Thought Leadership Marketing: 10 Big Mistakes to Avoid

Emily Kingland
August 27, 2021
Thought Leadership Marketing: 10 Big Mistakes to Avoid

Is it often overcomplicated? Yes. Is it overstated? Yes. Is it the buzziest of buzzwords? Probably.

Is it essential to your organization's long-term success? Absolutely.

Thought leadership marketing is one of those things you hate to love. But, once you know how to use it correctly, it can make a world of difference for your business.


Part of knowing how to use thought leadership marketing is understanding the mistakes to look out for.

In a recent episode of B2B Growth, Bill Sherman, COO at Thought Leadership Leverage, shared 10 big mistakes to avoid with your thought leadership marketing.

The 10 thought leadership marketing mistakes to avoid:

  1. There's no executive champion heading up thought leadership.
  2. The head of thought leadership is unclear about their role.
  3. The head of thought leadership doesn't see it as an opportunity.
  4. Thought leadership goals and business goals don't align.
  5. There's misunderstanding between departments.
  6. The head of thought leadership is in charge of everything.
  7. The head of thought leadership doesn't have allies or ambassadors.
  8. Leadership gets impatient.
  9. The program isn't inclusive.
  10. Success is measured by the wrong metrics.

Before we jump into the mistakes, let's get a better understanding of what thought leadership marketing even is.

What is Thought Leadership Marketing?

Thought leadership marketing is an organization's movement to become an industry authority. Its purpose is to position the organization as a key source of knowledge in order to meet a goal.

Normally, that goal is to increase revenue. Here's Sweet Fish's Director of Audience Growth, Dan Sanchez with more on thought leadership:

Unfortunately, many organizations make the mistake of thinking too short-term with thought leadership marketing. It can take a while to see results.

That's just one of the mistakes a team can make when it comes to thought leadership. Here are the 10 mistakes you should be watching out for:

Mistake #1: There's No Executive Champion Heading Up Thought Leadership

Your organization's thought leadership initiative needs a C-suite champion to see success. If leadership hasn't adopted the idea, how do you expect anyone else to?

The exact executive who champions the thought leadership program doesn't matter. Bill has seen everyone from CMOs to COOs do it.

As long as the executive whole-heartedly buys into the idea, the particular title isn't important.

Mistake #2: The Head of Thought Leadership is Unclear About Their Role

The thought leadership champion can't be fuzzy on the details of their role.

They should understand how the success of the initiative directly relates to their motivation and compensation. It should be crystal clear how their performance is measured and what it means for the future of their career.

Mistake #3: The Head of Thought Leadership Doesn't See it as an Opportunity

In the same vein as mistake #2, the third mistake concerns a lack of clarity around the role.

Some executives may see Head of Thought Leadership as a punishment. Or, like they're being sidelined with a job that has few resources and no real infrastructure.


It should be clear that thought leadership is crucial to the organization's success. Plus, being the champion of thought leadership is actually a great opportunity that can advance someone's career significantly.

To see this role as an opportunity, the head needs to be sound on the organization's overall goals. Then, they can more easily see what KPIs they're serving.

Mistake #4: Thought Leadership Goals & Business Goals Don't Align

Bill has seen many companies prioritize the thought leadership asset or event over its outcome. For example, pulling off a conference isn't the end goal. The end goal is to make more meaningful relationships with current and potential customers.

Sure, it feels good to complete a big project or throw a successful event. But, if those things aren't serving a bigger business goal, what's the point?

Bill outlines three categories of goals that thought leadership should serve:

  1. It can fill up the sales pipeline.
  2. It can continue conversations and deepen relationships.
  3. It can influence how the organization, customers, and/or the sector thinks and acts.

Essentially, if your thought leadership program isn't serving at least one of those categories, you should rethink your strategy.

Mistake #5: There's Misunderstanding Between Departments

When a thought leadership initiative is new to an organization, it might be that a department (or individual) believed they were already executing thought leadership marketing.

And, maybe they were.

However, if someone is officially put in charge of thought leadership, there needs to be buy-in from everyone. That includes the department or person who might feel threatened by the change.

If there's no buy-in, it can easily create animosity between team members.

It's important to choose a head of thought leadership who knows how to build and nurture relationships. Someone whom the rest of the organization trusts and is comfortable around. Otherwise, that misunderstanding and animosity can spread.

Mistake #6: The Head of Thought Leadership is in Charge of Everything

Bill explains that there are three main functions within thought leadership marketing:

  1. The ability to create thought leadership
  2. The ability to curate thought leadership
  3. The ability to deploy thought leadership

It's a mistake to think that the head of thought leadership is in charge of all three.

The head is only in charge of curating thought leadership.

It's up to them to be looking for people and talents within the organization that can speak on behalf of it. In other words, all of the wisdom and skill isn't coming from one person -- it's coming from the team.

The head of thought leadership is only there to gather up the right people and the right talents. They then orchestrate the functions of thought leadership marketing. They build and guide the team.

Mistake #7: The Head of Thought Leadership Doesn't Have Allies or Ambassadors

Thought leadership allies and ambassadors come from within your organization.

"Allies open doors for you. Ambassadors speak on your behalf."

Bill Sherman, COO, Thought Leadership Leverage

People from other departments like Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success can become allies and ambassadors for thought leadership.


Believing that it's only the ideas and not the people that make thought leadership marketing successful won't get you anywhere. Great ideas without the right message and channels never make a difference.

It's up to the head of thought leadership to make relationships with people in other departments. To motivate others to speak about your thought leadership subject matter. To increase credibility by the number of people talking about it.

If you haven't been able to find allies or ambassadors, you may be too focused on the ideas and not the relationships.

Mistake #8: Leadership Gets Impatient

While your thought leadership marketing initiative may have some early wins, it can take a while to gain traction. Your team needs time to get on its feet.

[WATCH: One of the most effective ways to build thought leadership quickly is to start a B2B podcast. Learn how to do it here (for free).]

When you build a thought leadership team, keep in mind that it might take a year to get things running smoothly. It's a relatively novel idea without much for blueprints, so try to be patient.

Developing a thought leadership marketing program is about planting seeds. There aren't going to be huge results right away.

But, if you're in it for the long haul, you'll see some serious growth.

Mistake #9: The Program Isn't Inclusive

Another mistake Bill sees teams making is failing to include everyone in the organization.

The thought leadership programs that only involve the C-suite don't yield much. Getting the whole team on the same page is where thought leadership really takes off.

When your program is inclusive and supportive, everyone will feel motivated to be their best. Knowledge starts to spread like roots and people want the organization to succeed.

Plus, when thought leader knowledge is transferrable, you're less likely to lose it when someone leaves. At that point, it's a part of the organization.

Mistake #10: Success is Measured by the Wrong Metrics

The last mistake Bill tells us to look out for is measuring thought leadership marketing by the wrong metrics.

Lots of organizations try to measure thought leadership by content marketing metrics -- views, downloads, attendees, impressions. But really, thought leadership can't be measured with vanity metrics.

Your metrics should be more targeted. They should reflect the quality of the outcome, not the quantity. Your goal should be to become indispensable to the people who matter to you (AKA, your niche audience).

Good thought leadership doesn't relate to everyone. It relates to the people who matter to the organization. So, focus on the depth of the relationships you're building instead of only the number.

Final Thoughts About Thought Leadership

If you decide to launch a thought leadership marketing plan, keep these main takeaways in mind:

  • Get an executive to head up the program.
  • Show how the goals clearly serve the organization as a whole.
  • Get the entire team involved.
  • Measure success with the right metrics.

Lastly, we'll leave you with this quote from Bill:

"An excellent idea with weak marketing doesn't go anywhere."

Bill Sherman, COO, Thought Leadership Leverage

For more B2B marketing advice like this, subscribe to B2B Growth on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.