Biz Tips: Dear Marketers: Stop Ruining Thought Leadership

Biz Tips: Dear Marketers: Stop Ruining Thought Leadership


Dear Marketers: Stop Ruining Thought Leadership

My day-to-day consists of reaching out to founders, CXOs and business leaders of companies doing $10M+ in revenue per year.

I spend a lot of time — a LOT of time — scouring LinkedIn, scraping for emails and trying to find companies that would benefit from a desperately needed update in regards to marketing efforts.

Once I find prospects that fit the bill, I send a personalized message, explaining how Digital Press has helped over 75 company leaders go from virtually no online presence, to industry authority through consistent, well-written content — and how we can do the same for them.

A good majority of the time, I get responses like this:

“We’ve got a team of internal writers who handle thought leadership content.”

“Our content team has been doing thought leadership for awhile now.”

“We’re going to stick with our PR team — they’re experts in thought leadership.”

I get it: they don’t want to waste their time on something they seemingly ‘have covered.’ But frankly, I value my time just as much as any founder or CEO values theirs — and I wouldn’t dare to waste it.

There’s a reason I reach out to these people…

None of them have a real online presence.

If they did, I wouldn’t have reached out in the first place.

If I contact you about thought leadership, I’ve run your name through every search engine out there. I’ve done my due diligence, and then some.

And if the only thing that comes up when I search your name is your LinkedIn page or Twitter profile, and you claim to have a team with “thought leadership expertise,” I’m going to tell you you need to seriously reevaluate your definition of thought leadership.

So whenever I get a “No thanks, we do that already”-type response, I explain just that:

“Hey [Name] — thanks for getting back so quickly. I’m glad to hear you’re prioritizing written content—and thought leadership content especially—but the reason I reached out, to be frank, is that I couldn’t find any of that content without really, really digging.”

Most of the time, I don’t find any first-person content whatsoever.

Now, I want to be clear on something:

It isn’t their fault.

A lot of marketers claim to know thought leadership — hence, content teams flaunting their so-called “expertise” to their executive team.

They capitalized off of ‘thought leadership’ the buzzword, and never bothered to actually understand ‘thought leadership’ the philosophy.

All-of-a-sudden, every marketer was a ‘thought leadership’ expert. PR companies started including it as an extended service. Content teams added a ‘Thought Leadership’ tab to their company’s blog. Social media managers started using the hashtag #ThoughtLeadership.

Now, the majority of population has misunderstanding of the definition altogether.

If you’re one of these people, as in, people who label content as ‘thought leadership’ for the the hell of it, please:

Stop ruining it.

Writing content for your company blog is not thought leadership.

Posting to Facebook, tweeting, or scripting vlogs for your company’s co-founder is not thought leadership.

Surface level content pieces talking about how amazing your company is, or how much better you are than your competitor, is not thought leadership.

Getting your CEO featured in Forbes twice a year is not thought leadership.

One podcast feature is not thought leadership.

Need I say more?

These are actual examples of what marketers call thought leadership content. I see it on a daily basis. And it’s really a shame.

Since so many companies have started pushing out “thought leadership” content without actually taking the time to understand it and learn how to put it to use, the term itself is seemingly ill-defined.

When actually, thought leadership is…

Building relationships at scale, building trust, and starting—as well as contributing to—industry conversations by publishing educational and entertaining first-person content on a regular basis.

If you want to implement thought leadership into your content strategy the right way, here are the 3 basic criteria your content needs to meet:

1. It needs to be first-person.

The ‘person’ in ‘first-person’ is a company leader: a CEO, a founder, a VP, board member (though, it’s worth mentioning that individual industry experts, like investors, can be thought leaders too).

In order for it to be considered thought leadership, the content must be authored by that person—not the entity the person works for.

If the content is not in the first-person, it’s not thought leadership.

2. It needs to educate and entertain.

Writing a first-person article filled with a bunch of “Our company does this,” and “Our product works because,” isn’t educational.

It’s an advertisement.

And people are sick of being sold to.

To educate, means to leave readers (or listeners) with actionable advice—a.k.a real value. If there are no real takeaways from the piece, it’s not thought leadership material.

Along with that, the content needs to entertain the reader if you want to keep them engaged.

Your audience wants to hear stories from your founder about their trials and tribulations of starting a company, or opinions—real opinions—about happenings in the industry. Nobody cares about your company or what you’re selling — and they aren’t going to trust them if all of your content is “Here’s why we’re so great.”

They want something that’s relatable.

3. It needs to be consistent.

This is hands down the most misunderstood aspect of thought leadership marketing.

Marketers come up with content, pay to get their founder published in Forbes and say, “Look! Our CEO is a thought leader!”


As one of our co-founders at Digital Press would say:

Anyone with a thousand bucks and a check book can get published in a mainstream publication.

So many company leaders are frustrated at the fact that after one or two or three pieces, they aren’t being seen as industry leaders. When they get published in Forbes, or Inc., or Business Insider and nobody bats an eye, they get really frustrated.

People need to realize that the thought leadership process isn’t: write one article > go viral > thought leader.

Thought leadership is building a library of content, actively contributing to industry conversations on a consistent basis over time, and always giving the reader some sort of actionable advice, so people remember who you are, what you represent, and how you add value to your industry.

To reiterate…

Thought Leadership is building relationships at scale, building trust, and starting — as well as contributing to — industry conversations by publishing educational and entertaining first-person content on a regular basis.

That’s how you build a rapport and stand out as an industry leader.


Educate + entertain.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Struggling with thought leadership content? This might help 🙂

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