Content Marketing vs. Thought Leadership: What’s the Difference?

Content Marketing vs. Thought Leadership: What’s the Difference?

As businesses engage with the marketplace, they’re turning to content marketing and thought leadership. Thought leadership is a common technique among business persons, especially those aiming to increase brand recognition and get more traction in their marketing. So does content marketing, which is often known for its ability to create top-of-funnel and marketing-qualified leads.

So, what’s the difference between these fast-growing marketing categories? While both involve creating content to increase brand visibility and sales, they also have distinct qualities. Knowing the difference between thought leadership and content marketing can help you strategize and leverage your approach to get the best results. In this post, we’ll discuss the differences and how to use these techniques.

What Is Content Marketing?

I’m certain that every marketer has heard the famous phrase “content is king.” From videos and blog posts on corporate websites to articles on LinkedIn, content marketing is no longer an option. It is now a necessity for building your brand and communicating your message. So, what exactly is content marketing?

Content marketing is exactly how it sounds; producing content such as blogs, articles, videos, and social media posts as a way of communicating with your customers and improving visibility. Neil Patel defines content marketing as “a relatively renewed type of marketing that provides free media-type content to customers in exchange for their attention.” It is a long-term strategy that aims to build a robust connection with your target audience by consistently providing them with relevant content.

Examples of the benefits of content marketing include:

  • Boost your SEO and traffic
  • Establish trust and authority
  • Create brand awareness and increase visibility
  • Improve social media engagements and PR results
  • Boost lead generation and improve conversion rates

What Is Thought Leadership?

Let’s look at a few definitions of thought leadership from industry leaders, including Michael Brenner, Seth Godin, and Russ Klein:

Michael Brenner, a recognized authority on leadership, gives the following insight on thought leadership, “I define thought leadership as a type of content marketing where 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.”

Seth Godin defines thought leadership as a way of inspiring others. “… to inspire others, one must take a stand on a controversial topic. That takes courage.”

Russ Klein, the CEO of the American Marketing Association, places utmost importance on being original for those who aspire to be thought leaders.

Thought leadership, as an industry concept, is insightful and compelling content that brings something new to your audience. It establishes expertise, portraying your company as a true leader in your industry while building confidence with your target audience. It’s authoritative, creative, and inspires readers to take action in turn, whether through calling for more information, purchasing products or services, or scheduling an appointment. However, thought leadership would not exist without content marketing. Your content needs to clearly communicate your insights and value.

Semrush conducted research and interviewed over 300 marketers and industry experts on what thought leadership means to them. Here are the responses:

  • 60.9% described thought leadership as the inspirational content that drives changes
  • 46.5% believe thought leadership is educational content
  • 39.4% said thought leadership is content exploring industry trends
  • 36.9% described it as industry research
  • 32.7% described it as opinion content/commentary

Anyone can engage in thought leadership. It doesn’t matter if you’re an individual or an organization that wants to be recognized as a thought leader. You can improve the public’s perception of you by implementing the right thought leadership strategies.

According to a 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study:

  • 58% of business leaders use thought leadership as a way of vetting organizations that they are considering working with.
  • 82% of decision-makers will engage with a brand if someone they know and respect shares its thought leadership.
  • 51% of decision-makers will continue doing business with organizations that have good thought leadership.
  • 47% of C-suite executives will get in touch with organizations after reading their good thought leadership content.
  • 50% of decision-makers will pay a premium to a business that clearly sets out its vision through thought leadership.

Also, according to a Semrush study, 65% of businesses already include thought leadership in their content marketing, while 29.5% more are planning to start doing so soon.

When done right, thought leadership can build your company’s reputation and grow your business. This doesn’t mean just assuming the title ‘industry thought leader’, but investing time and effort to achieve the status.

What Are the Differences Between Thought Leadership and Content Marketing, Anyway?

To better explain the differences between thought leadership and content marketing, here are the key factors to pay attention to:

Content Marketing is a Predominant Strategy

Content marketing is an umbrella term encompassing every kind of content a business uses to promote itself, and thought leadership is one of them. From social media posts to email marketing campaigns to website content and promotional materials, content marketing is the strategy behind everything a business publishes.

When customers consume your content, they’re looking for answers to their problems. Your content needs to provide these answers and push them a little to convince them that your brand is the one to provide them with a solution. Now, that’s where thought leadership comes in. Typically, thought leadership is more conversational and strives to offer a unique perspective with straightforward answers and more thought-provoking ideas.

Content Marketing Seeks to Build the Funnel, While Thought Leadership Focuses on Building Connections

Businesses use content marketing to convert customers and sell products and services. The goal is to create promising leads by building a relationship between the business and the target audience. For this reason, content marketing looks at the entire customer journey and marketing funnel when creating a strategy. It aims to produce content that can convert customers at any point in their buyer journey.

On the other hand, thought leadership aims to build strong relationships with the reader. The reader feels like they’re having a conversation with the writer, allowing them to create a stronger connection with the brand.

Thought Leadership Emphasizes Quality Over Quantity

If you have created thought leadership content, you probably know that it requires substantial time and effort, and it’s not something that can be produced in volumes within a short period. Well, there’re so-called content firms out there that are bombarding the audience with loads of content, thinking that it’s the easiest way to improve search engine rankings.

However, not all content marketing is like that. Still, unlike the thought leadership tactic of focusing on a few but quality messages, there is a need for quantity to attract attention. Companies should create few, but quality thought leadership programs. That’s what will help them to stand out from the crowd.

Content Marketing Focuses on Engagement, While Thought Leadership is about Credibility

Content marketing focuses on driving engagement, growing traffic to your website, and creating leads. Thought leadership, on the other hand, focuses on building credibility. Thought leadership content is not promotional or salesy but only strives to build a reputation and position your company as having the greatest expertise. This is specifically true in B2B companies, where sales cycles can be long, and it takes time to build trust.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Content Creation Services Help Businesses Transition to a Thought-Leadership Approach

Thought leadership requires a systemized approach to planning, research, expertise, and creativity. While it’s more valuable than standard content marketing, smart marketers understand that they need to apply both techniques to have a distinctive voice.

However, this becomes challenging for most companies whose internal teams may lack time, skills, or dedication to consistently create high-quality content for a successful campaign. That’s why many companies choose to outsource the job to experts.

If you need help with executing your thought leadership strategy, content creation services like nDash can help you integrate thought leadership into a broader content marketing strategy. Chat with our sales team today to learn more about our thought leadership marketing services and how we can help you.

About the author

Lilian MulitiThis post is by nDash community member Lilian Muliti, a digital marketing consultant and content writer for B2B and B2C companies. Learn more about her, her experience, and how her expertise can help you reach your content creation goals by visiting her profile.