Content Marketing Blog

Thought Leadership: Are you doing it right? Lessons from 3 content marketing thought leaders

A lot of brands set out to become thought leaders when they put together a content marketing strategy, but what exactly is thought leadership and how do you do it well?

A common misconception is that thought leadership requires pioneering revolutionary ideas. This may be true for iconic figures like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, but you don’t have to be a globally-recognised celebrity to be a thought leader.

Primarily, thought leadership is about positioning. It’s about how you want your brand to be perceived by its audience. If you can produce a regular stream of helpful, useful, original content and promote that content effectively, you can establish yourself as an authority in your space without being a billionaire entrepreneur.

The big challenge, of course, is being heard above the noise. You can bet your competitors have their own content creation strategy underway and thought leadership is probably among their aims. Your content needs to offer something rare, something valuable and something difficult to replicate.

In our industry (content marketing) there are some great thought leaders. People and brands we follow, read and watch. So let’s have a look at three of them and see what lessons we can all learn about effective thought leadership…

Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and is known as the ‘godfather of content marketing’. He’s been an evangelist for content marketing since 2001, speaking at events and conferences and publishing a number of books.

What sets Joe apart as a thought leader is his drive to educate and spread the word about content marketing. Through his many years of writing, talking and publishing about the topic he has earned a huge following that respects him for his expertise and turn to him for strategies, ideas and predictions for the future.

Specifically, aside from speaking at conferences, Joe writes for the CMI blog and and has earned the ‘Influencer’ ranking on LinkedIn, with 157,000 followers. He also produces two different podcast series known as ‘This Old Marketing’ and ‘Content Inc’, in which he looks at industry news and current trends and gives his insights and opinions. ‘Content Inc’ is particularly helpful for his audience as it provides real takeaways that listeners can use in their own marketing strategies.

The logo for Joe Pulizzi's Content Inc podcast

Rand Fishkin

Rand is the founder and former CEO of, an inbound marketing and SEO company that provides marketing analytics software to its users.

The site hosts a large number of whitepapers and beginner’s guides for everything from link building to keyword targeting, all learnt from Rand and his team’s own journey to build Moz from a small consulting company to the internationally-renowned brand it is today. Something that the company does that makes it stand out from the competition is performing in-house testing on search engine algorithms and updates to provide insights on SEO factors like page ranking. They provide results from this testing on their company blog, as well as a regular stream of other content.

Rand is probably most well-known for his editions of ‘Whiteboard Friday’ that are published to the blog every week. In the videos, which usually go for 10-15 minutes, Rand takes a difficult concept or query and breaks it down on the whiteboard, explaining each step as he goes and giving simple, relatable explanations to complex issues.

These videos are hugely popular with his audience for their informative and helpful content, as well as Rand’s likeability from his enthusiastic nature. He now has a solid following on YouTube with 21,000 subscribers. The Moz Facebook page also has a very healthy 216,000 followers.

Neil Patel

Neil Patel is responsible for creating and growing three successful marketing organisations: Crazy Egg, Kissmetrics and Quicksprout. The companies offer users varying methods to drive engagement to their site through data analysis and conversion optimisation solutions.

Neil stands out from other content marketers for the sheer scale of his content production. As well as producing content for his own blog on and for each of his companies, he regularly writes guest blogs for a number of different sites like Hubspot, Forbes, Search Engine Journal and

He often talks about his drive to help others grow their business through content marketing, and the number of blogs he produces with how-to information and practical advice would attest to this. This is primarily what cements him as a thought leader in the content marketing industry – his determination to provide a mammoth amount of useful and helpful content for his readers.

An excerpt from Neil Patel's blog post 'I need your help'

An excerpt from Neil Patel’s blog post ‘I need your help’

There’s no ‘i’ in ‘team’

…and there’s no me in ‘leader’ when it comes to thought leadership. While our examples are all individuals they’ve not achieved their thought leader status on their own.

An important aspect of thought leadership is asking for contributions from members across the entire business, not just one leader (however charismatic or well known). Doing this will improve the breadth and variety of your content through utilising the expertise of different team members.

Blogs on and the Content Marketing Institute have many contributors providing content on a broad range of topics and areas of expertise (Neil Patel surely must have more hours in the day than everyone else as he appears to be the only contributor for his brands).

Tapping the knowledge and ideas within your organisation will also help you generate more original ideas and do the grunt work required to create something really valuable for your audience.

Amber Denny About the author