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How to create captivating thought leadership content in 2024


Team leader presenting at the office


Well-designed thought leadership content with a fresh perspective, hard-to-find insight, and proprietary data will stand out in a crowd of mediocre reporting.

If you’re not sure, what is thought leadership? It’s the sharing of ideas and data, to express your point of view on a particular topic and claim recognition as a subject matter specialist.

That’s one thought leadership definition anyway. Some detractors dispute the ‘leadership’ part, probably because there are a lot of slapdash reports out there not saying anything new.

So, here’s how to create some thought leadership content capable of building your brand awareness and driving traffic to your website.


Scoping


Start by identifying a topic your target audience will be interested in so that they’ll want to sign up and download your content.

It should also be something you can write high-quality content for so that it will have good SEO. In terms of Google criteria, that means it demonstrates your experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

Try to also find something that your competitors haven’t already covered extensively, or at least aim to give your content a unique selling point or a fresh perspective. Brainstorm and hit the search engines!


Quantity


Think about how many reports you want or need.

For example, let’s say your key markets are…

  • US

  • UK

  • Germany

  • France

  • China

…Do you want a report for each country or will a global report suffice, in terms of the data and conclusions you present?

We’ll leave aside translation considerations for now, but you may need these at the survey design and post-reporting stage.

If you’re going down the multiple-report route, make sure your sample size will be robust enough for each report.


Design


Write a survey questionnaire capable of producing the answers and data points you need for the thought leadership content.

It needs a well-written screening section to ensure only relevant respondents will take part in your quantitative (quant) online survey.

The questions should be easy to understand and unambiguous. A good way to produce headline statistics is to ask some agree/disagree questions on a five-point scale.

You may also want some qualitative (qual) research - in which case, write a conversational topic guide too.


Data collection


Find a reliable market research partner to collect the data for you and incentivise all the respondents.

Their staff will script and host the survey on their online platform, or a third-party platform, test it, and then monitor the fieldwork until it’s complete.

Data quality should be your key concern here:

  • Ask the research partner about the measures they have in place to make sure respondents are who they claim to be

  • One of the best ways to see the best results is by advising the research partner upfront that you or your colleagues will check the raw data at the end of the fieldwork, including the open end text

Alternatively, if you’re sending the survey to your own customer base, you may not need a market research partner - if you’ve done this before and were happy with the results.

For qual research, the fieldwork will likely consist of one-to-one interviews via an audio or video call - e.g. via Microsoft Teams.


Data analysis


For quant research:

  • Perform quality control checks on the data

  • Format the data into tables (check these too) including significance testing

  • Look for statistically significant and interesting stories

For qual research:

  • Read through the transcripts

  • Identify the common themes and other interesting points

Discuss the results with others for a consensus before starting to plan or write the report.


Expert commentary


Good thought leadership examples include some analysis, or at least a few pulled-out comments, from industry experts - to give the content added authority.

If you or your research partner has access to independent experts, either:

  • Include them in the qualitative data collection phase, if that’s taking place before the quant

  • Present them the headlines from the quant data and ask for their feedback

Experts could also be relevant colleagues with senior job titles.


Desk research


Use secondary research and external sources to support your key data points.

Adding an independent perspective gives your thought leadership extra credibility. Just be careful not to use competitors’ data.

Accurately attribute the sources you use, either within the text or by including footnotes and a bibliography if needed.


Writing


Once ready, write your thought leadership report, taking care to keep the content interesting and engaging throughout.

The content should be 1000 words long at the very least - articles between 1000-2000 words long receive 56% more social shares than shorter ones, according to Backlinko. Many thought leadership reports are much longer - 3000, 5000, or 7000 words, sometimes longer.

But that doesn’t mean your content needs to be text-heavy. Break it up with lots of chapters, line breaks, shorter sentences, bullet point lists, and so on.


Visualisation


Some visualisation is also essential, otherwise, the report will be too dry. Create some charts to illustrate your key data points.

Use a variety of charts - don’t just use bar charts, for example. To visualise qual information, use diagrams.

To improve the visual appeal of your content, you can also include:

  • Pull-out stats

  • Quotes

  • Case studies

  • Stock images

These can be rough, for now - then a graphic designer can finalise them later.


Conclusions and CTAs


Don’t leave the reader to join the dots. What’s your interpretation of the data and results?

Include implications throughout the content - you never know where readers will jump into and out of your report - as well as a dedicated conclusion section.

Also include some calls to action (CTAs) where relevant, either as advisory recommendations or suggestions for readers to get in touch… 😉

However, don’t make the content too pushy or sales-focused. The priority is to position your brand as an authority on the subject matter, then get your message out there - if you do that, buyers will come to you.


Feedback


Don’t write in a vacuum - seek feedback from others to make sure the report lives up to its potential.

And try to do this at regular intervals during the writing stage, don’t just ask for feedback once you’ve written thousands of words.

You could ask for feedback after 500 words, for example, to give others a chance to approve the tone of voice.

If you’re covering lots of topics in the report, it’s a good idea to seek feedback on each chapter as and when you draft them.


Data checking


Once everyone is happy with the written content, check all the data points thoroughly.

That includes data in the charts, but also any statistics included in the text.

Also make sure the data points are easy to read - not dark text on a dark background, or light text on a light background. Also, check that the font size is big enough.


Proofreading


Well-written thought leadership content is a great way to earn readers’ trust and increase your content’s shareability.

Check it thoroughly for accurate spelling - don’t just rely on an automated spellchecker.

Make sure proper nouns are correct, especially for your own brand and product names if used.

Also, review:

  • Flow

  • Tone

  • Grammar

  • Verb tenses

  • Sentence structure

  • Style guide consistency

  • Unnecessary jargon

  • Consistency

  • Formatting

There’s no substitute for a proofreader with strong attention to detail, but Grammarly is also a great tool to use in parallel.


Graphic design


Once the content receives its final sign-off, send it to the graphic designer. If your company doesn’t have one, lots of freelancers or agencies can help.

When it’s ready, check the report and data points again. At this stage, reviewers should only suggest essential changes - this is not a good time for any large content rewrites.


Go live


It’s time to begin your thought leadership marketing campaign! Host the thought leadership content on your website and ask interested readers for their email addresses at the very least.

If you’re confident there’s high demand for your material, you could consider putting it behind a paywall too.

Make sure you promote the report on your website and social channels. Other options include a press release and a launch event, either online or offline.


Final thoughts: How to create captivating thought leadership content


That’s the way to run a thought leadership project, giving you a great chance of boosting interest in your brand.

Make sure you have a unique angle and good data. Use a great writer and bring the content to life with some visuals.

There’s a wide range of services available if you need support with your thought leadership strategy - in terms of writing, proofreading, visualisation, data checking, and so on.

As a market research expert and long-form copywriter, I have plenty of experience working on thought leadership projects - please get in touch for more information.

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