Our guide explains what thought leadership is, shows you how to create high-value thought leadership for your brand, and offers tips to level up your thought leadership content marketing strategy.

Thought leadership content helps businesses position themselves as industry leaders and build powerful relationships with their audience. And with many companies recognizing the value of industry authority for customer acquisition, using thought leadership for lead generation has become a popular growth tactic.

This guide explains:

  • What thought leadership is
  • Benefits of thought leadership
  • Different types of thought leadership
  • Thought leadership content – which format to choose?
  • 3 good-looking examples
  • How to develop a thought leadership content marketing strategy
  • Your step-by-step guide
  • Tips for planning
  • The importance of thought leadership: the research is in
  • Research results: from thought leadership consumers
  • Improve your strategy by measuring performance

New research highlights the long-term value of thought leadership content for B2B content producers and consumers. The majority of people surveyed agreed that thought leadership heavily influences business decision-making, but that high-quality thought leadership proved difficult to both find and create.

In this webinar, three marketing and thought leadership experts discuss the research and how to choose the channels and mediums to maximize the distribution of your thought leadership content. If you’re interested in data-led content formats to report on results and would like to improve your thought leadership content marketing, this webinar will help you.

What’s thought leadership?

Thought leadership is powerful content that establishes your brand as an influential authority on your chosen subject matter. The most valuable, best-performing thought leadership pushes knowledge forward and pioneers new ideas, connections, or ways of thinking.

Well-delivered thought leadership will:

  • promote trust and credibility with your audience
  • elevate your brand’s position as an expert in its field
  • invite collaboration and discussion

Nicole France – former Head of Thought Leadership at Cisco – sums the definition up perfectly:

I define thought leadership as creating a conversation that informs and shapes people's thinking.

Headshot of Nicole France, Director of Content at Contently

Nicole France

Director of Content at Contentful, and former Head of Thought Leadership at Cisco, Contentful

Benefits of thought leadership content

Getting thought leadership content right can bring a myriad of benefits.

By using content to position yourself as a thought leader, you can establish industry authority and have influence on its direction of growth.
The trust garnered through thought leadership also makes it a highly-effective tool for lead generation and brand awareness.
63% of buyers say thought leadership is important in providing proof that an organization genuinely understands or can solve their specific business challenges – so it’s crucial to be at the forefront of industry conversations.
After all, where leaders go, leads follow.

This survey from Audience illustrates the most common benefits of thought leadership content:

Different types of thought leadership

Which type of thought leadership content gets brands and individuals noticed?

The content could be a well-thought-out argument or a newsworthy opinion. Tech expert and business leader Heather Kernahan explains that thought leaders often take a brave stance on a topic:

People look to thought leaders for a reason. They say something new, exciting, breakthrough, or unexpected. Be bold. Get behind what you’re saying and say it with conviction. It’s okay to be controversial.

You can use thought leadership as a tool to educate your audience about your specific field, or as a strategic way to expose your brand’s values. These are great ways to give your thought leadership meaning and connect with your audience.

Nicole explains how these methods work for her clients at Contentful.

We often associate the idea of thought leadership with big consulting companies, like McKinsey, Accenture, or Deloitte, for example. It's an extremely useful approach for all kinds of companies though. Consider, for example, Moderna, an industry leader in the development of mRNA vaccines and therapies (starting long before Covid). The company uses its insights to help educate everyone from physicians and regulators to patients and consumers on what mRNA is and how related therapies impact human health. 

But thought leadership isn't limited to major innovations and B2B companies. It's also used effectively by brands selling everything from mattresses to financial services. In these cases, the focus is usually on educating potential customers on what they're buying and how they should go about it. 

Bombas, for example, makes the conversation about its mission — helping people in need — an integral part of the customer experience. Bombas is one leader in a movement among a growing number of companies to do good in the community in visible and proactive ways. They're promoting awareness and inspiring all kinds of people to take action. And they also happen to make great socks

Headshot of Nicole France, Director of Content at Contently

Nicole France

Director of Content at Contentful, and former Head of Thought Leadership at Cisco, Contentful

Thought leadership content – which format to choose?

Speaking at a live event, or on a webinar or podcast all work well, while video has encouraged plenty of Ted Talk and YouTube binges. LinkedIn thought leadership has become the quickest win for many thought leaders – with the advantage of speedy commentary and reach. Written articles, reports, and eBooks are typical and popular thought leadership formats – and if you use a digital document that includes analytics, you can measure your content’s performance.

3 good-looking examples

How to develop a thought leadership content marketing strategy

Establishing a thought leadership strategy will help determine your goals, methods, delivery, and reporting – just like any thorough content marketing plan. Start by setting your goal, and carefully consider your intended audience. Next, check in on your resources, and identify your content format/s before planning your content’s creation and distribution. Once your content is out in the world, think about how you’ll measure its engagement, impact, and overall performance to understand its ROI.

Your step-by-step guide:

A lot of work and planning goes into creating and promoting thought leadership. Here’s how to deliver quality content and maximize your marketing and distribution efforts:

  1. Research your topic deeply to find opinions from influential, trustworthy sources. Can any ideas be developed or debated?
  2. Identify expert contributors
  3. Commission original research
  4. Explore new collaborations with external partners or groups
  5. Draw up a project plan detailing the timeline and methods you’ll use to create and promote your thought leadership
  6. Reach out to influential experts for comments about the subject
  7. Determine which metrics to measure to see how effective your content’s performance is
  8. Benchmark your efforts to inform and improve your content marketing strategy going forward

Tips for planning

A focus group of stakeholder experts can prompt ideas, raising your chances of creating especially interesting content. Collaboration not only provides a deeper pool of knowledge but also offers powerful distribution channels – once your content is published, you’ll already have buy-in for LinkedIn activity. And this provides you with native and authentic thought leadership PR – almost immediately.

The importance of thought leadership: the research is in

Rethinking Thought Leadership reveals a gap between a genuine desire for thought leadership from potential clients, and how businesses find it particularly hard to produce really great content. It also highlights a discrepancy between the importance of thought leadership and the quality of content that’s generally available.






Thought leadership has become crucial for executives in choosing a B2B partner. The issue is that many companies just don’t realize how important it is. While they are inundated with content, thought leadership consumers don’t think most of what they see is of extremely high value.
But when done right – built on rigorous research, deft argument framing, and relevant narratives written from the customer's perspective – executives will rely on thought leadership content even more to inform their business decisions

headshot of Alan Alper

Alan Alper

Principal & Chief Operating Officer, Buday Thought Leadership Partners

The research was conducted by Buday Thought Leadership PartnersRattleback, and Phronesis.

Findings showed the importance of thought leadership to business leaders across key verticals including tech, management consulting, financial services, law, accounting, and IT and cloud services.

Research results: from thought leadership consumers 

  • 68% said that high-quality thought leadership is very or extremely important for addressing their organization’s most pressing business challenges
  • 61% said thought leadership has been of high value or extremely high value in choosing partner firms during the past five years
  • Thought leadership consumers at $20 billion+ revenue firms rated thought leadership’s importance at 4.33 on a 1-5 scale

Improve your strategy by measuring performance

Today’s media can help you successfully measure the performance of your thought leadership content.

By using interactive digital media, you can measure the engagement of your content in detail, to see who is reading and interacting with specific parts of the content. Insights at this depth can help you understand the consumers of your thought leadership more fully, by showing what resonates most with your audience. This level of insight can help inform your next thought leadership piece and shape your overall thought leadership marketing strategy.

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