When Thought Leadership Isn’t


Share on LinkedIn

Many B2B marketers cite a goal of their content marketing programs as establishing their company as thought leaders in their marketplace. This is an admirable goal, as prospects are looking for experts, not just products or solutions. However, becoming a thought leader takes a bit more effort than you may think.

Definition of Thought Leadership by Wikipedia:

A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for
innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share
those ideas as actionable distilled insights.

Let's take a look at some of the components of thought leadership.

  • Futurist – This means that you can't just pontificate about the current state of affairs, but must demonstrate that you have a vision for what's coming down the pike. In addition, you must show them how it will affect their business/success, as well as what they can do to prepare to get ahead of it without disrupting the strategic goals of their business.
  • Innovative Ideas – Innovative = New. There's much content running around online that is just a rehash of all the other stuff out there. Mimicking has become a major past time. This is not to say that all the ideas must be new, but your spin on them should be. For your content to be considered thought leadership, it has to, well, stir up some thinking. Innovative content needs to get people to think about things differently.
  • Actionable – (Although I dislike this word, the meaning is significant.) Any content worthy of the thought leadership designation must motivate people to DO something. Whether that's discussing your ideas with a colleague, or spurring them on to do more research about the ideas or try to apply them to the improvement of their current business processes, something must happen.
  • Distilled Insights – The way something happens is when you show people what to do with the ideas you share. Help them out and give them next steps. Be specific. The thing that kills the intention to create thought leadership content is generalities. Distilled insights mean being specific. You must narrow the focus to a specific audience in order to make these insights relevant and enticing enough because they're understood and applicable to your audience's specific situations.

Content that isn't thought leadership lacks:

  • Educational Value – often we assume the audience knows more than they do. We must put ourselves into their shoes and provide the level of education that connects with them at the right time, with the right information.
  • Our Expertise – if your thought leadership content is relying on the expertise of others, without including our own perspectives, we're only reporting – not leading the thinking on a subject.
  • Supporting Evidence – Thought leadership content cannot just be full of assertions that lack both foundation and proof that what you say is indeed possible, true, relevant, valuable, strategic, and achievable.
  • Ease of Access – What I mean by this is that you've limited the effort it takes for your audience to understand the ideas. This usually gets mucked up with jargon and technical terms and thinly veiled sales pitches. It can also be derailed by an overly stiff academic style that has your audience perceive your content as too difficult or time intensive to bother with.
  • Takeaways and Calls to Action – Quite often, the failure to develop thought leadership content for a tightly focused audience means it's too general to provide ideas your prospects can "take away" for discussion, consideration or application. Additionally, thought leadership content that takes the lofty view that the audience will know what to do next is missing the mark. Tell them.

Thought leadership content takes time and planning. It should be based on something your company is absolutely passionate about.

Here's why:Thought leadership is not created with one, two or three pieces of content. It's created with the consistent application of ideas and concepts that helps to define a strategic direction your prospects should pursue to get what they want over the long haul. Achieving this perception is not a flash-in-the-pan endeavor.

Are you creating thought leadership content or just writing interesting articles? There's nothing wrong with either approach, I'm just saying that you need to know the distinction.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and the CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. She helps B2B companies with complex sales create and use persona-driven content marketing strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay. Ardath is the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. She's also an in-demand industry speaker.


  1. Ardath: I appreciate these ideas. Many people describe themselves as thought leaders (or ask others to do it for them), when in fact they’re really mashing up ideas that are commonly known or not particularly controversial. For me, a thought leader is one who can provide new insight about past events, and make projections or forecasts about the future based on this insight. If the result is that I have a new way of thinking about something that matters to me–or should matter–then to me, that person is a thought leader.

    When a person doesn’t live up to his or her billing as a thought leader, the outcome can be either tense, funny, or both depending on how you look at it. At an event I attended a few years ago, the verbal exchange between the presenter and an audience member demonstrates what can happen. I wrote about the incident in the blog Thought Leaders: Please Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. To read it, click here.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here