Thought leadership vs. content marketing

Thought Leadership vs. Content Marketing: What’s the Difference?

By ZM Peterson • Aug 15, 2019

These days, every marketer has heard the saying "content is king." From videos and articles on LinkedIn to blog posts on corporate websites, content marketing is no longer an option. Content marketing is now a necessity for spreading your company’s message.

For many content marketers, the difference between thought leadership vs. content marketing is irrelevant; it’s all about producing as much content as possible and flooding your marketing channels with your message. But is this really the most effective way to earn a position of leadership in your industry? The answer is an unequivocal "No." The real way to earn a position of leadership in your industry is with a thought leadership marketing campaign.

There are real differences between thought leadership marketing and content marketing. The difference is quantity vs. quality: thought leadership marketing stresses creating engaging content that builds trust and confidence with your target audience, while content marketing stresses creating as much content as possible. Even if you follow best SEO practices for vetting target search terms and optimizing your pages for search engine indexing, the typical content marketing campaign will inevitably fall short in terms of engagement or conversions.

What is Thought Leadership vs. Content Marketing?

Content marketing is exactly what it sounds like: you produce content (e.g., blog posts, videos, images, social media posts) that contains some message you want to communicate to your customers. This basic message could be about a new product release, information on how a product works, a customer testimonial, or anything else that tries to drive engagement from the largest portion of your target audience as possible. This temptation to maximize exposure causes some content marketers to resort to controversial messaging, which has the potential to alienate potential customers and negatively portray your brand.

B2B content priorities in thought leadership vs. content marketing

Enaging content is critical for thought leadership marketing. Source: Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs.

Thought leadership marketing is (or at least it should be) the end goal of any content marketing campaign. The central idea in thought leadership marketing is to portray your company as a leader in your industry and build confidence with your target customer. Content marketing is simply the means to gain this position of leadership: the content you create needs to properly communicate your insights and value. Without high quality, engaging content, thought leadership would not exist.

Even though content marketing is extremely important for engaging your audience, especially in technical industries like software, electronics, and PCB design, thought leadership marketers need to know that the key to any successful campaign is quality, not quantity. The micro-content advocated by the likes of Gary Vaynerchuck seems to stress quantity, but there is still an element of spreading your message using the most effective and meaningful content. This is where thought leadership becomes an important consideration. Even if you take Vaynerchuck’s advice and divide up content into smaller bits and spread them far and wide, you still need to portray your company and your brand as a real leader in your industry.

Who Benefits from Thought Leadership Marketing?

The answer to this question lies at the heart of thought leadership marketing. Content marketing is all about blasting your brand throughout your marketing channels and doing anything possible to engage your audience. You can certainly provide tidbits of value in a content marketing strategy, but not all content marketers focus on creating value. The primary focus is typically on driving engagement in social channels; the value content marketers create for viewers is secondary.

Thought leadership marketing is all about showing your audience that your company occupies a position of leadership within your industry. Your company can do this by implementing a content strategy that focuses on creating real value for your audience. This is about more than flooding marketing channels with your messaging; it’s about targeting solutions to specific segments of your target market. Furthermore, thought leadership marketing is not a hard sales pitch. The last thing you want to do is repeatedly push your product in your content; your goal is to build trust with your audience, not alienate potential customers by taking every possible opportunity to make a sale.

When we say we’re providing solutions, this means providing actionable advice to your readers through your content within the context of the products or services your company provides. Some might think that you’re giving away your solutions for free, but this is not the case. Providing real insights to potential customers, resolving controversies in your industry, and offering solutions to real problems gives your audience assurance that your company can be trusted.

Thought leadership vs. content marketing focus for B2B content

Businesses recognize the value of insightful content. Source:

Technical SEO and Thought Leadership vs. Content Marketing

Let’s be clear about one thing: thought leadership is not right for every company. In our experience working with technology companies, one thing has proven itself to be true time and time again: the more technical your products and industry, the more potential you have to convert readers into customers with thought leadership content. If you’re a plumber or other B2C business, you probably won’t see any ROI from thought leadership content. As an example, if you’re an electronics design firm, you sell software that enables complex analyses, or you sell highly specialized equipment in highly regulated industries, then your potential customers probably have real problems that your products can solve. Thought leadership marketing content is your opportunity to discuss your solutions within the context of your products’ capabilities.

Nobody can rightfully call themselves a thought leader, but writers and researchers can earn this title by providing real insights. But even with a thought leadership campaign, you still need to drive organic search engine traffic to your site. Content marketing campaigns are likely to be unsuccessful without a comprehensive technical SEO strategy, and the same applies to thought leadership marketing.

If your company is unfamiliar with integrating a thought leadership marketing strategy with a technical SEO strategy, then you need to work with a firm that has proven experience in both areas. With the right thought leadership marketing firm by your side, you can create value for your target market by providing potential customers with real insights and actionable solutions.

Northwest Engineering Solutions works with major companies in the electronics industry, boutique software firms, and tech startups crafting and executing thought leadership marketing campaigns. Our network of professional engineers and researchers has the experience to create actionable content for your products and build your company to a position of industry leadership.


Contact us today to learn more about our SEO & thought leadership marketing services and how we can help you.


Ready to start your next design project?

Subscribe to our updates

* indicates required

Ready to work with NWES?
Contact us today for a consultation.

Contact Us Today

Our Clients and Partners