Thought Leadership Content: Definition and Step-by-Step Guide

AI is very effective at answering your target audience’s FAQs, and the old strategy of publishing “how-to” content won’t help you build a loyal audience. 

Thought Leadership Content
Thought Leadership Content

However, this surplus of factual content has created a demand for content that includes an individual’s stories, experiences, and unique perspectives.

This is why TikTok, YouTube, and other individual influencers have become increasingly popular over the past several years, and brands that can emulate these influencers by sharing distinct insights, case studies, and stories are much more likely to succeed.

This style of content is called thought leadership content, and in this post, we’ll discuss how you can create thought leadership content that your audience loves and provide specific examples from B2B thought leaders. 

What is Thought Leadership Content?

Thought leadership content is a brand or individual’s unique opinions and viewpoints packaged into a medium like text, video, or audio. 

The purpose of thought leadership content is to help brands and individuals attract more followers from their ideal target audience by presenting unique ideas and perspectives on industry topics.

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However, formulating a unique perspective on a topic that resonates with your audience isn’t easy. It typically requires real experience within an industry, and the best thought leadership content usually contains elements of real experiences, case studies, and storytelling.  

We’ll explore more detailed thought leadership content later in this post, but for now, here’s a simple example of thought leadership content:

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Example of thought leadership content

There are three main components of excellent thought leadership content, and this example hits all of them: 

  1. Takes a contrarian stance/unique perspective: Most marketers believe in “pain point” marketing, so saying it doesn’t work is very contrarian.
  2. Pulls from his personal experience: He discusses what he found from working with his own clients.
  3. Leaves the audience with an applicable takeaway: Instead of focusing on just the pain point customers say they’re struggling with, introduce that pain point and then discuss how your product will solve the problem and give them more security and control.

In an age of AI where most content is largely factual and instructional, thought leadership content will likely become increasingly critical to a brand’s success as audiences seek more personal stories, opinions, and experience-backed content.

To help you take advantage of the rising demand for thought leadership content, we’ll discuss a step-by-step strategy to create thought leadership content and then introduce you to several examples of individual and branded thought leadership content.

How to Generate Great Thought Leadership Ideas

You can use checklists to get just about any freelance writer or AI tool to create a high-quality “how-to” style piece of content. It just needs to provide sound, actionable advice to accomplish a specific task.

However, thought leadership content is a little trickier because the quality of the content is directly tied to the quality of the idea

So how do you come up with better ideas?

Here are five frameworks to generate higher-quality thought leadership content ideas.

Method 1: Find “best practice” concepts that you’ve tried that don’t work

Most “best practice” advice tends to become less effective as more and more people use it. This makes it an excellent opportunity for thought leadership content because you can take a contrarian stance, explain why it doesn’t work, and offer a more effective solution.

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For example, one typical piece of “best practice” advice for building links (an SEO strategy) is to do guest posts. Unfortunately, because everyone already does it, most guest post pitches are ignored, and it’s not as effective as it was several years ago. 

So a great thought leadership idea might be claiming that it doesn’t work, explaining your personal experience why it doesn’t work, and then sharing a new link building technique that is more effective (like promoting their content to your newsletter of 50,000 subscribers in exchange for a link).

The key to making this style of thought leadership content work is ensuring your alternative method actually is a more effective solution. Otherwise, it won’t resonate with your audience. 

Method 2: Share learnings from recent case studies and experiences

Testing concepts is critical to growth as a professional, so simply share what you’re learning along the way.

After you run an experiment or complete a case study, use these questions to create thought leadership content:

  • What didn’t work that surprised you?
  • What worked that surprised you?
  • What’s a lesson you learned that you’ll apply to future workflows?

You can also use this framework to share concepts you learned from discussions with friends, attending conferences, and other events.

In fact, this strategy works exceptionally well because discussing concepts you learned from others gives you a partner in promoting your content. 

Here’s a great example of how this individual shared thought leadership around a recent case study he did:

Case study style thought leadership content

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Method 5: Conduct original research and share insights

Like sharing case studies, you can also conduct original research or gather data and then share that data and insights from it.

However, the quality of your research is correlated primarily with the insights you derive from it – not necessarily the sample size of data (assuming it’s enough to show distinct patterns).

For example, this data study on content updating analyzed just 50 posts from a single website, but it answered several unique questions about updating content, like:

  • How likely is a post to rank higher after being updated?
  • Is it likely that you can ruin a post by updating it?
  • How much does the percentage of text change in the post-impact performance?
  • Is there a particular style of post that tends to perform better after an update?

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Original data style thought leadership

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So the best way to create thought leadership content using original data is to brainstorm your questions about a certain topic and then create data to answer those questions. 

Method 4: Share frameworks you use to solve problems/make decisions

People love frameworks. 

The best frameworks are memorable, relatively simple, and solve a common problem your audience faces. Ideally, introduce them with an example of how you’ve used it in your own life.

For example, Dan Martell created a framework he calls the “DRIP” matrix. This is a great piece of thought leadership content because it solves a common problem that many people in his ideal target audience face:

Dan Martell's DRIP Matrix

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Ideally, create a sharable diagram of your framework as people enjoy visual concepts, and they generate more shares and reach.

This method works particularly well if you primarily post on social media as people love discovering the latest trends on these platforms.

To actively stay up-to-date with industry trends, you can create an RSS feed of the top industry experts on social media, industry news websites, and even newsletters.

Once you know what the news in a particular industry is, creating a unique opinion on that topic is the next step to creating thought leadership content. 

This part is a little trickier, but here are a few questions that can help you come up with an interesting idea:

  • How do you think this trend will shape the future of your industry?
  • How are most people leveraging this trend, and what other use cases/approaches are interesting?
  • What are the misconceptions about this trend?
  • What’s an interesting idea you heard about regarding this trend, and how can you build on those ideas?
  • How have you been incorporating this trend into your business, and how?
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Here’s a great example of thought leadership content. The creator used the AI content trend as the newsworthy topic and then added a unique insight. Instead of saying, “Should we do AI content for clients?” (the question most people are asking), he says that the question people should be asking is, “How can we do this ethically?”

Thought leadership content about AI

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How to Create a Thought Leadership Strategy

Now that you have an effective method to generate unique ideas, consistency is the key to successfully growing an audience. So here’s a step-by-step thought leadership content marketing strategy.

Step 1: Select a Medium You Enjoy 

The secret to succeeding with SEO and content marketing is quality content at scale. Unfortunately, if you only produce a few pieces of content here and there, building an audience will take a long time. 

So the key to increasing content volume and consistency is to select a content medium that you enjoy

For example, if you’re considering doing video content, try out a few videos and see how long it takes you to create them and if you enjoy them. If you notice that it takes you several hours to create a video and you don’t enjoy it, consider doing text-based content instead.

Step 3: Set a Publishing Schedule 

Once you’ve selected a type of content medium you enjoy, select a realistic publishing schedule.

While I already mentioned that a higher content volume is ideal for growth, setting an ambitious publishing schedule that you can’t stick to will ultimately cause you to burn out and quit altogether.

So if you can only realistically produce two pieces of content per week, that’s better than creating content daily for two weeks and then quitting.

This graphic by Michael Boorman sums up the concept of consistency nicely:

Consistency is key

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Once you’ve decided on a publishing frequency, set aside time once per week to create content. 

Most creators find it easier to create multiple pieces of content in one sitting once they’re in a state of flow. In addition, you’re much more likely to publish consistently if you already have all your content scheduled to publish in advance.

You can also use tools like HootsuiteBuffer, or Sprout Social to schedule your content in advance.

Content publishing calendar

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Step 4: Collaborate With Other Influencers

As you begin publishing your content, you may realize it doesn’t immediately gain traction. 

Unfortunately, if you have a small audience, you’ll find it difficult for your initial few posts to gain traction. This is because the algorithms are programmed to give more reach to content that receives strong initial traction. 

So if you have only a handful of followers and your posts don’t have strong initial traction, they will receive little organic reach from the algorithms.

To escape this vicious cycle and help your content gain strong initial traction so that it receives more organic reach, collaborate with influencers that already have plenty of influence. 

There are a few different ways you can collaborate with influencers (without paying them).

First, you can always interview influencers and post that content on social media. Here’s a great example:

Podcast promotion post on LinkedIn

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Unfortunately, getting industry influencers to agree to do a content collaboration like this can be tricky, so an alternative method is to reference a framework, belief, or case study from that influencer. 

Here’s a great example of this in action:

Breaking down an influencer's framework

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When you publish the post, be sure to tag the influencer, as they might share it with their audience. 

You can also create pods of friends to help you promote content. For example, if you have a handful of friends in a similar industry, you can text them when you publish a new post and ask them to engage with it and share it with their audience. 

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Step 5: Track What Works and Adjust 

The final step in your thought leadership marketing strategy is to track what works best and then adjust based on the feedback you receive. 

You can track traditional engagement metrics, like traffic, comments, and likes, but also track who is collaborating with your content. If you aren’t attracting your ideal buyer persona, your thought leadership content strategy won’t actually help your business.

For example, if you’re building a thought leadership strategy to attract C-suite executives for a coaching program, check that the people engaging with your content are C-suite executives.

You can do this by scanning the comments section and asking your customers how they found you.

Excellent Examples of Thought Leadership Content

Here are a few top thought leaders you can learn from to inspire your thought leadership content strategy. I encourage you to scroll through their social media content and use their frameworks to create your own unique content creation strategy.

Justin Welsh

Justin Welsh has built a significant following on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram by posting about how he builds operating systems for solopreneurs. 

Justin Welsh thought leadership post

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He also posts inspirational and philosophical posts detailing his approach to entrepreneurship and building a life you love. 

Sahil Bloom

Sahil Bloom is another popular entrepreneur that consistently posts about personal growth and entrepreneurial frameworks.

Sahil Bloom thought leadership post

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He tends to post framework graphics, videos, and text-based content, so experiment with different types of content to figure out what works for your audience. You’ll also notice that many of the images Sahil uses are pulled from other sources, and then he merely credits those sources.  

He also has an impressive publishing schedule with roughly two posts per day.

Sara Stella Lattanzio

Sara is a SaaS marketing strategist with a strong following on LinkedIn. She creates memes, step-by-step reels, and educational videos on SaaS marketing and has a unique voice that makes her content fun and informative. 

Here’s an example of one of her funny memes. You’ll also notice that even though the memes are entertaining, they still attract her potential customers (marketers at SaaS companies):

Sara Stella Lattanzio thought leadership meme post

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Even in her reels, she still injects her unique sense of humor while delivering valuable content that attracts her ideal customers:

Sara Stella Lattanzio thought leadership guide

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Allie Miller

Allie has built a personal brand around AI and regularly shares ChatGPT hacks, case studies, and data regarding the latest updates on AI.

Here’s an example of one of her recent posts discussing how she uses ChatGPT:

Allie Miller thought leadership post

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When she posts data-driven content, you’ll notice that she creates her own infographics with similar branding styles. This makes it easier for people to recognize her content, and it’s also super sharable:

Allie Miller thought leadership data post

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Finally, you’ll notice she’s a guest on many podcasts and actively promotes that content to her audience.

Nick Huber

Nick takes a rather controversial approach to thought leadership. His main business is building storage facilities, but his primary strategy for growing a Twitter audience is publishing controversial posts like this one:

Nick Huber thought leadership post

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Even though these Tweets have nothing to do with his main business, people love getting to know him as a person, and it has helped him grow his online presence tremendously.

While this isn’t always the best strategy for growth (especially if you’re growing a traditional brand), it has worked out well for him simply because most of his investors are friends he makes on Twitter.

Will Cannon

Will Cannon is an excellent example of a thought leader who built a strong online presence with framework-style Tweets.

Here are just a few of his most recent Tweets:

Will Cannon thought leadership post

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Given that he’s the founder of a sales software startup, these Tweets attract the attention of key decision-makers in his ideal target market.

So if you’re feeling stuck, look at key problems your customers face and create frameworks to solve those problems.

Alex Lieberman

Alex is a co-founder of Morning Brew, but he’s now building a social media ghostwriting agency for founders. He’s very active on Twitter and LinkedIn, and his content is primarily raw journal-style posts about how he’s building his next business.

Here’s just one example of a typical Tweet he creates:

Alex Lieberman thought leadership post

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Unlike most people trying to be perfect on social media, Alex gives his audience an unfiltered snapshot of his business failures and what he’s learning along the way. 

This strategy has helped him significantly grow his following, which is the main lead generation source for his content agency.

Final Thoughts

The key to succeeding in content marketing is no longer writing longer, more detailed content. To stand out from AI generated content, you need to create content that has a unique point of view while still solving the customer’s problem. 

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