What’s the difference? Content marketing versus thought leadership

Content marketing and thought leadership. Thought leadership and content marketing. These two things seem to go hand-in-hand, but are they actually a different kind of beast?

If you Google ‘content marketing’ and ‘thought leadership’ individually, you’re sure to find thousands of resources that define both of these terms in different ways. I’ve done it before (and I’ll do it again) and almost become overwhelmed with the wildly different ways people describe thought leadership (especially). So, let’s look at each of them to try and discern the difference.

Let’s first examine thought leadership. How I define thought leadership varies depending on the industry in question. If we’re speaking generally and if I had to provide strict definitions:

A thought leader would be a person or business brand that is dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic about their industry. They are admired and sought after for counsel.  They give their own opinion and perspective on their key topic of note.

Thought leadership is the ability to use these traits, charisma and expertise to appeal to, and eventually win over, new clientele or a following. Thought leadership strategies vary depending on your perspective — for instance, whether you want to target a client pain point or just a general understanding of the industry in question.  I’ve previously discussed the six steps needed to become a thought leader.

Now to content marketing. My definition is one that is much more general. To me, content marketing is the process of creating relevant and valuable content, then distributing it to an audience with the purpose of educating and attracting new clientele, and engaging a targeted audience.

Since we’ve now defined what both of these terms mean, now we can more accurately examine their key differences.

First of all, content marketing is not always thought leadership. A content piece that DOES contain thought leadership strategy is very precise and purposeful in its strategy. It exists to inform consumers and elevate the credibility of a brand or business.

However, not all content holds this same purpose. It’s vital that all content used in content marketing holds some value, but that value is not always thought leadership. Sometimes the purpose of a piece of content is to boost visibility above all. Sometimes a blog is created with the simple intent to generate more leads.

Thought leadership should also have some other basic traits that doesn’t necessarily apply to the content marketing standard:

To put it simply, thought leadership is a part of, or goal of, a content marketing strategy, but not all content marketing is thought leadership. Anyone can create content — but it takes a driven, knowledgeable and innovative person or brand to be a true thought leader.

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