Thought Leadership: What it is + How to Build it

Beth Bagley
March 11, 2024
Thought Leadership: What it is + How to Build it

What is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is a strategic approach to establishing your expertise and making a meaningful impact in your industry. By offering innovative insights, thought leaders steer industry discussions and inspire others. 

Our guide to thought leadership covers why you (or your boss) may want to become a thought leader, the benefits of doing so, and the logistics of becoming a thought leader. 

We also explore the convergence of thought leadership and influencers, and why your marketing strategy needs to include this crossover. 

Who Can Become a Thought Leader?

So, who can become a thought leader? Technically, anyone with a platform can try, but not everyone is going to see success. Thought leaders should have industry experience under their belt and a few more qualities that show credibility. Here are a few key traits we’ve seen make for a good thought leader:


If you’re going to preach to people about subject matter we highly recommend you actually know a thing or two about it (otherwise you’re going to have some very angry customers…). Don’t attempt to speak on a topic unless you know about it and are confident in what you have to say. Having research to back up your claims goes a long way.


If you want to share your industry opinions, it helps for them to be strong opinions. People are going to push back on your ideas and while being open to feedback is important, you also need to defend your opinions, or else no one will listen to you in the future. 

Being opinionated also opens the door to sparking new ideas for other industry players. Embrace controversy when it reflects your genuine beliefs, as it can stimulate meaningful discourse. Maybe you shared a new perspective that creates a great conversation around the topic. You’ll never know until you share.

Industry Experience

Beyond having industry knowledge, you need industry experience. According to this study, 68% of respondents said the best thought leaders are experts in their field. Anyone can read up on a topic and share their findings, but having experience allows you to identify where knowledge meets application. Good thought leaders share insights, but great thought leaders empathize with their audience and show them how to take action on these insights.

What Are the Benefits of B2B Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is a B2B content marketing strategy growing in popularity because it benefits both the company and the individual creating the content.

In the consumer market, leveraging influencers is a highly effective marketing tactic and its practice is only expected to increase. The creator economy is valued at $250 billion today and is expected to almost double by 2028.  

B2B influencers and companies should be taking advantage of this growth as well. Once you have established trust with your audience and they recognize you as an authority in the space, you can use your influence to endorse solutions.

To enhance this approach, rather than overtly promoting your company's products—which can appear pushy and insincere— position conversations around the outcomes of projects you have completed, casually mentioning your company here instead. This will increase brand awareness and recognition, but not come off as you delivering a sales pitch.

Here are additional benefits for your company when you add thought leadership to your marketing strategy:

Increases Awareness

Thought leadership is a powerful tool for increasing brand awareness. By sharing valuable insights, a thought leader can attract attention from within and outside the industry, drawing attention to your company.

Establishes Industry Credibility

Regularly contributing meaningful content and insights helps establish an individual or organization as a credible authority in their field. This credibility is invaluable in building trust with potential clients and partners.

Attracts Clients

Potential clients are drawn to businesses that demonstrate a clear understanding of their industry and its challenges. Thought leadership content that addresses these challenges can be a significant factor in a client's decision-making process.

Improves SEO

Publishing insightful content not only engages readers but also improves SEO. High-quality, original content is favored by search engines and can increase your visibility online, not to mention all the organically acquired backlinks great content receives. By investing in thought leadership efforts, you can increase your domain authority and overall traffic to your site.

How to Become a Thought Leader 

1. Establish Goals

Why do you want to become a thought leader? Whether it's to share your unique insights, drive change within your industry, or elevate your personal or business brand, understanding your goals will shape your path forward. Thought leadership is about more than just being recognized, you should aim to make a genuine impact. 

Your goals might include establishing brand credibility, increasing top-of-funnel traffic, generating backlinks and mentions, or attracting potential clients through insightful content that showcases your expertise and vision for the future.

2. Know Your Audience

Understanding your audience is the backbone of effective thought leadership. Your audience should align with your buyer personas. Knowing your audience helps you tailor your content to meet their needs, interests, and challenges, thereby increasing the relevance and impact of your thought leadership.

3. Survey the Landscape

Before diving into content creation, take a comprehensive look at the existing thought leadership within your niche. This involves analyzing both your company’s and your competitors' content to understand the current conversations, trends, and gaps in the industry. 

What are other thought leaders talking about? How can you differentiate your content to offer fresh perspectives or solutions?

Surveying your company’s content archives will also shed light on any past stances they have taken. Being aware of this history allows you to address if a stance has changed and why.

By surveying the landscape, you can identify opportunities to iterate, improve, and introduce original content that captures attention and sparks meaningful discussions.

4. Create Thought Leadership Content

The best place to start when it comes to creating thought leadership content is to talk about what you are an expert in, but once you have an audience, you can ask them what they want to hear about as well. Run polls and open your comment section to learn what users are curious about.

Creating engaging content will take ongoing research, but that is what thought leadership is all about. Always learning and reporting back to your audience enriches your content, and seamlessly transitions into showcasing your expertise and unique industry insights.

Emphasize Expertise

Your content should showcase your deep knowledge and unique insights into your industry. This involves sharing research, personal experiences, and forward-thinking ideas that challenge the status quo. Authenticity is key; your content should reflect your genuine expertise and willingness to share valuable information with your audience.

Create a Media Brand

Creating a media brand is becoming an increasingly popular method for sharing your expert insights and thought leadership content.  By consistently publishing high-quality content across multiple channels, you create a routine presence that your audience can rely on. This consistency not only builds awareness of your media brand but also fosters trust and loyalty among your audience, making them more likely to engage with your content and convert to your corporate brand.

Media brands incorporate the use of influencers, thought leadership, and podcasting to build top-of-funnel awareness and brand affinity. Creating a media brand also helps separate the corporate messaging guidelines from the more personable messaging users are more likely to resonate with, so they keep coming back for more. 

Mediums and Platforms to Utilize

As stated, an omni-channel distribution strategy will provide the strongest results when publishing thought leadership content. 

Here is a list of the  platforms and mediums you should be present on:


As a professional networking site, LinkedIn is the go-to for thought leaders in almost any industry. It's an ideal platform for sharing professional insights, articles, and industry news. LinkedIn allows thought leaders to connect with other professionals, join industry-specific groups, and participate in discussions, enhancing their visibility and credibility.


This platform is great for thought leaders who want to share timely insights, engage in conversations about current events, and connect with both their audience and peers in real-time. Twitter's fast-paced nature makes it ideal for thought leaders looking to establish a voice on the latest trends and discussions within their industry.


For thought leaders who are comfortable with video content, YouTube is a powerful medium. It allows for the sharing of in-depth analyses, tutorials, keynote speeches, and panel discussions. An easy way to get YouTube content is to videotape your podcast. Video content can be more engaging and personal, helping to build a stronger connection with the audience.


Starting or appearing on podcasts can be an effective way for thought leaders to reach audiences who prefer audio content. Podcasts are ideal for in-depth discussions, interviews, and sharing insights on industry trends. They allow thought leaders to connect with their audience in a more intimate way, as listeners often tune in during personal moments, like commuting or exercising.


Having a blog or media brand website is crucial for thought leaders. It serves as a central hub for their content, including articles, videos, podcast episodes, and more.


Email newsletters allow thought leaders to directly reach their audience's inboxes. This medium is excellent for sharing curated content, industry insights, personal updates, and exclusive content. Newsletters can help build a loyal community and keep the audience engaged over time.

5. Collaborate with Others

Thought leadership thrives when you collaborate with others. Networking, attending events, and engaging in conversations with peers are essential for expanding your influence. 

Collaborate on content with non-competitors to bring diverse perspectives to your audience. Guest authoring and getting published on reputable platforms can also enhance your credibility and reach. Remember, listening to others and incorporating their insights into your content can enrich your thought leadership and foster a community of shared knowledge.

Challenges of Being a Thought Leader

As with all things in life, becoming a thought leader is not without its challenges. It takes constant research to stay ahead of trends and a thick skin when people (inevitably) criticize your work. 

Especially as your audience and reach grow, expect pushback on your ideas. Learn when it is constructive criticism versus an angry troll. You should also be aware that your advice can make a real impact on others' lives, for good and for bad. This isn’t to scare you from sharing your insights but is a reminder you will be perceived as an authority, which comes with responsibility. 

Despite these hurdles, the advantages of becoming a thought leader are substantial. It not only elevates your credibility but also opens up opportunities for influence and innovation, far outweighing the difficulties. Navigating criticism effectively and leading in your field can significantly impact your personal growth and your organization's success. The journey to thought leadership offers a unique platform to shape industry discussions and drive meaningful change.

It’s Time to Begin Your Thought Leadership Journey

If you have been debating on whether or not you should work to position yourself– or an executive at your company– as a thought leader, this is your sign to get started. Thought leadership is the future of B2B content marketing, and one of the most effective ways to kick off this journey is to start a podcast and distribute content through your media brand. 

Don’t have a podcast? Don’t have a media brand? Don’t stress! At Sweet Fish Media, we specialize in building media brands for B2B companies. From developing a brand that resonates with your target audience, providing you with white-glove podcast production, and guaranteeing top-of-funnel growth, we work hard to grow your business and make your life easier.

Our services include:

  • White-glove podcast production
  • Newsletter creation and distribution (with guaranteed monthly downloads)
  • Social media management
  • And more!

Don't let another day pass by without maximizing your brand's potential. Learn more about why you need to start a media brand.