If you’re an upstart brand, creator, or established company looking to grow your audience, thought leadership is a great way to pull a chair at the table, share your expertise, and be heard and respected by industry professionals.
Thought leadership doesn’t just shine light on the person on stage (or webinar, panel discussion, or podcast where they’re featured). A great thought leadership content plan lends credibility to the larger brand, builds relationships with new audiences, aligns the company with the top names in their industry, and meaningfully inserts them within the larger industry conversations.
The best part is every company can benefit from a thought leadership content plan — and every company can find a thought leadership strategy that works for them.
How do you get started? Read on to discover what thought leadership is, where to find thought leaders for your audience, and how to implement a thought leadership content plan in your marketing efforts.
In this article
What is thought leadership content
Thought leadership is a type of content strategy that involves identifying and working with individuals and companies that can share subject matter expertise on topics that your audience cares about.
Thought leadership content can help support both B2B and B2C companies and take many forms, including the following:
- Blog posts and articles
- Speaker events and conferences
- Video series, webinars, and virtual events
- Social media content
Generally, thought leadership content comes in two distinct forms:
External thought leadership: Thought leadership from an individual or a brand outside of your company invited to speak to your audience.
Internal thought leadership: Thought leadership sourced within your own company where individuals have the chance to speak and share their expertise with a broader audiences.
When used effectively, thought leadership can be a powerful way to leverage the talent within your company to support your overall business goals, align your brand with big players in your industry, help lead your existing audience to your platform, and bring your voice and expertise to a broader audience.
And the best part is, almost any type of company can benefit from thought leadership content. Here’s how to best approach it.
How to find a thought leader
Start by taking a good look at your company goals and the audience that you want to reach. If your goal is to reach a new audience and elevate your brand awareness within new companies, thought leadership content is a no-brainer.
But choosing a thought leader that can speak to your intended audience depends on whether or not you want to go with external thought leadership or internal thought leadership.
Sourcing external thought leaders
Thought leadership overall begins with figuring out which audience you’re trying to capture and reading up on what they care about. Namely: A whole lotta research.
When it comes to finding an external thought leader to speak at Vimeo events and videos, Julie Bergstein, events programming and content lead at Vimeo, likes to start by finding topics that can touch on both what Vimeo’s products do and who they’re best suited for.
She then takes to LinkedIn and trade publications like Adweek to source experts who are paving the way or talking about the issues that Vimeo’s target audience are talking about.
“Part of the strategy is to be able to pair something that is directly something that your business does or offers, with topics and themes that are much more broad,” she says.
So, for example, in a recent event that they organized where marketers were their key audience, Vimeo enlisted C-level marketing experts from companies like OKCupid and WeTransfer to talk about topics ranging from virtual events, marketing strategy and even the Metaverse.
“We’re not part of the Metaverse yet, and we don’t have products that put us in that space,” she says. “But it’s something that every marketer is talking about. The more that you can marry what you can actually do with things that your audience cares about, the more that your business will be seen as an ultimate resource or leader in marketing in general.”
Sourcing internal thought leaders
When it comes to identifying and fostering internal talent to represent your brand to the overall industry, it becomes a slightly different process. You still want to think about company goals, and you’re still looking for individuals who can speak to what your audience wants to know — but you have a much smaller pool of established thought leaders to choose from.
Rather than going for the most obvious person— say, enlisting a product specialist to speak about a product use case — Julie suggests tapping the person who would best represent the audience that you’re catering to.
The simplest way to do this is to identify the job titles of the people who would be most likely to use your product or consume your content (that might be Internal Communications specialists) and choose the person with that job title at your company to be your thought leader (for example, your Head of People and Talent).
Not only is this person most familiar with the product from a customer perspective, they can also speak to the larger trends happening in the industry, with the experience and relatability with your target audience.
How to plan and produce thought leadership content
Once you’ve identified your external and internal thought leaders, it’s time to plan content around them.
There’s a wide variety of possible forms that your content can take. It can be a series of blog posts that helps inspire and inform your readers on a subject that they care about; or an article written by a big-name guest-writer in your industry. It can be a conference, hosted by your company that features a roster of top players in the field, or a third-party conference or event where an internal thought leader speaks alongside other experts. It can be a podcast, webinar series produced by your company, or guesting on one that someone else has produced.
Whichever plan you go with, it just has to make sense for your audience, your resources and your business goals.
That means that the research doesn’t end when you’ve identified your internal or external thought leader. Julie often begins with a kick-off meeting with planned thought leaders.
“I ask them a bunch of questions about what their expertise is, let them know what our goals are, and what we’re trying to accomplish with them as a thought leader, and have them spit back out to me where they are aligned,” she says.
That way, she can start building an outline to bridge the gap between their subject’s expertise and Vimeo’s goals.
Because her line of work is in event marketing, she might bring an internal thought leader out to a public-facing third-party conference with a lineup of other notable names in that space, as a way to position Vimeo as an expert in the area.
When it comes to finding content opportunities to use external thought leaders, think about who their followers are and whether they fit who you’re targeting, and then create content that can capture this wider audience by addressing the topics that they care about in a meaningful and relevant way.
4 tips to find internal thought leaders and help them make an impact
While every company will have slightly different approaches to their thought leadership content, there are a few best practices to ensure content is impactful, authentic, and useful for your audience.
And you’ll soon discover that a successful thought leadership strategy doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulder — it takes a village.
1. Don’t make it about the product
Thought leadership is least effective when it’s directly promoting your product or teaching people how to use it. Instead, thought leadership is in the general realm of brand awareness and community building.
Try stepping away from your company’s products and services and tap into the larger conversation. Ask yourself some important questions like:
- What is the latest trend in the industry where your target audience works?
- What are people having trouble with?
- What unique are you perfectly positioned to offer?
2. Media training is a must
When it comes to identifying and fostering any kind of thought leader, it helps to prepare them for the spotlight. This helps your thought leader boost their conference and personal brand while also ensuring their ability to represent the company in an appropriate way.
Vimeo turns to agencies who provide media training and public speaking coaching to help support their internal thought leaders and C-suite executives.
3. Loop in PR
In addition to making sure your thought leader is comfortable public speaking and able to articulately represent the company, you also want to make sure your content is on brand.
If your business has a PR or communications lead, loop them in early to brief internal thought leaders on what to mention, topics to stay away from, and to make sure that the content is in line with your business’ guidelines.
4. Bring in a copywriter
To help support your internal thought leader on external public speaking events or any kind of scripted video, you might consider hiring a copywriter to look over the language and content, and make sure it’s engaging, informative, and follows your branding guidelines.
3 examples of thought leaders
Need some inspiration for your next thought leadership campaign? Here are a few major players in marketing who are seriously pushing the form and looking good while doing it.
Ryan Reynolds: You may know him as a Hollywood actor, but that’s just his part-time job. Not only does he run two marketing agencies, he has also parlayed his self-deprecating Canadian wit, charisma and household name into supreme marketing influencer-ship on social media, well-known publications, and elsewhere.
Zaria Parvez: Zaria Parvez may have graduated from an advertising degree in 2020, but she has transcended her role as a social media manager of Duolingo, a beloved language learning app, to a social media pioneer and thought leader in her own right. All of this started by giving an iconic green owl the Gen Z treatment on Tik Tok. Now she is a marketing leader that other brands look up to, with mainstream media mentions extending outside of her professional industry.
Jay Herratti — The thought leader of thought leaders, Jay Herratti is the executive director of TED Talks. Under his guidance, the global conference series has transitioned from in-person live events to leaders in videos that spotlight the very best thinkers in our modern world today, in industries ranging from STEM, education, philosophy, and more.