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Content Marketing Versus Thought Leadership: What’s the difference?

Content Marketing Versus Thought Leadership: What’s the difference?

Content marketing and thought leadership are two popular marketing concepts. The former is a topic I talk about a lot here because, well, it works!


What exactly do these two terms mean, and how do they differ? Let’s get to it.

Defining Both Terms

Content marketing includes any words, graphics, or videos created to promote your business and educate others. Think blog articles, infographics, email marketing, social media posts, and more.

Thought leadership, on the other hand, uses content marketing to change the way people think about a given topic.

Key Differences Between Content Marketing and Thought Leadership

→ Content marketing educates
→ Thought leadership challenges and persuades

An Example of Content Marketing and Thought Leadership

The Scene:


A friend recently asked me to explain how to use AI in business because all she had read about it sounded like it’s basically cheating on creating original writing.


Content Marketing Example

To answer her question, “How can you use AI in business?” within the content marketing frame I would describe how AI works, providing tips and steps on how to literally use it.


For instance:


1. Open ChatGPT

2. Insert the prompt you want it to answer

3. Edit the provided copy


This step-by-step guide is content marketing. I could even go into more detail on what type of copy can be created using AI and it would still be within the frame of content marketing.


Thought Leadership Example

Conversely, thought leadership would shift her overall perspective on AI, showing how AI can save time and provide value without being considered cheating.


Thought leadership might say:


“AI will save you time in business while still providing value to your audience. Here’s why…”


This approach challenges her to view AI differently and persuades her of its benefits.

Why Thought Leadership Stands Out

Many people can create effective content marketing that garners likes and shares on platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram. However, not as many can achieve thought leadership.


Thought leadership is about pushing boundaries, bringing others along, and using persuasion and out-of-the-box thinking. True leaders, often CEOs and founders, excel at this.


Where content marketing is about creating valuable educational content, thought leadership is about leading conversations and changing minds.

Conclusion: Content Marketing Does Not Equal Thought Leadership

While content marketing is a vehicle for thought leadership, they are not the same.


Thought leadership uses content marketing to disseminate its messages, but it goes a step further by challenging and changing perspectives.


Remember, a leader pushes boundaries, inspires others, and uses content to demonstrate visionary ideas. This is the essence of thought leadership.

Channing Muller is an award winning marketing & public relations consultant and the principal of DCM Communications. She works with event professionals and business owners to grow and scale their businesses with refined marketing strategies developed through one-on-one and group consulting, customized marketing programs and public relations. She has been named a "25 Young Event Pro to Watch" by Special Events magazine and "40 Under 40" by Connect Meetings. Channing is an avid runner, lover of labrador retrievers, good food, delicious drinks, and an advocate for the American Heart Association. Follow her on Instagram @ChanningMuller.

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