The concept of thought leadership marketing is finding new life as the way customers think, act and buy continues to transform communications and PR.

Corporate communications used to be about finding customers, and pushing content and messages toward them. But in recent years, buyers’ tolerance for this approach has lessened, and their mental and technological ability to block unwanted marketing messages has increased.

PR and marketing approaches that will succeed in the future must flip this model.

Instead of finding customers, today’s marketing approaches must attract customers. Instead of being brand- and product-centric, they must be customer-centric. That’s where thought leadership comes in. 

Today’s marketing approaches must be customer-centric. That’s where thought leadership comes in.Click To Tweet

Historically, a thought leader has been defined as an individual or an organization known for ideas, a distinctive point of view, or new thinking with potential impact on society or on a market or industry. Companies can be thought leaders; the key is to be a brand that delivers value to its customers and stakeholders beyond selling a service, and by helping its customers solve challenges.

Because thought leadership marketing is all about sharing insight and ideas, it offers this new age of buyers exactly what they are looking for: help, advice, understanding and information. Because thought leadership is, at its heart, customer-centric and focused on market and industry problem solving, it has the power to draw people into the conversation in a way that other marketing approaches can’t.

Here’s how to embrace a modern thought leadership marketing strategy that supports today’s buying process.

  • Dig deep into knowing your buyer and understanding his or her world. Spend at least as much time on learning about your customers’ changing needs, wants and problems as you do on developing your brand voice, product messages, etc. Go beyond general title and demographic information. Consider your buyer’s story in the context of industry news, market challenges and new patterns of behavior.
  • Be there when buyers gather information as part of their buying process. With the technology to get everything we need at our fingertips, make sure you are found when consumers ask questions and conduct research. Brands that are visible and engaged in helping buyers at early stages of the process build trust that pays off later.
  • Share content that is helpful, educational and findable. Embrace thought leadership marketing not as sales hype but as a way to help your industry. You can achieve that by being authentic and personal, and tapping into themes, opinions and issues that are deeply meaningful to both your company and your customers. Just make sure all of your content is findable with search-optimized keywords, phrases and digital strategies.

One of the main reasons companies invest in PR and marketing is to support sales. But the sales process is undergoing a fundamental shift as today’s buyers demand a whole new approach. In the new dynamic, the buyer has all the power. As marketers, it’s up to us to support the buying process by educating and informing, guiding decision-making and offering value. Thought leadership marketing can be the perfect approach to achieve all that and more.

Think you’re ready for this marketing model? Start by getting your brand’s thought leadership score.

Get Your Free Thought Leadership Report Card

A strong believer that relationships are the heart of business success, Joan is inspired by helping bring together interesting people, ideas and opportunities. And with nearly two decades at Stern, she has had no shortage of inspiration. In her role leading comprehensive programs and providing strategic counsel, she most enjoys leveraging synergies amongst clients and a wide network of influencers. This knack for forging connections extends to her deep involvement with professional and academic circles. An adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, she is director of digital communication and past president of the PRSA's NJ Chapter. When Joan isn’t making connections in the office, you might find her heading “down the shore,” devouring a good book, chasing around her toddler Elliott, or rocking out to her beloved Foo Fighters.