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Spot the Difference: Content Marketing vs. Thought Leadership

By: Andrea Panno

Anytime we engage with the marketplace, we’re exposed to content marketing and thought leadership. Content marketing and thought leadership have become more accessible than ever before. Content marketing and thought leadership allow companies, no matter the size, to make impressions in the marketplace in a capacity that is a relatively level playing field.

So, what’s the difference? While these two marketing techniques tend to overlap, they have distinct, differentiating qualities. Knowing the difference between content marketing and thought leadership can help you strategize and leverage your approach to yield the best outcomes. Let’s discuss the differences, overlaps, and when and how to best use these techniques to their full potential.

📝 What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is like a meeting with a prospective client; you’re starting a structured dialogue with a potential customer and showcasing what you offer. You may offer industry education, historical data, examples of successful client work, testimonials, and more.

A content marketing strategy has the ultimate intention of selling. There’s nothing random about content marketing. It’s a laser-focused marketing approach to reach customers where they’re at. Content marketing is informed based on buyer persona data and specific marketing goals and ultimately showcases how a product or service will meet a customer’s need.

Here are some common characteristics of content marketing:

  • Formal and sales oriented
  • Focuses on products or services that a company offers
  • Gives a general scope of the product or service’s value and how it will benefit the customer
  • Uses enticing and positive language; makes the customer want to act on the purchase
  • Educates the customer enough to feel informed in their purchase

Some content marketing examples are eBooks, whitepapers, infographics, tip sheets, and case studies promoted through email marketing, social media marketing, and video marketing.

Content Marketing Campaign Checklist

💭 What is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is content that shares knowledge, information, and wisdom about a specific topic or industry. It simultaneously provides value and positions you as an expert on the issues you share.

Thought leadership intends to engage and connect with others; sales are often a by-product of thought leadership. However, it’s not the direct intention. Think about your experience on LinkedIn—the watering hole of the business world. Coincidentally it’s a place where you’ll find thought leadership. It often comes in storytelling, quotes, or videos from key opinion leaders (KOLs), speakers, or events.

Here are the characteristics of effective and engaging thought leadership:

  • Comes from an individual, usually a company leader
  • Opens a dialogue about industry-relevant ideas, practices, and news
  • Grabs the reader’s attention; is thought-provoking, heart-warming, or perspective-altering
  • Offers value to the reader; makes them trust and like your brand
  • Provides solid information and data that answers questions and earns credibility
  • Inspires and uplifts people; leaves them feeling good about you and your company

Our favorite part about thought leadership is that it requires people to show up as themselves.

In today’s content-heavy world, even the untrained eye can spot ‘canned’ content. Embodying the characteristics discussed above can pull you into an authentic state of mind that fosters connection.

tips for creating a thought leadership plan

Overall, the goal of thought leadership content is to share valuable information. Some common examples of thought leadership content that you will find on LinkedIn are TED talks, CEO quote posts about company culture, and stories about leadership or overcoming obstacles.

A phantom roadblock for thought leadership is that people assume they must generate 100% of the content themselves. This is a myth; of course, you must cite sources and give credit to the creator or post author. However, you can repost a relevant story, article, video, or post and share a paragraph caption that offers insights on this topic.

So now what? Drafting a post at first may feel like screaming into the void. However, strategizing your approach is what offers value and builds credibility. Developing a thought leadership content strategy should include making online connections and using your brand voice to share posts.

Ideally, as a thought leader, you’re an effective leader. Aim for quality wisdom, not fancy noise. Offer anecdotes from personal experience. Personal stories and shared experiences are some of the best ways to connect with others on a fundamental level. Sharing some of yourself with others and offering your gathered wisdom via hindsight is gold.

Talk about your company values, share stories, and repost relevant content with your caption. Once you get the hang of it, it will be second nature. Always be yourself and offer something substantial; your brand is valuable, so your content should be too.

🤝🏽 Overlaps

So, in what ways are content marketing and thought leadership similar? Both are forms of storytelling; they open a discussion and, when appropriately executed, make people think.

Here are some of the key overlapping qualities:

  • Informative and engaging
  • Aligns with your branding
  • Benefits your target audience

Content marketing is what gives specifics to make the sale; thought leadership is what gets people in the door. Content marketing should be promoted on websites, emails, social media, and other mediums. Thought leadership grabs people’s attention and leads them to the content marketing materials.

Both thought leadership and content marketing are critical approaches in today’s competitive marketplace. Once employing these tactics, you’ll find yourself making rewarding connections, generating leads, and closing sales with customers.

👉🏽 Need Help with Your Content Marketing and Thought Leadership Strategy?

We’ve worked with hundreds of B2B healthcare, technology, industrial and business services companies, giving us a comprehensive understanding of how to attract leads and build credibility through effective content marketing and thought leadership. We would love to discuss how we can accelerate your success through content marketing and thought leadership. Take the lead with Sagefrog.

how we build a content development process