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How to Jump Start Thought Leadership Marketing

Marketing in the New Year

In this article, Dr. Frederiksen discusses the importance of thought leadership marketing and how that differs from content marketing.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Resources:

Marketing Techniques: Content Marketing and Thought Leadership

Marketing Techniques: Lead Nurturing and Closing New Business

Marketing Techniques: Social Media, Networking, and Referrals

Expertise-Based Marketing

Social Media and Networking

It is easy to assume that thought leadership marketing is as simple as publicizing a firm’s subject matter experts—or that it is little more than content marketing with a fancier name.  But it is different from both of these practices.

In this article, I will explain exactly what thought leadership marketing is, how it is different from content marketing, and how you yourself can develop thought leadership.  Let’s begin by defining our terms:

  • Thought Leaders: individuals, or the firms where they work, that are known for their unique expertise and influence on their discipline. They function as both subject matter experts as well as influencers.
  • Thought Leadership Marketing: the process of building the market visibility and influence of one’s thought leaders to accomplish specific marketing goals, such as brand strengthening or attracting new business.

How Thought Leadership Differs from Content Marketing

Thought leadership marketing is a specific strategy within content marketing, and not all content marketing qualifies as thought leadership marketing.  For instance, a firm could publish informative or even humorous content about a widely-misunderstood concept—yet still not offer any innovative thinking on the topic.  Even though both approaches are content marketing strategies, neither would be seen as thought leadership.

Thought leadership, in contrast, requires more than being an expert on industry best practices.  It means bringing fresh insights and perspective on a common problem—or even making well-researched projections about emerging trends.

Here is one of the most unique things about thought leaders: they often defy conventional wisdom—even taking positions that could seem a bit controversial.  The insights of the most successful thought leaders often lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s best practice.

How to Think Like a Thought Leader

There is no surefire formula that guarantees one will become an insightful, influential thinker on a given topic or discipline.  There are, however, proven strategies you can pursue to optimize your results, and possibly take the impact of your expertise to the next level.

  • Share More Expertise about Less.  Based on our research on high-profile experts, one of the most interesting findings is that narrowing one’s focus greatly increases the likelihood of developing deep expertise.  The narrower your area of expertise, the faster your thought leadership can grow.
  • Create Original Research.  Conducting high-quality research on a topic your clients care about can accelerate your climb to thought leadership, especially if no one else is treating the topic with the same level of attention.  Such research is the raw material of thought leadership.
  • Take a Novel Position.  Being somewhat contrary is another hallmark of thinking like a thought leader.  It is much more than simply being stubborn or quarrelsome.  For example, it could involve taking the client’s position on a challenge that many firms see entirely differently, and exploring it from an unexpected angle.
  • Deliver an Expertise Mash Up.  Sometimes great insight comes from applying the methods and thinking from one discipline to another: putting two seemingly unrelated fields of expertise together.  For example, what happens when you apply design thinking to accounting services?
  • Rub Elbows with Fellow Experts.  Having strong working relationships with other experts gives you access to the most influential new thinking.  As you interact with other thought leaders, you all get smarter.  These colleagues help amplify your visibility and credibility, and may even send new business your way.

Another Key to Success: Making Thought Leadership Visible

Although this post is focused on developing one’s own thought leadership, a different but equally important priority is making that quality visible in the marketplace.  This requires a sustained effort generally incorporating face-to-face or virtual interactions with colleagues—such as at meetings and conferences, or in educational settings.  There are many traditional, online, and social techniques for sharing the insights you are developing.  My firm has actually done some interesting research on the most popular thought leadership marketing techniques.

Figure 1.  Online and offline marketing techniques

Developing real thought leadership—and making sure your market sees and recognizes you for it—can provide a firm with a range of benefits.  In another recent study on high-visibility experts, firms that were effective in making their thought leadership visible enjoyed such benefits as faster growth, higher billing rates, stronger brands, and greater ability to attract the best talent.  Even more significant, they now get their pick of teaming relationships, marketing partnerships, and other strategic business opportunities.

And that is the most intriguing part of thought leadership marketing.  It not only helps your firm get ahead of the competition, it also makes it easier to stay ahead.

Time to Get Growing

If you would like to become an industry thought leader, we can help.  Hinge’s Visible Expert® Program provides all the guidance and help you need to implement a thought leadership platform that builds your reputation and visibility in the marketplace.

Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is Managing Partner at Hinge, the leading branding and marketing firm for the professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.
Mr. Frederiksen can be contacted at (703) 391-8870 or by e-mail to

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