Discerning the Difference Between Thought Leadership Vs. Content Marketing

Thought Leadership Vs. Content Marketing is the key subject of today’s post. Why this is pertinent? Well, in recent years, both content marketing and thought leadership have increased massively within the business to business sphere, becoming buzzwords that are used almost interchangeably with one another.

According to ZoomInfo, “91% of B2B marketers say they use content marketing in their overall strategy,”[1] which has caused content marketing services to reach an expected $50 billion in revenue (2019).

While thought leadership has become valuable due to the amount of trust that it builds within organizations[2], this trust is powerful as it establishes authority, generates growth, and boosts brand awareness through knowledge and expertise.

The problem? While these two do overlap one another and can be used in combination together, they are not one and the same.

In this article, we will dive into the differences between the two and why these differences are important for those in the business to business market.

What Is Thought Leadership and Content Marketing Exactly?

Before we jump into the details of the differences between the two, it’s important to understand what they are at their base level. 

  • Thought leadership is content that is original in scope, is authoritative in voice, message, and tone, and provides visible insight that differentiates your brand from others.

Thought leadership is also a subset of content marketing; it requires expertise and knowledge and influences those around you. It puts forward a new argument, adds to the conversation, and requires long-term focus. 

Related Post: What Is Thought Leadership? 4 Key Things to Know

  • Content marketing, on the other hand, is a strategic approach that focuses on creating and distributing consistent content that is valuable and relevant to a clearly defined audience.

Content marketing is used to drive a profitable customer into action, is often related to the services that you do, and makes you visible to a specific target audience. 

To put this in simpler terms, thought leadership is where we want to be; it’s the end-goal and content marketing is a vehicle for specific means.  Now that we know what these two terms are on a basic level, we can expand on these definitions to figure out the primary differences. 

Thought Leadership vs. Content Marketing: The Minute Differences

When a business utilizes thought leadership, it is because they are trying to create value. The value comes in positioning the professional, business, or organization as a leading authority within their field of expertise. 

The type of content that is considered under the umbrella of thought leadership takes a considerable amount of time to produce as it is not put together quickly and is the hardest to market which is why you see it in much lower volumes than content marketing.

Thought leadership content will have the following characteristics.

  • The content is new, unique and informative,
  • The content is on a compelling and complex issue often involving beliefs & values,
  • The content positions either a company or professional as an expert,
  • Thought leadership content is not outsourced,
  • The content will fill in white spaces within systems or concepts,
  • Thought leadership content isn’t crafted for an audience reaction or reach,
  • The content will sell an idea, an area of expertise, and authenticity,
  • The content looks to build trust does not sell products or services,
  • Thought leadership requires a long-term focus and looks at making a change,
  • Thought leadership content creates a conversation around an unmet need & proposes solutions to that unmet need. This positions you as a voice of reason and enables you to change how others perceive things.

As opposed to the following for content marketing characteristics

  • The content does not have to be new or unique, but it does have to be valuable and informative,
  • The content can be a bit bland at times, especially if it is on consistently covered topics
  • The content just amplifies beliefs and values but doesn’t explore them
  • Content marketing sometimes focuses on quantity and increasing search-engine rankings rather than quality, unlike thought leadership pieces,
  • Content marketing will be useful to the individual reading the article in that it appeals to the audience,
  • Content marketing is often related to products or services,
  • Content marketing is important for SEO purposes and keeping businesses in front of their audience’s attention,
  • Content within this sphere is published regularly and distributed to platforms where the highest number of customers or prospects will come across it (IE. Facebook, Instagram),
  • It provides value through practical information and does not read like a sales pitch.
  • It disseminates value for a specific audience and points them towards action. 

Why Are These Differences Important to Distinguish for B2B Businesses? 

While content marketing is king and is the cornerstone of successful businesses, due to its ability to have a consistent reach, visibility, and quick return on investment, it does not necessarily capture new ideas or provide valuable insight that isn’t found elsewhere.

When a business can utilize thought leadership in conjunction with their content marketing strategy, it ends up being a game-changer. Why? Thought leadership creates indisputable value that cannot be found anywhere else because it is authoritative, authentic, and compelling. 

thought leadership vs. content marketing

How Can Thought Leadership Help Your Business?

When thought leadership is strategically used, it can have a direct impact on a business’ sales, influence, and opportunities.

When a business becomes renowned through thought leadership channels, sales will be increased due to the trust built between you and your audience.

As the recognition places you as an expert, ideas and opinions begin to carry weight and therefore directly impact the influence your business has on the market. This, in turn, brings greater opportunities, whether it is breaking into new markets, speaking on podcasts, or doing interviews with reputable individuals in your industry. Your business will be,

  • Taken more seriously,
  • Have higher-quality exposure,
  • Boost your brand’s value,
  • Allows you to cut down on traditional marketing and optimize budgets,
  • Will rank higher on Google,
  • Increases your sales,
  • Attract talent that fits with your company’s mission and values,
  • Enable you to create an outward-facing company message that reflects your company culture. 

But most importantly, it will show your prospective customers that you understand them and have a unique solution to the problem at hand. Just remember, though, thought leadership requires time, patience, research, and pure authenticity. 

Related Post: 6 Ways to Establish Authentic Thought Leadership?


Whether you are a business of one, or a bigger business knowing when and how to use content marketing and thought leadership strategies to build awareness and place yourself as a thought leader is a smart move.

Entrepreneurs are most commonly seeking to reach that point, to position themselves as authorities in their niche, to bring valuable insights and solutions in ways that very few, if any, thought of in the past. The key to that is staying through to your vision and working on effective thought leadership strategies.

I hope you now have a much clear idea of how to discern the thought leadership from content marketing.


ZoomInfo. (2019, July 22). 90 Important B2B Content Marketing Statistics. Retrieved from https://blog.zoominfo.com/content-marketing-statistics/

[1] Schwarz, J. (2017, October 18). The True Value of Thought Leadership. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://business.linkedin.com/marketing-solutions/blog/best-practices–thought-leadership/2017/the-true-value-of-thought-leadership

Kevin Anthony. Thought Leadership vs. Content Marketing. https://www.researchworld.com/thought-leadership-vs-content-marketing/. Accessed on 03/08/2019.

Shane Barker. How Thought Leadership Marketing can Boost your Brand’s Growth. https://medium.com/swlh/how-thought-leadership-marketing-can-boost-your-brands-growth-12ce6d391fcd. Accessed on 03/08/2019.

FirstPageSage. What is Thought Leadership Marketing? https://firstpagesage.com/thought-leadership/. Accessed on 03/08/2019.

Tim Parker. Content Marketing vs. Thought leadership marketing: The difference Twixt the two. https://bloomgroup.com/blogs/tim-parker/content-marketing-vs-thought-leadership-marketing-difference-twixt-two. Accessed on 03/08/2019.

[1] ZoomInfo. (2019, July 22). 90 Important B2B Content Marketing Statistics. Retrieved from https://blog.zoominfo.com/content-marketing-statistics/

[2] Schwarz, J. (2017, October 18). The True Value of Thought Leadership. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from https://business.linkedin.com/marketing-solutions/blog/best-practices–thought-leadership/2017/the-true-value-of-thought-leadership

Emidio Amadebai

For the past 2 years, I have been working as the head of Customer Experience, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Finance at an international pay as you go solar home system company working in rural areas in Africa. After my previous 7 years working in B2B, IT&Telecoms industry, as a Service Delivery and Project Manager, having worked with Vodacom, Huawei, and other multinational companies. My job is to make sure we improve the lives of thousands of families, with access to electricity, utilities (radio, TV, lights), doing our very best so that they get the best-in-class customer experience, and succeed in acquiring the products for themselves.

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