What is Thought Leadership Marketing?

Chris Medenwald | December 8, 2020 | thought leadership marketing

Imagine someone handed you this shopping list:

  • An industrial-strength dishwasher
  • A high-definition projector
  • An automated payroll program

Not exactly run-of-the-mill purchases, are they?

We’re not talking a carton of eggs and laundry detergent here; we’re talking high-value purchases you have to get right. There’s little room for error.

So, how would you go about “shopping” for such items?

If you’re like most, you’d first do some homework—maybe a lot of it. To make the best possible purchase, you’d probably hit the world wide web in search of some reliable information.

There you might come across blogs, social posts, videos, podcasts, and other content created by subject matter experts to help you along the buyer’s journey.

This rich, authoritative content has a name. It’s called thought leadership marketing.

Thought Leadership Marketing Defined

Thought leadership marketing (TLM) takes the raw subject matter expertise of an organization’s members, applies some polish, and presents it to potential buyers as they prepare to make high-value purchases.

In other words, TLM showcases an organization’s experts and makes their valuable perspectives available to customers along the buyer’s journey.

At Modthink, we define TLM as follows (Merriam-Webster, eat your heart out):

Thought-Leadership-Marketing-is An approach to marketing that uses digital content and distribution to proliferate the work and industry knowledge of subject matter experts in order to demonstrate the organization’s expertise, assist customers in purchase decisions, and ultimately grow the business.

Note in this definition the what, how, and why of TLM:

  • What? TLM harnesses the the work and industry knowledge of subject matter experts who belong to a single organization
  • How? TLM uses digital content (e.g., blogs, videos, webpages) and digital distribution (e.g., social media, paid ads, websites)
  • Why? TLM helps organizations demonstrate their expertise, assist their customers, and ultimately grow their businesses

But also notice what TLM is not. This is important, too. It’s not...

  • Subject matter expertise. By itself, subject matter expertise is not TLM. Rather, TLM is the application of digital-marketing tools and techniques to subject matter expertise.
  • Overtly promotional. TLM produces well-informed, “inbound” content that pulls in customers. Traditional, outbound marketing often uses gimmicks and promotional tactics that pushes messages onto unwilling customers.

When marketing and expertise team up...

You’ve got something powerful.
You’ve got something mutually beneficial to consumers and companies.
You’ve got TLM.

Standing on Principles

Expressed as a formula (eat your heart out Neil deGrasse Tyson), TLM might be expressed as:

Subject Matter Expertise plus Marketing Tactics equals Thought Leadership Marketing

We may borrow two key principles of TLM from this formula:

Principle #1: Without subject matter expertise, marketing tactics are usually just bells and whistles

TLM is a purer form of marketing. Instead of the gimmicks and tactics of traditional marketing, TLM emphasizes real subject matter expertise and applies it to legitimate customer needs.

For this reason, we like to say TLM is “true marketing.” People actually want it. Weird

Principle #2: Without marketing tactics, subject matter expertise is really just an underutilized, internal asset

Subject matter expertise isn’t one of those things you find on a balance sheet. It’s easy to neglect. Many organizations simply fail to see the marketability of their members’ knowledge, skills, and abilities.

You can know all there is to know about automated payroll programs or industrial dishwashers, but it’s not until you apply marketing tactics to this subject matter expertise that it becomes TLM.

When your organization makes the leap from experts to thought leaders, then and only then you can feel confident you’re making the most of your organization’s subject matter expertise.

TLM, however, doesn’t work for all organizations. It’s the bread and butter of companies and nonprofits that have a specialized, bona fide expertise for which purchase-minded customers are actively searching. Such organizations often have high-value offerings, longer sales cycles, and knowledgeable clients.

At Modthink, we call these thought organizations.

And, man, if you belong to such an organization, TLM can really pay off.


See Also: The TLM Process: How Thought Leadership Marketing Really Works

The Benefits of TLM

Every year, LinkedIn teams up with Edelman to survey thousands of B2B managers and executives with both the budget and authority to make purchases for their respective businesses. In 2020, Edelman-LinkedIn surveyed 1,164 professionals in the U.S. alone.

Get this: More than half of respondents (53%) said they spend one or more hours per week engaging with thought leadership articles, videos, podcasts, and other content—precisely the type of content produced by TLM.

Moreover, of those who engage with thought leadership content at least one hour a week, 88% agreed such content is effective at improving their perceptions of organizations, and 71% agreed thought leadership content is one of the best ways to understand an organization’s strengths and capabilities.

So, the research suggests TLM not only produces content with which B2B professionals commonly engage, but it also yields benefits like:

  • Favorable perceptions of organizations
  • Positive portrayal of an organization’s capabilities

And, if you’re not yet sold on TLM, our own experience with clients at Modthink suggests additional benefits:

  • Talent. Professionals, especially in knowledge-intensive industries, want to work for the best and the brightest. TLM portrays organizations as employers of choice.
  • Publicity. TLM helps experts get noticed by reporters, podcasters, and others across the media landscape. The result? Interviews and invitations.
  • Goodwill. When you share helpful, knowledgeable content with potential buyers, they’re thankful for it. You’re the “good guy.” And such customers are more likely to patronize your business.

When you combine goodwill, publicity, talent, effective communication, and positive perceptions, your bottom line is inevitably impacted.

How? Sales.

And who doesn’t want more sales?

Benefits-of-Thought-Leadership-Marketing • Favorable perceptions • Positive portrayal of organizations' capabilities • Being an employer of choice • Interviews and media attention • Goodwill among customers • Higher sales

Want to Talk TLM?

TLM is kind of our thing here at Modthink. If you’re ready to transform your organization’s subject matter expertise into goodwill-building, sales-generating thought leadership marketing…

We’re standing by. (Well, we’re working on great TLM content for our clients, but we never pass up a chance to talk about TLM.)

Just reach out.

Want to Talk Thought Leadership Marketing? Contact us

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