7 Thought Leadership Examples: How To Inform, Inspire And Excel 22 min read
Companies often have a habit of saying a lot, but meaning very little. It can be hard to tell what is useful, actionable information from something that lacks real-world evidence. It’s a crowd you really don’t want to be part of.
That’s why it’s important to solidify yourself in the market as someone people can trust. An authority figure. Someone who’s got the answers, knows how to apply them, and can help others do the same.
Allow us to introduce you to the world of thought leadership content marketing.
If you’re looking for a way to boost your audience’s retention and gain more loyal customers who trust your advice, this is the way to go.
Before we take a look at some of the best examples, we need to get to grips with what exactly thought leadership is. Then, you can apply that knowledge and figure out how to become one. (Your own unique approach is what will help you stand out.)
Without further ado, let’s take a look.
- Thought leaders inspire and guide us. They “recognize trends before they happen and apply that insight to achieve actual business results” – Numaan Akram (founder & CEO of Rally Bus)
- Make sure your content is the highest quality that it can be. Presentation matters, and is a crucial part of your branding.
- Research is vital to building up a strong thought leadership campaign. Know your industry, recent news within it, and how people can make the best use of it.
- A strong social media presence will help you reach more people. You can find out where to put the majority of your efforts by creating a buyer persona.
- Curate your content carefully, and develop an interesting portfolio that is sure to catch and keep attention.
- Thought leaders can come from anywhere, in any industry. Don’t sell yourself short because you think you are in a niche area of expertise.
What is thought leadership?
Thought leaders are there to inspire and guide. Often entrepreneurs in their field, they know how trends work and how to make the most of them to help their business. If you’re good at spotting niches in the marketplace, you’re probably in with a decent shot at becoming a thought leader.
More than that, they know everything there is to know about the industry they operate in. You can trust a thought leader to be an almost infallible source of information, as they’ve probably spent decades researching it – or they were at the forefront of an industry and designed it themselves.
When it comes to online content and the world of social media, your thought leaders are your influencers. Those who have a wide outreach on certain platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter are able to make a big impact on the space.
Twitter, in particular, is an excellent space for creators to interact in a more personable setting with their audience. Take Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example. He frequently uses his expertise in areas of science and astronomy, and shares relevant pieces either he or his followers find interesting, or that are designed to promote thoughtful conversations. These are presented in nice, bite-size chunks of easily digestible content.
For most startup companies who don’t have the advantage of being a long-time player in the content-creation game, it’s useful to have a plan about how you want to move forward. If you can’t use longevity as a crutch, then you need to rely on your research skills.
Take a look at what others have done before you. Where are their main successes? Are there areas they have failed in? Can you take advantage of those with some new ideas?
Whatever you choose to do, you need to do it with confidence. And you need to be aware of your target audience.
A lot of thought leadership marketing involves making your content as accessible as possible, so everyone can see it and gauge for themselves how useful or authoritative your information is.
If it’s not, then people will lose their trust in you and your ability to deliver.
What do you need to be successful at thought leadership?
It takes a lot of work to be a good thought leader, but there’s a good list of things that can help you get started.
Your content should be:
- High quality
1. A strong thought leadership platform
First and foremost, you need a dedicated space where the information and inspiration that you deliver can be accessed. Create a main platform you operate from, and that everything links back to.
Consider where you want this platform to be. Are you looking for:
- Audience feedback and interaction? If so, Twitter might be your best place to start.
- Lots of long and short-form articles people can access easily? Blogs are an excellent choice, and you can start your own for free on websites such as WordPress.
- A place to not only promote content, but also sell goods and services? Then a full, dedicated website is what you need first.
Make it easy for yourself and your employees as well. Research is key, so having an area to compile and refine everything will help, right from the get-go. Then, when you’re ready, you can use this to create your own articles or blog posts that you can show off to the public, secure in the knowledge that all your information is from reputable sources.
Try to include a wide range of formats and mediums on your platform. Whether you prefer long-form whitepaper articles that go in-depth into a subject matter, or shorter snippets of information through videos – just make sure you have a place they all belong.
Make sure to have clear links to this space on your website. No one wants to take ages trying to navigate a platform that keeps sending them in circles, or on a tangent with no way back to the main page. Audit your site to eliminate any pain points, and encourage users to keep coming back.
2. Good thought leadership branding
Both your business branding and your personal branding needs to be on-point. Brand awareness is a massive benefit to any business – just think of something like McDonalds, Starbucks, or Apple. Chances are you can immediately recall what their logos are, and some of the values or experiences you associate with their companies.
Take these examples and think about your own values, and what you want to convey to your audience. What’s the industry you’re a part of? What are the brands within it like? Do you want to go with the flow, or stick out from the crowd?
Let people know that you’re a viable, confident source of information, ready to revolutionize and inspire others.
You can keep adding to your branding over time by making good on the promises that you begin with and sticking to your values. People want results, not hypotheticals. If you say something, make sure you’re prepared to go through with it.
For example, if you’ve publicly pledged to donate [x] amount of money to charity, then don’t suddenly change your mind. Or if you’ve said that you will be making more of an effort to work on your DEIB practices and then don’t, expect to find yourself going down in peoples’ estimations.
3. An understanding of your audience
Before you can begin to properly plan your thought leadership strategy, you need to know who you will be directing it toward.
While it’d be nice to send your work out to anyone and everyone, you probably won’t get the best results. Specialize! Take the time to create a buyer persona – a detailed image of exactly who you want to market your content towards.
Think about your potential customer and their:
- Needs and wants
Once you have these assembled, you can optimize your plans to suit the needs of your persona. If you’ve got it right, you’ll likely find that you attract customers a lot faster than you would have done without it.
Once put into practice, it’ll be easier to gain a loyal following. One that’s likely to stick around.
4. Social media outreach
It’s all well and good to have just one website that you devote 100% of your time to. But if you don’t have other avenues to promote it beyond excellent SEO skills, you’re not maximizing your potential. Not at all.
Love it or hate it, everyone runs through social media these days. Whether that be Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or LinkedIn, a decent online presence is essential to building up a strong following.
Business or professional accounts can also provide valuable insight and metrics which you may otherwise be missing out on. You can see who is viewing your content and from where, which can help you decide what type of content is best received. A little bit of A/B testing never hurt anyone!
Social media will let you keep on top of trends, begin to predict them, or even create your own. You also have a lot of freedom with different media sites. Perhaps you’d like to keep your educational content on YouTube, your networking on Twitter, and your community outreach on Instagram.
But, whilst more accounts means more options, be selective with your choices. Only use those that you can guarantee consistency with. There’s no point in having five or six socials, but only posting on one or two regularly.
5. Different points of view
It can feel nice to take control and be the sole decision-maker when it comes to your content. But sometimes you really need another point of view. How else are you going to learn?
Take the time to listen, communicate, discuss, and engage with others. This not only allows you to broaden your horizons and gain more insight into different opinions, but it may also prompt you to consider something that hadn’t crossed your mind before.
This will also allow you to curate a wide variety of content. It can feel a little boring after a while if you only ever post about one thing and one thing only. Variety is the spice of life, is it not? If you want people to recognize that you are an interesting brand, they need to see that in the blogs, articles, or pictures you share as well.
If people disagree with you, don’t get your hackles up in defense. Consider why that is. In your crusade to become the best thought leader that ever lived, have you neglected to think about something? Have you really considered all of the options and arguments presented before you? Is your thought cohesive, coherent, and concise?
Criticism will always go hand in hand with thought leadership. Brainstorm with others. Open your ears to those around you. The most valuable content you create may come from collaboration, rather than rugged individualism.
7 thought leadership examples to inspire you
Now let’s take a look at some examples of thought leadership content. This can be either individual people or larger brands who excel in their fields for a plethora of reasons.
American Express – Business Class Trends and Insights Blog
Time and time again, one of the most common names on any thought leader list is American Express. This is due to their blog, Business Class Trends and Insights, which provides expert financial advice for businesses and empowers them to achieve greater growth potential.
Their blog’s content is split into four key areas:
- Managing Money
- Getting Customers
- Building Your Team
- Planning for Growth
These are then broken down further to help locate exactly where you need assistance and information.
They make use of a range of different mediums, including podcasts and videos, across multiple platforms like YouTube and Instagram, meaning you can listen and learn on the go. Good flexibility is essential for any business, as you never know what’s going to happen in the future.
Paired with the Business Class blog is AmEx’s wide range of business cards and services. These cater to any size of company you may have, which makes it as easy as possible to find the right financial help. Read the blogs, gain the knowledge, then choose the service that suits you the best. Easy as that, really.
When it comes to the real-life application of content, AmEx outsources their writing to get a sense of perspective. This networking initiative helps bring in new ideas, develops a strong sense of community, and, more importantly, gets their blog out into the wider world.
Whitney Wolfe Herd – CEO of Bumble
A lot of things to do with the dating industry seems to be catered more towards men. Wolfe Herd made a concerted effort to even the playing field. She created an app that not only appealed to people looking for platonic friendships, but also that was more inclusive.
Empowering both same-sex couples and women in heterosexual relationships as they are encouraged to make the first move.
Currently, Bumble is the second most used dating app in the US, with 45 million daily users as of 2021. And it’s valued by Forbes to be worth well over one billion dollars. Wolfe Herd subsequently became the youngest female self-made billionaire.
The plan came about when Wolfe Herd left Tinder, following a sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit she filed against them in 2014. She now advocates for stricter laws around sexual harassment, such as through Bumble’s campaign in Texas “to make the unsolicited sending of lewd nude images punishable by law” – which was a massive success.
She has also written about her efforts within her company to fix the gender pay gap by helping female employees become more confident and advocate for themselves.
“We want our workforce feeling safe, secure, and confident. How can you fight for equal pay if you don’t even have an open dialogue with your boss?”
– Whitney Wolfe Herd, 2018
Bumble’s blog, The Buzz, helps give advice on relationships, dating, and general wellness. They also host in-person events, allowing people to meet up in sociable settings, highlighting the importance of face-to-face connections.
Whilst she has recently taken a step back to focus on family and being a mom (something she professes in her articles that she’s wanted for a long time), the impact she made is still very much around and thriving.
Rand Fishkin – Founder and former CEO of Moz
Rand Fishkin started Moz back in the early 2000s as a blog for SEO (search engine optimization) experts to come together and share their work. Shortly after, Moz quickly became the go-to source for anything to do with optimizing your content to rise through Google’s SERP ranks.
And, whilst today, Moz still offers comprehensive packages to help people on their SEO journey, a blog full of informative articles, and free online courses so you can get to grips with the software, Fishkin has moved on to new horizons.
In 2018, he co-founded SparkToro, which helps businesses identify who their audience is and how best to reach them.
He’s an excellent example of someone who piggybacked off their previous brand to position himself elsewhere, and solidify his thought leadership status on platforms like Twitter. His page is filled with articles on how to be a better leader, essential marketing tools, and the latest in industry news.
Jimmy Donaldson – Mr Beast
One of the brightest stars on the social media platform YouTube – and now off of it, too – is Jimmy Donaldson, AKA Mr Beast. Philanthropist, entertainer, CEO. At only 24 years old, he’s certainly up there in the rankings of most ambitious people of all time. With 129 million subscribers (the largest amount for an individual creator) it’s easy to see why.
In fact, his style of content creation has led to the “Mr Beast-ification” of YouTube. This change was noted by The Verge back in 2019, where more and more people were trying to imitate Donaldson’s style in the hopes of achieving the same rapid success he did.
Now, in 2023, it’s hard to find any mainstream gaming or challenge-related content that isn’t inspired in some way by this thought leadership example’s channel.
Operating out of North Carolina, Mr Beast has started his own charity, Beast Philanthropy, which aims to:
- Provide meals to those in need
- Helps communities rebuild houses in the wake of natural devastation
- Collaborates with other charities to help clean the oceans and replant deforested areas
- Donate school supplies to underfunded areas
He has also created his own chain of burgers, chocolate, and a running line of merchandise. A percentage of each goes towards his charity, or other events he may be sponsoring at the time.
General Electric (GE) – Txchnologist
You probably wouldn’t expect to find a relatively prestigious blog hosted on Tumblr.com. But, with Txchnologist, that’s what you get.
Rather than focusing on what their parent company, General Electric, has to offer, Txchnologist turns its eyes to the world and features posts about emerging technologies.
Their neatly cultivated collection of articles paints a picture of a better future. And, with General Electric as their partner, that reflects very positively on both brands. Subliminal associations work well for GE, since, when people think of them, they’ll think of what Txchnologist showcases.
Like this piece below, about lettuces in space!
This form of digital marketing is non-promotional to the extreme. 90% of the attention here is on external links and sources—looking at what other people have created. With little to no reference back to what GE has to offer itself.
It helps to reach audiences that may not have originally wanted anything to do with GE, but still have a strong interest in technology and its advancements.
GE’s own website adds even more to the conversation. Unlike other companies, when you go to GE’s page you are met first and foremost with their blog which includes articles like “5 coolest things on Earth this week”. You have to look elsewhere to find information about their services, investors, or company news.
It’s a refreshing change to see a brand looking so earnestly outwards into the world, directing the attention away from their own successes and towards a more collective, positive future.
Our space at home is very important to us. But it can be hard to appreciate what aspects of it truly provide happiness in our lives, and which bits are just cluttering up both our environment and our minds.
Marie Kondo is our next thought leadership example. She’s a home-style guru and consultant from Japan who has written several books on the subject of keeping your life as mess-free as possible. Her minimalist aesthetic has taken the internet by storm several times over, and has even become a meme in certain circles.
She also has a couple of shows on Netflix, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, and Sparking Joy With Marie Kondo, and a highly detailed website where you can:
- Join a 10-lesson course on how to tidy and declutter
- Become a KonMari consultant to help others
- Read up about her philosophy
- Learn from real-world stories of people who have adopted her method and changed their lives
Kondo’s interviews with other thought-leaders such as Elizabeth Gilbert help bring in new ideas and perspectives. It’s easy to see how you can apply her teachings to any area of your life – personal, professional, or otherwise. It’s nice to see a thought leader who fully embodies her own work. It’s clearly something she deeply believes in, which builds a strong sense of authenticity and trust.
This is one of those examples of where you find a niche in the market and dominate everything to do with it. Marie Kondo is an expert in fulfilling a need people might not have known they needed, and does it in a way that definitely sparks joy.
First Round Capital – First Round Review blog
First Round Review gives another in-depth look into how to create a flourishing community, bringing in stories and advice from all over the world. The effect is a portfolio of knowledge, designed to help even the most clueless of business owners and tech enthusiasts.
A special emphasis is placed on interviews with entrepreneurs. This presents readers with a catalog of practical, actionable advice that they can come back to at any time. And, as new advice comes in, readers can keep updating their own knowledge to follow suit.
Venture capital can be a tricky business. Having something like First Review takes the mystery out of how it all works, and creates a more open, accessible playing field. And, interviewing a variety of people helps to show how it’s possible for anyone to make it – not just the super elite and already-rich.
Being a thought leader is about more than having a charming online presence – although that’s certainly helpful. It’s about striving to learn more, do more, and help others wherever possible. People won’t follow or respect you if you have selfish intentions.
There are many content marketing strategies that you could incorporate into thought leadership planning. We’ve just presented you with a few that have been shown to work – and work well, at that.
However you get your inspiration, keep in mind these few key things we’ve mentioned. Who knows? The best thought leadership examples might not have even been made yet. And it could be you who makes them.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Perhaps there are other thought leadership examples that haven’t drifted into our sphere. If so, send them our way! We always love to learn more, and we love that you’re passionate about it, too.