Recently, I overheard some communications professionals remark that they needed some thought leadership to put on their client’s blog. They then began to brainstorm article ideas to drive SEO. (That’s ‘search engine optimisation’, if you’re wondering.)
This process struck me as backwards. What they were really looking for was content marketing, not thought leadership. It’s a distinction with a big difference. Content marketing is important. It represents one public face (usually online) of a company’s smarts. As such, it’s an end game that can help shape brands and find new customers.
Thought leadership is a means to that end. It comes from deep within the organisation, drawing on the best ideas from all over the organisation and grounding them with rigorous research. Think of it as R&D for ideas. Thought leadership can then be used for many different purposes – including online content marketing – but also including product and service development, supporting leaders in public appearances, making a difference on global issues, and providing (publicly invisible) tools used by your team to strengthen relationships with clients, suppliers and distributors, policy-makers and even competitors.
That’s not to say that content marketing without thought leadership isn’t important. It is. In fact, I would call this blog post content marketing, not thought leadership. Let’s make sure we don’t confuse one for the other.