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Content Marketing and Thought Leadership: What’s the Difference?

Org TL Minute: Episode 9


What’s the difference between thought leadership and content marketing? So, I’ve been asked that question many times over my career. And, like many thought leadership practitioners, I’ve struggled to give an answer that my colleagues outside of my profession could easily understand.

That’s because, at first glance, content marketing and thought leadership seem really similar. Both sit inside marketing. They both support sales and product teams. And they use similar modalities: such as speaking, videos, articles, and podcasts.

But thought leadership and content marketing aren’t synonyms. Here’s how I describe the difference. Content marketing focuses on customer acquisition–reaching prospects and helping to turn them into buyers. Content marketing is all about the sales pipeline.

Now, let’s compare that to thought leadership. Thought leadership is a very effective customer acquisition technique. But it can do something else too. Thought leadership can influence target audiences. How they think, how they act, what they consider important. What they talk about.

A thought leadership influence campaign can create ongoing conversations with an audience in times and situations when a sales conversation simply isn’t appropriate. Thought leadership can reach “over the horizon” beyond the current month’s sales pipeline and engage with people about topics on a different level. And that’s something content marketing can’t do.

This distinction becomes important to thought leadership practitioners. You can use thought leadership to help fill the sales pipeline or you can use it to influence a target audience. But, in my experience, it’s hard to create thought leadership campaigns which can do both effectively at the same time. So, before you start building. Ask yourself am I trying to fill the sales pipeline? Or am I trying to influence a target audience. Make that choice, and it’ll be much easier to execute.

How are you using thought leadership? Are you filling the sales pipeline or are you trying to influence a target audience?

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