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Content Marketing vs Thought Leadership: 3 Key Differences

As a marketing leader, you know that standing out in today’s crowded and competitive market is crucial to success. One way to differentiate your business and attract the attention of potential customers is through content marketing and thought leadership. 

However, it is difficult enough to tell the difference between the two, let alone identify which approach is best for your needs. In this blog post, we will explore the key differences between these two strategies and provide insights on how to effectively leverage each approach to drive results for your business.

What Is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is a popular type of marketing that involves creating and sharing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2020 report, 92% of B2B marketers and 86% of B2C marketers use content marketing as part of their overall marketing strategy.

What Is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership, on the other hand, can be seen as a mechanism of content marketing. Its goal is to provide industrial and domain knowledge as holistically as possible. 

Thought leadership content is built on unique and valuable insights and ideas, and can shape the conversations and direction of an industry. It is usually produced by thought leaders, a person or a brand with expertise in their field whose opinions and insights are perceived as valuable by their audience. In fact, nearly 90% of all C-level decision-makers claim that thought leadership influences their opinions of a company.

What Are the Three Key Differences between Them?

The three key differences between content marketing and thought leadership are as follows:


The goal of content marketing is fairly straightforward: to attract leads. Basically, whenever someone has a problem and is researching solutions, content marketers aim to present content assets that are both valuable and relevant to this person. For example, if you’re a CRM provider, you might create content addressing common pain points like “Can CRMs help improve my customer retention rate?” etc.

The goal of thought leadership content differs slightly: to drive industry-wide change or progress. For example, if you’re an EV (electric vehicle) manufacturer, your thought leadership content might focus on the role of EVs (not your own brand) in achieving sustainability goals. You’re trying to drive EV adoption here, not looking for customers to purchase your product (that comes later).

Target Audience

At any given moment, only 5% of your target market is actively looking for a solution. Content marketing helps you target that 5% and convince them that your product is the solution they are looking for. For example, if you’re a scaffolding software company, your target audience might be CEOs of scaffolding/construction companies who are starting their digital transformation journey.

Thought leadership content targets the remaining 95% of the market who aren’t actively looking for a solution. Instead, thought leadership content aims to convince this “silent majority” that there has been a change in the status quo and that they need to change accordingly to capitalize on this change. Continuing on the example above, a scaffolding software company may want to build awareness for the wave of (digital) change sweeping across the construction industry and how being at the forefront of that transformation provides construction leaders a competitive advantage.


Content marketers tend to publish content that is more straightforward and easily digestible, usually following the “This is a problem you have? Here’s why our product solves your problem” format. Since they’re targeting active buyers, they will usually identify hot keywords or trending topics and create SEO-optimized content accordingly.

Thought leadership content, on the other hand, typically presents original research, business decisions/strategies, and expert interviews. Since thought leadership content usually involves making a bold claim or prediction about the industry, a robust amount of research and data is needed to back those claims, which explains why they are more in-depth and resource-intensive to produce. 


Here are the main points summarized in a helpful table for you below:

Content MarketingThought Leadership
Focus and GoalsAttract and retain an audience through valuable and relevant content to drive profitable customer actionFocused on establishing oneself as an authority and influential voice in an industry
Target AudienceIn-market buyersOut-of-market buyers 
Type of ContentTypically demonstrates your company’s solutions and explains why you’re the best choice

Typically presents original research, business decisions/strategies, and expert interviews
Frequency of Content3-5 times per week

1-2 times a month

Which Is More Effective?

To recap, content marketing and thought leadership are two popular strategies that can be used to achieve specific business objectives. While their goals, focus, audience, and content genetics differ, they are equally critical to a brand’s market positioning. 

Both approaches can be effective if you tailor it to your specific needs. For example, a thought leadership content strategy might be more effective for you if you are selling expensive solutions in complex and long-lasting sales processes. 

On the contrary, a content marketing strategy might suit you more if your goal is to close as many sales as quickly as possible.

Want to get started on your thought leadership marketing journey? Check out examples of brands that use thought leadership to build authority here!

And if you’re interested in discussing your content marketing or thought leadership strategies with an expert, get in touch with us!

*Note: This post was originally written by David Ho.