While thought leadership is not a new term, it has become much more commonplace when discussing content marketing and public relations tactics. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the practice of developing important new ways of thinking that influence others.” The definition varies slightly depending on who you consult, but it has also evolved over time. The CEO of the American Marketing Association defines a thought leader as “an original and inspired thinker who takes principled stands, and as a result introduces the element of tension that draws others to them.” Either way, it is a key ingredient to successful marketing, or more specifically, public relations in 2021 and beyond.

The pandemic has completely changed the way we market products and services and communicate with our customers. Gone are the days of in-person PR events and stunts, and interviews are being conducted via Zoom versus in-person. How we communicate has changed drastically, and trust and authenticity is becoming much more important to move the sales needle. Here’s where thought leadership comes in handy.

Thought leadership can be demonstrated in a variety of ways including articles, videos, whitepapers, blogs, infographics, speaking engagements (live or virtual), podcasts, webinars or any other form of original content. Successful thought leaders are able to distinguish themselves from others in their industry by sharing useful, unique and educational information with their followers. This strategy is beneficial for a number of reasons outlined below:

Builds Credibility and Trust

Thought leadership is an incredibly useful tool in building credibility and trust, and ultimately loyalty, among your target audience. Publishing content that informs, helps solve a problem and offers a unique point of view will establish you as a leader and authority in your industry, instilling confidence in your brand. Additionally, engaging in thought leadership puts you into the conversation, which is important to create awareness and brand recognition. The more non-sales, industry relevant content you put out, the more your consumers will begin to trust you and see you as an authority in your field, so when the time comes to purchase, you and your brand will be top of mind.

Humanizes Your Brand

As humans, we crave connection and interaction so customers will generally choose to engage with a human versus a brand – people trust people. Thought leadership content offers one person or expert’s point of view on a topic. Even though they represent the brand, it seems much more genuine and authentic coming from one voice.  Sharing quality, personalized content allows you to build that connection one on one.

Shows You Understand What Matters

Consumers want to be understood. They want to know that brands are aware of their struggles and are providing a solution. By offering information they can put to use, brands are demonstrating their knowledge of their consumers’ specific needs and are taking action to help solve these problems. Through thought leadership, brands can present a depth of knowledge that others don’t have or aren’t demonstrating.

Creates Brand Awareness

Brand awareness is extremely important when it comes to making a purchasing decision. In order for someone to think of your brand when the time comes to make a purchase, you need to be top of mind. The more potential customers hear, see and engage with your brand, the better chance you have of being remembered.

Builds Brand Affinity

Brand affinity is difficult to achieve through regular marketing tactics, but it can be achieved through thought leadership. Brand affinity is building an emotional connection between the customer and the brand. It’s what ultimately propels consumers to pick one brand over another. People want to know that a brand shares the same values, and they feel good when using your product or service. A good example of brand affinity is Apple. It’s often more expensive, but they’ve done a good job building that emotional connection with consumers so they are willing to spend a bit more on their products.

Helps with SEO & Marketing Automation Nurtures

Thought leadership content should be informative, unique, valuable to the consumer, credible, engaging and high-quality – all the same traits that marketing automation nurture campaign require and that Google recommends having in order to maximize the potential SEO value of your content. The more content you create that has these specific qualities, the more engaging your nurtures campaigns will be, and the higher you’ll rank with Google and appear in relevant searches. Quality content that resonates with audiences has a better shot at ranking higher than a document that’s filled with a lot of buzzwords and keywords just pushing a product or service.

Fuels Publicity

Thought leadership is one of the most important components of a successful public relations program, more so than ever before. Traditional PR opportunities are few and far between these days with newsrooms working with less staff and stories over the last year primarily focused on the pandemic and the election. While news of the pandemic is slowing, it’s still harder than ever to secure interest in traditional stories. But, if you create a thoughtful, insightful point of view on a topic relevant to something timely in the news or trending, you can very often secure coverage. As mentioned, newsrooms are short-staffed and always looking for content that is already written – we call these bylined articles. I’ve often had success placing a bylined article in up to 10 publications.

In Conclusion

Thought leadership is a tactic that most, if not all, brands should be incorporating into their content marketing and public relations strategy moving forward. It can single-handedly impact brand perception by building trust and credibility, demonstrating that your brand understands the consumer’s needs, positioning you as the expert in your respective field and humanizing your brand. It also can build brand awareness and affinity, improve your SEO ranking and fuel your communications efforts. Finding a way to be heard and remembered in our highly saturated marketplace will be important this year and in years to come.