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June 17, 2012

Thought leadership : How to become a thought leader in your industry?

by Tom De Baere

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I know, I know this has become somewhat of a buzzword in marketing lately. But isn’t it every marketers “wet dream” to produce that kind of material?

In this post I help you to start building that kind of material.

What is thought leadership and how do you develop it?

The first thing to do is: put away your company head and think like your buyers. Especially in Thought Leadership, the content you create will be a solution to those buyers’ problems. Do NOT mention your company or products at all!

Thought Leadership is content that is seen by our buyers as insightful and providing them with unique information that helps them to better solve their personal professional problems. 

An example of an ICT company

As an example, some of the topics that would fit in the context of Thought Leadership for an ICT company:

  • What you need to know to fully optimize the potential of your ICT infrastructure?
  • What to think of when planning a network upgrade?

As you can see in this example, the ICT company is not in the business of running or implementing networks. But these topics certainly drive the kind of buyers to that Thought Leadership content.

As an effect, these buyers are more likely to consider the ICT company as their technology provider because the company shows that they understand the business issues of building and maintaining an ICT infrastructure. 

Forms of Thought Leadership Content


No need to explain what whitepapers are. But, as said before, do NOT mention your company or your products in a whitepaper.

Now that might sound strange, but people will appreciate you much more when your content remains informative, throughout the complete document.

At the end of the document you can put links to further reading and product information on your website.

Doing this will also allow you to measure the success of whitepapers, through hits on your website. You might even want to create specific landing pages, but that of course means more effort.

Again, people are not stupid and they know that by writing this content you want them to come to your company and buy our products. So there is no need to advertise your products in whitepapers.

Keep whitepapers “white”, please. Doing this will be hard, I have experienced this first hand, but when you succeed and keep the effort, this will drive your business forward.

E-mail newsletters

E-mail newsletters, on a monthly, or quarterly basis, have tremendous value as a way to deliver Thought Leadership.

The vast majority of e-mail newsletters that I get (daily!) serve mostly as another advertising channel for products and services. And usually I quickly scan them, if I do not delete them first.

Why don’t you focus on delivering a different e-newsletter, once a month or bi-monthly/quarterly, on solving buyers’ problems? And as in everything, you should post this same newsletter stories on your website and promote the stories on the usual (multiple) social media networks attracting readers to the story, but also attract people coming from search engines.


The best webinars are true thought leaderships. No need to explain what webinars are, but get yourself educated on this if your are not doing them today. And then start running some, it’s not difficult at all.

As long as you focus on your buyers’ business issues, and avoid talking about yourself or your products. Stick to this, and you’ll build a reputation of organizing great webinars, and people will come back.

In webinars you can also invite guest speakers who provide credibility and authenticity, and usually also bring their own network of contacts. It shows that you are “plugged in” and that you work with recognized experts and industry leaders.

Research and Survey Reports

Many companies use research and survey reports. You could publish links to research on your website of your industry partners together with a small description of the study. By doing this, you show your relationship with these industries and show that you are on top of the trends in your industry.


Photos, Images, Graphs, Charts and Infographics

 We all know that one images tells more than 1000 words.

When publishing customer stories, you should publish photos relevant to the story or relevant to their world making them more appealing to read and fun.

After all, are you not first looking at the images and titles, and then decide to read an article?


A blog can reflect a view, an idea to test in the market, an opinion, etc… without going through the effort of polishing PR text, reviewing and seeking management approval.

On the other hand you are receiving more credibility when blogging because you also provide value for customers on topics not directly related to your company

How to create thoughtful content?

When creating this type of content, consider the following elements:

  • I can’t repeat it enough: do not write about your company or its products. This type of content is not a brochure, or sales pitch.
  • Consider what market challenges, business problems or technical problems your personas have, and develop topics that appeal to them.
  • Use examples and stories that make it interesting. You probably have plenty of customer’s success stories that can be interwoven into new thought leadership content.
  • Choose a great title, and a subtitle that describes what the content will deliver. These titles and subtitles should contain the keywords of your buyers, so the stories are optimized for SEO.
  • You could recruit industry-leading journalists and invite them to write a story for your corporate blogs, or have them participate to a webinar.
  • Another great way to provide content to buyers is by running a survey about a certain topic, and then publish the results on the web. Running surveys has 2 advantages:
    • It provides great marketing data that marketers need to drive the product creation process.
    • And it providers great data to buyers which will be more inclined to listen to what you have to say because you are more informed than other competitors.

How do YOU buy? A final note.

As a final note, think about yourself for a moment: when you are searching for a product, you first want to understand what problems it solves.

What it actually does and how it does it, is less important.

It is not about “the message”, it is about being “insightful” towards buyers and telling them stories that show them that you understand their problems.

That’s it for this one.Are you creating this kind of thought leadership material? What are your experiences? Thanks for sharing that.

Warm regards,

Tom De Baere

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