Musings and ramblings of a digital agency.
By On June 5 2020 Insights With 0 Comments Permalink

6 Thought Leadership Facts Every Marketer Should Know

What does it take to be a thought leader? At one point or another, most marketers have probably asked themselves this question. Do you have to be an expert in your field? A top social media influencer, raking in the likes and shares? Do you need to consistently pump out white papers, 50-page reports, and industry leading statistics? 

Well, according to LinkedIn, the answer is: it doesn’t really take that much to be a thought leader. Currently, there are over 1 million people on LinkedIn who display the term “thought leader” somewhere in their profile. 

In reality, most of these people probably aren’t thought leaders. In fact, to some marketers, the phrase ‘thought leadership’ might be akin to white noise. You hear it so often – on LinkedIn, in emails, at conferences – that the phrase starts to lose all meaning. 

Despite this, when executed well, thought leadership can be an extremely valuable marketing tactic. So, what does it really take to be a thought leader? We’ve cut through all the noise, to bring you 6 thought leadership facts that every marketer should know. 

#1. What is a thought leader? 

In order to understand why thought leadership is so valuable, it’s important to first understand what makes a thought leader worth listening to. Despite what their profiles may claim, there probably aren’t actually 1 million thought leaders on LinkedIn. 

Rather, according to a recent thought leadership survey by SurveyMonkey and Orbit Media, marketers value expertise above all else when it comes to thought leadership. 68% of marketers responded ‘experts in their field’ when asked ‘who counts as a thought leader?’[1]

This was double the next most popular answer of CEOs (34%), while other popular answers include analysts (32%), authors (32%), and public figures (28%)[1]

Conversely, only 20% of respondents think that celebrities count as thought leaders[1]

Beyond this, 70% of marketers agree that a brand is just as capable of being a thought leader as an individual, while a massive 77% of marketers think that you don’t need to have a large social media following to be considered a thought leader[1]

Ultimately though, it appears the most important factors in identifying a thought leader are expertise and engagement. While most marketers don’t care if you are a celebrity or an influencer, they do care that you are an expert in your field, and able to provoke a larger conversation.

As such, when producing thought leadership content, it is important to focus on quality rather than quantity, as most marketers would prefer to read well-researched expert insights, rather than a flashy post shared on social media. 

#2. Key Characteristics of Thought Leadership Content 

We know that a good thought leader is often an expert in their field, able to share thought provoking insights. However, more importantly, what makes good thought leadership content

According to Survey Monkey and Orbit Media’s comprehensive report, there are a few key identifiers of top performing thought leadership content. When asked to rate various thought leadership attributes on a scale of ‘essential’, ‘nice to have’, and ‘not important’, 83% of marketers agreed that the most essential quality of thought leadership was ‘the ability to communicate clearly’. Only 1% of marketers said this was not important[1]

This is a key point. Evidently, it is all well and good to have an important message, but, if you aren’t able to communicate that message in a clear, effective, and engaging way, people are unlikely to pay attention. 

Other thought leadership characteristics rated as ‘essential’ include ‘change the way I think’ (64%), ‘publish data to back up their position’ (61%), and ‘say something new’ (59%)[1].

On the other end of the scale, 36% of marketers said it was not important to ‘say something controversial’, with only 20% thinking this was essential, while 21% said it was not essential to ‘publish consistently’, with 53% thinking this was nice to have, but not essential[1]

Further, 70% said it was very important that thought leadership content drives the reader to take further action[1]

When asked for specifics of what counts as thought leadership content, the top 3 responses were ‘educational content’ (70%), ‘identification of trends’ (69%), and ‘research reports’ (60%)[1]

Additional research by LinkedIn shows that infographics are a popular form of thought leadership content, as infographics are shared 2x more than presentations, and 3x more than other documents on social media[2].

This reveals a few key characteristics of thought leadership content. Above all else, marketers value thought leadership that clearly communicates a point and prompts further action. Often, this point should be educational, supported by original research, and provoke further discussion. If possible, it helps to say something new, rather than repeating the same points other ‘thought leaders’ have already made. 

#3. Benefits of Thought Leadership

It’s great to know what thought leadership is, but ultimately, there’s one question on every marketers lips: how will thought leadership benefit me? 

According to a poll by Marketing Insider Group, the benefits of thought leadership are extensive. 71% of marketers say they have benefitted from thought leadership via increased website traffic, while 62% have experienced an increase in lead generation, and 56% enjoyed increased media mentions[3]

Other benefits include more email subscribers (54%), improved customer relations (53%), and increased backlinks (32%)[3]

Further, 88% of technology buyers say that thought leadership content is either important or critical when they are selecting a shortlist of potential vendors, according to research conducted by The Channel Partnership[2].

Moreover, a thought leadership study by LinkedIn found that 55% of business decision makers use thought leadership to vet companies they are considering hiring, while 60% of executives said they were more willing to pay a premium to companies that create thought leadership content[4]

Additionally, 55% of decision makers have increased the amount of business they do with an organisation, as a result of thought leadership[5]

This is corroborated by a study conducted by Forrester, who claim that thought leadership has a “greater impact of ideas on potential buyers” than all other forms of content marketing, including case studies, advertising, and collateral[6].

Perhaps most importantly though, 58% of business decision makers said thought leadership content was directly responsible for their decision to award business to an organisation[5]

#4. Perception vs Reality

When it comes to thought leadership, perception and reality don’t always align. Just like on LinkedIn, people can both over and underestimate the true value of thought leadership. 

For example, 66% of marketers say that thought leadership is a ‘top priority’ for their organisation. However, only 26% say their thought leadership strategy is currently ‘very successful’[1]

These gaps between perception and reality are notable in several areas. According to an in-depth thought leadership report by Edelman, 45% of surveyed marketing executives have invited an organisation to bid for a project after reading their thought leadership, having not previously considered them. However, only 17% of sellers believe thought leadership is an effective revenue generations strategy[5]

Remember how we said 58% of decision makers have awarded business to an organisation thanks to their thought leadership content? Again, only 26% of respondents believe thought leadership is directly responsible for their organisation acquiring new business[5]

Finally, 89% of business decision makers believe that thought leadership enhances a brand’s reputation, compared to 56% of thought leadership providers who believe the same, while 87% of business decision makers believe thought leadership enhances a brands trustworthiness, compared to just 49% of thought leadership providers[5]

The key lesson here? Businesses often underestimate the true value of thought leadership. Don’t fall into the trap of undervaluing your thought leadership strategy!

#5. Thought Leadership Consumption is Growing

The good news is, if you put the time and effort into creating high quality thought leadership content, you are likely to reap the rewards, as thought leadership consumption is on the rise. 

According to Edelman’s study, 58% of key decision makers spend at least one hour reading thought leadership every week. This represents an 8% year on year increase[5]

Of this 58%, 37% of decision makers spend 1-3 hours per week reading thought leadership content, while just over 1 in 5 (21%) spend more than 4 hours per week reading thought leadership content[5]

As mentioned, 55% of business decision makers use this time as an opportunity to vet organisations, and evaluate the quality of their thought leadership content[5]

The catch? Only 18% of business decision makers rate the thought leadership they read as ‘excellent or very good’, while just under one third of thought leadership (30%) is rated as ‘mediocre or poor’[5].

While at first glance this might seem like bad news, it presents a major opportunity for savvy marketers: create high quality thought leadership content that truly stands out, and you’ll immediately have a leg up on the competition! 

#6. Double Edged Sword 

Like most things related to marketing, thought leadership can be a double edged sword. Done well, it can win you new customers, increase revenue, and boost your online presence. When executed poorly, it can turn people off your business, and even damage your reputation. 

Edelman’s comprehensive thought leadership report demonstrates this, outlining the actions taken by business decision makers after consuming thought leadership content. 

While 75% of decision makers say they have started following a writer or organisation as a result of reading their thought leadership, equally, 60% say they have stopped following a writer or organisation as a result of reading their thought leadership[5]

Similarly, 92% of decision makers say reading thought leadership has increased their respect for an organisation. Unfortunately, 46% also say reading thought leadership has decreased their respect for an organisation[5]

Finally, 58% of decision makers say they have decided to award business to an organisation based on their thought leadership. Conversely – yup, you guessed it – 29% of decision makers say they have decided to not award business to an organisation as a result of their thought leadership[5]

Ultimately, this shows that thought leadership can be make or break. Do it right and enjoy the rewards. Do it wrong, and, well… 

Are you ready to lead the way on thought leadership? 

Contact us








Image by: expresswriters from Pixabay