Thought Leadership in an Era of Personalized Content Marketing

Aug 24, 2020

 Ace the trust test and build credibility with authentic, purpose-driven content marketing that speaks directly to your targets’ needs.

By KPItarget

What is thought leadership, and why should content marketers care about it?

Essentially, a thought leader is an individual or business that gains recognition as an authority within a specific industry or area of expertise. Thought leadership is not baseless business jargon, and it’s certainly not handed out without merit. It’s earned — through expertise, authenticity, and most of all, consistency.

True thought leaders have the potential to set trends, blaze trails and guide tribes of loyal followers to new and exciting insights. But the key is taking action and delivering value with helpful content on a regular basis.

Thought leaders don’t get hung up on trying to concoct a brilliantly unique angle on every single subject within their field. They’re far too busy creating valuable content that actually helps their audience and answers their pressing questions to be bogged down in the minutiae.

All too often, well-meaning content marketers false start due to paralysis by analysis, and the effectiveness of their content marketing strategy suffers as a result.

Thought Leadership is Important to Buyers

Thought leadership impacts brand perception, compels decision makers to take action, and provides a basis for your target audience to determine your company’s trustworthiness, competence and credibility.

Yet while decision makers (buyers) prize quality thought leadership, content marketers (sellers) often undervalue its importance in driving purchasing decisions and building brand awareness.

A 2020 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study reveals that almost half of decision makers spend one hour or more consuming thought leadership every week. The study also finds that 89% of decision makers say that thought leadership can be effective in enhancing their perception of an organization.

Moreover, 60% agree that thought leadership is a more trustworthy basis for assessing the capabilities and competencies of an organization than its marketing materials or product sheets. Yet in spite of these compelling metrics, only 26% of content marketers believe that thought leadership leads directly to closing deals.

Perhaps marketers tend to undervalue the importance of thought leadership in their content marketing strategies because you can’t quantify thought leadership as easily as KPIs like cost-per-lead or click-through rate.

Whatever the reason, brands that want to demonstrate their helpfulness and authentic understanding of their audience can do so by providing value, the basis upon which thought leadership, trust and credibility are built.

Since 55% of buyers report that they use thought leadership to vet organizations they may hire, it’s time to demystify the process of integrating this tool into your overall content marketing strategy. With time, you’ll have the opportunity to drive brand awareness and credibility, generate more leads and sales, and drive more eager viewers to your website and offerings.

Thought Leadership Best Practices

Before we discuss the key components of an effective thought leadership strategy, it may be helpful to review some basic best practices and guidelines to set us on our way.

Define Your Target Audience

You’ve heard this a million times, but it bears repeating. The foundation of any successful marketing strategy rests upon a firm understanding of who, exactly, you’re marketing to.  

Developing an ideal client profile (ICP) and buyer personas help to define your target audience’s real-world needs, questions and pain points. Analyze what questions they’re asking and how the market is currently responding. It’s difficult to position your company as a thought leader without diving deep into the unique needs of your base. This calls for research, iteration and testing.

Buyer interviews with current clients can give you a sense for how to replicate the service model of that mutually beneficial synergy to drive similar clients into the funnel.

Keep in mind that buyer personas change over time, as a natural result of shifts within an industry or market, not to mention society at large. Stay on the pulse of your targets’ needs and the evolving characteristics of your buyers by listening actively and responding with content that resonates.

Research Your Competitors 

Are your competitors creating valuable content that positions their organization or a person within it as a thought leader? If so, what’s their game?

What differentiating qualities are they highlighting in their value proposition? What’s their voice and tone, and how and where are they leveraging their content? If your competition is active on social media, research where they post and how frequently. Even more importantly, how are they interacting with their customers when they reply with comments and questions?

Conducting competitive research provides insight into how you can put your own unique angle on the expertise your business is built upon.

Start Creating That Content

Once you’ve identified your target client and buyers, and done your due diligence on relevant competition, it’s time to create content.

Use the knowledge gained from your buyer and competitor research to build a content calendar for at least one month’s worth of content. Decide upon your cadence and stick to it. Organizing planned content in an editorial calendar ensures that you stay on task with regular publishing.

One of the primary benefits of organic content marketing is that you can get niche focused within a particular area that’s important to your base. Each blog post, white paper, case study, or explainer video is an opportunity to demonstrate not only your expertise, but also your intention to provide helpful content geared toward a person whose needs you understand and relate to.

Consistency is key. If you’re organizing a content calendar and regularly publishing content geared toward your base, you’re on the right track, and it won’t be long until you realize the compounding returns of strategic content marketing through your thought leadership.

Be Purposeful, Not Promotional

Content marketing with genuine thought leadership is all about acting from a place of purpose and authenticity. It avoids being overly promotional, or even promotional at all. We’re in the business of creating brand advocates and evangelists here. That’s only possible when people feel comfortable and helped, rather than prodded or annoyed.

People know when they’re being hustled. There’s plenty of time to promote and sell your product or service at other touchpoints in the sales cycle. A published piece of thought leadership is not one of them. This is where you develop trust and credibility. When your targets build that genuine trust, they’ll be far more likely to come back when it’s time to buy.

In fact, if you do the work of establishing credibility and trust through your authentic thought leadership content marketing, it will be a no-brainer for your targets to come back at the point of purchase. That’s because you’ve already been there for them in the past when all they needed was an answer to a pressing question or an insight that helped them move their life or business in a positive direction.

How to Build a Thought Leadership Strategy

Establishing yourself and/or your business as a thought leader opens myriad benefits that would otherwise be unavailable without the critical foundation that content marketing helps you build.

For example, as a recognized expert in your field, you’ll be able to leverage your valuable and helpful content on sites beyond your business’s blog. Your net will widen, and more people and businesses will naturally be inclined to seek out your insights and expertise. When your content is featured, for instance, on a popular business website, you have the opportunity to grab more attention and drive more viewers back to your site.

Here are some basic best practices, as they relate to putting together the bones of your thought leadership strategy, a topic we’ll flesh out more fully in an upcoming blog post:

Establish Objectives and How You’ll Measure Success

Before you can set about the critical work of developing thought leadership, you first need to know what you’re attempting to achieve, and how to measure your success, or lack thereof.

Rather than worry about what your content marketing will look like six months down the line, get going today with a strong sense of what you intend to achieve with your thought leadership and organic content. Stay consistent, act from a place of purpose, and define what success equals, whether it’s driving more viewers to your website or encouraging more people to download other valuable content further down the funnel.

Get Creative and Avoid Overgeneralization

Once again, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to deliver valuable content to your targets in a way that’s unique to your personality and expertise. Think about what it is that would be truly useful to your prospective customers and plan content accordingly.

Get specific within an area of focus that you’ve determined means a lot to your base. Avoid overgeneralizations and see if you can’t explore a subject in a way that resonates with your base and makes them feel seen and heard.

For example, if you’re a digital marketing agency known for your SEO prowess, you could quite literally spend an entire month on link-building or ad split testing, hitting the subjects from different angles and dispensing a unique perspective based on demonstrated successes with current or past clients.

Keep an Eye on the Competition

Prioritize consistent content creation above all else but keep an eye on relevant competition simply so you know how they’re treating any crossover areas, or to discover best practices that you may be able to leverage with your own thought leadership posts.

Test, Measure Results, Repeat

“What gets measured gets managed.”

Peter Drucker had it absolutely correct when he offered this valuable advice, which can be applied to virtually any business, in any situation.

Understand your objectives and what success will equal to your unique business, then measure the results of your efforts on a regular basis, and pivot when areas of improvement become evident.

Keep It Consistent

Are we getting repetitive yet? Good. No content marketing strategy is worth the effort without consistency. Especially not one in which you intend to develop thought leadership through your efforts. Get inspired, organize your content calendar, and have fun as you produce this value-adding content. It is, after all, your unique area of expertise.

Rather than sell a product or service, sell your enthusiasm for what you do and your passion for genuinely helping others with similar interests. From there, the details will begin to take care of themselves.

Get in touch to learn more about how KPI Target is helping businesses large and small leverage thought leadership to create marketing strategies that provide real value and drive tangible results.