It wasn’t long ago that companies kept their expertise closely guarded, and seemingly under lock and key. After all, knowledge is a valuable asset; it’s not something to just put out into the world for prospects and (gasp) competitors to read and learn from freely. But it’s a different world today – for businesses and their communications teams. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and increasingly the key to a rapidly emerging and evolving marketplace advantage: thought leadership.

Today, thought leadership – loosely defined as brand differentiation and authority steeped in ideas and solutions – is closely tied to business growth. But generating great ideas is one thing; the ability to persuasively share and sell them is quite another. Thought leadership content is essential to establishing the affinity, authenticity and trust marketers desire for their brands’ relationship with customers.

But your audience won’t react with your content if it isn’t compelling; it must also be fluid and shareable across platforms and channels. And it must offer actionable, substantial solutions to important industry challenges. Here are six golden rules to help communicators and marketers create a pipeline of thought leadership content that meets all of these needs.

  1. Tell a story. Since childhood, we’ve been wired to want to hear great stories. Most everyday conversations are heavy on data and light on stories; yet, you need the latter to reinforce your ideas and get people to want to listen. Incorporate anecdotes, such as experiences or case studies (that of your business or other brands). Remember too that failures often offer lessons just as valuable as successes. It’s also okay to evoke emotion; we all connect with stories that are genuine and relatable.
  1. Up the ante. Don’t be afraid to follow. If you avoid a topic because it’s been covered by the competition, you risk losing out. But make sure you add something new or different to the conversation. Choose a compelling, possibly counterintuitive angle, and infuse your brand’s voice throughout. True thought leadership content identifies connections, draws conclusions and offers solutions to bigger problems. And always take a strong stance – one way or the other (don’t waffle!).
  1. Answer the “why?” question. The number one job of thought leadership is to change opinions and behaviors, and motivate action. To do so, your content must answer one pivotal question: “Why should I?” Identify the drawbacks of taking no action, as well as the benefits of the proposed solution.
  1. Shake it up. That is, sentence structure, and format and distribution channels. Contrary to what we learned in high school English class, you can start a sentence with a conjunction or preposition. And you shouldn’t be afraid to try new words. Choose simple, active verbs that add color and emphasis. Same goes for varying formats. Try an infographic or SlideShare, or a listicle or e-book.
  1. Be clear. Regardless of message or medium, if your content isn’t fresh, clean and rational, it won’t make the impact you need. Focused on research? The same rules of writing that apply to words apply to data, too. Numbers need to tell a clear story; there can’t be too many of them and they need to tie to the story. Same goes for design. Visuals must be meaningful, distinct and original.
  1. Inspire trust. To be an industry authority, your content must be as reliable and trustworthy as you are. Focus on the details. Make sure your information and insights are accurate, and the quality of reporting is high. Every piece of content must be complete, compelling and error free. It takes a long time to build trust with your audience, but you can lose that trust in a second. Strive to be a reliable knowledge source your customers can count on.

Good content is critical to building – and sustaining – effective thought leadership. Learn how to develop a pipeline of top-notch, quality content and it will become one of the most powerful tools in your marketing toolbox.

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For more than 15 years, Jen Zottola has helped bring clients’ stories to life – through media opportunities, digital and marketing content, executive presentations, employee communications and more. Fusing creativity with strategy, she crafts compelling, award-winning copy proven to reach and resonate with the right audiences in the most impactful ways. As editorial director, Jen collaborates with clients and account teams to provide counsel on messaging and voice, as well as writing and editing support. Her creativity isn’t reserved only for writing; Jen also gets a kick out of party- and event planning.