The tsunami of social platforms and networks for sharing content has greatly expanded the opportunity for “thought leaders” to spread their gospel. But has this proliferation of information provided clarity or is it simply more noise than substance? I believe the jury is still out. Confusion over the difference between thought leadership and content marketing is part of the problem. Too often the terms are used synonymously. Although similar, they have distinct roles in the content ecosystem.

True thought leadership needs to take the long view on topics and issues.  It’s typically not a prescription of granular solutions to specific problems or generating immediate leads.  It’s about building reputation and authority over time and across multiple digital, social and offline channels.  Enabling the organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs) to act as trusted advisors who offer helpful, responsive, generous and useful advice will establish them as true thought leaders. As they participate in online and offline conversations, they will steadily build their credibility through affinity, authenticity and trust.  And that value accrues to the brand.

Content marketing is often associated with generating leads through a steady stream of on-message demand gen assets.  But a strategic program takes an immediate, mid-term and long-term view.  In fact, the output of thought leadership efforts should be an integral component of the overarching content marketing plan.

Ensuring that both marketing disciplines are optimized for their respective roles is vital to a brand’s success, especially in the B2B space that often involves long sales cycles, complex product specifications and multiple decision-makers or influencers. Content must answer the disparate needs of all those in the Buying Center, which has emerged as the predominate way companies determine their preference set of products or services.  An IDC study shows that over 80% of C-level executives rely on social media to support their decision process, for example.  In this increasingly self-serve content world, the vast majority (70%) of the purchasing decision research is completed long before the prospect ever reaches out to the vendor.

Success is determined by how well the vendor is seen as a solutions provider and that ‘proof’ will be found at the nexus of authentic thought leadership and relevant content marketing. Many firms are moving in that direction. Moving forward will prove the difference between which organizations gain and keep market share.


Kevin Lynch
Kevin Lynch

The focus of Kevin’s 40+ year career has been on strategic counsel, alliance and partnership formation and business development.