Just about every marketing conversation I go into involves some mention of thought leadership. There’s a lot of confusion out there around what it is, how to create it, and how to make it rank for search. So I’m here to address all of that… And if you’re wondering why as a brand messaging strategist I’m talking about thought leadership–the answer is simple. Part of what I do is help mine and find your message. And part is helping you share your message. Thought leadership ties right into that. So let’s dive in.
Prefer the reader’s cliff notes? Here goes.
Thought leadership is about showcasing your expertise and unique perspective through content or articles. Your “secret sauce” or the stuff you might share in your thought leadership content is not a methodology but lies within your knowledge, experiences, and opinions.
There’s no such thing as the secret sauce.
Unless you have a truly proprietary recipe or method, what you and your company do probably isn’t a secret.
Hard truth: you can either look it up on YouTube or ask Chat GPT to help explain it to you.
Whatever “it” is. Copywriting. Website design. Digital Marketing. Logistics.
So what sets you apart if your secret sauce isn’t so secret? If you’re an individual (I see you!) it’s your approach and mindset. All the things that led you to this point and continue to inform your perspective.
If you’re a company it’s a blend of your culture, your brand story, and your approach. In either case, it’s rarely how the sausage is made. It’s the years you’ve put into learning your craft and understanding the nuances that make something excellent.
It follows then that developing thought leadership means defining your unique perspective and finding angles that interest your target audience. In this video, we cover how creating really great thought leadership starts with a deep dive into personal branding, opinions, and creating content plans. From there, whatever content you create is (relatively) easy to repurpose for various platforms like articles, emails, social media posts, infographics, videos, and podcasts.
Brand strategy and messaging are critical aspects for all of your marketing because they set the stage for a consistent approach.
Thought leadership plays into this, but it’s important to understand how these articles are different from blogs, due in part to their focus on describing your approach and experiences rather than providing instructions.
Tips for Creating Thought Leadership
1. Define your unique perspective: Understand what sets you apart and identify your unique approach or secret sauce in your field of expertise.
2. Reflect on your personal and professional experiences: Consider your career path, the knowledge you have gained, and the insights you have developed from various roles and industries.
3. Engage in opinion development: Reflect on your beliefs, opinions, and experiences to shape your thought leadership content.
4. Consider the target audience: Determine who you want to develop expertise and authority with, and understand what matters to them.
Ready to work together on your Thought Leadership program? Here’s what you can expect the process with me to look like.
1. Personal branding sessions: Dive deep into your background, opinions, and perspectives to uncover their unique message and angle for thought leadership.
2. Content planning session: Create a content calendar that aligns with your brand strategy and content pillars, and includes long-form articles, emails, short-form articles, social media posts, podcasts, or videos.
3. SME interviews: Engage in conversations to uncover compelling ideas, address problems, and explore your expertise.
4. Write thought leadership content: Collaborate to transform their ideas, opinions, and experiences into cohesive and impactful thought leadership pieces.
5. Optimize for SEO: Identify core topics, align with Google search queries, and optimize content to increase organic visibility.
Want to skip to a specific section? Here’s a quick overview of what to expect and where to find it.
Take a peek through the below timestamps so you can find exactly what you’re looking for to get some audio.
Chapter 1: Introduction to Thought Leadership
- Timestamp: 00:02-00:34
- Summary: The speaker introduces the topic of thought leadership and expresses the intention to discuss it further.
Chapter 2: Defining Thought Leadership
- Timestamp: 00:34-03:48
- Summary: The speaker explores the concept of thought leadership, emphasizing that there is no secret sauce. They mention the importance of having a unique perspective and finding an angle that interests the target audience.
Chapter 3: Utilizing Thought Leadership Content
- Timestamp: 03:52-04:31
- Summary: The speaker discusses how thought leadership content can be used to establish oneself as a leader within a company or gain more visibility as a leader. They highlight the importance of controlling the narrative and conveying expertise and authority.
Chapter 4: Creating Thought Leadership Content
- Timestamp: 04:31-07:57
- Summary: The speaker explains the process of creating thought leadership content, starting with a deep dive into the individual’s identity and opinions. They mention the need for personal branding sessions and content planning sessions. The speaker also discusses the various forms of content that can be created, such as long-form articles, social media posts, videos, and podcasts.
Chapter 5: Showcasing Expertise and Opinion
- Timestamp: 07:57-10:02
- Summary: The speaker emphasizes the importance of showcasing expertise and opinion in thought leadership content. They mention the need to align the topics discussed with company pillars if applicable. The speaker also highlights the role of storytelling in creating a cohesive and engaging narrative.
Chapter 6: Thought Leadership Process and Strategy
- Timestamp: 10:08-12:50
- Summary: The speaker provides an overview of the thought leadership process, including brand strategy sessions, identifying key talking points, and creating a content calendar. They emphasize the importance of aligning messaging with the individual’s unique approach and opinions.
Chapter 7: Thought Leadership and SEO
- Timestamp: 14:04-15:57
- Summary: The speaker addresses the misconception that thought leadership cannot be optimized for search engines. They explain that by focusing on a core topic and sharing opinions and experiences, thought leadership content can be optimized for SEO. The speaker also mentions the possibility of partnering with an SEO strategist to enhance the thought leadership strategy.
Chapter 8: Conclusion and Call to Action
- Timestamp: 16:23-16:39
- Summary: The speaker concludes the discussion and invites further questions or discussions. They provide contact information for reaching out and express their willingness to assist.
Want to read along as you watch or listen?
Here’s a transcript of the video. (Beware of AI-transcription errors. This transcript has not been edited )
You. So I’m here today to talk about thought leadership. And specifically because just about every marketing conversation I have with anyone, with people, and just about any business involves some conversation around thought leadership. So because there is so much confusion around what it is, how to create it, what goes into it, and why it can be such an important element of your brand strategy, I figured I’d answer that. So that’s why I’m here today. So with that in mind, let’s talk about it. Let’s go there. So, very first, what is thought leadership?
Thought leadership specifically and simply is content or articles that sets you up as an expert and shows your secret sauce or shows your unique perspective on things so that you can really show your approach and why it’s different, why it’s unique and why you, and it’s true whether you’re in a company or you are the company. So let’s explore that. So first and foremost, I always like to talk about how there is no secret sauce. So if you’re wondering, you just posted about, like, why there is no secret sauce. So why are you talking about sharing your secret sauce? Because the truth is that when people think of a secret sauce, it’s usually methodology based.
It’s usually about how the sausage is made, how the recipe comes together, what all of the elements are, what order you do them in, and what your checklists are. The truth is, you can look up any of that. You can look it up online. You can watch YouTube, you can watch LinkedIn lives, Facebook lives, and you can get a sense of what is involved in creating thought lead or whatever it is that you do. Whether you’re writing an article, whether you are doing social media marketing, whether you are learning how to knit, whatever these things are that you are doing or that’s part of your job, you can learn how to do it online, and you can learn how to do it relatively inexpensively. So your secret sauce is not your methodology.
That might be your process, and that can be a differentiator for sure. But your secret sauce is you. It lies in your brain. It’s all the things that allow you to show up. It’s all the things that you’ve learned over time, and now you’re using it to do the thing that you’re currently doing. I often joke about how my career path looks more like two truths than a lie, than it actually looks like it would be someone’s linear path. But the truth is, yes, I have been an assistant manager of a helicopter base. Yes, I have been programs and products manager for a travel company. Yes. I have done a lot of things that have led me to become a copywriter and marketing strategist.
And I have taken elements from all of those things that have informed my perspective, my approach, and have allowed me to do what I do very well. So that’s my secret sauce. Your secret sauce looks different because your path has been considerably different. Your beliefs are considerably different. Your opinions are considerably different. And so a lot of what goes into thought leadership is mining that strategy, mining that personal brand, and mining your company brand as well to figure out what that looks like. So it’s hard sometimes if you’re like, wow, I don’t know if I could do that. You’re not alone. It is very difficult for many people to do this on their own.
You can look up the how, you can understand the how, but a lot of times you need someone with a unique perspective who can ask you questions and pull on threads. So I’m getting ahead of myself. If I’m talking about what thought leadership is, it’s first about defining that unique perspective, and then it’s about finding the angle that makes it interesting to the audience that you want to develop expertise and authority with. So what does that look like? How do you use thought leadership content? How do you create thought leadership content in a way that builds credibility and authority and who should be creating it? And I don’t mean who should be creating it for you.
So if you want to establish yourself as a leader within your company, you may want to work with Leadership to say, hey, this is what I’d like to do. And then you can partner with someone like me to do this. And I’ve done this with clients before who want to establish that their company is made up of thought leaders, of subject matter experts, or on the converse side, you may be in the leadership of the company, and you want to get eyes, more eyes on you. And again, set yourself as up as that expert, have content to share that reflects who you are, what you’re known for, and what you want to be known for, so that you can control that narrative.
And if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s important to develop that authority so that people know you for what you do, so people know you for your expertise. Because if you’re not talking about this, regardless of who you are, no one is going to know you for it because you’re not taking control of that narrative. So we’ve talked about what it is, who can do it, why do it, but what does that look like what does that opinion development actually look like? What do these conversations look like? What do they look like with yourself or with other people? So I have a whole list of things here.
For many people, if you’re stepping into a role of leadership, it can be challenging to treat yourself as an SME, to treat yourself as someone who knows all the things and is an expert that people should listen to. It’s not always about confidence. Sometimes it’s about figuring out what to say that hasn’t already been said. But I’d argue that you can do this by setting yourself apart and you can figure out your approach, because first, no one’s going to know what you know unless you tell them. But secondly, you never know who the right person is that needs your take on it. Why you? So from a marketing standpoint, whether it’s self marketing, it’s really important for getting that personal branding out there. From a AI standpoint, it’s more important than ever to inject your perspective and experience and showcase that.
Because that’s the kind of thing that Google with their eeat is really looking for. Or Google with its EEAT and its AI and its algorithms. That’s what it’s looking for. It’s looking for content that shares an experience, imparts knowledge and is genuinely engaging and interesting for people to read and look through. It’s not just reading. It can be articles, it can be social content, sure. It can be video, it can be podcasts. All of these things are designed to mine the U factor out. If you’re wondering what an SME is, I talk about them a lot. Some people are like, oh yeah, we have SMEs in our business or SME’s. It’s just a subject matter expert. It’s something where you have domain expertise in and know enough to be teaching other people and you’d be surprised at what you know.
So what would that look like? If were to work together, we would do a deep dive into who you are and what you stand for. We would do a deep dive into your opinions and find some angles, figure out who you’re wanting to talk to, who do you want to get in front of, who do you want to see this and figure out what matters to those people so we can create these angles. These personal branding sessions take anywhere from an hour and a half to 3 hours and genuinely they are required, unless you have a whole bunch of fodder to start with. And then we can do an actual content planning session. I talk about it as content because it can fill your marketing calendar it can be an essential component of your marketing calendar.
And what’s interesting is there was a client who they wanted to set their sales team up as subject matter experts, as domain experts, and get them comfortable sharing their stories and writing stories. So we did this personal branding workshop and then we worked together for the long term, creating longer form and shorter form content that they could then share. So we can use that to create long form articles that we can repurpose into emails and short form articles and social media posts and Instagram infographics and some of these other components that are very shareable but more importantly, give you something to talk about while also setting the tone for what you want to be known for. And again, I talk about this as what you want to be known for a couple of reasons.
First, is that what you do or what you think you do isn’t always what other people think you do. So what’s interesting about that is that some people might think that you are really great at, let’s say, systems. You’re really great at figuring out the systems, creating the systems, teaching the systems. Sorry, people may think that, but you might say, hey, no, that’s not really what I want to do. I’m good at it, but that’s not what I want to be known for. I want to be known for marketing strategy, for creating these really awesome strategies and then helping people implement them. Cool.
So if people know you as a system strategist and you want to be a marketing strategist, the only person who’s going to be able to change that tone is you, by saying this is what I do and this is how I do it. This is my approach, this is my opinions, this is why I do things the way they do. This is my secret sauce. And we can create use cases, case studies, some of these other elements off of these big ideas, right? So it’s not just about the thought leadership, it’s about showing, not telling. So what does that process look like after we’ve had the brand messaging meeting or the brand strategy meeting? First is all about you.
The other component of this is if you work in a company and want to make sure that the things you talk about fit like company pillars, then we can compare all the things together and find some commonalities and that may help narrow things down. And it’s a really interesting discussion because a lot of the times you may not realize how deep seated these opinions are until you get talking. And I pull in that thread and I’m like, hey, that was really interesting because it lit you up and you had a lot to say and you were passionate about it, and people come alive and that’s where the really interesting pieces come out. But talking a little bit more about what the process looks like.
We have the brand messaging strategy, or we have the personal brand strategy or brand messaging strategy, depending on the direction that we’re taking this. Then we have another session where we’re talking about all the things that you want to talk about. We’re talking about key talking points where we’re discussing a huge variety of ideas, and then I’m building them into a cohesive story. So things that I’ll ask you also talk about like, okay, why is this a problem? Why are we solving this? What matters to people about this? What are people telling you about this? What drives you nuts that people are doing that’s just wrong? What do you not want to be? Things like this make it really easy to be like, oh, and it all comes together and it creates beautiful story. Okay, maybe it’s not beautiful, but it’s impactful.
Then I’ll write that for you and we’ll call out all of the pieces. Usually after that first one. Once we dive even deeper than were able to on the brand strategy session, that’s when we can create the content calendar. If we need to create it first, we can do that as well. But a lot of the times these little theme pieces come out during the conversations, and depending on the structure of the conversation, depending on the level of organization, the level of preparedness, all of the things, we might come up with six or seven topics that we can write on, we might come up with one. And that’s okay. It’s a both and type situation. But what’s really cool is once you have it down, it can be the storyline for video content, for audio content, for a huge variety of other pieces.
So you can see how it all comes together and you can see how I can help. But more importantly, if you’re asking, wait a minute, Aaron, I know you as a website copy or a website strategist, brand messaging strategist, copywriter, you might know me as any of those things. And you’re going, but why are you talking about thought leadership? That’s because the number one aspect of what I do is helping you find your message, because that comes first. Sometimes and often clients need help sharing that message, building the strategy to share that message, mining their own thoughts so that they can do the thing. And that’s where I come in, because I already know your brand. Often if I’ve done your brand strategy, then it’s a natural continuation.
And if we’re coming in and you’ve already got the brand strategy and you just need help coming up with the content and the marketing plan, I can help there, too. We’ll still do the brand strategy session, generally speaking, because I may ask things slightly differently, and it’s really all about getting to know you and how you are, paying attention to how you talk, getting a sense of all those things. But I want you to know this. Your messaging is a key component of your secret sauce, and your secret sauce is a key component of your messaging. Even though I said it doesn’t exist mostly, I mean, it doesn’t exist in a traditional sense. It exists in the coming together of the who and the what and the how and the what makes you and come alive.
And I would say to anyone who is asking, well, it’s a blog, right? That’s all thought leadership is. And I would say that it’s more generally speaking, when I think about blogs, I’m talking about things that are prescriptive that show you how to do the thing. And that’s okay. That’s important. It’s good to have a blend of those because those drive a lot of SEO. Thought leadership, on the other hand, is prescriptive. It’s not prescriptive, it’s descriptive. So it’s a show, not tell. It’s a, this is how I do things. This is why I do things this way. This is my approach. These are some of the things we’ve done. These are some of the applications, these are some of the ways. So you’ll see more and more how it starts to come together. And it’s absolutely fascinating.
The last point I want to make before I sign off is, if you’re talking about SEO or search engine optimization, if you want to be found on Google, a lot of people think that thought leadership cannot be found, cannot be SEO optimized. And I would say that couldn’t be further from the truth, because it’s all about finding one thing, one core topic, and talking about it and sharing your opinions, sharing your experience, sharing the why and what’s particularly interesting there is that you can then take that core concept and optimize it. And if it’s based on a question that people are asking you or things that are coming up, things that you often talk about, you’ll find that people are already asking about it on Google.
And in fact, some of my top ranking content, I rank for my own content on the first page of Google in several pieces. That’s all based on not an SEO strategy, that’s based on an errand strategy for the things that I wanted to be known for, that I wanted to create for people. So all that to say, it’s definitely possible and we can work at both ends to the know we can say, we want to talk about this. What are the SEO terms we want to talk about this. This is what we think the SEO terms are, or these are the SEO terms we want to rank for. What are some of our opinions? What are some of the things you want to rank for?
So if that’s something you’re interested in, I partner with an amazing SEO strategist who can give us all the things and then we can create your thought leadership strategy based on that. So looking forward to answering any questions you have. If there’s more you want to talk about, hit me up. I’d be more than happy to chat and you can always reach me on my website, erinpennings.com, and from there you can contact me, you can find my social channels, all of the things. So I look forward to chatting with you and we’ll see you soon. Bye.