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 adding 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 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 will then accrue to the brand.

Content marketing is most generally defined as generating leads through a steady stream of on-message demand gen assets. But a more strategic program should take both an immediate, mid-term and long-term view. In fact, the output of your thought leadership efforts should be an integral component of the overarching content marketing strategy.

Ensuring that both marketing disciplines are optimized for their respective roles is vital to a brand’s success, especially in the B2B space which involves long sales cycles, complex product specifications, and multiple decision-makers. Quality content must answer the disparate needs of all the personas in the Buying Center. The corporate buying center is the prominent way companies determine their preference set for products or services. An IDC study shows that over 80% of C-level executives rely on social media to support their decision process. 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 will be determined by how well the vendor is seen as a solutions provider and the ‘proof’ of that will be found at the nexus of authentic thought leadership and relevant content marketing. Leading marketing organizations are taking that direction. How well they meet the needs of their buyers will prove the difference between which organizations gain and keep market share, and those that don’t.


Kevin Lynch
Kevin Lynch

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