Proving Authority Through Thought Leadership

It's all about high-quality content and amplification.


Thought leadership is a nebulous concept, and how it’s defined depends on whom you ask. At its most basic level, it’s the expression of ideas that demonstrate expertise in a particular field, area or topic. We think that’s a good start. But looking at it through the lens of building trust, thought leadership is narrowed down to one word: authority. Demonstrating expertise isn’t affirmative. Proving authority leaves no room for doubt. Trust-focused thought leadership proves the value a company provides to its audience and the unique differentiation it brings to the marketplace. Once amplified online, it can build trust at every stage of the customer journey.

According to a 2020 SurveyMonkey survey of 481 marketers, two-thirds (66%) consider thought leadership a “top priority” for their marketing organization, but only 26% consider their current program “very successful.” That could be due, in part, to misaligned efforts. For each prospective client at Upright, we create a proprietary report called the Trust Assessment. We examine and assess the five key indicators of online trust, including thought leadership, and how the brand fares compared to three of its competitors. In a world of content overload, more content isn’t necessarily better. We assess if a brand’s thought leadership builds authority by being unique and ownable, and then we examine its amplification. Do third parties share the thought leadership? Does it appear prominently on Google search results? Can it be easily discovered on the brand’s owned channels? These online touchpoints speak volumes for a brand. Ineffective thought leadership or an absence of thought leadership leaves room for customer doubt. In contrast, trust-focused thought leadership that appears where customers are looking can expedite the path to purchase.

We recently conducted a Trust Assessment for a major retailer. In recent months, the brand increased its efforts to create high-quality thought leadership about the company and CEO. The content successfully demonstrated its expertise by being unique and ownable, but its amplification did little to prove authority. While we did find thought leadership using sophisticated media tracking tools, the content didn’t appear prominently in Google search results, which is how customers seek information. The stories were also underleveraged on the brand’s website and social media properties, creating missed opportunities and impacting search results. It’s a common mistake for brands to frontload their thought leadership investment on content creation and to leave amplification up to chance, but that is a costly mistake. What’s the point in creating white papers, videos, media coverage, and more if they’re hard to find? In contrast, an aspirational brand included in the same Trust Assessment dominated Google search results by amplifying thought leadership at every touchpoint. 

Creating and sharing thought leadership to establish market authority is not an overnight endeavor. It takes research to understand what audiences need and want. According to an Edelman-LinkedIn study, and contrary to conventional wisdom, decision-makers are consuming significant amounts of thought leadership content. But there is less tolerance for run-of-the-mill, low-or even average-quality content. People want answers to their questions, and they don’t want to go digging for them. Only 5% of people look beyond the first page of a Google search result! So invest in the full scope of trust-building thought leadership. The more a brand can incorporate thought leadership into its marketing efforts, the more rewards it will yield. Bylines beget speaking engagements. Speaking engagements beget media coverage. Media coverage begets social sharing. And the best reward of all? All of that high-quality content rises to the top in Google results, building authority and trust whenever anyone searches your brand. 

Take a moment to Google your brand. Does it reveal missed opportunities to be an authority in the marketplace?