Many marketing departments focus the bulk of their efforts on producing and sharing high-quality content — especially visual content, which garners greater engagement and conversions. But not as many marketers are specifically focused on creating thought leadership content — even though it’s among the most important types of content for positioning your brand as #1 in its field.
Why does this type of content matter, and how does it differ from any other kind of marketing asset? Let’s take a look. Then we’ll share 10 types of thought leadership content that you can use in your brand-building efforts.
What Makes Thought Leadership Content Special?
The marketing content you produce can have a variety of goals. Sometimes you want to promote a new product or service. Other times you want to drive more traffic to your site, build your social media following, or encourage more newsletter signups.
All of these are worthwhile content marketing strategy goals. What’s more, they’re targeted and measurable, essential features of effective goal-setting in a marketing context.
But when you’re looking at the long-term health of your business, different goals come into view. You want to build brand recognition. You want to dominate your industry. You want to be the organization that people think of when they think about your product or service. And you want to be seen as innovative and cutting-edge, so that you can secure your position as a leader for years to come. Content that serves these long-term goals is thought leadership content.
On a smaller scale, this content will be working step-by-step to establish your industry’s presence in particular markets, publications, and spheres. And in order to achieve much of this, you’ll probably need to determine who the “face” of your organization will be.
The Face of Your Brand
Not all thought leadership content requires that one person serves as the public-facing representative of your organization. But having one or more people who can serve in this role has a number of advantages. This person might be your CEO, founder, or another leader within the company, depending on the kind of story you want to tell.
First and foremost, it humanizes your organization to have a real person talking about the ideas that are most important to your industry. People will feel more able to make an authentic connection with an individual than an entity.
What’s more, having someone in this public-facing role has advantages on social media. In our own experience at Killer Visual Strategies, our CEO, Amy Balliett, gets much more engagement and traction posting updates on her LinkedIn and Twitter pages than we do on our company LinkedIn and Twitter pages. And it’s easy to understand why this is the case: again, it’s just easier to have a conversation when you feel like you’re talking to one person whose voice and identity you’ve come to know and respect.
And finally, having one person or a few people in these public-facing roles opens you up to being able to take full advantage of all the types of thought leadership content out there. Speaking of which … let’s take a look at 10 of the most effective types!
1. Visual eBooks & White Papers
Writing blog posts is great, but with a demanding blog schedule, you don’t always have the time to pull off the level of research and the quality of design you’d like to achieve. A visual ebook or white paper takes you one step further. It delivers an elegant, in-depth treatise on a particular topic. What’s more, a strong visual ebook offers real value to its readers — something they can take away and apply immediately. They’ll remember you for what you’ve taught them, and they’ll come back to you again and again to learn more.
Just remember, production value counts. Make sure your visual white paper or ebook is well-designed and incorporates data visualization, illustration, and other elements to make it more engaging. Thought leadership content is, first and foremost, high-quality content.
Webinars, like ebooks and whitepapers, offer you a chance to share valuable knowledge with your target audiences and with potential customers. It’s also a way for you to help position the “face” of your company as the leader they are! Give them a chance to talk about and share their expertise — something they’re truly passionate about — and audiences will be eager to attend.
At Killer Visual Strategies, we host a webinar about once a quarter featuring a topic that appeals to our audiences. They’re usually hosted by our CEO and founder, Amy Balliett, but we also feature President & Chief Creative Officer Josh Miles from time to time. We even organized the Strategic Content Summit, a special webinar series featuring other industry thought leaders. You can watch the videos of these sessions on demand.
3. Exhibits & Appearances at Conferences & Events
In a pre- (and post-) COVID world, conferences, trade shows, and other events of this kind have long been an incredible opportunity to make human connections and position your organization as a leader in your field. And even with practically all such events operating online right now, they still offer a great deal of value for companies that participate actively and effectively.
Make sure that applying for speaking engagements and panel participation at these events is a fundamental part of your marketing and public relations strategy. You can also consider having a booth or exhibit at the conferences that are most likely to attract your ideal customer. Virtual exhibits can also be a great option, with the right design team on your side.
4. Engagements as a Public Speaker or Guest Speaker
Killer Visual Strategies CEO Amy Balliett speaks at a conference.
In tandem with your efforts to land speaking engagements at conferences, look for other opportunities to showcase your thought leadership through public appearances. You’d be surprised how many private organizations and businesses are looking for guest speakers to talk to their members or employees. What do you have to offer to these organizations that no one else can? After a guest speaking appearance, they’ll always look to you as the expert in your field.
5. Media Appearances & Guest Articles
The more your company appears in articles, interviews, profiles, features, podcasts, and more, the better your brand recognition. And brand recognition is intimately tied to thought leadership. If you’re the first name that comes up in any discussion of your field, you’re also the first company they’re going to Google when they need answers or guidance.
So build a list of target media outlets and start following and supporting the journalists there whose work you admire the most. Focus on developing long-term relationships: these will be key as you start working to develop media placements.
Meanwhile, make sure you’re also looking for opportunities to write guest articles or even columns for the media outlets that speak most to your audiences. Amy Balliett, for instance, writes a column for Inc.com.
6. Video & Motion Graphic Series
Video is by far the most engaging type of media on the web today. So if you can produce high-quality video content that demonstrates your authority and knowledge, you’re likely to get a ton of traction.
Again, ask yourself what you have to offer than no one else can. Or, put another way, what valuable information can you share better than anyone else can? Then develop a series of high-quality videos or motion graphics to share that knowledge. At Killer, we chose to develop our Visual Minute video series.
7. Educational Thought Leadership Content
An illustration of the steps to designing a motion graphic, from our Complete Guide to Motion Graphics for Marketers and Brand Leaders.
At least 77% of B2B marketers are already using educational content to connect with their audiences. After all, there’s really no branded content out there that offers more value. And educating your audience on a topic close to your heart will establish you as both an authority and an innovator.
Educational thought leadership content can take a number of forms, from videos to infographics to interactive landing pages (more on these below). Decide which medium is most conducive for telling your story and most engaging for your specific audiences.
8. Explainer Videos
Among the 87% of people who wanted to see more branded video content in 2019, the #1 type of video they wanted to see most was explainer videos. This should come as no surprise: these kinds of videos are fundamentally designed to deliver useful information.
Determine some of the pain points that your audiences and customers encounter in deciding to buy your product or service — or in working with it after making a purchase. Is it hard to decide which of your services is best for them? Is it hard to assemble your product? An explainer video lowers the barrier to purchase, and makes the buyer more likely to become a repeat customer.
9. Interactive Infographics & Landing Pages
There’s no better way to deliver a wealth of knowledge on a complex topic than through an interactive infographic or landing page. Take this example for the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The infographic lays out a comprehensive argument for the importance of readiness in the face of biological threats. The variety of visual elements, scrolling animations, and data visualizations keep the content interesting for viewers.
With interactive landing pages, you also have the option of including opportunities for users to click for additional information. For instance, in this annual report for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, you can either choose to scroll through for a quick overview, or take a deeper dive by reading the message from the chairman, hovering over some of the data visualizations for more precise numbers, or watching the embedded videos. Interactive sites and landing pages showcase your thought leadership through the wealth of content and the deep dive you provide.
10. Custom Research & Insights
Being the source of custom research, surveys, or other data can establish your leadership. It shows that you’re the vanguard of key insights into your industry — or insights that are useful for your target customer. As a result, people will turn to you again and again as the experts.
Try these types of thought leadership content, and you’ll not only be able to build brand recognition — you’ll also establish your company as innovators and leaders in your field. And this type of content doesn’t just assure short-term success. More than that, it assures the continued growth and success of your business over the long term. It’s time to get started.