Thought leadership vs content marketing: what’s the difference?

Canadian research study finds firms may not measure outcomes appropriately

Most professional services firms engage in thought leadership activities to gain and retain clients.

What used to be referred to as thought leadership has morphed into “content marketing” – an effort to build a client base by providing thoughtvaluable information. Lawyers, accountants, consultants and similar professionals now publish online a wide variety of insights, opinions, reports, research and case studies.

A small, but interesting Canadian study on thought leadership activities identifies “there is an opportunity for firms to increase the use of measurements such as referrals, client growth rates and employee satisfaction rates in evaluating their thought leadership strategies.”

Author Wendy McLean-Cobban conducted her research under the supervision of David Scholz at McMaster University’s Master of Communications Management Program. She concludes, “Digital measurements for the web are being used more frequently [to evaluate thought leadership activities], but their effectiveness in measuring success is less certain.”

In other words, it’s often relatively easy to provide basic measurements for content marketing — how many individuals visit a website, download a paper, or open the link to an e-zine. In contrast, it is often much more difficult to qualitatively measure the benefits of speaking engagements, media interviews or board directorships.

However, just because online activities are easy to track doesn’t mean, of course, they can be linked to a new piece of business gained or, more importantly, business growth over time. A small event for a narrowly targeted group of prospects may bring in a piece of valuable business; an e-book downloaded by hundreds of web visitors may generate a long mailing list but not a single referral.

What’s the take away? Ms. McLean-Cobban quotes an observant marketer who preferred to remain anonymous: “If thought leadership starts with a marketing intent in mind, it will probably not be successful. You really do need to actually be thoughtful and leading. And then you should market the hell out of it, but you don’t start from a marketing point of view.”

I say, Amen. If you want to share a new insight or research, you may wish to first distribute it quietly and in person to key prospects. Then, develop a strategy to distribute it as part of a larger content marketing approach. And, don’t forget to track feedback and business generated down the road.

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One thought on “Thought leadership vs content marketing: what’s the difference?

  1. Pingback: Cash and content are both king in our digital world | Heule Communications in Toronto

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