Thought Leadership is More Than a “Buzz Word”

Here’s Why You Need a Thought Leadership Content Strategy to Grow Your Brand

If you’re working on a content marketing strategy, it’s more than likely you’ve been told you need to integrate thought leadership content.

But what does that really mean? Just because the term gets tossed around a lot in relation to content execution doesn’t mean it’s just a “buzz word.” The reality is, thought leadership is an effective, worthwhile undertaking that can grow loyalty and trust for your brand.

You just have to do it right.

Thought Leadership is All About Your Audience

Thought leadership is what happens when you put your audience first and revolve your content efforts around them, leveraging the subject matter experts (thought leaders) within your company to execute quality content. To do all this right, you have to be careful to avoid the two mistakes many brands make when it comes to content marketing:

  1. Making it all about you. Think about a time when you turned to Google for general information. I’m willing to bet you skipped right over anything that seemed like an ad or a marketing pitch for a service and clicked on the first article that looked like genuine, helpful information. It’s even better if you can make it through the entire article without the brand injecting a sales pitch for its product or service. It shouldn’t be a surprise that your audience will behave the same way. Therefore, you want to publish content that provides the information your audience needs–without trying to sell them something.
  2. Not thinking like your audience. It can be difficult to take a step back from your business and understand that what may seem interesting to you may not be interesting to your audience. One of the most important elements of a thought leadership strategy is understanding what your audience wants and needs so you can deliver content that matters to them–even if it’s different from what you think they would care about.

With these two common mistakes in mind, there are 6 key steps you should follow to develop and execute an effective thought leadership content strategy.

Step 1. Identify Your Audience

You may have a general idea of your target audience, but if you’re going to be writing content that you want your audience to find so useful that they share it and come back for more, you should know some specific information about them.

  • Demographics: Where do they live? What age group or groups do they fall into? Are they mostly female or mostly male? Or both? What types of careers are they in? Knowing these details will help you make important, strategic decisions about your content to ensure you’re resonating with everyone in your target audience.
  • Current behavior: Take a look at your website analytics to see how users are interacting with your site today. Knowing what pages and types of content generate the most activity will help you narrow down your approach to your thought leadership content strategy.

Step 2. Perk Up Your Ears

The best way to guide your thought leadership content strategy is to begin by listening. You want to have a clear understanding of what your audience and competitors are talking about, reading and sharing on social media, in publications and on websites or forums. It may sound like a huge undertaking, but it’s a highly-effective way to identify areas where your brand can insert itself meaningfully into the conversation.

Here’s 3 basic steps you can follow to conduct your own listening exercise and identify the topics that carry the most impact in your industry:

  1. Generate a list of target keywords based on your industry and your knowledge of buzzwords and other terms your audience might care about and be searching for. Try to identify long-tail keywords, which can be highly valuable in driving traffic to your content. Moz offers a detailed tutorial on targeting the best long-tail keywords.
  2. Using the Google AdWords Keyword tool, plug your keywords into the form to identify search volume data.Thought Leadership
  3. Select the keywords with the best search volume for your content. Keyword search volume ultimately depends on your specific industry–for instance, if your business sells glow-in-the-dark golf balls, you will find the search volume is high. But because you’re operating in a niche industry, competitive keywords would still work well for you. As a rule of thumb for any business, it makes sense to target keywords or a group of keywords that average 1,000+ searches per month.Thought Leadership
  4. Listen to your competitors. You can conduct Google searches and website searches using your target keywords to see what content exists in industry publications or on your competitors’ websites. These searches help you determine whether you’re playing in a crowded space or if there are gaps you can fill with your strategic content. You may also discover your competitors are creating thought leadership content about other topics you hadn’t thought of.

If you find you don’t have the resources to conduct this type of exercise, many digital agencies are prepared to execute listening exercises and provide far more in-depth data around keyword performance to help kick-start your thought leadership content strategy.

Step 3. Generate a Content Strategy

Now that you have a list of keywords that will increase your searchability, an idea of what your competitors are writing about and how you can effectively enter the conversation, you can combine this knowledge with your audience information to drive your content generation strategy.

Going back to our example using the glow-in-the-dark golf ball company, let’s say you know your target audience for your line of these unique golf balls is males ages 22 to 34. Some of them are serious golfers, while others simply like the idea of using a glow-in-the-dark ball for social events. Your content strategy might include blog posts about the best yard games to play after dark, serious or funny videos of golfers, golf swing tutorials, quizzes on what kind of golfer you are,  a top 10 guide to the best golf equipment–you get the idea.

Step 4. Decide on a Content Execution Strategy

Be creative in your content formats. Not every piece of thought leadership content has to be a blog post. Webinars, infographics, guides, quizzes, whitepapers, videos and interactive content all qualify–as long as they meet the criteria for thought leadership content.

Be careful not to plan the format of your content before coming up with a topic. It’s best to let the topic determine the format–for instance, even though you might not have published a blog post in a while, your idea for a piece of content that details the science of a golf swing may be better-suited as an infographic.

Many businesses also choose to generate content for outreach and syndication. If you make a list of industry publications in which you’d like your content to be featured, you can send your content to the appropriate contacts to see if it will get published. Getting published in reputable publications helps get more eyeballs on your content and increases your status as an industry thought leader.

Step 5. Get Social

Social media can’t be overlooked as part of any thought leadership content strategy. Depending on the industry you’re in, you may think social media is less important or impactful, but the truth is, it is always a good idea. Social media helps businesses in several ways:

  • It allows brands to show a more human side since there’s more flexibility with post content as compared to the messaging on websites or branded materials.
  • It provides targeting methods for relatively cheap budget dollars, allowing you to get your content in front of more users, thus increasing brand awareness.
  • It opens up new avenues for your brand to connect with like-minded companies and individuals. If there are other industry thought leaders you already like and admire, follow them on social media and pay attention to what they’re saying. When you have something to say, don’t be afraid to jump in with a comment or a related piece of content your company produced. It’s a great way to elevate your status as an industry thought leader and get more attention on your content through shares and likes.

Be sure to stay on top of your new social connections and any engagement that results from sharing your content. Nothing cools brand loyalty faster than being silent during a thoughtful conversation on social media.

Step 6: Follow Through

A thought leadership content strategy is truly an ongoing process that requires dedication and effort from everyone at your company. Many businesses struggle with getting employees to create content, but an ideal thought leadership campaign involves published content by individuals who are experts in their field.

In many cases, businesses will outsource content creation to agencies with talented writers who can generate thought leadership content for you. In these situations, businesses typically only have to provide simple edits to the content before it can be pushed live or sent out for syndication at an industry publication.

Hopefully by now you can see that thought leadership is not just a buzz word but a necessary tactic to help increase your brand’s influence in a world of ever-growing competition for a seat at the table.

You are in business because you have a specific, unique knowledge of your industry. Put that knowledge in front of people who can benefit, and who can give you the ROI to keep you going.

User Experience is Not an Option, It’s a Must

Why a Solid UX is Critical to Helping Build a World-Class Brand

Expectations for the performance, design, and usability of websites and other digital products are far higher than ever before.

But those expectations shouldn’t just be on the user side. Companies must raise the bar when designing and developing digital products to provide customers with the types of experience that not only meet those expectations, but are memorable, differentiating, and help move users seamlessly through their brand interaction.

User experience in and of itself reflects the expectations of today’s website or application users. Consider how you interact with a website. When a user experience is good, the website behaves exactly the way we expect it to. When a user experience is poor, you might find you have a hard time navigating the site, finding what you need or completing a task, which falls below user expectations.

Where to Start When Planning Your UX Strategy

Implementing a solid UX requires an understanding of what type of user experience is going to be best for your website or application and your audience. There are a couple ways you should approach this effort.

1.    Look at past metrics. Understanding what does and doesn’t work for your company provides great insight into what your focus should be in implementing a user experience methodology. How has your audience behaved? What part of your digital product do they spend the most time with? How are they using your website or application? This information will allow you to improve upon the aspects of your digital product your audience already likes, thus creating a user experience truly made for them.

Even if you’re starting from ground zero and have no existing digital product to use as a baseline, you can still assess audience behavior and engagement with your brand and use those insights toward development of your UX.

2.    Follow best practices. When it comes to UX, you’re not doing anything in a silo. There is a large community of UX designers and a wealth of information and tools available. UX designers don’t always have access to metrics or user testing to provide actionable insights, so they rely on the multitude of studies, reports, books and articles and more that detail best practices. Some of these best practices include:

  • Eye-tracking: Page design, layout and designing a navigation system successfully rely on best practices around user eye tracking. This information includes how users’ eyes move across a page to digest information, or how many characters is too many to scan.
  • Button labels: Helping a user move to a new experience on a website or take another type of action relies on effective button labels. UX designers must know what types of labels are most common, and therefore considered the most intuitive or easy to use to navigate.
  • Content quantity: Ever been overwhelmed with content on a web page? Best practices provide guidelines around how much is too much to ensure users never feel overwhelmed and simply leave the site.
  • Calls-to-action: Helping a user move through a website easily is reliant on buttons and symbols that most obviously convey the action a user should take. You never want someone looking for a way to interact with your site, getting confused and leaving.

Creating a good user experience is about knowing your audience, being able to anticipate their needs and providing them with the appropriate tools to take the desired action.

3.    Determine strategic goals. When planning your UX strategy, you should select one or two specific goals to focus on for UX development. These goals could include any of the following:

  • Reducing error rates and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of your website or application when it performs digital tasks
  • Improving or enhancing the overall attitudes of users as they experience your website or application
  • Growing the level of user involvement with your brand through your website or application
  • Increasing the number of new users who are adopting your product or service as a result of your website or application
  • Maintaining your existing users so they continue returning to your website or remain users of your digital product or application over time

Putting the “Experience” into User Experience

User experience is composed of several elements that all must be taken into consideration during the entire planning process, and incorporated into the final product.

Usability: While user experience refers to the ability of a digital product to resonate on an emotional level with a user, usability–not surprisingly–refers to how easy a site is to use. Can a user easily navigate to the information they need without being overwhelmed with options or crowded text? Is the layout and organization user-friendly? Only then can the user experience be successful.

Accessibility: Your site or digital product should be functional on multiple browsers and devices to ensure users can experience what you have to offer, no matter how they choose to get there.

Performance: Users notice right away if website elements load slowly or don’t appear correctly. Be sure your digital product performs each and every time a user accesses it.

Design: The aesthetic design of your website or application is a significant part of the overall user experience. It helps differentiate your brand with eye-catching or innovative features, and helps familiarize your brand by incorporating the visual design elements that define your brand and drive recognition.

Marketing: A solid user experience takes users through the sales funnel with strategic calls to action for valuable content. When you provide the right content at the right time to the right person in the right way, their user experience is more valuable, and your brand becomes more valuable to them.

Human Interaction: A key part of user experience is personalization and familiarity. Brands that implement chat features, use highly-personalized content or make contacting them easy and pain-free are providing the human interaction necessary for a positive user experience.

User Experience is a Team Effort

Users today are savvy, and can immediately identify when a website or application is going to be easy to use or more trouble than it’s worth. Ensuring that your digital product makes a good first impression begins at the initial conceptualization and involves everyone on the team.

Creative directors: As the overseers of the creative work being done, creative directors know the overall goals of the project and ensure what’s being done is meeting those objectives. They must apply their knowledge of design, content and the brand to effectively sign-off on the final product. This role is critical in ensuring the design and content provide a seamless user experience the reflects the brand and messaging.

Information Architects: Sometimes known as a UX designer, this role is responsible for creating a meaningful presentation of information using an organizational structure that results in the best possible experience for the user. IAs or UX designers must be highly knowledgeable about the brand, customer behavior and the competition. They combine this knowledge with the visual identity of the brand and any other elements that would make the overall user experience unique.

Content strategists: Writing for UX requires content strategists to understand how a user would digest the information on a website or interact with an application. Content writers should be aware of best practices, but also be familiar with audience personas and their behavior to understand what content resonates and in what format, as this will differ for every brand. They would ideally work closely with designers to ensure the flow of the final product is intuitive, actionable, and tells a story.

Content teams also should be applying search engine optimizations (SEO) to the content on any website or application to ensure it gets found online. If your product isn’t searchable, your user experience makes far less of an impact.

Visual Designers: The role of a visual designer is to creatively execute the vision of a website or application based on the target audience and overall structure for UX determined by the IAs and UX designers. A designer will focus on the appearance of the product, understanding where different elements should go and how to incorporate imagery within the overall structure.

Developers: The development side of UX requires an understanding of how to implement the features and functionality that will bring the design work and content to life. Developers are creating the functionality on the front- and back-end with which users will interact. It’s critical for that functionality to work, as one of the biggest detriments for a brand is a website with broken links or elements that don’t load properly.

Quality Assurance: While there may not be a dedicated QA individual on staff, it is critical to run any website or application through a quality assurance procedure to ensure everything is working properly. Broken links, 404 pages, content edits and other errors must be caught before the product goes live to ensure superior usability and an overall great user experience.

  • Here are some key elements to consider as a team:
  • What kind of experience do you want users to have?
  • What is the story your brand wants to tell through the user experience?
  • What is the overall message you want users to take away from their experience with your digital product?
  • What tools are important to implement to make the user experience simpler?

UX Benefits Users–and Your Business

Outside of the experience you’re creating for your audience, a successful UX should also translate to ROI for your business. Investing in a seamless experience for your audience will avoid costly problem resolution during design and development, or–even less favorable–following release of the digital product.

It’s important to set forth and track key performance indicators, such as page views, time on page and click-through-rate, to understand how your user experience is impacting ROI.

Without an effective user experience, your digital product is likely to fail. That is the harsh reality in today’s fast-paced, online world. But the good news is, crafting a successful User Experience is a fun, creative way to elevate your audience’s engagement with your brand and, in the process, learn more about who your audience is and what they want.

The Metrics Marketers Need to Build High-Performance Campaigns

Get the Most Out of Your Email Marketing Campaigns

We frequently encounter business owners or marketing department heads who are surprised to hear that email marketing remains the most effective way to reach potential customers online.

The stats tell a clear story. We send out 74 trillion emails each year, and in 2017, people are sending and receiving 269 billion emails every day. As of 2015, email has topped the list of most popular online activities, beating out texting, social media and music or video streaming. As a digital marketer myself, I know the importance of improving the impact of email by leveraging the right data for actionable insights.

Most email marketing clients will provide you with basic analytical information–open rate, click-through rate, and bounce rate. This data is important to track because it gives insight to improve future emails. For example, if our open rate is high for one email over another, we can assume the subject line was highly relevant for our target audience. If our click-through rate is low, it would make sense to adjust our call to action, or CTA.

But you can do more than leverage those standard insights. There is another level of data to improve your email marketing campaigns, and it lives on your website., Google Analytics is the most widely used, FREE web analytics service on the Internet. Instead of relying only on stats provided by your email client, you can utilize data being captured at the site-level. After all, your website is typically where email recipients are converting–registering for your webinars, purchasing your products, and so on.

Use Google Campaign Tracking Parameters

Some email marketing clients already integrate nicely with Google Analytics. Two of the more popular services, Mailchimp and Constant Contact, both allow for you to plug in your Google tracking code and they’ll do the rest. Check with your provider to see if they allow a similar integration.

Your email client may already support a direct Google Analytics integration, but it is a good practice to use Google URL Builder to get additional information about your email campaigns. You can use tagged links in your emails, like this:


Let’s break this down:

  1. Website URL – Enter your destination URL here. This is the only field that will change per email.
  2. Campaign Source – The type of email you’re sending will determine what goes here. In this case, we’re sending a newsletter. Or, this field could include the name of your email provider.
  3. Campaign Medium – This field should always be “email” (Unless you’re using this tool for another type of campaign. In this example, we’re only covering email). This is the primary way we will segment our data within Google Analytics, so it’s important this field is entered correctly.
  4. Campaign Name – You will use this field to segment your emails by specific campaign, so it’s important to keep a consistent naming convention.

If your email marketing tool doesn’t support a direct Google Analytics integration and you do not use Google URL Builder, your email website traffic will be grouped under “Direct” or “Referral” traffic. This makes it almost impossible to segment your email traffic, in turn making it difficult to draw new insights.

The Metrics Marketers Need to Build High-Performance Campaigns

Start Tracking Conversions

Once you start segmenting your email traffic, you can begin tracking your website conversions. Tracking conversions is the holy grail of evaluating your successes and failures as it relates to email marketing. Every time you craft an email, there should be a specific action in mind that you want your recipients to take.

For instance, let’s pretend I work at a travel agency. My boss just informed me that the company needs to promote an upcoming trip to Peru. I put together an email promoting the trip and logically my goal is to get people to sign up on our website. With conversions set up in Google Analytics, you can see exactly how many inquiries are made due to your email marketing efforts.

Google provides a step-by-step guide to setting up goals using Google Analytics. Depending on how comfortable you are within the platform will determine if you need IT support. Of course, you can always enlist the support of a professional marketing agency as well.

Look at Behavior Numbers

Looking beyond website conversions, we get into analyzing website behavior. What happens after email recipients click a link in your emails? Do they spend a long time on your site? Do they view one page and leave? Do they come back to the site at a future date? The answers to these questions are finite, but the conclusions you draw from them are based off assumptions. Let’s dive into some made up numbers from the Peru example above.

The promotional email we sent out resulted in 1,000 new website visits. Roughly 50% of those website visitors only viewed one page and left (this is called a bounce; viewing one page and then leaving). On average, website visitors stayed on our site for 1:30 seconds and viewed an average of 1.75 pages per session.

Most people will ask themselves what those numbers actually mean. The first thing that jumps out to me is that 1,000 people visited our website as a result of the email we sent. If we had not sent the email, those people wouldn’t have gone to our site.

Roughly 50% of those website visitors only viewed one page before leaving. Here’s where we can begin to make some assumptions. A high bounce rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on what the overall user behavior goals are. If you simply want to provide information, a high bounce rate can indicate that users got what they needed quickly and then were able to leave. However, if the goal is to get users to explore your website, a high bounce rate indicates that they didn’t find the content useful enough to do so.

I should note, drawing conclusions from just one email is tough. In this case, it’s important to monitor trends. On your next email, if your bounce rate is a lot higher, let’s say 80%, then you may be able to draw a conclusion. There was something about the landing page on the second email that resulted in more people immediately leaving. Look at both web pages and try to identify the key differences.

It’s important to take the time to review email marketing metrics beyond open and click-through rates. Without much additional effort, you can track and optimize your email marketing content and techniques as it relates to your website.

Next time you report on your email marketing efforts, try and include some of the metrics I reviewed above. It will allow for you to make a more informed decision in your email marketing efforts, plus be confident in your decisions and get the most out of your time.

Why Your Brand Can’t Afford Not to Have a Content Marketing Strategy

It’s a sunny Saturday in August and you’ve just brought home salmon–something of an impulse-buy because you’ve never cooked it before.

With the salmon on the counter, you grab your smartphone and do a quick search for salmon dinner recipes. The first result is a blog post from a local kitchen store for “easy lemon encrusted baked salmon”, which catches your eye because you’re pressed for time and you also have a lemon. You click on the post, follow the recipe, and the salmon turns out delicious. And you have your local kitchen store to thank.

This likely- familiar scenario is why your brand needs a content marketing strategy.

Own Your Market in a Way Only Your Brand Can, With Content

Content is in enormous demand everywhere. Most brands are working like crazy to get content across all platforms so they can capture a larger piece of the market share.

Brands do this because they have tapped into the knowledge that consumers are always looking for solutions to their problems, or information that can make their lives better. And if you’re producing content that speaks directly to the needs of your target audience–for instance, a kitchen store posting a salmon recipe because its customers are likely cooking regularly–they’ll read your content, find it helpful, and keep your brand top-of-mind as a result.

Content can open your brand up to a much wider audience, and if your content is useful to them, your brand becomes elevated as an industry “thought leader”, building trust and loyalty among that audience.

You’d likely trust a doctor who confidently and knowledgeably explains a procedure over a doctor who explains nothing. Your brand has something unique to offer, which allows you to authentically own a piece of your market in a way your audience wants to be part of.

Give Them What They Want

By now, it’s well known that simply generating content and posting it to your blog or sharing it on social media isn’t likely to return amazing results.

Content needs a strategy to ensure it is providing useful information to the right audience in the right way and at the right time. You also need to understand how your content connects to your other marketing strategies so you can use the metrics gained around your content consumption to drive marketing tactics.

Here are 5 questions you need to answer before you begin writing content.

  1. Who is my audience? You may have 2, 6 or 10 different audience personas who all have different interests in what your brand has to offer. Identify these personas and their pain points, and develop content around solving those problems or answering those questions.
  2. What is my audience talking about? Beyond understanding audience pain points is the deeper question of what type of content they’re already looking for. You can determine the conversations happening on a digital and social scale through a research effort that isolates key topics and themes and will help you develop your content strategy.
  3. What is my competition doing? To truly stand out with your content, you have to produce something unique to your brand that separates you from the competition or the same old story everyone else is telling. Leveraging a similar research effort to the one you perform on your audience, track your competitors’ activity on the digital and social landscapes and identify opportunities they’re not currently serving, as well as trends and topics to which you can lend your own unique perspective.
  4. How will I produce my content? Content generation is a large undertaking for any company, but especially for smaller businesses that don’t have dedicated personnel for the task. Establish a reasonable frequency for publishing content, typically 1-2 blog posts per week, and get buy-in from the experts at your company who can write knowledgeably about their subject areas. Another option is to hire a marketing agency to write your content and execute your content strategy.
  5. What will I do once my content generates engagement? As part of any content strategy, you need to determine how your content connects to your other marketing strategies. Posting blogs is great, but your strategy can’t stop there. That content can be leveraged for email campaigns or social posts, and can be repurposed to provide unique assets like white papers or infographics. Providing the right types of content to your audience at the right stage in their buyer’s journey helps move them further down the funnel to become customers.

In the awareness stage, you want to address audience problems through helpful content like blog posts, videos, guides or manuals, webinars, templates or checklists.

  • Once your audience moves into the consideration stage you can begin to educate them on how your solution can solve their problem with thought leadership, demo videos, testimonials, FAQs or case studies.
  • In the decision stage, your audience is looking for reassurance that your solution is the right one, which you can achieve through freebies, deals or offers, live demos or estimates and proposals.
  • When you have customers, you want to continue delivering helpful content that will give them a reason to evangelize your brand. You can do this through helpful articles and videos, solution updates, webinars on best practices, event notifications and email correspondence.

Content marketing is critical to getting eyeballs on your brand and elevating your brand as a trusted source of information within your industry. Whether your company is large or small, comfortable in its customer base or still trying to grow, content can play an important role.

And content marketing isn’t just about getting new customers or racking up “likes” on social media. Existing customers value being able to turn to the brand they use for the answers they’re looking for.

What we’re saying is, you can’t go wrong with a content marketing strategy. You know your industry the best–start telling the world about it.