What is the Difference Between Thought Leadership and Content Marketing?

Content Marketing


The other day, I asked the following question:


Here are some of the responses I got:

My Thoughts

In a post from 2009, Why Thought Leadership Is Your Most Valuable Asset, I wrote that thought leaders:

  • Develop relationships with customers, prospects and others by engaging them in non-sales, industry-relevant conversations.
  • Become the go-to source for research, insight and interpretation of the latest news and trends.
  • Gain trust among prospective customers so that when the time finally comes to purchase, customers turn to the thought leader organization.

In retrospect, that sounds to me more like content marketing, which I define as “the process of creating and distributing highly relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage clearly defined and understood target audiences—with the objective of driving profitable customer action”.

So my thoughts have changed. My perspective today is that both thought leadership and content marketing can very effectively build your awareness and brand, but that true thought leadership is much rarer. Thought leadership consists of ideas that require attention, that offer guidance or clarity and that can lead people in unexpected, sometimes contrarian directions (think of Seth Godin).  Thought leadership needs to be educational and ideally provocative; content marketing can simply be fun or entertaining.

Recently, we’ve started to see a backlash against content marketing that’s devoid of quality, including must-read posts from Velocity, Jonathon Colman, Christopher PennMichael Brenner, and Marketo’s own Jason Miller. Perhaps what content marketing needs in 2013 is an injection of more thought leadership?

What do you think? How would you distinguish thought leadership from content marketing?  Let me know in the comments.