7 March 2022

What is the
difference between
content marketing
and thought
leadership?

Thought leadership vs content marketing


Because it is content, many marketers group thought leadership within the context of the wider term of content marketing. But, although there are similarities, the two are not the same. Where content marketing can entertain or provide light relief, thought leadership is always educational.


With a focus on quality rather than quantity, great thought leadership can take longer to create than an average blog or article, but its rewards can be well worth the investment.


The differences between thought leadership and content marketing go deeper, however.

The benefits of content marketing

Content marketing is the creation and distribution of content online for the purposes of stimulating interest in a product or service. An increasingly important part of an overall marketing strategy, research shows that 70% of marketers now actively invest in content marketing.

Distributed mainly across a company’s own website or social media channels, content marketing can take many forms, including blogs, video, infographics and eBooks. With the ultimate goals of educating an audience with a view to making a sale, these pieces of content will often be littered with enticing calls-to-action, and be geared towards steering an audience through the sales funnel.

Mainly targetting a B2C audience, there are plentiful benefits of a good content marketing strategy. Namely establishing trust with different audience segments, either increasing retention or generating new leads. Building authority through consistently producing high-quality articles, will also positively impact SEO efforts, creating another potential method of attracting clients.

The benefits of thought leadership content

A subsection of content marketing, thought leadership has a very specific aim – to change somebody’s way of thinking. Often reserved for the top of a sales funnel, thought leadership is often the first impression the reader will have of the company.

This may lead to increased credibility and brand affinity, and hence shorten the sales cycle, but these are not the main aims of thought leadership. That is to start the sales conversation through original and unique thinking.

Because it is not sales-led, thought leadership often takes place off-site. There is less need for self-promotion or frequent calls to action. Indeed, much thought leadership content promotion is limited to the author’s byline.

This may seem counterintuitive, but the benefits can be reaped further down the line.

Where content marketing can entertain or provide light relief, thought leadership is always educational.

To focus on thought leadership or content marketing?

Thought leadership and content marketing are both effective methods of marketing. Both are essential to companies who want to stand out in their industries. Indeed, thought leadership can be a vital part of a wider content marketing strategy.

Because of their distinct target audiences and objectives, the two methods require subtly different writing styles and distribution channels.

At this stage, thought leadership is written with the aim of beginning a conversation. It wants to provoke the reader into responding with their own thoughts and opinions. Its sole aims are to educate and encourage discussion for further learning.

Indeed, the Edelman and LinkedIn Thought Leadership Impact Study, states that one of the top three characteristics of low-quality thought leadership content is that it ‘emphasises selling something instead of imparting valuable insights’.

Think of thought leadership as a way to elevate your brand or personal standing above others in your field.

Content marketing and thought leadership can work hand-in-hand, but for best results, it’s essential to understand the different mediums and use them in conjunction with each other, rather than as a confusing mashup of styles, objectives and media.

Download your guide to thought leadership design

Want to know the secrets to excellent thought leadership design?

Download our free eBook to discover:

• How to create a thought leadership strategy
• How to promote your material for maximum engagement
• The proven JDJ design process

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JDJ Creative are experts in thought leadership design

JDJ Creative helps businesses to become their industry’s go-to resource through authoritative visual storytelling and original thought leadership design techniques.

If you’re looking to produce insightful thought leadership, challenge norms and reach your marketing goals and are interested in partnering with us to create your next piece of thought leadership, please feel free to get in touch for an informal conversation.

Together we can create material that inspires.

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