The Role of Thought Leadership in Content Marketing
At Boomjolt, we often talk about making content marketing a company-wide effort. Everyone develops unique perspectives in the course of doing their jobs and sharing those insights makes for interesting content.
Some of the most fascinating thoughts and beliefs come from company leadership. The founder/CEO is invested in the company’s mission more than anyone. They’re deeply familiar with the challenges customers face and are passionate about offering a solution. So much so that they’ve chosen to bypass a stable career path to take a chance as an entrepreneur.
Tapping into the founder’s perspective and converting their thoughts into content is a powerful marketing initiative, especially for small startups striving to develop an audience. There are plenty of examples of brands that were built on the thought-leadership efforts of their first generation of leaders. Marketo’s Jon Miller educated an entire field of marketers through his expansive demand generation and marketing automation content. Moz’s Rand Fishkin simplified a different SEO concept each week with his Whiteboard Friday videos, leading to the company becoming the go-to resource for aspiring search marketers. And Neil Patel has successfully grown multiple companies using his image as a digital marketing expert and teacher.
Those gentlemen are thought leaders in the marketing space. Each of them contributed to my marketing knowledge and inspired me to launch Boomjolt. I’ve also used their products throughout the years and view their brands as the leaders in their respective industries.
Thought leadership and content marketing: Benefits
I always advocate SaaS startups involve their founder/CEO and other senior employees in their content efforts. Content marketing is a channel that takes time to ramp up and an all-hands-on-deck approach not only gets things moving. Engaging content featuring interesting viewpoints ultimately leads to better results than content that rehashes the same old points. Let’s dig deeper into the advantages of thought-leadership content marketing.
A typical blog post written by an author with a marketer’s job title doesn’t carry much weight. Especially in the B2B space, people know lead generation content when they see it. Prospects will still enjoy and engage with it but thought-leadership content has a different gravitas.
People like to learn from those who have reached the pinnacle of their profession. And thought-leadership content comes across as less marketey and more like the teachings of an expert. We’ll talk more about the different audiences your thought leaders’ content can reach later in this blog post.
Positive brand association
A goal of content marketing is to build brand affinity. You want people to view your company’s content as a source of knowledge and information that will help them grow professionally. Once they have that relationship with your company, they’ll be open to learning about your product.
The problem is people aren’t likely to take advice from a brand. It needs to come from a human who the audience has a reason to trust. That is why Jon Miller, Rand Fishkin, and Neil Patel’s thought-leadership content (and companies) are so successful. Each of them is the face of their brand and the foremost experts in their specific areas of marketing. People trust their teachings and, in turn, their brands.
Thought leaders not only have in-depth knowledge that makes for compelling content. They can also take a wider approach to the topics they write about.
They can write in a first-person perspective, telling the story of starting and running their company. They can share the experiences that led them to see there was an opportunity to solve people’s challenges with software. They can also provide a behind-the-scenes look at their company, decision-making process, and experience as a founder and entrepreneur.
Look at any SaaS industry and you’ll see that each companies’ content touches on similar themes. Thought-leadership content is refreshing, interesting, and will be a nice complement to your team’s primary content marketing efforts.
The points we’ve covered so far all contribute to another advantage—thought-leadership content is great for social media fodder and generating inbound links. Credibility, brand association, and unique viewpoints make it more appealing than a standard blog post produced by a random marketer from a little-known company. When a leadership team member writes a piece with a thought-provoking angle, people naturally want to share it with their network and cite it in their content.
Generating social media shares and inbound links are both objectives of content marketing. Each raises awareness, drives traffic, and enhances your website’s SEO profile. If you want content marketing to positively impact your company’s bottom line, you need to create blog posts and resources people are excited to share and thought-leadership content is exactly that.
Reach a larger audience
Marketing content should generally be written with your buyer personas in mind. There are different decision makers involved in the sales process and you want to have plenty of content to influence each one. While thought-leadership content will certainly play a positive role in your sales funnel, it also has the power to capture the attention of other audiences that will benefit your company.
Media members, entrepreneurs, and potential partners and investors can all be impacted by the wise words of your leadership team. These groups have large networks and can amplify your content, driving even more visitors to your site. In the case of partners and investors, thought-leadership content can connect you with people who have the potential to take your business to another level.
Thought leadership and content marketing: Challenges
Some leaders are excited to contribute to their company’s content marketing efforts. I always love when an exec comes to me with a blog post they wrote on a flight or during downtime they had the night before.
But other leadership team members don’t fully comprehend the benefits of content marketing and aren’t looking to take on more work. In these cases, you first need to educate them. You need to teach them that content generates leads, advances prospects through the sales funnel, elevates the brand, and plays a crucial role in your company’s SEO efforts.
You then need to help them see thought-leadership content supercharges a standard content marketing approach (hint: sharing this blog post will help). Stress that achieving content marketing success is a marathon but their involvement will help your company win the race.
Of course, this may be an uncomfortable conversation to have with someone you report to. As you make your pitch, try to appeal to the leader’s ego. That doesn’t mean be manipulative. You can truthfully tell them they have valuable knowledge to impart that will help the company capture a larger audience and accomplish various marketing goals.
Generate thought-leadership marketing content through brain dumps and ghostwriting
Once your CEO/founder and other senior team members sign on to be content contributors, there is still the matter of each person finding time to write. Some leaders are willing to carve out a few hours on nights and weekends. But you can’t have that expectation for everyone.
Marketing leads the company’s content efforts and need to help our colleagues if we want them to contribute. In the case of creating thought-leadership content, we can lighten the burden on our management team with two simple approaches: brain dumps and ghostwriting.
A brain dump is when a leader has a general concept for a piece of content and lays it all out for you as quickly as possible. It can be done in a Word Doc where the thought leader bangs out a raw rough draft. They’re free to throw their ideas down on paper without needing to agonize over grammar and flow.
Once the essence of their thesis and key takeaways are there, the ghostwriter goes through and crafts and refines the article. Most of the polishing involves shortening lengthy sentences, logically organizing each point, and fixing grammatical errors. But a lot of times there will be a gem of a sentence that only that specific thought leader could have come up with.
One of the hardest parts of producing content is getting from first draft to final draft. Using this type of brain dump, the thought leader gets the writing process started but the content marketer does all the heavy lifting.
Another way to capture a leader’s thoughts is to interview them. Unlike leaving them on their own to dump their ideas in a Word Doc, this format allows you to ask follow-up questions so you have complete clarity when you sit down to write. You can record and transcribe the conversation so you don’t have to rack your brain to figure out key points and word choice. In fact, most of the writing process is converting the text from transcription to blog-post format. In my experience, a 15-minute interview is enough to generate a 1,500-2,000+ word article. Any longer and you’ll have excess or redundant information that likely won’t make it into the final draft.
Both these brain dump and ghostwriting approaches free the exec from laboring through multiple drafts on their own. However, the published article will have their name on it so back-and-forth collaboration and editing are to be expected. Remember, the more information you collect upfront, the better set up you’ll be to ghostwrite a thought-leadership piece that represents their ideas and perspectives. Through repetition, you’ll start to see what words and writing techniques they like to attach their name and image to.
Thought leadership boosts your content marketing efforts
Content marketing on its own will bring multiple benefits to your SaaS company. Incorporating thought-leadership content written by an experienced and insightful professional not only enhances those benefits. It also leads to new ones. Grab a coffee with your founder/CEO and other senior leaders and ask them if they have any burning thoughts or ideas they’re willing to write about.