leadership is extremely important when it comes to establishing and building your brand. While it’s important to provide commentary and share your thoughts about industry trends or research others have done, what can really set you apart is to conduct your own research or develop your own fresh set of ideas to contribute to the community. Sometimes this can prove to be challenging; others may not always be receptive to your ideas, and it can often be uncomfortable to push the dialogue forward. But adding a fresh perspective, new data, or new ideas – and remaining consistent with this process over time – is what can build a solid brand and set a leader apart from the rest.”

Indeed, brand positioning is about being generous with knowledge. Therefore, a fresh spin on an existing situation can make a significant difference.

2. Improving Credibility

Clients seek professionals and companies they can trust. As such, thought leadership can improve credibility by showcasing both individuals’ and teams’ skills and experience.

As followers see the value a brand has to offer; they will come to trust that brand. Ultimately, credibility helps communicate a brand’s value proposition without openly pitching a product or service.

As Saxton and Stump’s Anthony Gaenzle explains:

“Your team is a critical part of your brand; this is especially true in fields like healthcare, marketing, legal and other areas that require true experts. Your clients or customers want to know that they’re hiring or purchasing from knowledgeable individuals with a lot of experience in their respective fields, so being able to convey that message in your marketing and PR is important for success and growth.”

This quote highlights the importance of expertise in building credibility. As such, the aim is to convey a message through content.

3. Shortening the Sales Cycle

A product or service’s sales cycle begins with leads first coming into contact with the brand and ends with a successful purchase.

While sales cycles differ significantly from product to product, thought leadership can substantially shorten the sales cycle by maintaining constant communication between clients and brands. Once clients are ready to approach the brand, they are already focused on purchasing. In the words of Jimmy Daly of Animalz, “high volume, top of the funnel content works best.” Indeed, top-notch content is the best way to shorten the sales cycle.

4. Generating Greater Visibility

An essential aim in marketing is generating greater visibility for a brand’s products and services. Unfortunately, traditional marketing is often unsuccessful because it pitches products directly to potential clients. Furthermore, traditional marketing rarely establishes two-way communication.

This is where thought leadership shines.

Effective thought leadership enables clients and brands to communicate back and forth. Consequently, clients feel the brand hears their voice.

5. Reaching Decision-makers

In a B2B context, content marketing reaches decision-makers directly. Quality content does not need filtering from an assistant or secretary.

Excellent thought leadership can even reach top-level executives directly. In fact, 43 percent of top-level executives indicate that thought leadership helps them research an issue, while 39 percent indicate it helps them find a solution to a situation.

This is why it is so crucial for thought leadership to be relevant at all times.

Creating Thought Leadership Content

By definition, content marketing is only as effective as its content. Luckily, thought leadership can take content marketing to the next level.

The following is a breakdown of guidelines and best practices that will ensure your thought leadership content does the trick.

Cite reputable sources.

When it comes to creating effective thought leadership content, using plenty of citations from reputable sources is a great way to show the reader that your arguments are well-reasoned while also showing how well-read you are.

According to Grist, 53 percent of executives want to hear information from industry experts, while 44 percent indicate they seek information from professional services firms.  Thus, citing information from leading sources is a must for compelling content.

Consult subject matter experts.

Subject matter experts are thought leaders in their own right. Considering that 53 percent of executives look to industry experts, it makes sense to consult them.

Effective content marketers know that consulting subject matter experts will enhance their material. Whenever possible, arranging exclusive interviews or getting written opinions can boost visibility.

Additionally, opinions found in blogs, YouTube videos, or webinars make good secondary sources.

Create a consistent narrative.

A consistent narrative means that all materials produced have a common voice and tone.

Creating a consistent narrative gives followers a reason to identify with the brand and is crucial for building long-term conversions.

In contrast, disjointed content may appear scattered and random. Planning multiple pieces of content in advance is an easy way to ensure everything you create has a clear narrative through-line.

Do extensive research into the topic and target audience.

Influential thought leaders know how powerful creating targeted content can be.

However, doing so successfully requires careful research into the topic and a clear understanding of who the target audience will be.

Thus, getting started is a question of getting to know the target audience well.

Demographic information such as age, gender, occupation, and educational level all help produce relevant content.

Moreover, 84 percent of executives value content that enhances their role, while 79 percent want to stay ahead of the game. Thus, knowing audiences is key to successful thought leadership.

Provide as many real-life examples as possible.

Ideas and concepts don’t exist in a vacuum; real world application is key. This is why it’s crucial to provide as many real-life examples as possible, as doing so will enable audiences to see the practical application of the knowledge you share.

Since 47 percent of executives consider thought leadership that is too conceptual ineffective, and 63 percent consider thought leadership that is too generic ineffective, it makes sense to include as many real-life examples as possible.

Highlight the role of a thought leader.

It’s important to highlight a thought leader’s role by referencing any relevant significant achievements and experience. After all, audiences expect to get information from an experienced source.

However, it’s equally important to avoid self-promotion; this is not the time to exalt the brand.

According to research, 53 percent of executives feel that thought leadership based on self-promotion is ineffective.  Thus, when highlighting your experience and industry achievements, it is best to remain humble.

Testing Thought Leadership Content

Once the content is ready for publication, it’s worth testing its effectiveness before launch. Savvy marketers understand that conducting test runs can help them refine the content to meet their target audience’s needs and expectations specifically.

Here are three handy ways to test content before final publication.

Pitch to clients.

Testing content on real-life clients is an excellent way of measuring its impact. The use of focus groups is the most common way marketers can test their content.

In some instances, companies can contact their clients directly to ask them to participate in surveys, provide feedback, or suggest ideas for improvement. Pitching content to clients is crucial as 66 percent of top-level executives believe that thought leadership provides them with insight into emerging trends.

Pitch to peers.

When looking for feedback, other thought leaders in the same space are a great resource.

After all, receiving honest criticism can help fine-tune any marketer’s efforts. And, as an added bonus, it might make a new industry contact.

Generally speaking, feedback from peers can provide useful insights into why content is not hitting the mark.

In a recent survey revealing the most common complaints among top-level executives regarding thought leadership, 63 percent of executives indicated that the content was not relevant, 58 percent indicated that it lacked original ideas, and 38 percent said it was boring.

Gauge public reaction.

Once content hits audiences, gauging their reaction is crucial to ensuring its eventual success.

According to research, 47 percent of executives believe that a majority of thought leadership content is too theoretical or offered no practical advice. Likewise, 40 percent indicate that they ignored thought leadership content that did not contain any substantiated opinions, while 38 percent found this type of thought leadership content too bland to be of much use.  

Gauging these reactions can help marketers tweak their content to reach their target audience much more effectively.

Hitting the Mark with Thought Leadership

Nowadays, business is all about providing clients and followers as much value as possible, which is why thought leadership content is so popular. In the end, doing so helps position brands and the trusted, go-to source in their respective fields.

When done right, thought leadership can provide ample opportunities for making sales. It’s just a matter of identifying the right moment for sharing content and the right moment for selling.

How to Utilize Content Marketing as a Tool for Business Success

In today’s world, we see businesses come and go. And although external forces, such as the pandemic, may be out of our control, there are things that business owners can do to improve their chances of being successful. One of those things is creating and implementing an effective content marketing strategy. 

Not only can a quality content marketing strategy propel a business into financial success, it can also help to establish a company as an industry expert.

Identifying and Serving the Target Market

To get started on a content marketing campaign, businesses must first identify their target market.

After all, without a specific market in mind, to whom will you offer your services and products?

Probably the best way to determine your market is to select one that you yourself identify with.

Drawing on personal experiences and lessons learned that align with prospective customers proves quite valuable.

Those personal experiences provide you with the necessary background and allow you to serve the client as an expert because you can portray the “been there, done that” attitude.

Past experiences also provide you with the tools to be a problem solver. They can be harnessed to assist you in steering the customer away from making mistakes similar to those you made in the past. This proves to be quite valuable and brands you as an expert. By guiding the customer in a successful direction, you have earned your fee. You’ve also saved the customer a potential financial loss.

The secret to this recipe is marketing yourself as the expert. In these times, it takes more than a resume and college diploma. We live in a results-driven society, as everything is at our fingertips due to our friend, the internet. Content— and your expertise —builds credibility.

Qualifying Yourself

Content marketing can be accomplished in various outlets. Blogging, white papers, eBooks, and newsletters are all strategies that can be used as outlets to position yourself as a subject matter expert. By flooding the internet with content subject matter parallel to the services being provided, you are establishing credibility by numbers.

Imagine if you post quality material in those extensive numbers. Not only are you on the web, you also offer a credible service contributing to your reputation as an industry leader in your field.

And by posting a surplus of blogs, informative white papers, or interactive eBooks, the target audience sees you as an expert.

In today’s world, nothing shows an individual’s qualifications more than being highly searchable on the internet.

Consider the world of business consulting as an example. Developing a website and hosting it on the web looks professional and serves as a landing point for customers. This is an important facet of business, but it must be taken even further.

But how are customers drawn to your website? If a business consulting company establishes a website and lists an array of services provided, it does not accomplish much if no one knows about it. So how is attention generated?

The answer is quite simple. It takes populating the internet with content. This strategy can utilize blogging alone or can incorporate other outlets as well. A combination of two or more is most conducive to meeting your goals.

For example, if you’re looking to increase your reputation as a business consultant, flooding the internet with content about running your own business will make you searchable. It brings your message to the public. By publishing blogs on entrepreneurial startups, white papers targeting a business demographic, and even eBooks on developing a business plan, those searchable standards will bring searchers straight to you.

Overcoming Challenges

The process of content marketing is relatively simplistic but unfortunate detours can be made. Failing to niche down can result in an abundance of wasted work.

No, you are not going to drown the internet in content. However, failure to define your audience can have a negative effect. You could end up publishing a great deal of content that does not result in income.

It is best to select that target audience prior to developing content. Refer to personal experiences and strong points in your knowledge and focus content marketing based upon those key factors.

If you want to offer advertising services, there is no need to blog on quality control or publish a white paper on production management. If advertising will be the source of your profits, then focus content development on that service.

There are additional challenges that can be encountered with content marketing.

You have identified the target demographic and determined the services you will offer. You are ready to blitz the internet with content but discover you do not possess the creative pen to produce the information.

Just because your talents are lacking in creative marketing or blogging, does not mean your business must suffer. In fact, you should concentrate your talents on providing the quality service you offer. And then hire a professional ghostwriter to help you with the rest.  

An experienced ghostwriter will be capable of taking your personal experiences and blogging about them on your behalf.

There’s no shame in letting someone else do it for you. History has taught us that major success has been had in identifying strengths and weaknesses and then filling in weak areas with experts. In the end, all bases are covered.

Regardless of who blogs about the service you provide; the goal is to publish the information and link it to your company. It makes no difference who puts the information out there if it is real, accurate, helpful, and owned by your company.

Summing Up

The key to successful content marketing is avoiding complacency. Business owners should never fall into the trap of getting comfortable and alienating their customers. All customers, no matter their income potential, want to feel special. They want to believe they are your primary focus. It is crucial to produce content that services all your customers and not just one in particular.

Content marketing should capture subjects that your clients can relate to, both large and small. Offer topics that apply to everyone within your demographic. Do not disregard a smaller client by failing to produce content on a subject that the larger client might deem unimportant.

And remember, at the end of a day spent fishing, it is often the case that three small fish will feed more than one big one.

Thought Leadership: How the Big Players Do It

Amid the sea of content out there nowadays, thought leadership constitutes an immensely powerful communication tool between brands and followers.

Effective thought leadership goes beyond merely regurgitating common knowledge. True thought leadership is about investing the necessary time to actively engage followers.

Brands that effectively use thought leadership position themselves as authorities in their specific industry.

That is no easy task. However, it is made easier when brands develop high-quality opinions and provide original insight. This type of insight stems from an insider position that only real thought leaders can deliver.

Thought leadership is a highly effective means of exposing a brand to the right people.

According to a LinkedIn paper, roughly 60 percent of decision-makers read at least an hour’s worth of thought leadership content weekly. Moreover, over 60 percent of these individuals indicated that thought leadership content influences them to try new products and services.

In this article, we will explore the way three major brands use thought leadership to position themselves as industry leaders, and the valuable lessons we can learn from each case study.

American Express

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American Express (AMEX) is one of the leading players in the world of financial services. Beyond its advertising on traditional media, AMEX leveraged its digital presence to improve communication with its customers.

This newfound communication took shape in the form of a blog. The Business Class Trends and Insights blog “…provides a modern business education through insights, tips, and inspiration to help your business adapt to changing times.”

The blog predominantly intends to provide up-to-date information to individual and business customers. Therefore, the blog does not seek to serve large corporations. It focuses on small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The most striking characteristic of the Business Class blog is that it does not attempt to drive sales. Instead, it aims to provide useful and actionable information on a myriad of topics. These topics range from personal finance to human resources strategy.

The content on the blog comprises four main areas: managing money, getting customers, team building, and growth planning. Certainly, these are all areas relevant to virtually any business.

What makes AMEX’s blog truly unique is a section entitled “Small Business Stories.” This section provides a space in which small business owners can share their success stories.

While AMEX seeks to provide expert opinions, it also balances content by including real-life success stories.

There is a common thread among all success stories. The stories underscore how these businesses were successful thanks to AMEX’s products and services. As such, these stories are not shameless puff pieces. Instead, they seek to provide credible examples of real people succeeding in the business world. Consequently, the featured business owner shows how they can be successful by adapting to “changing times.”

The “Small Business Stories” section enables real people to pen their stories in their own words. This strategy allows for an unbiased account of what it takes to be truly successful in the business world. This approach provides a truly authentic touch.

Furthermore, AMEX does not rely on a writing staff to produce generic content. The authenticity of this content aims to strike a chord at a profound level with current and potential customers.

Originally, AMEX started with a solely text-based approach. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, AMEX has started a video series called “Office Hours.” The series highlights small business owners’ journey navigating the pandemic. It intends to provide other small business owners with useful and actionable insights. Moreover, the business owners featured can show how AMEX’s products and services have helped them throughout this trying time.

Lesson Distilled:

Thought leadership is not a one-way street. Effective thought leadership must provide two-way communication between brands and customers. This communication needs to empower customers through relevant and actionable information.

While AMEX aims to do this through its blog, it takes it one step further. By allowing customers to showcase their stories, they empower their customers.

AMEX positions itself as a leading brand by showing how its products and services enable business owners to succeed. This type of content is much more relatable than abstract content from a professional writing team. Customers can see themselves in the real people featured in the content. Therefore, AMEX becomes a thought leader as it leverages its influence on a wide range of users. Moreover, it can influence potential customers to come aboard.

The real-world approach AMEX fosters with its “Office Hours” segment also builds a sense of community. Consequently, followers can embrace the feeling of belonging. In particular, followers can see they are not the only ones facing the same dilemmas. Once again, this approach empowers customers to be successful. In the meantime, AMEX portrays itself as the means facilitating customers’ success.

Ultimately, the underlying message is one of community and support. AMEX supports its customers through its community. As such, anyone who joins the community will receive the same support. In turn, they too can become successful.

Microsoft

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Microsoft is a renowned brand in the world of tech and computing. Its ubiquitous Windows operating system is a must on PCs and tablets. For decades, Microsoft has fostered a positive relationship with its customers. Microsoft has attempted to create products based on its customers’ needs and expectations through its various Windows versions.

As a major player in the tech industry, Microsoft has continued to foster its relationship with customers through effective thought leadership. Nevertheless, Microsoft has moved away from the conventional information-dump approach. Instead, Microsoft has leveraged the use of storytelling.

Storytelling is an important component of thought leadership. After all, theoretical information is not fully helpful unless it has a practical application. This example shows where Microsoft has used thought leadership to stand out from the rest of the competition.

Story Labs” has become Microsoft’s thought leadership workhorse. It is a long-form blog that aims to provide deep insights into various topics surrounding the tech world.

Like AMEX’s Business Class blog, Microsoft’s Story Labs looks to use palpable stories to highlight how the tech world is evolving. As such, Story Labs looks to present relevant information on the tech world users can actually use.

It is worth noting that Microsoft does not advertise its brand. Story Labs’s content comes from both users and professional writers. Thus, it is not marketing material disguised as thought leadership.

This content genuinely intends to provide followers with savvy content. Its material source is what makes it stand out. After all, Story Labs looks to frame developments in the tech world through the people making it possible.

The most interesting feature of Story Labs is called “People.” This section features Microsoft’s collaborators, and the stories depict the work those collaborators do routinely.

The People section looks to gain recognition for innovative contributors. Their stories become the content. Hence, it is not a section in which collaborators contribute. Collaborators are the section itself.

Storytelling is thought leadership on steroids.

Thought leadership is extremely valuable when it comes from the people who make things happen. Industry movers and shakers are the most appropriate individuals to share their experiences and insights.

Also, Story Labs features stories of ordinary businesspeople. Stories of successful entrepreneurs make up a considerable amount of the content. The entrepreneurs featured reflect how new trends in the tech world apply to actual businesses.

The key element in these stories lies in Microsoft not actively pushing its brand. Therefore, it is not a plug for Microsoft’s products and solutions. It is a means of showcasing how entrepreneurs use technology to solve their business’s challenges.

On the whole, Story Labs provides useful content followers can contextualize in their personal realities. Microsoft’s brand of thought leadership looks to embrace contributions from the individuals on the front lines of the tech world.

Lesson Distilled:

Storytelling is a major component of effective thought leadership. Unfortunately, brands often fail to position themselves due to sterile content. This type of content is not relatable to real users. Content that does not embrace true applications falls into a generic categorization.

Microsoft’s Story Labs avoids this pitfall by providing followers with relevant content that comes from the true movers and shakers. As such, Story Labs is not an attempt to extol the Microsoft brand.

Moreover, it is not a platform intended to feature Microsoft products. It is a platform that Microsoft uses to show how people behind the scenes contribute to advancing technology.

Storytelling provides thought leaders the opportunity to contextualize content. Brands that believe thought leadership is about sounding smart have it wrong. Thought leadership is about showing followers that the brand “gets it.” Brands show they “get it” by offering content wrapped within a story. When the story highlights real people building real solutions, the brand’s positioning as a thought leader soars.

General Electric Healthcare

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In the healthcare industry, thought leadership often revolves around generic wellness advice. While providing followers with practical health advice is useful, this type of advice is generally impersonal. General Electric’s healthcare division has sought to change that perception.

General Electric (GE) has invested a great deal into diversifying its product offering. Within its portfolio, the healthcare division has provided both individuals and companies various products and services. Nevertheless, GE has attempted to take its relationship with customers one step further.

Overall, GE’s attempts to position itself as an industry leader have focused on becoming a thought leader. As a result, GE’s content offering has focused on delivering compelling materials. In particular, the GE Healthcare Insights blog provides relevant information with a completely different spin.

First, GE’s healthcare blog looks to provide technical information on industry advancements. In particular, the blog delivers up-to-date information on the latest healthcare-related developments.

This information is often technical in nature. As such, the articles look to make the content much more compelling than a mere technical rundown of specifications and futures.

Second, the breadth of topics ranges from medical technology to personal health and wellness. As such, the blog intends to provide something for everyone. For instance, a reader interested in radiology technology can browse personal wellness content. This approach leads users to spend more time interacting with content.

Third, the blog provides a high degree of customization. Readers first find content specific to their region. The site automatically detects the user’s IP address, thereby redirecting them to a regional site.

For example, readers based in Europe can choose between English, Spanish, French, or German sites. Also, users in America may choose from the English United States site or sites in other languages. Therefore, readers can consume relevant content in their language.

The most notable aspect of GE’s healthcare blog is the human touch behind each story. The content presented in the blog is not a dry, clear-cut description of how medical technology works. Moreover, it is not a mere presentation of specifications wrapped within a great narrative. GE’s blog aims to present how its technology helps real people improve their health.

Additionally, GE’s content looks to underscore the role individual contributors play in developing new technologies. This type of content accentuates the importance of every person in GE’s organization.

This approach is akin to Microsoft’s Story Labs. Followers can see the human side that leads to life-saving technologies. Ultimately, GE can paint a human dimension onto an otherwise unengaging topic.

Lesson Distilled:

The high degree of customization in GE’s content makes it more relatable to its followers. Undoubtedly, generic content will fall flat with most users. While certainly informative, generic content will not position a brand as a thought leader. Consequently, thought leadership must strive to offer a highly personalized experience.

In GE’s healthcare blog, its use of customization through regional content makes a significant difference. Unlike other brands, GE offers content in various languages. This approach opens the door to virtually every person in the world.

Users do not need to speak English to access its content. Therefore, healthcare professionals and individuals around the world can access its valuable insights.

The most successful brands in the world are those which offer a personalized experience. Brands that offer a one-size-fits-all approach do not connect at a personal level with their followers.  GE’s blog further enhances this personal touch by showcasing the individuals related to their products. For example, stories of people who have recovered thanks to GE’s technology resonate at a deep level.

Indeed, thought leaders must understand their target audience as best as possible. This understanding would enable them to produce content that is pertinent to them. This type of content demonstrates that brands care about their customers. Through customization, thought leaders can position themselves as true innovators in their field.

Conclusion

Thought leadership is a highly effective means of positioning a brand amid endless content offerings. And brands that offer a singular experience can distinguish themselves from their competition.

Ultimately, thought leadership is an investment in time and effort. When this investment yields high-quality and relatable content, brands can position themselves as unquestionable leaders in their industry. Consequently, this positioning transcends sales and market share. This positioning entails making the brand the go-to choice in their customers’ minds.

How Thought Leadership Content Can Preserve a Legacy, Advance a Mission, and Elevate a Brand

Thought leadership content is educational and inspirational. It’s about a story, a mission, a goal.

Interface, Inc., a global commercial flooring company with an integrated collection of carpet tiles and resilient flooring, has all three. The story is about its founder, Ray Anderson, and its mission and goals are a part of his story.

The company’s website and its social media content provide a myriad of examples of thought leadership content and content marketing.

As you look at their site and social media accounts, the difference between the two will become clear. And you’ll see how thought leadership content can preserve a legacy, advance a mission, and elevate a brand.

Note: The Writers For Hire is in no way affiliated with Interface, Inc. and does not create its marketing copy. Interface, Inc. is spotlighted here solely as an example of thought leadership and thought leadership content.

First, the Story

In 1994, Ray Anderson was a highly successful entrepreneur. Within a 20-year span, he had become a millionaire—the Chairman and founder of a publicly traded company.

These accomplishments had been realized with the help of a few investors and a singular focus—popularizing the manufacturing technology for making carpet tiles.

Ray foresaw the growth of open plan offices with the constant need for spaces to be rearranged.

Unlike broadloom carpet, carpet tiles could be used over flat wire electrical cable and provide the interface between the systems furniture (a modular furniture solution that provides the various parts needed to create workstations) and the electrical outlets.

Carpet tiles met the electrical code restrictions associated with flat wire installations. Carpet tiles also filled a particular commercial design need. Like pixels, carpet tiles create endless design opportunities.

As a result of Ray’s initial entrepreneurial instinct to focus on carpet tile and the company’s expansion into additional successful flooring solutions, Interface, Inc. (Interface) is the one of the top five companies in the U.S. carpet mills industry (IBISWorld Industry Research Reports). Its global operations include seven manufacturing facilities on four continents.

Despite COVID-19’s negative impact on office space expansion and redesign, the company reported net sales of $1.1 billion in 2020.

But that’s getting ahead.

A 27-Year Look-Back

Interface’s current president and CEO, Dan Hendrix, graciously provided his insights into the company’s history, its founder, and its current mission. His affiliation with Interface began in 1977 as a member of its audit team, and he joined Interface as an employee in 1983.

When asked to describe Ray Anderson, Dan used the words “genuine, authentic, smart, charismatic, and competitive.”

He described Ray as an engineer who was a big thinker, but he seemed to sum him up by calling him a Southern gentleman—something that Wall Street investors seemed to love about him. He described Ray’s leadership style as collaborative and inclusive.

In 1994, a customer asked Ray what Interface was doing for the environment. The question prompted Ray to create a task force of sales team members to address the question. Soon after, while preparing for the task force’s kickoff meeting, he began reading Paul Hawken’s book, The Ecology of Commerce. The experience set Ray on a mission that changed the course of Interface.

In one of the many instances in which Ray described his experience with Hawken’s book, he described his initial encounter with chapter 2, which is titled “The Death of Birth.” Ray admitted, “I was dumbfounded by how much I did not know about the environment and the impacts of the industrial system on the environment—the industrial system of which I and my “successful” company were an integral part. I got it. I was a plunderer of Earth, and that is not the legacy one wants to leave behind.”

Ray called it “an epiphanal moment, a spear in the chest.”

At the task force kickoff meeting in 1994, Ray surprised and challenged the team to take on the mission of sustainability. He put forward the ambitious goal that Interface would become an operation that takes nothing out of the earth that cannot be recycled or regenerated and does no harm to the biosphere. (Cornelia Dean, The New York Times).

Wait, sustainability in the carpet business?? The product’s made from petroleum! The manufacturing process requires energy, and it creates greenhouse gas emissions. Crazy. And, in 1994, that’s just what people thought.

Around the Bend

One investor said he thought Ray had “gone round the bend” and become a “tree hugger.”

When Ray heard that, he said it was his job as CEO to be ‘round the bend,’ to see what was coming next.

He began to pitch his mission of “do no harm to the environment” to all who would listen.

The steadfast sincerity with which he spoke led to countless invitations to speak.

In 2006 alone, he gave at least 115 sustainability speeches around the world.

Inspiration and Devotion

But he didn’t just preach. He put together a team of experts that included Paul Hawken and other notable environmental thought leaders—the “Eco Dream Team”—to assist Interface in creating, as Dan explained, “a roadmap to becoming a sustainable company.”

The course the team charted was a journey Ray later described as “a climb up a mountain higher than Everest.”

The company identified seven fronts to be addressed in climbing Mount Sustainability. The seven fronts included zero waste to landfills, zero fossil fuel energy use, zero process water use, and zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Convincing the entire workforce took several years. Dan admits that in 1996, he still questioned Ray’s assertion that they would ultimately “get off oil” at a time when it was 90 percent of their products’ input.

But in 1997, Ray invited renowned sustainability thought leaders to address the company’s first global sales meeting.

In Ray’s galvanizing speech to 1,200 associates from around the world, he told the story of the company’s journey in climbing Mount Sustainability. Dan calls that moment a “pivot point” that resulted in energizing the whole company.

Ray’s first push was toward zero waste. He offered suppliers incentives to reduce waste and he offered his employees incentives to think creatively about sustainability and put their ideas to work.

He took risks, and there were notable failures at first. But a year of innovations came in 2000, including a carpet collection that combined recycled nylon in the face fiber and a vinyl backing layer of 100 percent recycled content.

Dan was appointed President and CEO in 2001. Dan believed that the company should “brand the seven fronts of sustainability a bit differently.” He brought in a marketing group from Chicago and the goal was remarketed as Mission Zero®. It was then that the target of accomplishing the goal by 2020 was set.

Ray died in 2011. But Interface continued in its dedication to its mission, and by November 2019, the company was able to announce that it had accomplished Mission Zero. (Cision PR Newswire)

Today and Tomorrow

Like Ray, Dan has become an advocate for change in the greater business community. He and a group of 15 to 20 others within the company speak to a wide variety of organizations around the world about various aspects of sustainability and how sustainability has benefited both the environment and the company.

Dan insists, “We really do believe that we can change the world through thought leadership.”

He also attributes part of Interface’s past success in influencing carpet manufacturers and suppliers to adopt sustainability to the fact that “we were winning business and they were losing business.”

The company has now embarked on a more ambitious goal called Climate Take Back™—the goal of running the business in a way that creates a climate fit for life and becoming carbon negative by 2040.

As the company website states, “It’s no longer enough to limit the damage we do, but to think about reversing it…Influenced by this thinking are the four areas of our Climate Take Back strategy; Live Zero, Love Carbon, Let Nature Cool, and Lead the Industrial Re-Revolution.” It’s this idea of leading the industrial re-revolution that results in the company’s considerable investment in thought leadership content.

Interface’s Leadership in Content Development

Interface’s global marketing organization produces a prodigious amount of copy for the company’s website and its podcasts, as well as its YouTube channel and other social media platforms. It includes both thought leadership content and content marketing.

So, what’s the difference?

Thought leadership content is a way of conveying a company’s mission, enjoining others to latch onto that mission, and ensuring the reader that the company is indeed a leader in the industry in which it operates. It provides thoughtful articles on the subject of the company’s processes and perspectives that have earned its industry leadership. It’s about engendering readers’ loyalty through respect for the brand’s dominance.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Thought Leadership Sampling

The titles of thought leadership content pieces are often a giveaway that what you’ll be reading is thought leadership. Take a look at the titles from the Interface website, and then take a dive into one or more of the articles.

Inside the World’s First Regenerative Highway

Calculating Carbon Emissions is Key to Improving Health

Carbon May Be Humanity’s Best Bet Against Climate Change

Turning Words to Climate Action

Building Momentum for Change

Our First Carbon Negative Carpet Tile

These are just a smattering of the thought leadership content pieces on the Interface blog site. More examples can be found on the company’s YouTube channel, its podcasts, and its LinkedIn presence.

Content Marketing Sampling

Much of Interface’s content marketing focuses on design trends, spaces and products, meeting client needs and eco-commitments, and case studies.

It relies heavily on pictures of the spaces Interface has created. Its platforms host design leaders from other companies and organizations, thereby distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—the previously stated purpose of content marketing.

It also builds an audience of readers interested in current design and eco-friendly material choices.

LinkedIn link to blog: Creating Unique Spaces for Exploration at Science World

Interface blog site: Pantone Color of the Year 2021: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating and

Can Biophilic Design Improve Emotional Wellbeing?

Interface YouTube channel: Biophilic Design and Carbon

Thought leadership content works.

Interface produces effective thought leadership content. The story of Ray Anderson and his mission are always front and center in the company’s message.

If there’s any doubt, look at the home page of the Interface website. It pays tribute to its founder and his mission, thereby preserving a legacy. It announces and describes the company’s current mission, Climate Take Back.

And through its thought leadership content and its activities focused on enjoining other companies to make and achieve climate-related goals, Interface reinforces its industry-leading uniqueness and its brand.

Your Story

Does your company have a mission? Does it have a unique point of view?

Would you like to earn the respect and loyalty of a defined set of readers by establishing yourself as a source of knowledge? Would you like readers to:

  • Come to your website to learn about things related to your expertise?
  • Understand what sets your processes or your products apart from your competitors?

Your marketing content can make a huge difference in achieving these goals, but it takes the right content and the right expertise. If your marketing communications staff is stretched thin or you need expert assistance with new content, check out our web content page

The Four Most Common Mistakes in Whitepapers

Producing successful whitepapers takes a combination of skill and creativity. It requires a practical approach that can help writers get their message out there and, in turn, provide readers with the information they seek.

However, there are cases in which a whitepaper fails to deliver. When a paper fails, writers may be left wondering what went wrong.

In this article, we focus on the four most common mistakes in whitepapers and how to solve them. By paying attention to this article’s guidelines, producing a successful whitepaper will become far more straightforward.

Mistake #1: A Weak Argument

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A useful whitepaper is similar to an ironclad court case. And just as trial lawyers need to create airtight cases so they can prove their argument beyond a reasonable doubt, a whitepaper not only needs to build a logical and consistent argument but also back it up accordingly.

Graham Gordon, whitepaper writer extraordinaire, has this insight to offer on building a successful argument:

“Every white paper writer must learn how to build a coherent argument. Without one, your white papers won’t convince anyone of anything. But a white paper that presents a strong argument can be right on the money. It can generate great results for years running.”

Indeed, the best arguments stand the test of time. Yet, writers are often guilty of committing several mistakes.

The most prominent sin that writers commit when building an argument is to use overly complicated ideas. Some writers misguidedly believe that the more complex an argument is, the more it will succeed.

However, complex arguments tend to have too many moving parts. Thus, each component is an opportunity for competitors to attack its logic and consistency.

On the other hand, a simple argument is much harder to refute. Debunking a simple, well-constructed idea generally requires a mountain of data. While competitors may try, they will eventually give up.

Another hazardous characteristic of a weak argument is assuming that readers already know or understand the argument’s points.

Good trial lawyers walk jurors through every facet of their argument, even if the risk is going over minutiae. In doing so, they avoid leaving gaps in their arguments. After all, even a small gap can become a huge chasm.

For instance, assuming that all shoppers prioritize quality over cost is a dangerous proposition. After all, there might be shoppers that do not care about quality and instead want the cheapest product available regardless of quality.

To combat weak arguments, whitepaper writers must challenge their arguments as rigorously as possible.

Trial lawyers simulate courtroom conditions to test the strength of their arguments. This exercise often reveals cracks in arguments, and most importantly, how to address them. In the same sense, whitepaper writers must become their own critics to ensure they have covered every possible angle.

A telltale sign of a weak argument is the use of generalizations.  Blanket statements do very little to push the persuasive nature of an argument. Moreover, generalizations do not provide the reader with any actionable insight.

For example, a statement such as “consumers prefer high-quality products” does not offer any useful information. In contrast, “90% of consumers surveyed indicated they prefer high-quality over low price,” provides an insightful tidbit of information readers can internalize. Consequently, whitepaper writers must always strive to be as specific as possible.

When writing a whitepaper, bear in mind that the devil is in the details. Detailed arguments go a long way toward plugging up gaps in the argument’s overall construction.

Mistake #2: Insufficient Evidence

Whitepapers must base their arguments on concrete evidence. Without the use of enough evidence to support claims, a whitepaper may drift into the realm of opinion.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with publishing an opinion, it is not a whitepaper. A whitepaper serves as a persuasive argument that compels readers to act, or in the most ambitious of cases, change their minds on a specific issue.

The best kind of evidence comes from reliable sources. These sources are individuals acknowledged as experts in their field and official institutions such as government, academia, or industry leaders.

These sources enable readers to trust the information provided in the paper. Citing data from fringe websites, obscure writers, or unknown publications may lead readers to doubt the accuracy of the paper’s data.

Above all, whitepaper writers should strive to present as much quantitative data as possible. Quantitative data encompasses information stemming from surveys, laboratory research, official government statistics, and verified public data. Ultimately, cold, hard numbers go an incredibly long way to support a compelling argument.

Additionally, there is plenty of room for qualitative data. For example, expert opinions on a subject can boost the credibility of a paper’s argument. When multiple experts echo the view presented in a paper, the argument can truly begin to take shape.

Trial lawyers use this same kind of motivation when calling expert witnesses to the stand. Expert witnesses have technical expertise that lawyers do not. Consequently, these witnesses serve to show jurors the argument’s veracity.  

Unfortunately, some whitepaper writers commit a fatal error by not presenting sufficient evidence. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the more proof, the better.

While there is no specific number of sources that a paper should use, writers should strive to find as many pieces of evidence as possible. Evidence serves to build credibility. Without it, a paper is far easier for critics to dismiss. Conversely, concrete evidence gives any whitepaper the backing it needs to be successful.

Graham Gordon, the Whitepaper Guy, says that the use of sources in whitepapers “elevates the level of discourse in your white paper, and in your industry, to rely more on evidence and less on hype.”

Basing the claims in a paper on evidence provides a solution based on a solid foundation of fact and not merely hot air. Hype can easily get debunked when someone takes the time to do their due diligence. If a competitor wants to get an edge on their competition, they will undoubtedly take the time to check up on the hype.

Graham warns of making up “facts,” though.  This statement does not necessarily pertain to falsifying information. It refers to making loose affirmations that appear to be true. However, they do not hold up to scrutiny.

For instance, claiming a specific aggregate market value of a product based on an estimation would be irresponsible to include in a legitimate paper. While it is entirely possible to utilize estimated data, estimates should always use a sound methodology. Making claims on unverified assumptions can quickly bash a paper’s credibility.

Mistake #3: Obscure Sources

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There is no question that solid research is the backbone of every compelling whitepaper. However, a paper’s research is only as good as its sources.

Often, writers try to cut corners by citing obscure sources or unknown individuals. In the worst of cases, some whitepapers make significant claims based on a single piece of evidence. A paper could avoid initial vetting/review if it is self-published—say on a website, but that may not shield it from eventual exposure of its flaws.

When it comes to sources, mainstream ones provide the best support. After all, journalistic articles from CNN or The New York Times carry much more weight than ones from thetruthrevealed.com. While it may seem silly to consider that a professional whitepaper writer would use such sources, it should not come as a surprise that inexperienced writers may try to pull a fast one.

At the core of reliable sources of information is trust. There is a proven psychological link between a source and an individual’s ability to trust the data.

Take children, for example. It has been proven that children associate the integrity of information based on its source. This implicit association implies that children are far likelier to trust anything a parent or guardian would say as opposed to a stranger.

The concept of trusting information based on the source remains with most people into adulthood, leading them to take information from trusted sources at face value naturally.

Influential whitepaper writers are keenly aware of the importance of trust. And trust is everything when it comes to writing a persuasive paper. Even when claims sound unbelievable, trustworthy sources, coupled with a consistent argument, are the winning formula to a successful whitepaper.

A clear example of an unreliable source is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an open-source repository of knowledge and information. Since it is open-source, practically anyone can contribute to a specific topic. However, Wikipedia does not have a rigorous verification methodology like academic journals do. Consequently, there is no guarantee that the information contained in it is genuinely accurate. Thus, readers are left to determine the degree of Wikipedia’s credibility for themselves.

Wikipedia serves as a cautionary tale on the use of obscure sources. Any professional writer will agree that using Wikipedia as an official source will quickly get a paper discredited. Finding credible sources may represent extra work. However, the payoff is certainly worth the additional effort.

Mistake #4: Confirmation Bias

Photo by Anthony Shkraba from Pexels

Often, finding the right piece of information to lock down an argument can be complicated. Depending on the nature of the argument, sources may be more or less abundant. And, in some cases, information may not even exist.

In such cases, whitepaper writers may have to produce the information themselves through surveys, statistical modeling, or experimentation.

Ideally, writers should conduct research in such a way that the data makes the argument come to life. Whatever it may be, the data ought to provide the support needed to reinforce the paper’s claims. In particular, data should support the core premise so that it holds up to scrutiny.

In the pursuit of credible information sources, the concept of confirmation bias may come up. Confirmation bias is the “tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.”

Consequently, confirmation bias skews sources, and most importantly, interpretation of data so that it is consistent with the premise in an argument. It can even lead to instances of twisting facts to suit an argument.

Influential whitepaper writers must be as objective as possible when it comes to fitting data within their arguments. After all, a loose interpretation of information may lead to serious questions about the paper’s overall integrity.

As such, confirmation bias plays a significant role in writing as it tends to give more weight to evidence that supports claims rather than evidence against it.

When writing a persuasive paper, writers must consider all sides of an argument. Like trial lawyers, whitepaper writers need to consider all possible angles of attack. This analysis includes taking sources of information that could contend the paper’s premises. Hence, contradictory information is useful in bolstering an argument.

Consider this situation:

A paper’s premise is that product “A” will help consumers lose weight. The research data shows the product to be effective. However, the same data also indicates test subjects in which the product was ineffective.

A writer showing confirmation bias would take the research data on successful test subjects to prove the product’s validity while discarding information of unsuccessful test subjects. However, doing so would open the door to challenges.

To accurately represent all the argument’s angles, the writer would take the successful and unsuccessful data to prove that the product is mostly effective, despite negative results. Readers would then have the opportunity to judge the effectiveness of the product for themselves.

The example above highlights an essential quality of great whitepapers: transparency.

When writers are transparent in the information they present, it helps build trust and credibility in the paper. These are the hallmarks of all excellent papers.

Renowned German politician Wolfgang Schauble once said, “Reliability is the precondition for trust.”

While these words emerged within a political context, it is easy to extrapolate them into any realm of human interaction. Reliability, as in transparency, is a direct precursor for trust. When a whitepaper builds trust, it catapults its brand into an entirely different league within its industry.

Conclusion

Writing a compelling whitepaper requires authors to do meticulous research to build an ironclad case. The case begins with a logical and consistent argument that has sound reasoning.

Nevertheless, a rational argument is nothing without useful data supporting it. Therefore, writers must find credible sources that can back up claims effectively.

Writers need to take great care not to bend information to suit their purposes. Instead, the data needs to make the argument emerge on its own. Otherwise, confirmation bias may lead to a paper showing contradictions.

Ultimately, a compelling whitepaper must add value to its intended audience. An excellent whitepaper can achieve this when reliable and transparent sources scaffold the claims presented.

The difference between a perfect paper and a terrible one often boils down to the effort put in by writers. There are no shortcuts to an influential paper. That is why putting in the work needed to produce an outstanding paper will lead to great results.

HOW TO CREATE AN EFFECTIVE CONTENT CALENDAR

“Content is king, but distribution is queen.” —Jonathan Perelman

Perelman’s famous Buzzfeed pronouncement is truer than ever in 2021.  With the proliferation of quality content competing for consumers’ attention across every platform and channel, the need for marketers to have a strategic, regular flow of content only continues to increase.  

It’s no secret that consistent, relevant content is crucial to build visibility, authority, engagement, and results for your brand. Regular content distribution is consistently ranked among the most important characteristics of successful content marketing.

But feeding the proverbial content beast is still a big challenge.

Sixty percent of marketers surveyed in a recent Hubspot survey said they had difficulty producing content consistently.  

According to Review 42, one in five marketers said they knew the best way to run a content campaign.  Only 46 percent had a documented strategy for content management.

The solution is a content calendar–a centralized planning tool for scheduling and publishing your content.  But while savvy marketers recognize the need, it can be confusing to navigate the options and the process.

According to the Semrush 2020 State of Content Marketing Report, “How to create a content marketing calendar” was among the top 20 content marketing questions asked on Google in 2020.

What’s a content calendar?

“Simply put, the content calendar is the implementation plan for your content strategy,” says Ann Gynn, Editorial Consultant for the Content Marketing Institute.  It’s an interactive tool for planning, organizing, and scheduling content. It’s a single, central repository for detailed, day-to-day content management, providing visibility, access, and accountability across contributors and teams.

An effective content calendar specifies content type, title, location or destination, writer, due date, status, and other critical information.

Depending on the size of your organization and the complexity of your needs, it may also help coordinate with other media and supporting campaigns and/or track results.

Why do you need one?

Content strategy and content management are not the same thing.  A brilliant content strategy alone is not enough without a system for seamless execution and distribution. An effective calendar is the planning tool that ensures consistency, and it’s crucial to your success.

Key benefits include:

  • A regular flow of strategically planned content  
  • A single streamlined system for tracking content creation and distribution
  • Consistency across channels and effective coordination with other media, supporting campaigns, and promotions
  • Improved search rankings
  • Ability to track performance and results

But content calendars aren’t one size fits all.  You’ll get the best results with a calendar customized to your specific needs, and there are many available options.

How do you create a content calendar?

With some thoughtful strategizing and planning, the calendar development process doesn’t have to be daunting. Let’s look at it step by step.

Determine your content strategy

First, define your strategy.  What are your content priorities? Traffic, lead generation, conversion? Branding or thought leadership? Improved SEO? Every piece of content you publish should have a specific purpose. Clarifying your objectives will help determine how simple or complex your calendar needs to be.

Decide on your time frame. Are you planning monthly, quarterly, or annually?  Gynn recommends quarterly, at a minimum.  She suggests planning annually by mapping out the first six months in detail on your calendar while keeping a general list of themes or topics you can flesh out as the second half of the year approaches.

Research industry and audience trends to determine content themes and topics. You can analyze top-performing content in your niche using tools like BuzzSumo or Social Animal to identify popular topics and formats as well as effective headlines.

Brainstorm with your sales, marketing, and customer service teams to develop content ideas. What issues matter most to your prospects and customers?  Identify the stages of your customer journey so you can map content effectively to meet leads, prospects, and customers at each step of the buying cycle.

Do keyword research to optimize search rankings. Search engines reward brands that publish consistent content. A regular flow of keyword-optimized content boosts visibility, page rankings, lead generation, and conversion. Keywords can also help you generate content themes.

What should your calendar include?

Now that you’ve laid out your content objectives, you can decide what information to track with your calendar. The basics include:

  • Content theme or topic
  • Title
  • Content type (blog post, video, social post, email, podcast, PDF, infographic, quiz, contest, email newsletter, whitepaper, case study, etc.)
  • Website location or destination (social channels, YouTube, etc.)
  • Frequency
  • Author
  • Due date
  • Publish date
  • Status
  • Assets needed (graphics or images)
  • Relevant links or resources

You may also want to specify supporting media, campaigns, and promotions; seasonal, promotional, evergreen, or repurposed content; and whether a Call To Action is included.  Consider including a space for future content ideas.

Choose your calendar format

Once you’ve decided what information to track, you can decide on a calendar format.  The options range from simple spreadsheets to fully interactive content management platforms.

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets like Google Sheets or Excel are popular free options for individuals and small teams because they’re simple, customizable, and interactive. They can also work in conjunction with calendar apps and content management tools, allowing you to coordinate information in multiple locations.

Calendar Apps

A traditional calendar or calendar app like Google Calendar is another convenient option. As a straightforward method of tracking what’s going out when, it can also be shared across teams and coordinated with Google Docs and Google Sheets. This format is well-suited to smaller teams and enterprises.

Templates

Templates like the one below from the Content Marketing Institute are essentially basic formats you can customize with your own categories, so you don’t have to start from scratch. 

This Hubspot article also offers a good overview of available free templates.

Source: Content Marketing Institute

Project Management Tools

Project management solutions like AirTable and Trello are more visually-oriented collaboration tools for tracking multiple simultaneous projects. Trello’s Kanban-based system uses moveable cards.

Content Management Platforms

Platforms like CoSchedule are more robust solutions that track every detail of planning, creation, and distribution. They’re generally appropriate for larger teams and more complex content management. 

Importantly, the more sophisticated platforms can also track content performance and measure results.  Analytics and metrics are increasingly important in content marketing. “There’s a growing expectation from business leadership that content must prove its value,” says Gynn. “You need to have some metrics, whether it’s website visitors, conversions, SEO, whatever it is.”

Regardless of which tool you choose, it should be interactive. Your calendar is a single source of truth designed to streamline communication and give everyone involved visibility and accountability. “Too often people think of it as a static document and don’t use it to their advantage,” says Gynn.

And keep it simple.  “Pick a tool that’s as robust as you need it to be, but also as simple as you can make it,” says Gynn.  If your only content is blog posts, your calendar may only need to include the title, writer, due date, and publish date.  As your content evolves and becomes more complex, you can add categories and functionality.  “if you’re a team of two and you think you might expand to a team of four, be thinking about room for growth going forward,” she says.

Your Content Calendar: Turning Strategy into Successful Execution

The best advice for creating your content calendar may well be the famous Nike slogan: Just do it. 

Gynn says the biggest challenge for marketers is often simply creating the calendar–and then actually using it.  Many marketers, initially enthused about the prospect of having fully planned and scheduled content, get busy with day-to-day demands and don’t always follow through. 

It doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With some upfront planning and the many available options, planning and executing a consistent publishing schedule is achievable—and well worth the effort.

With a clearly defined strategy, research, and an understanding of your needs, you know what content to publish, when, and why. You know what information to track with your calendar and which planning tool best suits your needs.

Now you can plan and execute your content strategy with every detail accounted for—and reap the rewards of content that delivers results.

14 Examples of Great Thought Leadership Content

Thought Leaders

We all know of and admire thought leaders. We can appreciate the fact that entrepreneurs like Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington, Tony Robins, and Mark Zuckerberg are thought leaders with considerable followings.

And the list goes on throughout history to include politicians, philosophers, inventors, scientists, and scholars. But you don’t have to be a Bill Gates or a Gandhi to become a thought leader.

So, what makes one a thought leader? Brand Yourself lists the commonly named attributes of thought leaders:

  • Expertise in a particular niche
  • Ongoing involvement in that niche
  • A clearly identified point of view
  • Credibility
  • A supportive following

Thought Leadership Content

Definition

When we consider these attributes, thought leadership content becomes easier to grasp. According to Marketing Insider Group, thought leadership content is a type of marketing in which you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business—or from your community—to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience on a particular topic.

It’s geared at exhibiting expertise, continuing to demonstrate that expertise, setting one’s business apart with a clearly identified edge, establishing credibility, and making fans of your audience.

Content

Thought leadership content provides educational, helpful, and inspirational content to readers, viewers, and listeners via any of the multiple types of communication.

By providing true thought leadership content, you or your company can become a go-to source of information. That is, people want to “follow” you on whatever platform or platforms you choose to engage your audience.

Voice

In addition to providing helpful, credible information, you must be knowledgeable, genuine, and convincing. It’s about creating a name for yourself as an information source and a problem solver, while giving your company a voice and personality.

Make sure your company personality is well defined and well understood within your organization so that it is consistently presented in every piece of thought leadership content you create.

Effectiveness and Possibilities

So how effective is thought leadership content?

The obvious answer is that it depends on the quality of your content, whether you succeed in growing your audience, and whether you have a mechanism for tracking its effect on your business.

As it turns out, according to a 2020 B2B thought leadership study that surveyed decision makers and marketers over a three-year period, only 26 percent of the surveyed marketers had implemented a way to tie thought leadership to sales and business wins. There are ways to do that, and some of the examples we’ll introduce will have information on the topic.

But the important thing to gain from this study is an appreciation for thought leadership content’s potential for your organization. Decision-makers gave thought leadership content an 89 percent effectiveness rating in enhancing their perceptions of an organization.

In addition, they gave thought leadership content an effectiveness rating of 49 percent in influencing their purchasing decisions. Surprisingly, 48 percent of decision-makers report reading thought leadership content for an hour or more each week.

That’s an important statistic to consider, given how many things pull at decision-makers’ time and attention. 

Thought Leadership Platforms

Now that we’ve defined thought leadership content and talked about its potential, we’ll follow the adage that “seeing is believing.” Thought leadership content is communicated through a variety of platforms. These include:

  • Public speaking
  • White papers
  • Books
  • Blogs
  • Websites
  • Social media
  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Online learning platforms

We’re going to focus on the last six—the content that is solely electronic.

The examples we’ve chosen not only enable you to see how excellent thought leadership content is presented, but they will also provide you with information to help you in the pursuit of growing your business. Among the examples we provide, you will find content focusing on:

  • Customer service
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Analytics
  • Video marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Building a successful advertising and marketing agency
  • The many pitfalls entrepreneurs face in building their businesses

You might want to start small, focusing on one platform you feel comfortable with. However, remember that ultimately you will need to spread your thought leadership content onto as many platforms as you can possibly manage.

Directimages.com advocates transforming old content to use on other platforms. “A blog post can become a video script and vice versa.” Additionally, you’re advised to “break up and distribute your content.” Create a teaser for your video on social media, or edit the outtakes into a behind-the-scenes video for Instagram . . . Simply put, wherever your audience is, be sure that your content reaches them.”

14 Great Thought Leadership Examples

Image by Pixabay

Blogs and Landing Pages

Zendesk’s The Library (formerly named Relate):

Zendesk® is a customer service software company. Its blog site, recommended by Bluleadz.com, was created out of the realization that customer service software can’t answer all the issues related to customer service.

The focus of these blog posts is to provide ideas for creating great customer service. Each blog has a link to a story or an invitation to download a guide that describes how Zendesk can help provide a particular solution.

Wistia:

Wistia®, recommended by Directimages.com, is a video hosting platform that enables businesses to present videos on their own website to help drive traffic to their sites. Wistia provides the analytics that create engagement graphs and “heatmaps” that reveal how individual viewers are watching.

Wistia’s blog targets businesses new to online video or those endeavoring to implement new strategies. It offers readers tips and tricks to perfecting video marketing.

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Websites

Redshift by Autodesk:

Marketing Insider Group included Redshift® by Autodesk in its examples of excellent thought leadership content. “The editorial team at Redshift aims to stay at the forefront of architecture, construction, infrastructure, manufacturing technology, and sustainability.”

Redshift was also noted by blueleads.com, which said the site’s thought leadership content demonstrates Autodesk’s credentials by providing a kind of “visual magazine packed with resources for potential customers at every skill level.”

Txchnologist powered by GE:

Mcguireeditorial.com lists this GE microsite as an excellent example of an online magazine. The site is “filled with fascinating content” covering nine themes—all areas where GE wants to remind potential B2B customers of GE’s innovation and expertise.

Photo by Ono Kosuki from Pexels

Podcasts

These thought leaders’ podcasts were recommended by Directimages.com and author, speaker, and authority marketing expert Angela Pointon.

Gary Vee:

Gary Vaynerchuk’s expertise is in social media marketing. He brands himself as a “contemporary communicator,” which he says is someone who “knows where people are paying attention, be it Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat, and can then produce the ‘creative’—the video, the pictures, and the written word—that are contextual to those platforms.”

The Get Paid Podcast:

Claire Pelletreau’s expertise is in online entrepreneurship. She is a Facebook and Instagram ads consultant for companies that spend $10,000 and up per month on advertising. The full name of her podcast is “The Get Paid Podcast: The Stark Reality of Entrepreneurship and Being Your Own Boss.”

Build a Better Agency Podcast:

These podcasts by Drew McLellan are targeted to mid-sized advertising and marketing agency owners. A leader in the world of digital marketing, McLellan hosts people who’ve either built successful ad agencies or who are experts in things that agency owners need to master in order to grow their businesses.

Available on iTunes, Google, and Stitcher, there are hundreds of podcasts featuring McLellan and other experts.

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YouTube Channels

These thought leaders’ YouTube channels were recommended by directimages.com.

Marie Forloe’s Marie TV:

Marie Forleo’s name appeared in multiple discussions of excellent thought leadership content. Described as a life coach and entrepreneur, Forleo says her videos are designed to help the new or aspiring entrepreneur identify “who you are, what you believe in, and, most importantly, the difference you were born to make.”

Video Creators by Tim Schmoyer:

Tim Schmoyer specializes in YouTube marketing, providing helpful content for video creators of all skill levels. Videos featuring Schmoyer’s own insights and those of his guests offer guidance on video creation, SEO, and distribution.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Online Learning Platforms

HubSpot Academy:

The HubSpot Academy is an online training resource for inbound marketing, sales, and customer service professionals. Much of the training is free. The platform specializes in comprehensive certifications, singular-topic courses, and bite-sized lessons for professionals looking to grow their career and business. (Bluleadz.com).

Donald Miller’s StoryBrand:

Miller is a public speaker, author, and CEO of Business Made Simple. StoryBrand offers courses, videos, and workshops to help companies develop and clarify their brand message. (Angela-pointon.com).

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Social Media—in This Instance, LinkedIn

These examples were provided in an article on LinkedIn. They are listed here as examples of various types of thought leadership content you’ll find on its site.

Deloitte Tech Trends:

Tech Trends succinctly captures top trends that enable readers to explore what lies ahead. The Tech Trends 2021 report enables readers to explore nine emerging trends and download the full report.

Aurecon:

Aurecon, an engineering, design, and advisory company, offers its Engineering Reimagined podcast and gives LinkedIn members access to its full library of episodes.

Philips:

The LinkedIn article asks, “What better way to demonstrate your problem-solving approach than by telling the story via the employees who live it?” Philips’ #LinkedInLive videos spotlight the health technology company’s approach to solving problems. The videos feature Philips employees who are implementing the company’s problem-solving approach to create novel solutions.

Takeaways

Now you’ve seen and heard some examples of great thought leadership content. Perhaps you’ve found a company, blog, podcast, or YouTube channel you intend to follow.

You know business leaders pay attention to thought leadership content. You know your content can enhance their perception of your company and influence their purchasing decisions.

And you know three more things: It takes a lot of work. The competition is fierce. And the bar for excellent content is set high!

Speaking of a Lot of Work

If you’re just starting out, it means that you will need to clearly identify your brand image, decide where to start, and create the content.

However, if you’re already up and running with your web presence, you know you have to expand your presence across multiple digital platforms and continually update and reshape your content.

A Possibility for Lightening the Load

Whether your marketing department is just beginning the journey, or it is overwhelmed with work, hiring professional web content writers can help lighten the load.

Content writers will produce blogs, social media campaigns, and thought leadership content, while optimizing SEO to ensure the content delivers traffic to your business.

Whatever your goals, professional web content writers will draw upon their experience in marketing, journalism, content marketing, and social media to craft stand-out thought leadership content that will showcase your expertise and your brand excellence.

How to Position Yourself as an Industry Expert Through Content Marketing

We are all good at something.

Some of us are naturally good cooks, excellent writers, or born leaders. As we progress in our careers, we develop proficiency in subjects germane to our jobs.

Sometimes, that proficiency and specialization becomes the core competency of our career. That proficiency and specialization can move markets, get interviews, get you quoted, sought out, and recognized. That “something” we’re good at becomes “expertise.”

As comedian Chris Rock was recently quoted in a CBS Sunday Morning interview, “You can be anything you’re good at, as long as they’re hiring!” And as long as they’re hiring, or looking, your skills can help you get recognized.

Once we have achieved marketable expertise, though, how can we position ourselves to benefit from this recognition? The same way that businesses generate leads, turn leads to customers, and expand customer sales – through Content Marketing!

Let’s take a look at content marketing and learn how we can use content marketing concepts to position ourselves as an industry expert.

What is Content Marketing?

According to HubSpot’s The Ultimate Guide to Content Marketing in 2020, “Content marketing is the process of planning, creating, distributing, sharing, and publishing content to reach your target audience. It can boost factors like brand awareness, sales, reach, interactions, and loyalty.”

Linda Welch, Director of SEO & Content Marketing at Unisys Corporation, a global information technology company that delivers successful outcomes for the most demanding businesses and governments, says that definition is missing one important concept.

Content marketing, according to Linda, includes “how to reach your target audience and then get them to look at your content, appreciate it, share it, recognize your expertise and come back and engage with you for more.”

When applying content marketing concepts to the promotion of industry expertise, we are exploring the use of content marketing in a non-traditional way.

Rather than traditional Business-to-Business (B2B) or Business-to-Consumer (B2C) applications, we are using content marketing for personal promotion. In this case, an “Individual-to-Business” or “I2B” model, allowing an individual to promote their expertise using content marketing concepts.

How then are we to be recognized as an industry expert?

Chris Hornyak, Senior SEO Analyst at The Content Factory, a digital PR agency specializing in SEO, content writing, social media marketing, and making their clients (more) famous, puts it this way:In the same way that content marketing “fundamentally uses creative assets to reach people,” building industry expertise recognition involves content that “the audience wants to see and the audience interacts with.

Putting your expertise out there, using content marketing, is key to recognition. Chris Hornyak says that “the focus should be on building the individual’s name brand and name recognition.”

For Linda Welch, recognition as an expert is an extension of her work responsibilities. “I look to be recognized as an expert within Unisys where executives and co-workers know your talents, reach out for you for support/ideas, and ultimately get recognized for your expertise/efforts through verbal recognition or awards. Early in my career, my external opportunities to be recognized came from my interactions with clients, for solutions I helped develop, which turned into opportunities to speak at our user group conferences.

Strategies to Position Yourself as an Industry Expert via Content Marketing

Bringing the two together – content marketing and industry expertise – one supports and strengthens the other. There are a number of content marketing strategies that individuals can employ to become known as an industry expert.

Linda Welch at Unisys says, “I think being able to create a wide variety of types of content (article, blog, infographic, webpage, etc.) shows that you have a diverse set of capabilities. This includes not only the topical area, but the types of content. The more partnerships and connections you can build internally or externally will help increase your credibility and references.”

Here are a few content marketing approaches that you will recognize, but with an I2B slant.

Blogs and Posts

Writing and publishing a blog or a post can be a very effective step in establishing your brand.

Publishing your own content helps you to establish relevancy, build a following, and provide a continuum of subject matter.

Blogs and posts help people find you and follow you. Choose content that reinforces your brand and your skills, and motivates your followers to come back for more.

Chris Hornyak suggests three important concepts to employ around blogs and posts: “(1) Speak in a definitive voice that can be direct, playful, informative; (2) provide value and build trust; and (3) provide a way for the conversation to continue.”

Thought pieces and whitepapers can also provide additional information about you and your skillsets in a longer, more robust format.

Social Media and Personal Websites

Having a personal website allows the messaging to be all about you. The issue, of course, is getting viewers’ eyeballs on your content.

Using social media sites such as LinkedIn, for example, allows you to control the narrative and provide personal information, including your web address as well as posts and blogs that you write and publish. Think of LinkedIn as your personal online resume. You can put your LinkedIn profile address in your contact information, so it is easily found.

In addition, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and others can reinforce your messaging. It is important that each of these venues consistently present you and your industry expertise. Make sure that postings, photos, and images on social media sites portray you in the most positive light.

Videos and Podcasts

Both can be effective in broadcasting your expertise and capabilities, but both require an investment of time and money. As Chris Hornyak puts it, “the juice has to be worth the squeeze!”

One potential use of video is a short vignette, highlighting you and your expertise. These are often seen on LinkedIn as you scroll through the home feed. They are short, 1-2 minutes max, and very focused on capturing the viewers’ attention. Often encapsulated with a short message, the viewer can click for more information.

Linda Welch points out that, “we have successfully utilized different length videos for each target audience,” allowing an ideal focus of time/money against intended content marketing results. The same is true for podcasts. They can reinforce your personal message and capabilities, but require scripting, producing, and deploying to be effective.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

To be recognized as an industry expert requires content marketing that allows your target audience to find you, follow you, and want to follow up for more. SEO is the “secret sauce” that allows this to happen.

Chris Hornyak says that “good SEO is good content and good content is good SEO.” These two concepts interlock.

When we post, write, video, or record, our audience is not only the people we want to reach, but also the search engines those people will use to find us. The goal, according to Linda Welch, is to utilize SEO concepts so that your target audience can “find you, follow you, and stay relevant.”

Yes, we are all good at something.

When that “something” we are good at becomes expertise, we can use content marketing concepts to be recognized, followed, and sourced. It’s not difficult, but using the techniques described in this article can move us to the top of the search page. And recognition as an expert will surely follow.