Molly Buccini

Marketing through thought leadership is totally in right now. It makes sense: Every business wants to be perceived as a leader, respected by customers and envied by competition. And now web algorithms – both for search and social media – try to reward “authorities” with wider reach.

The problem with striving for “thought leadership” lies in its subjective definition: Everyone wants to be a leader, but no one knows exactly how to gauge or prove their thought leader status.

How does one determine if they are, in fact, a thought leader? This big buzzword is taking over in the content marketing industry – and it’s an area of increasing interest among Brafton’s clients. This is good because content and thought leadership are two sides of the same coin (if you’re creating the right content). Some people are reluctant to outsource such heavy-hitting content, and we understand that it’s important to have a firm grasp of:

  • The industry ideology
  • The brand voice (personality!)
  • The audiences’ current understanding
  • The intended results

And in today’s fast paced web, through leaders (and thought leadership strategies) can never rest on their laurels – it’s vital to be thinking a step ahead. We’ve been running co-trainings around our customers’ campaigns to enhance in-place and upcoming thought leadership strategies, and to identify the key metrics that correlate with best overall successes. So here are some thoughts on thought leadership and how it fits into a content marketing strategy.

What is thought leadership?

According to Forbes, the textbook definition for thought leadership is:

“An individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

How does this translate into content marketing? We look for content to have a value-add beyond what the business sells. Conversions often follow, but thought leadership pieces don’t aim to sell: They aim to educate, advise and – in many cases – entertain.

What can numbers tell you about thought leadership?

When measuring thought leadership, there should be KPIs showing that people recognize our client’s content as authoritative, people share our clients’ opinion with others and people interact with the content in ways that demonstrate influence over conversions.

Depending on the client, content’s success in this area might be indicated by:

  • Significant length of page visits
  • High volume of social shares
  • Shares from reputable users
  • Quality inbound links to a piece
  • Traffic flow from a page deeper into the site

Can you really measure thought leadership?

Think about when you’re assessing your business goals. Let’s say this quarter you’re striving to lower your bounce rate by 5 percent, increase on-site conversions by 10 percent and attain thought leadership. Clearly, one of these things is not like the others. One look at an analytics report can tell you whether you’re on track to lower your bounce rate or increase conversions. There isn’t a magic button in Google Analytics to measure influence.

One look at an analytics report can tell you whether you’re on track to lower your bounce rate or increase conversions. There isn’t a magic button in Google Analytics to measure influence.

When marketers press play on a strategy to attain thought leadership, it’s critical they understand it’s not going to happen overnight.

First, it’s important to think about who you want to view you as a thought leader: Is it the general public who have little expertise on the subject, or the people who actually have influence and opinion in the industry?

When (and where) leaders should keep it simple

If you’re aiming for a mass audience, Director of Strategy Patrick Berzai says its critical to think in the most simplistic terms. Einstein once said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” and Google is on board with this notion. While many might think writing jargon heavy content is the best way to prove thought leadership, if you want to rank in search, content has to be clear and easy to understand.

For searchers, avoid jargon monoxide and use their language. Meanwhile, deliver the in-depth pieces directly to advanced users.

Often, searchers don’t have the insider knowledge to type the kind of query that will cause jargon-heavy content to show up in SERPs. Patrick describes it as: “That would be like me inventing a word that only I know, but hoping you type it into a search.”

If you’re dealing with a more advanced user and want to get technical, understand where highly-informed prospects and clients are going to be most likely to see your content. Sharing on social properties, like LinkedIn profiles or LinkedIn groups, or including an in-depth piece in an email marketing campaign will be likely to garner more success than a simple search.  White Papers, of course, are also a great way to get leads, as well.

The thought leadership checklist:

Content marketing strategist David Juengst composed a series of questions a business can ask themselves that can help put thought leadership into perspective.

  • Do people read your blog and return on a frequent basis?
  • Do people interact with your content through social media and share it?
  • Does your audience like the content enough to want to sign up to receive it in a newsletter?
  • Do your whitepapers and case studies influence conversion?
  • Do you see more inbound links?

After the checklist is complete with “yes” answers, can you officially say you’re achieving thought leadership? Not necessarily. But either way – you’re doing something right.