Any marketing discipline worth its salt has a maturity model, which is an important tool to assess the people, processes, culture and tools an organization needs to support and apply best practices to its programs. Maturity models help organizations:


Determine the most appropriate approach for their program given its current resources and culture


Allocate resources to sustain momentum in its current state


Understand the requirements for migrating to the next level


Gauge if getting to the next level is realistic or worth the investment

The following Thought Leadership Maturity Model helps organizations assess current approach against best practices and requirements for each level. The model migrates from the most basic level which we categorize as “just getting started” to the pinnacle where the company has influence far beyond the boundaries of its own industry.

Thought Leadership Maturity Model:

Turning your internal SMEs into external influencers


SME who is sporadically quoted in articles or delivers an occasional presentation at conference; more a PR program than a thought leadership initiative.

Typical Assets or Approach

Occasional presence in business or industry media.

  • News releases
  • Quotes in articles
  • Speaker decks

Organizational & Cultural Readiness

Identified face(s) of the brand

Defined process for earned media participation, expectations and compliance

Ad hoc training for SMEs


Do you constantly scramble to find original thinking?

Have you developed a strategic plan for matching your SMEs with relevant topics on which they could develop an authoritative voice?

Tips for Next Level

Conduct topic modeling to uncover 2-3 topics for which you can present a POV and that is relevant to your business mission and market positioning

Proof of Concept

A single topic is created for use in a one-off campaign or in a pilot for a select business area.

Typical Assets or Approach

Multiple pieces of content associated with a single topic, product or line of business

  • eBook or white paper
  • Infographic
  • Blog post

Organizational & Cultural Readiness

Facilitate the monitoring of trends and emergent thought and share this information across the enterprise

Ability to measure and socialize success of specific topics and ideas

Showcase internal “champion”


Do you do multiple, one-off campaigns vs. build an integrated strategy?

Do your campaigns build on one another or leverage information and POV from previous work?

Have you mapped the needs of stakeholders at multiple points in their discovery journey?

Tips for Next Level

Create a thought leadership roadmap to build ideas and deepen POV over time for multiple audiences

Prolific Publisher

A strategic content marketing program with lots of content but not necessarily attributed to SME(s) to serve as face of the brand.

Typical Assets or Approach

Multiple topics published in multiple formats

  • eBook
  • Infographics
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • POVs/Reports
  • Blogs

Organizational & Cultural Readiness

Invest in systems and processes that allow the organization to continuously gather and analyze pertinent information and data

Encourage people to contribute to the ideation process

Culture of collaboration across business units and functions


Do you publish lots of content with little attribution to an internal SME?

Does your content offer new thought about specific topics?

Do you “own” share of voice on designated topics?

Tips for Next Level

Feature SMEs who add original ideas and a unique POV

Present multiple aspects about single topic

Beacon Brands

Visible Thinker

Sought-after expert who adds insights and unique POV to the conversation.

Typical Assets or Approach

Influencer who shares content and ideas either solo or in partnership with other thought leaders

  • Keynote speaker
  • Prolific author
  • Industry insider/roundtables
  • Podcast
  • Social following
  • LinkedIn featured author
  • Guest blogger

Organizational & Cultural Readiness

Encourage and reward appropriate risk-taking

Allow expression of new or innovative ideas; reward sharing POVs externally


Are your SMEs considered external influencers?

Do your SMEs have name recognition within your industry?

Do your SMEs have a significant digital and social footprint?

Tips for Next Level

Create a plan to extend the footprint and authority of your SMEs

Beacon Brands

Breakthrough Innovator

Contributes ideas about how to reinvent industries or business processes, invent new product or industry categories, etc.

Typical Assets or Approach

  • Best selling business book
  • Original research
  • Keynote speaker
  • Industry recognition/awards
  • Cover story/major media
  • Consistent inclusion in earned media

Organizational & Cultural Readiness

Culture of innovation

Visionary leader predisposed to create and share high-level intellectual capital


Does your rock star SMEs have name recognition beyond your industry?

Is your thought leadership truly breakthrough or just interesting content?

Tips for Next Level

Invest in a culture of innovation

Beacon Brands

Get Started!

Learn more about optimizing your thought leadership programs

Download ComBlu's Thought Leadership Maturity Model