The Difference Between Content Marketing and Thought Leadership



October 6, 2022

Content marketing and thought leadership have been two of the biggest buzzwords the last few years, but what’s the difference in them? Are they the same? How do you succeed in each marketing initiative?

Although both terms are about creating content, there’s a clear distinction of each. Content Marketing is content that’s informative, so that you’re providing value to the reader. The goal of content marketing is to create your organization authoritative to your industry and allow your readership reasons as to why they should want to become a part of your mission. To do this, make sure your content is informative, engaging, and useful.

Let’s say that Rachel is a part of a clean energy association and shares interesting content about how and why to advocate for an upcoming bill on Capitol Hill, and how her association stands above the rest. Mitch is looking to become more involved in the clean energy industry and finds Rachel’s post while searching keywords. When Mitch is trying to find an organization to become a part of, Rachel is going to be top of mind. In fact, after reading her insights about why and how to advocate on the industry’s behalf, Mitch might subconsciously feel as if he’s already a part of Rachel’s association and immediately joins. This scenario is the basic formula that makes content marketing successful.


If not already doing so, your association should be implementing content marketing to your strategy. HubSpot Marketing Statistics survey shows that 70% of marketers are actively investing in content marketing, and nearly 40% say that it’s one of the most important aspects of their overall marketing strategy. Taking many forms, content marketing can distributed through blogs, video, infographics, social media, and more. The goal is educating an audience with a result of a sale – or in this instance – membership. Building authority for your association by producing high-quality content will also enhance SEO efforts, which will also aid in your brand recognition.


On the other hand, thought leadership works a little different in the marketing world. Thought leadership is compelling content that brings something new and original to your audience. Your goal is to change the way of thinking for your reader. While content marketing can confirm your organization as a reliable source of information, thought leadership will prove your organization as an expert and true leader within the industry.


In the scenario above, Rachel would be a thought leader if she had something truly groundbreaking to say about the clean energy industry, the upcoming policy work, and more. Perhaps she could have given her opinions on what will happen to the world if action isn’t taken within the industry. If Rachel has data to back it up, it’s even better to the reader. Ultimately, with thought leadership, you want to provide data and insights all while starting a conversation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be content written by your association either. Find a recent Forbes article that piqued your interest? Great! Post it on your social platforms with more thought behind it. Do you agree with the statements within the article? Disagree? Why or why not? Pose a question to your audience for them to supply feedback in the comments section.


Compared to content marketing, thought leadership is less about the call to action and self-promotion. You want to provoke the reader to respond with their own thoughts and opinions. Think of it as a way to elevate your brand and personal stance above others within the industry.


Though different, content marketing and thought leadership can work hand in hand. That said, it’s essential to understand the difference of the two for the results to shine. No matter if you decide to do one, the other, or combine the two, just know that it’s not about pumping out as much content as possible. Focus on the quality over quantity.

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