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Six ways to improve your thought leadership strategy

Sean Kearns

Behind every successful thought leadership campaign sits a clear, robust strategy. But companies often rush into producing content without stepping back and thinking about why they are doing it, who it is for, and how the campaign fits into the wider business environment.

Setting clear objectives, investigating your audience, mapping the content landscape. These can be overlooked in a rush to get content to market quickly, but they are fundamental to success. As firms accelerate content production in response to the Covid pandemic – in some cases reducing time-to-market “from months to days” – taking time to think about strategy has become even more challenging. But it has never been more important.

What do we mean by thought leadership strategy?

For us, thought leadership strategy is your content’s guiding principles, mission and unifying message. Once you have these things in place, you can start to build the objectives, audience maps and content landscapes necessary for effective B2B content.

Here, to help break this down, we have separated the strategy process into six key stages. These should help you to make sure you are asking the right questions of your team.


  1. Think straight

A clear, coherent, long-term plan gives thought leadership a good chance of success. And to be clear-headed you need to answer some simple questions:

  • Where should your thought leadership content start and end?
  • How do you define the principles and value of each?
  • How will you measure strategic success, and over what period?
  • Do the attributes of your thought leadership reflect the strength of your brand?

Armed with the responses to these questions you can set clear parameters for your content, and its relation to the broader communication and brand goals, through an introspective, strategic exercise.

  1. Cultivate your content

When was the last time you audited your content? Or dusted down a big hit? How well do you capture the ingredients of past campaign success?

Many of the best thought leadership producers are adept at mining their back catalogues and updating their insights for when the time is right and the market is ready. Who within your team has a publishing mindset and the strongest market antennae? Use them to bring your best work back to life, and underline how you have built your authority over time.

  1. Understand your audience’s EQ

Do you really know how your relationship is changing with potential buyers? Should your appeal to potential readers be more broad than narrow? What stage are they at in their relationship with you? What do they already think of your brand? And how are they benchmarking you against the rest?

As your thought leadership objectives evolve, so too should the sophistication of your audience understanding. Market context and commercial empathy is everything, so make sure your thought leadership passes the EQ test.

Are you looking for advice on building your thought leadership strategy? Get in touch with one of our experts to arrange a workshop for you and your marketing team.
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  1. Sound like you

You can instantly tell a piece of thought leadership from McKinsey and quickly recognise a campaign from Accenture. But what are your marks of distinction? How do you create a consistent impression in your readers’ minds over time? And who is the guardian of your thought leadership equity?

In a sea of sameness, your brand personality needs to shine through.

  1. Choose your messengers with care

The world needs less conjecture and more genuine expertise. Where is your real authority? Who are your best thinkers? Who has the most contrarian ideas?

Should thought leadership always be bylined by the ‘traditional’ C-Suite? Think about the changing make-up of your organisation, reflect how emerging talent and leaders are engaging with clients, and rethink who is best to take your messages to market.

  1. Create with flair and consistency

Too often, sharp ideas are let down by blunt design. A relentless focus on messaging can neglect the need for visual flair.

That is why creativity is a team game. With the lines blurring between editorial, user experience and interactive, do you have the right skills in the right places?

The best thought leadership absorbs influences from the worlds of advertising, publishing and design. That is why the best producers have an innate understanding of how to gain and hold their readers’ attention.


Remember, starting with a good strategy exercise is likely to make the difference between campaign success and campaign failure. These six stages will help you to get there.

Want to learn more? Watch our on-demand webinar: a sideways look at thought leadership strategy.

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About the author: Sean Kearns

As FT Longitude’s editor-in-chief, Sean helps ensure that we create thought leadership campaigns with influence and impact. As well as delivering high-profile programmes for our clients, he advises on thought leadership strategy, helping brands reach the audiences who matter.

Sean has 20 years’ experience of creating strategic content across a range of sectors and senior editorial roles.. Before joining FT Longitude, Sean was Editorial Director of communications agency Bladonmore.

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