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Thought Leadership: It’s All About the Content! (A Nod to Editorial Strategy)

How to generate content ideas and align them with your goals.

Ask any three people for the definition of thought leadership and you’ll get three different answers. It depends on where the person comes from — not geographically, but politically. And not in the righty-vs-lefty sense. It depends on where in the organization they sit. Their politics are tied to their KPIs, MBOs or OKRs. 

The further your colleagues are from marketing, the less likely they are to see thought leadership tied to how things get measured in their work. But this shouldn’t be the case if your thought leadership marketing is tied to business strategy. This “being out of sync” is a leading indicator of budgets drying up… if your stakeholders can’t see how thought leadership helps them in their missions, then they won’t support it when the purse strings get tightened. And conversely, when marketing initiatives directly drive results in their areas, these people are among your most fervent defenders.

So how do you ensure that the content you’re creating in a thought leadership campaign aligns with the rest of the organization’s goals? And as importantly, how can you get that content written given the resources you have available? 

It’s not as daunting as it might seem. If you’ve built a solid understanding of your personas and mapped the buyer’s journey, you can define the content stack and editorial calendar, including tactics for lead generation that no doubt support critical OKRs for the organization. As you build the editorial calendar, you also can identify subject matter experts (internal and among customers, consultants and industry thought leaders) to contribute content.

ContentStackThe content stack refers to what kinds of content you’ll be creating, at what frequency and who will do the writing. It’s something you can diagram like a pyramid or a bar chart, with layers of content building up to the most valuable or difficult content to create. It also specifies the frequency at which the content is to be created and published to your web and social properties. We believe that it’s vitally important to tie the overall editorial strategy to your goals, so you must add details like how each element contributes to the things you’re going to measure (whether it’s lead generation or brand attitude and awareness). It’s likely that this information will be in a tabular form or narrative to explain what it is you’re building to your management and help you manage the process on an ongoing basis. 

You can use the content stack to estimate traffic increases you can generate based on historical traffic per item of content that exists on your current site (agencies like ours also can draw from experience on multiple client sites to inform our traffic generation estimates). Historical conversion rates on premium (gated) content offers also can be applied to model future ROI. These estimates will get better as you build out the content following your editorial calendar and measure the results on a marketing automation platform like HubSpot.

The editorial calendar is often managed via a spreadsheet or a project management system like Trello, Asana or Wrike. If you are managing the calendar with an outside agency, a Kanban board or cloud shared spreadsheet is best. Regardless of how you manage the editorial calendar, it’s important to map and allocate your content according to a number of attributes:


Each persona has a certain value to your organization and you want to ensure that your content is aligned with these relative values (as well as the mandates of the program)

Traffic generation goal

Some topics and content types are likely to generate more content by their very nature. Promotional content (e.g., contests, free offers) will generate more traffic but perhaps of lesser value. Sometimes a topic with little organic traffic is important to write about, too.

Funnel stage

Top, middle or bottom of funnel? Many experts recommend starting content development as close to the moment of purchase as possible to help align with sales. As your program matures, you’ll need to cover the entire buyer’s journey (we also recommend tactics to aid decision-making in the RFP process in this post.)

Content type

Is it a premium item behind a form – available on-demand, in the future (e.g., a webinar), or is it free to all site visitors like a blog, case study, infographic or web page?

Title and topic

Suggested title for the item and general topic area it covers.


While keywords are less critical to SEO than before, all of us seem to track them for lack of a better numerical term.

Content cluster
(pillar page)

Contemporary SEO practice is to build depth in topic areas to demonstrate expertise to Google and Bing. The center of a topic cluster is a pillar page that is linked to by all other content that is relevant to this cluster. Think of it as hub-and-spoke, with the pillar page at the hub. Is this content related to a pillar page (or is it a new one)?

Lead generation offer (CTA)

All non-gated content should have a call-to-action for a gated item requiring credentials be supplied, or link to a content item that’s further down the funnel to encourage the next step of hand raising as a lead.


Who will write the item? Is it an agency, internal SME or paid freelancer, consultant or analyst?

Original content or curated

When your strategy calls for a high volume of content, such as is the case with an online magazine, one tactic to reduce the effort required is to create original curated summaries of articles that will interest your readers. As much as 30-40 percent of your content can be curated in a magazine-style site and still add value for the reader.

Having a method to plan your editorial is one aspect of it, but the spreadsheet (or Trello board) isn’t going to strategize or write content for you. You need a sustainable means of generating content ideas that will move the business forward, and you need people to get that work done.

Here’s where we go for content ideas:

Executive leadership. These people drive the mission and set the agenda, so we want to ensure that our content plan reflects their ambitions and expertise. Sometimes the founder has a unique perspective on the industry, other times, he or she is a hired gun who came from elsewhere. Regardless, the more we can align with the imperatives of the CEO, the more likely our work will find support next budget cycle.

Sales team and managers. The SDRs and their managers are on the front lines of generating interest in most SaaS products, so this is a great place to gain content ideas. It’s also an important source of political support for a thought leadership campaign. If sales development reps are using your materials, you’re writing stuff that will move the needle. SDR management also can be very helpful as they see the sales process from the perspective of multiple accounts and likely more than one vertical market. Read our blog on sales and marketing alignment to learn more about these roles and how to generate content ideas from sales.

Subject matter experts. Every organization has one or a few people who know nearly everything there is to know about your industry. Building relationships with these experts is vitally important. Over a lunch or coffee they can share insights and ideas that can fill your calendar with meaningful content and help make your content more important to successful outcomes for the organization itself. SMEs also can be a great source of writing, as they often feel compelled to share their insights to help build the company and their own personal brands.

Consultants like Gartner and Forrester. If your company has a relationship with an IT consultancy, set a regular appointment to be briefed on industry trends. Some smaller and vertical market consultants also will be available to discuss trends and write on your blog (for a fee) but this can be very valuable if you need to evangelize on a topic or add credibility to your organization. Consultants also are great draws for webinars and in-person events (also usually paid-for activities).

Reading industry publications, blogs and LinkedIn. Staying on top of what leading journalists, pundits and competitors are saying will help inform your editorial plans — and keep you in the driver’s seat with respect to your peers and leadership (nothing is worse than being surprised by the CEO with competitor activity that you’re unaware of). Industry blogs and publications are great sources of content to curate for your own blog and periodic updates to subscribers. Our recommendation is to create original summaries of the content you are curating, with links to the source to benefit both your SEO and that of your source. It’s also important to find the top influencers on LinkedIn and engage with them on that platform and reference them within blogs… these folks can benefit from what you do and the smarter of them will reciprocate on social as well as their own blogs.

As far as getting content written, this comes down to commitments… not only gaining them but seeing them through. SMEs and senior leadership have a lot of competing uses for their time. It’s usually best to have in-house, freelance and/or content marketing agency writers to create content on a frequent basis, as all these folks earn their keep by doing so. Sprinkling in the occasional item written by the CEO or SME can add interest, but it’s the rare CEO that can write on a weekly or monthly basis. If the CEO insists on a frequent voice, consider having his or her blogs and thought pieces ghost-written based on an interview.

Want to talk about infusing your thought leadership strategy with market moving ideas? Click here to access my calendar. Happy to help you exercise your ideas and share more insights from our experience. The content of this post is related to our six-step methodology to ensure custom publication success (we call it Content2Revenue and you can read more about it here).

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