You want to create thought leadership content.
…because you’ve seen how much content has helped people like Marie Forleo, Dave Ramsey, and Donald Miller grow gigantic brands and unleash a river of opportunity.
But there’s an issue.
You don’t want to be just another voice in the crowd.
It seems like everyone is trying to be a thought leader these days–we’ve officially come to the point where “thought leadership” is a buzzword.
And you’re concerned that people will think you’re just another business owner wanting their attention.
How can you create thought leadership content that actually builds your authority while also not making it seem like you’re begging for attention?
That’s exactly what we’ll talk about in this article.
Because, luckily, there is a way to accomplish this.
I’ve helped brands do it for 6+ years and see incredible results.
And I’m about to reveal the exact process I’ve used to turn business owners and entire brands into thought leaders.
Note: this article may contain affiliate links–meaning if you purchase something, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. But rest assured, we are only partnering with these tools because we use them ourselves.
What Is Thought Leadership Content?
Thought leadership content is a strategic sharing of unique insights and knowledge in order to build authority in a specific industry.
Why has it become so popular?
Two reasons, in my opinion:
- People are sick of ads (they see 100s every day that they don’t care about)
- The general levels of customer sophistication have risen sharply (people aren’t stupid and they are better informed than ever)
And that has created the perfect storm for great thought leadership content to work wonders.
It allows customers to interact with, understand, and vet a brand before they become customers.
And it allows brands to give to their prospects before they ask for anything.
STOP – Before You Go Any Further, Create Your Thought Leadership Strategy
Just like a builder needs a blueprint before they begin building a new house, you need a proven strategy before embarking on your thought leadership content journey.
If you start building thought leadership content without a clear picture of the bigger picture, you’re going to end up becoming the person you don’t want to be…
The person yammering on LinkedIn for attention.
And I know that’s not you. You have super valuable stuff that people need to hear. But they might never hear it if you don’t create a solid strategy.
So, to prevent that, I created an entire guide to creating your thought leadership strategy that lays out the 8 steps you need to go through to create your plan.
To summarize the key points, you need to figure out:
- Your unique angle
- How you want to be perceived
- What success looks like
- Who your specific target audience is
There’s a ton more to it (along with several more steps) so definitely go check that post out if you haven’t thought through this yet.
How to Create Thought Leadership Content That Works in 5 Steps
1. Determine your overarching narrative.
Every piece of thought leadership content you create is an ambassador for your brand.
It represents who you are, what you believe in, and how you think about your industry.
It tells your story.
And everyone who sees your content gets a piece of that story.
…which makes it critical to think through the story you want to tell.
Because you’re telling one regardless of whether you’re actively thinking about it or not.
And the quality of your story determines the success or failure of your thought leadership.
So, what story do you want to tell?
You can begin identifying it by asking these questions:
- What about your industry is completely unacceptable?
- What’s the one thing that gets great results in your industry that other people simply don’t do? Why aren’t they doing it?
- What are the biggest trends in your industry right now? What do you think about them? What do most people think about them?
- What are the proven principles within your industry that generate success time and time again?
- How do most people think about things in your industry? Do you agree with their line of thinking?
These questions help you identify attention-grabbing plot points for your story.
- Your counter-narrative opinions
- Ways you’ve gotten results everyone else is trying to get
- What everyone in your industry is missing
- Why certain industry trends matter or don’t matter
- How others can replicate your success
This is the type of thought leadership content that works time and time again.
And it largely works because the thought leader’s story is so well-known and compelling.
If you want to take your story to the next level, I highly recommend following the Hero’s Journey.
Use your answers to the questions above and begin identifying things like:
- The Ordinary World – What is the status of your industry right now? What are the big problems? What does life look like for people within your industry? What about people who are impacted by your industry?
- Call to Adventure – Why do you feel called to do the work you’re doing? What makes you work so hard every day?
- Crossing the First Threshold – What did the start of your transformation look like? What were the big themes as you began working in your industry that influenced your views today?
- Meeting with the Mentor – Who has mentored you and prepared you to do what you’re doing today?
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies – What initial challenges did you face? What things within your industry were your enemies? Who were your allies?
- The Ordeal – What was the turning point where everything changed? What metaphorical battle did you face? How did it change things for you?
- Return with Elixir – What does it feel like to be where you are now – having achieved, found a way to create lasting impact in your industry, or overcome a major challenge most people face?
2. Select the two channels (at most) you’ll focus on.
One of the biggest mistakes I see aspiring thought leaders make is trying to be everywhere all the time.
They burst onto the scene and try to keep up with a blog, a YouTube channel, a newsletter, LinkedIn posts, and more.
But that’s actually counterproductive.
Because you aren’t likely going to have an audience on all those channels yet.
And you’re really better off focusing on two channels AT MOST.
I recommend starting with a blog + LinkedIn combo.
Create SEO-focused content on your blog to begin building a baseline of organic traffic to your site, then build an audience on LinkedIn by promoting your blog content and posting more personal, short-form content.
Once you start seeing some significant traction, THAT’S when I recommend looking at expanding into a new channel.
The shotgun approach stops aspiring thought leaders in their tracks.
3. Find mouthwatering thought leadership content ideas for your brand.
You’ve got a strategy, a story, and a focus…
Now it’s time to find thought leadership content ideas that will:
- Resonate with your audience
- Standout from the crowd
This honestly isn’t as hard as it sounds–you already did the hard work in the previous steps.
I recommend this simple three-step process:
Step 1. Figure out what’s working already in your industry.
Research several of the top thought leaders in your industry and take note of which pieces of content get the most engagement and traffic.
Look through their blogs. Use a tool like Semrush to see what their sites rank for and how much traffic it gets.
Read through their LinkedIn posts. Go through their Twitter.
You just need an idea of what’s already working.
Just like in business, if something’s working then there’s demand behind it.
You don’t have to be the one to launch something brand new to the market and see what happens. You can improve and iterate on what’s already there.
And that leads us to…
Step 2. Brainstorm ways you can improve and iterate on what’s already working.
What’s lacking from the pieces of content that are already working?
Are they based on half-formed opinions or misunderstandings?
Are they poorly written?
Do they lack key pieces of information or tangible benefits for the audience?
Find the gaps and figure out how you can fill them in.
It’s important to understand you aren’t copying people’s content here.
You’re taking proven ideas and content types, making them better, then making them your own by providing your unique angle.
Generally speaking, most thought leadership content ideas will fall within these categories:
- Case Study – you or your team did x and saw y exciting result–and you layout how you did it so others can replicate it.
- Against the Grain – you have a counterintuitive or counter-opinion on an industry trend, best practice, etc.
- Sacrificing Sacred Cows – you see a commonly held belief in your industry that’s sabotaging people.
- Audience-Focused Personal Narrative – part of your story can greatly benefit certain people/organizations in the industry who want to achieve something you already have.
- North Star – you see a specific direction things are heading in your industry and have a vision for making peoples’ lives better.
- Industry Analysis – you collect data or use public data to perform an industry analysis and report the findings.
When thought leaders ask me how to create content ideas, I point them to these 6 categories and tell them to get back to me with 10 ideas for each.
I recommend you do the same.
Step 3. Validate your ideas with data.
You have a pretty big list of ideas you think will work at this point.
Now, it’s time to refine them.
I recommend using a few simple tools to figure out how many people search, share, and engage with certain topics:
- Use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs or Semrush to find traffic data behind certain queries
- Google trends can help you figure out whether certain topics are growing or dying
- Buzzsumo can help you figure out how many social shares certain pieces of content generate
Most of these either have a trial or free version.
Don’t skip this step–it will help you further refine your ideas and figure out which ones are really worth pursuing before investing a ton of time in creating the content.
4. Create a content calendar.
I recommend creating a 3-month content calendar at minimum with:
- Publication dates
If you want to be a thought leader, you have to take your schedule seriously. Consistency is a huge deal. You need to build on your momentum and stick to this to find success.
And a thought leadership calendar will help you do just that. It’ll also make it easier to focus on the writing when it comes time to write.
This is a quality over quantity game.
It’s more important to focus on consistent, quality content than to churn out 3 articles a week.
I have an in-depth post that walks you through this process of creating your content calendar that you can read by clicking here.
5. Create truly valuable content (here’s how).
Great thought leadership content is all about uniqueness and value.
You can do nothing else and still succeed as long as you do these two things well.
Problem is: what does unique and valuable content even mean?
It’s a question I get all the time…
The true answer is: it depends on what’s unique and valuable for your target audience.
I can’t tell you what they’ll find unique and valuable, but I can tell you how to create incredible content once you know what your audience is looking for.
All great content, no matter the industry or format, is:
Actionable – it gives clear instructions so people can implement your advice.
Clear – it’s easy to digest and understand (doesn’t use a bunch of jargon or complex sentences).
Empowering – it motivates people to take action because of your excitement about the topic and the results you’ve gotten.
Unique – it talks about a topic from a different or unique perspective (could be counter-intuitive, a personal story, or reference data from a project you did).
Your job is to find out the definition of these 4 principles in your industry.
And that takes knowing what’s going on in your industry and understanding your audience incredibly well.
As you get to know your following more and more, you’ll begin seeing where other pieces of content are lacking.
Maybe they don’t cover everything about a subject.
Maybe they aren’t actionable enough.
Or maybe they don’t include unique insights from the author’s experience (which could be because they don’t have that experience).
Take time to find a few ways you can provide unique value with each piece of content you create.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply read, watch, or listen to competing content and make notes on its strengths and weaknesses, then use those insights to fill in the gaps.
When it comes to the literal writing, that’s a masterclass in and of itself.
I wrote a 6k+ word post on this topic that you can read here.
Thought Leadership Content FAQs
1. How often should you publish thought leadership content?
Consistency matters more than quantity. I recommend shooting for 1 article and 3 LinkedIn posts per week if you’re following the blog + LinkedIn combo strategy.
2. Where should you publish thought leadership content?
Start with a combo of LinkedIn and your blog. Once you get traction, explore expanding into YouTube, a podcast, or something else.
3. Who should write thought leadership content?
Someone who is or could be the face of your brand. A thought leader MUST have a ton of expertise and skill in a specific industry, so they are usually older, higher-up people in an organization.
If you’re a business owner trying to start posting thought leadership content, then you need to be the person writing it.
You can hire writers to help you create more content at scale, but you need to be the one who thoroughly edits and approves all the content to make sure it’s at the highest level.
4. Where does most thought leadership content go wrong?
People fail when they’re inauthentic.
If you can’t build trust with your audience, no one is going to care about the stuff you create.
You have to find the right balance between:
- Creating compelling content (based on psychological principles)
- Talking about topics that have a lot of buzz
- Adding a meaningful, unique, and valuable perspective
5. Does thought leadership content actually convert into $$$?
Yes, in a big way–but it isn’t always easy to see the exact impact.
More traffic and more followers correlate with more money. But sometimes people will find you through your thought leadership content and not become a customer for a few months.
So in this case, your content might not get direct credit for a conversion but it assists conversions in a major way.
When Done Right, Thought Leadership Content Can Change Everything for You
I know this firsthand.
I’ve helped huge brands get more traffic and leads through thought leadership content.
And I’ve even used it to build my own businesses.
It’s the most powerful marketing channel out there.