Your ultimate guide to creating great thought leadership content

Your ultimate guide to thought leadership content header

You’ve already built a strong business. Sales are coming in, your team is handling the day-to-day operations of the company, and you’re focused on building the reputation of your brand instead of constantly putting out fires. That’s an incredible place to be – well done!

So, how do you actually grow that reputation? And how do you put your own expertise and reputation to use in order to create a strong legacy that will benefit your company for years to come? Become a thought leader.


What is a thought leader?

Wait… what exactly IS a thought leader? Well, a thought leader is someone who is known for being an expert in their field; a leader in their market. They are someone who consistently adds a unique voice to the conversation and inspires others to aim for their own success.

Examples of thought leaders could be people with millions of followers or views, like Gary Vee or Simon Sinek. Or they could be local business owners who are out in the community and online sharing their knowledge and expertise with the people in their networks. Either way, thought leadership is a vital part of establishing a strong personal and business brand for business owners.

Let’s look at the numbers. 47% of C-suite execs and decision makers say that thought leadership content has had a direct impact on them choosing who to award business to, and 83% of buyers saying that thought leadership builds trust in an organisation.

Unfortunately, because thought leadership has become a common goal for so many business owners, its original meaning has been somewhat lost. Thought leadership helps build reputation, trust, and legacy – but it’s not truly thought leadership if all you’re doing is adding more content to an already content-heavy marketplace.

Rather than seeing thought leadership as simply being the same as content marketing, thought leadership must be about bringing higher thinking to the conversations happening in your market. It’s not enough to simply answer questions – you have to answer your audience’s questions in the best, deepest, most accessible way possible.

Sheryl Sandberg TED Talk

So who can be a thought leader?

The exciting thing about thought leadership is that it’s not about who you are; it’s about the value you bring to the marketplace.

Thought leadership is in itself a form of content marketing, and the source isn’t nearly as important as the content you’re sharing. If your content provides value to your target audience, and answers the questions they have in depth, you’re showing thought leadership.

It doesn’t necessarily have to come from one individual either – although many thought leaders are individuals who run companies, like Sheryl Sandberg or Elon Musk, a whole brand can be seen as a thought leader if they’re leading the way with strategic conversations in the market. Consider IBM, who have an entire thought leadership section on their website. From scientific breakthroughs driven by IBM Research to the creation of Industrious magazine, they’re putting in the work to not only lead the industry in terms of research, but also share that expertise with the world. Instead of one person being the thought leader of the company, the entire brand is seen as such.

Saying that, it can be really helpful to have a ‘face’ to your content. Enabling people to connect with an individual (ideally the business owner or founder, as they’re less likely to move on and are such an intrinsic part of an organisation’s story) is a great way of also enabling them to connect with your brand. You know who the leaders are in your organisation – now show them off to the world.

Top tips for creating compelling thought leadership content

These days, plenty of business owners want to be thought leaders. It’s a proven marketing strategy that appeals to executives and can build reputation and a real legacy. But how do you go about becoming a thought leader? It’s all about creating compelling content. Here are some of our top tips.


  1. Less is more

When your goal is to build reputation and legacy, sometimes creating too much content can work against you. According to a study from The Economist Group, 3 in 5 global executives sometimes feel confused or overwhelmed by the volume of the content they encounter. You know yourself how annoying more content can be – when you’ve only got 20 minutes to squeeze reading into your day, you want to ensure that what you’re reading will teach you something new, challenge your thinking, or increase your understanding of the market.

That’s why it’s so important to build a reputation as a thought leader. If people trust that your content will deliver compelling value every time, they’re more likely to open the blog, LinkedIn article, research paper, or book you’ve written. They’ll only trust that value if all of the content you create is equally great though.

“C-suite and senior executives are overwhelmed by content but continue to seek out new thinking and ideas that are credible, innovative and fact-based,” shares Jeff Pundyk, SVP Global Integrated Content Solutions at The Economist Group. “They’re consuming more thought leadership, but from fewer sources. For marketers to make the list they need to reverse the trend of ‘more is better’ in favour of doing less, but more impactful, work.”

When it comes to thought leadership, you’re better to create less content that’s of a higher quality than more content which is only good for SEO. Focus on quality over quantity and ensure that every piece of content you create has an impact.


  1. Be authentic

In order to make your audience feel comfortable following your advice, you have to build trust. And nothing kills trust faster than being fake.

That’s why being authentic is so important. People do business with people they like, and no-one’s going to be listening to some business owner they think is just faking it. They want to know who you are as a person and why they should care about you just as much as they want to know why you’re an expert and how you can help them.

In order to inspire people enough to listen to you, you can’t hold back – show your audience who you are and why you do what you do. Your passion and commitment will rub off on your audience and they’ll not only listen to what you’re telling them – they’ll tell other people about it too.

A perfect example of this comes from Deborah Frances-White’s podcast, The Guilty Feminist. Deborah gives a no holds-barred take on her (and her guests’) perception of feminism – she’s refreshingly honest and forthcoming (just listen to the opening segment from each episode ‘I’m a feminist but…’ to see what we mean). She laughs, cries, admits when she’s done something wrong, fangirls over Jon Hamm and is never afraid to share her opinions and feelings.

This authenticity has paid off – the podcast, which has millions of listeners, has spawned media appearances, live shows, partnerships with multiple not for profits, opinion pieces, awards, and now a book.

It’s easy to see from her podcasts, interviews, articles, social media, and more recent book that she’s completely invested in what she’s doing. This kind of authenticity resonates with her audience and ensures they keep coming back for more.


  1. Have an opinion

Something that separates thought leadership from regular blog content is that it’s not something you’d find on 20 other blogs. You see, thought leaders commit to decisions and opinions – they’re not afraid to get off the fence and tell people what they actually think.

When you’re an expert in your field, assertively sharing your opinion and knowledge isn’t being a show off – it’s sharing value with your audience (you know, as long as you’re not being an asshole about it…)

Let’s take Gary Vaynerchuk as an example. Granted, some people aren’t his biggest fans thanks to his brash personality and borderline aggressive self-promotion – but his critics pale in comparison to the number of followers he’s amassed. This wine connoisseur-cum-entrepreneur, digital marketer, and business expert is completely confident in what he teaches and will quickly point out to anyone who asks that there’s no way he’d be able to command the speaking and consulting fees he does without having some substance to his content.

In his case, having an opinion and being proud of it is invaluable – you just have to have the proof to back it up, whether that’s client stories, years of successful clients you’ve worked with, or deeper diving content and research that strengthens your claims.

Of course, opinions can change too – and that’s okay. It’s important to re-look at your thought processes and conclusions every now and then, and be open and honest when you do change your opinion or learn new or better ways of doing things. However, that shouldn’t stop you from committing to an opinion based on all the information and expertise you have available to you at the time.


  1. Answer questions and give value

Here’s a secret – your audience doesn’t actually care about you. I mean, they do in so much as they want to work with someone they trust, and learn from someone they trust – but, even those sentences were really still about them. In reality, we’re all pretty self-absorbed and care about ourselves first and foremost.

That’s why, to create great thought leadership content, you have to think from the perspective of your audience. They’re looking for the best answers to their questions, and real value. As this great piece on how thought leadership content can help your company attract funding says, “Of course you want to differentiate your point of view when it’s appropriate. Differentiate with your visual design. But mostly, differentiate by becoming an authority and by helping your customers.”

You see, helping your customers – whether by answering their questions or adding value to their lives in other ways – is the real key to building your reputation. That could be through blog posts that answer their questions, research papers that help them make decisions, a TED talk that makes them think, or a book that gives them a guide for how to do something within their own business. Whatever channels you’ve decided to use, make sure you’re providing in-depth, thought provoking answers to questions and providing value.

We love working with Kiwi thought leaders like Richard Conway from Pure SEO – his experience in the SEO world (and business world) is second to none, and he’s not afraid to share that understanding and knowledge with people. From columns in NZ Business and M2 to his new book ‘How to Get to the Top of Google Search’, he freely shares his knowledge and the expertise that Pure SEO has gained over the years because he knows that the reputation he’s able to build from that content is more powerful than virtually any other advertising.


  1. It’s all about consistency

If you’re forgettable, it’s hard to have any sort of sway and influence. And while part of being unforgettable is creating content that’s hard to forget, the other part of it is a little simpler – just don’t LET people forget you.

How? Consistency. Make sure you stay at the forefront of people’s minds by putting out regular, valuable content.

Take Nas Daily, a social influencer, who publishes one video a day, without fail. Each of his videos is only a minute long, which means he has to be very concise with his content and its delivery. Whilst some of his videos may be more valuable than others, by producing daily content he ensures that he always has fresh content for his audience to consume.

Of course, given that our first piece of advice was that sometimes less is more, daily might not be quite right for you. Figure out how often you’ll be able to consistency provide value and decide on that frequency for your content.

Even if your words are gold, if you’re only providing your audience with one good piece of advice each year then you’re going to be forgotten. Make sure you have a regular output of content, preferably at a predictable pace so that your audience can anticipate its release and it becomes part of their routine.


  1. Get yourself out there

It’s no good creating epic content that answers your audience’s questions in-depth and adds real value to the marketplace if it’s just sitting hidden on your website, never to be seen by anyone outside your team. If you want people to read your content, you have to put yourself out there.

Rather than simply posting a blog, consider how you’ll be sharing it – will that be via email, social media, video, speaking opportunities…? Could you send out some of your content to new people you meet when it’s relevant to where they are in a conversation with you? Either way, make sure you’re not just posting and forgetting – keep getting the content in front of people.

When trying to build your reputation, don’t forget about face-to-face too! People in your network have no doubt been responsible for helping to build the reputation you already have. They could be some of your biggest promoters – so why not tap into them to spread the word?

Look for opportunities to share your expertise and value with your network’s connections – whether that’s through a speaking opportunity, guest blog, workshops, or some other form of value adding. Ask your network to share the content you’re creating – after all, you’re not a thought leader until someone else thinks you are, so if your network are willing to vouch for you, you’re much more likely to be taken seriously by those you haven’t met yet.

We’ll take a look at the best ways to share your content next, but the key thing to remember is that your audience aren’t going to come to you – so make sure you’re putting yourself out there.

Concept of Content Marketing. Ways of interacting with the client - vector illustration

The best channels for thought leadership

You need to get your content out there – but how do you know the right channels to use? We’ve all been there – tearing our hair out because there are too many social media platforms and none of them seem to be working quite right. You know you SHOULD be sharing something, but just don’t know where to put your focus.

That’s why we recommend choosing a few channels and putting all your energy into those rather than trying to be all things to all people. Here are a few options you could consider:


  1. Your blog

Your blog is a great place to share thought leadership content, whether key findings from a research paper, in-depth advice and answers to questions, or a strong opinion piece. It brings people back to your website and helps improve SEO for your brand’s website. Do be aware however that your audience isn’t going to find you on your website, much as you would like them to. If you’re hosting content on your blog, you have to combine it with a few of the following options.


  1. LinkedIn

We’re big fans of LinkedIn, especially for B2B business owners. People on LinkedIn are already engaged and looking for business connections and content, so they’re far more receptive here. Plus, because many businesses still aren’t using LinkedIn to its fullest potential, you’ve got a good shot at getting your content in front of your network. A suggestion though: Post as much content natively to LinkedIn as possible – they’ll give you far bigger preference on people’s feeds!


  1. Books

You know how much value can be gleaned from a great business book –  and there are few things that lend more credibility to a business leader than having written a great book that becomes a trusted resource. A book is  one of the best ways to share lots of knowledge and provide people with tangible value, while also demonstrating that you are an authority in your field.

Ideally your book would be published by a reputable publisher, but even self-publishing can be a great way to share your expertise. Whether it’s being sold in shops, online, or simply being given away as a reputation growing tool, a book is a tangible output that shows your thought leadership and builds your reputation (and if the thought of writing a whole book seems daunting, we’re happy to help).


  1. Youtube

If you’re not a writer, don’t have Intelligent Ink writing for you, or would like to supplement your written content, Youtube can be an awesome way to get your face, your voice, and your thought leadership in front of people. For business owners who are charismatic and prepared to put out regular content, Youtube can be a place to find a loyal audience of subscribers. Be aware though that Youtube doesn’t work in a vacuum – you’ll still need to build up other channels to send people to your videos in the first place.


  1. Facebook

Facebook is where most of the world is – over 2.27 billion people, to be exact. It can give you the biggest reach and, if you’re prepared to invest in advertising, can enable targeting to get you in front of the right kind of people. Unfortunately, with Facebook’s algorithms favouring those who advertise over those who don’t, it can take a long time to build up any kind of following. Stick to videos on Facebook to get better engagement.


  1. Speaking opportunities

Think about a thought leader you admire – perhaps Simon Sinek, Brené Brown, or Tony Robbins. Whoever it is, I can bet that speaking engagements take up a huge amount of their time, even for those who don’t necessarily consider themselves inspirational speakers. They’ve probably done a TED Talk, or something similar. On the way to becoming the thought leader they are now they’ve probably spoken at a graduation, at conferences, at industry association meetings, at corporate gigs. Speaking opportunities are a fantastic way to share your knowledge and expertise, build your reputation, and to get people to engage with you and your content. Look for every opportunity you can and grab it!


  1. Twitter

We’re definitely not Twitter people. We like to use too many words and prefer to engage with people in face-to-face meetings. However, if you’re great at conveying value in just a few words and are keen to engage with an online community, Twitter could be the place for you. Be ready to share short, sharp pieces of knowledge or opinion, and engage with other Twitter users as much as you can.


  1. Traditional media

There is still a lot to be said for traditional media – there’s nothing like an article in NBR to cement your reputation. And these days, ‘traditional’ media isn’t always so traditional either – even print publications usually have a digital element. Partnering with a great PR person (we recommend Ellipsis Creative) or using a tool like Contento can be a fantastic way to get out to the media to start with. Following consistent PR coverage, you’ll hopefully start to become the media’s go-to for your industry. Beyond one-off PR coverage though, look for opportunities to consistently provide value – through regular columns or opinion pieces in publications that your target market are reading.



Becoming a thought leader isn’t something you can do by just ticking off a few boxes – it’s a new way of doing business altogether. If you’re simply trying to make quick sales then you probably aren’t going to spend time engaging with your audience. If you want your customers to repeatedly come back to you or to tell others about you however, you need to offer something unique.

Being seen as a thought leader will help you build up a following of repeat customers; customers who will convince others to engage with your brand too. There’s no better way to increase your marketing without having to invest huge money into advertising. Show your customers that you know what you’re talking about, offer a unique take on your area of expertise, and your customers will not only keep coming back for more, they’ll become advocates too.

Struggling to find the words to share your expertise? At Intelligent Ink we create thought leadership content to win hearts and minds – so get in touch today to start building your reputation.