Content marketing vs thought leadership: Key things you need to know

Content rules, and businesses know the impact that well-crafted content has on connecting with customers. All marketing teams incorporate content marketing into their marketing strategy today. Thought leadership, however, is not as well-understood. The two terms are often perceived to mean the same thing because they can both be used to gain customer attention and generate revenue. Here’s where the similarity ends. They have different goals, different target audiences, different impacts, and employ different strategies to meet their goals.

Thought Leadership is in danger of becoming one of those buzzwords that all marketers talk about. Does every organisation need to aspire to be a thought leader? Understanding how thought leadership differs from content marketing will help answer this question.

Differences: Defining characteristics that determine the content type

Content marketing is a broad term that encompasses all the information that a company disseminates – websites, videos, product brochures, advertisements, blogs, social media posts, and press releases. The objective of content marketing is to create awareness, engage with, and ultimately convert the target audience to customers.

Content shared with the aim of thought leadership focuses on sharing industry-specific information from a position of strength that comes from being known as an expert in a particular field. The primary objective of thought leadership content is to position the organisation as a leader and expert in its industry to gain credibility. Thought leadership forms one pillar, an important one, of a company’s overall content strategy.

Target audience: Who the content speaks to

Organisations use content marketing to reach out to all potential customers who could be anywhere on the marketing funnel. From creating awareness to sales and customer retention, marketers use every tool available to them to convert their target audience into paying customers. Product brochures, videos on social media, customer testimonials on their websites, etc, are all the different content formats that marketers use to ensure that they are always in touch with their customers. The quantity of information shared in content marketing is huge and the content is customer-focused, straightforward, and talks mainly about the organisation and its products.

Creating content for these audiences is not simple. But since the target audience is  fairly easy to define, based on where they are at on the marketing funnel, messaging can be clear, and tailored to its specific audience.

Thought leadership, however, positions an organisation as an expert in its field. It reaches out to a wider audience consisting of peers, journalists, industry experts, decision-makers, and customers. The content, therefore, needs to be high-quality, insightful, and original. Research papers, opinion pieces, in-depth analyses, commentaries on current trends, and future predictions are all part of the specialised content that aims to achieve this positioning.

The focus here is quality over quantity. Generating compelling, valuable content is challenging and requires higher levels of knowledge and involvement from senior professionals.

Suitability: Who should create which type of content

Content marketing is for everyone. All companies whether they are B2B or B2C, start-ups or established, large or mid-sized, can use content marketing to reach out to their target audiences. Since the objectives of content marketing are many, good content can be used effectively by businesses from varied sectors to gain new customers without establishing thought leadership.

However, certain sectors like financial services, healthcare or B2B businesses that offer niche, complex products inherently demand a higher level of credibility and expertise. B2B customers are often extremely knowledgeable about industry trends and require a higher level of engagement. Here, being a thought leader becomes vital to generate leads for your organisation.

Not all brands can be thought leaders. To be looked upon as an authority in any field requires that an organisation be successful and exceptional. Thought leadership takes time, expertise, and well, plenty of thought.

Results: What is delivered?

Content Marketing has a practical and straightforward purpose – to generate leads that convert to a sale. An effective content marketing campaign is led by a clear strategy that has well-defined objectives such as SEO optimisation, directing more traffic to your website, and targeting specific companies/buyers for better conversions. It has a strategy for customers at every stage of the marketing funnel with the overarching objective of sales and customer retention.

Content marketing has a direct impact on revenue generation.

Thought leadership is about engaging in thought-provoking ideas and debates with the industry at large. It elevates the profile of the organisation and the spokesperson. Having a charismatic, articulate and well-read spokesperson in the organisation to lead these discussions is a definite bonus.

A well-executed thought leadership campaign inspires trust and builds connections with multiple stakeholders in the industry and not just customers. It seeks to influence and inspire.

Summing Up

Both content marketing and thought leadership can be part of your overall content strategy and can work in conjunction to achieve your goals. However, not all organisations need to build thought leadership. A good content marketing strategy can deliver many goals. Creating thought leadership is a long-term activity. If establishing credibility and building long-term relationships in the industry through leadership is your goal, then thought leadership needs to be built into your content strategy. It takes time, and consistency and requires a certain depth of expertise. Many organisations are stretched for resources and have more crucial and immediate priorities. These organisations would be better served by optimising their resources to create a well-defined content marketing strategy that has a clear and direct impact on their immediate goals.

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