2 March 2022

What is

Everything you need to know about thought leadership

Thought leadership is one of the most effective marketing tools in the marketer’s armoury. It establishes trust and validates a company’s or individual’s authority on a subject matter, creating connections that can then lead to new business further down the track.

But what exactly is thought leadership, who can create it and why?

Let’s start with what we think is the meaning of thought leadership:

Thought leadership definition

An essential element of a successful content marketing strategy, thought leadership is content that is educational, thought-provoking and inspirational. It is original thinking from an expert source that is trustworthy, distributed for free and insightful.

Subtly different from the other forms of content that marketers create daily, thought leadership represents something deeper. Something profound. Forming part of a wider content marketing strategy, it has its own set of goals, is targeted to a different audience segment and occupies a unique position at the top of the sales funnel.

Within this definition, there are other terms that should be explored…

What is thought leadership content?

Thought leadership content is any content produced to show your expertise on your chosen subject. This content could take many forms, including articles, whitepapers, videos, podcasts, social media, webinars and public events and conferences. 

What are thought leadership articles?

As their name suggests, thought leadership articles are those blog posts and whitepapers written to demonstrate your expertise on a subject or provide your unique insight on trending topics in your niche.

As we stated above, thought leadership articles typically go deeper than a normal blog post, offering opinion and in-depth insight into the topic.

What are thought leadership events?

Having written great pieces of thought leadership content, you’ll be keen to get it seen, read and discussed by as broad a range of people as possible. One way of creating a buzz around your content is with a thought leadership event.

These events provide an opportunity to show your expertise through in-person appearances by your experts, as well as steer the discussion on new and trending topics. They provide an interactive experience where attendees can directly connect with your thought leaders, engaging them even more than through blog articles or whitepapers.

Usually held over one or two days, thought leadership events are a powerful way of supporting your thought leadership content and offer the opportunity for further engagement through video content, hashtags and reviews.

Now we know what thought leadership is, it’s time to look at why it matters to businesses…

Why create thought leadership?

Brands, businesses, and individuals who create excellent thought leadership are seen as trusted experts in their field. Because of this, their words carry clout. Their audience listens to them and acts upon what they have to say. Exceptional content can even change a way of thinking.

This is powerful.

From a marketing perspective, it means you can raise awareness of your products and services, without even mentioning them. It can generate leads. Your target audience can share it, boosting online engagement. Mostly targeting a top of funnel audience, thought leadership starts new conversations with your expertise already established.

In short, creating good thought leadership materials puts you front of mind whenever a customer has a problem you can solve.


All of which is very well and good, but what does it take to be a thought leader?…

Who can be a thought leader?

Anybody can be a thought leader, regardless of age or background. But, in order to inform arguments, leaders have extensive experience in their field, often amassed over many years.

The key element that can make somebody a thought leader, however, is a willingness to share knowledge and insightful opinion.

Think of your own organisation. Are you open to sharing insights with colleagues and close contacts? Most people are. But are you also hesitant when it comes to communicating this information with the wider world?

Afraid of being judged or seen to be wrong without relevant figures to back up their claims, many people simply refuse to commit to an opinion in public. This means so many beneficial insights go unpublished. Anecdotal evidence derived from decades working in specialised professions remains internalised.

However, while statistics are useful, extrapolated analysis based on previous trends is equally informative. An expert’s viewpoint, backed up by the credibility of experience, can also rightly be termed thought leadership. But to become a thought leader, you need to share these thoughts. In fact, not hiding behind known facts sets insightful thought leadership apart from the rest.

And if you or your business are not sharing opinion, knowledge and insight, the chances are you’ll lose business to the competitors who are.


So now you’re probably thinking your CEO or an experienced member of staff would make an excellent thought leader. But what if these people are not well known. Can a whole brand be a thought leader?…

Thought leadership for brands

As we’ve seen, it’s not unusual for individual people to become experts in a subject. The good news for brands is that they comprise many of these individuals. Therefore, the opportunities for creating thought leadership are multiplied.

Research by Mantis shows 70% of marketers think brands can be thought leaders.

Brands just need to approach thought leadership differently. For example, when publishing opinions, it is advisable to put a face to your contributors. People are often more relatable than a brand. This could be the CEO or any leader within the business. Jeff Bezos remains the face of Amazon. Steve Jobs was Apple. Putting a face to the name makes the content appear more personal and trustworthy. It also allows for an ongoing conversation on social media, with people able to communicate one-to-one with the author.

Brands can also partner with other thought leaders to create in-depth research. Through endorsing this research, or being affiliated with it, brands can both demonstrate their expertise and benefit from association with a trusted source.

Thought leadership represents something deeper. Something profound. Forming part of a wider content marketing strategy, it has its own set of goals, is targeted to a different audience segment and occupies a unique position at the top of the sales funnel.

Thought leadership vs Sales Copy

As we’ve already seen, thought leadership is not copy to sell your products. In most examples of thought leadership content, there is no mention of the products at all. That’s because your audience will know your company sells products or service. But they’re not at that stage of the funnel yet. Right now, they are reading, listening or watching your materials to learn. So educate, don’t sell.

That’s why the content needs to be insightful and positioned correctly. For then, when they’re ready, your audience will seek you out, eager to find out more.

Think of thought leadership as a slow sale. It is about making introductions with potential clients and customers. By being open and sharing expertise, your audience will get to know you and your brand, and over time come to trust you. When you then introduce sales collateral to them, they’ll be more receptive to considering your offering.

Excellent, we now know all we need to about thought leadership, let’s get started… WAIT! Before you run off please bear the following in mind…

Avoid the weak thought leadership trap

The problem many marketers find when creating thought leadership is that too much of it is just not very insightful.

While lots of content is regurgitated tropes, true thought leadership is unique.

Research by Edelman in collaboration with LinkedIn shows only 15% of decision-makers rate the quality of thought leadership as ‘excellent’. Given that 49% say thought leadership influences their purchasing decisions, this is surprising.

This also means there is a great opportunity for brands who create great content. Because, when done well, the benefits of thought leadership are immense.

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


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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