The Best Way to Measure Thought Leadership

thought leadership

By Eric Wittlake, {grow} Contributing Columnist

The more we use a word, the more we destroy its meaning.

Thought leadership? Sure! We’ll just start publishing the barely regurgitated points of view previously shared by others that actually took the time to think about them. Piece of cake.

Sadly, this seems to be what thought leadership means to many marketers today. And its purpose? Thought leadership, of course. We’ve used the term so much that we’ve forgotten the real business reasons why we cared in the first place.

Why Thought Leadership Matters

A sweet spot for a professional services organization is to be recognized as grounded in today’s market reality, able to deliver excellence at scale and having a clear and compelling vision not just of what we should do in the future, but what the capabilities of the future will make possible.

That is a company I want to hire, or maybe even work for. And if I don’t see you as a thought leader, the second half of that statement will never apply to you. Sorry.

Measuring Thought Leadership

Measuring an investment you make in thought leadership is extremely difficult. Many B2B marketers (the market I usually work in) end up measuring thought leadership programs on leads or content consumption.

Sadly, the result often becomes a program built around heavy content, often licensed from another company (umm, that doesn’t make me care about YOUR vision) and hiding behind a form that dramatically limits distribution. Alternatively, we create clickbait headlines that drive page views to increasingly forgettable content. This isn’t working.

To change it, we need to change what we are measuring. We need to understand what will happen when we are successful and we need to build our measurement around those outcomes.

So what will happen?

  • Your business will grow. It is the ultimate outcome, but it is impacted by far too many things to be the metric for one program or initiative.
  • More people will come to you, looking to hire you (or looking to work for you). This is closer, but it is still too broad.
  • People will want your perspective about changes in the market.

More specifically, when you or your organization are seen as a thought leader, the media will want your perspective on what is happening in the market. This is what you need to measure. How many quotes and references are you getting each quarter? Is it consistently increasing? Are quotes in those coveted top tier outlets increasing?

Count them. Track them. Yes, this is a high bar, but it will tell you if you really are being recognized for your leadership and perspective. And that’s what you said you wanted, right?

A Big Bonus

One of the challenges with common thought leadership measurements is they create the wrong behavior. If measuring press quotes leads you to ramp up your PR efforts, that’s a good thing! Those references help to establish recognition of your leadership as well. So if, as the saying goes, we manage what we measure, measuring your efforts on those media quotes will keep you on the right path.

I’d love to hear how you measure your thought leadership efforts in the comments!

Eric WittlakeEric Wittlake spends his days working with B2B marketers and (occasionally) shares his marketing views on his personal blog, B2B Digital Marketing. You can find him on Twitter (@wittlake) when he isn’t working with B2B marketers.


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  • Adrijus Guscia

    Very true.. would another good sign be having enough opposition to your POV?

    As an example, you post about content overload yet many marketers still somehow disagree with it. That make you stand out and a bit controversial. Which is often, sign a thought leader to me..

  • Dara Schulenberg

    Great topic Eric. I don’t think there is a ‘perfect’ metric for thought-leadership today. Rather, a collection of metrics that directionally show improvement (hopefully) with investment are the imperfect solution.

    As you said, focusing on why thought-leadership is desirable for the business – which is different for most organization or departments – will help you select KPIs.

    I would pose the term thought-leadership is grossly misunderstood and is not often truly what the business ‘wants’. As you point out, in B2B the measure of success is often lead gen based which you could argue is not a genuine desire to shift industry perspectives or create a new market segment.

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  • Yes, opposition can be a good sign, if you have no opposition chances are you either aren’t saying anything new or no one is paying any attention to you.

    That said, sometimes the opposition is wise and indicates you are going down the wrong path. For instance, I see this with startup leaders who are trying to create a problem that doesn’t exist in support of a solution that isn’t needed (theirs).

  • Thanks Dara! First, I agree whole-heartedly that thought leadership isn’t actually what many businesses should or do care about. As a term in marketing, it has been so overused that it has lost almost all of the meaning it once had.

    On the one hand, I agree that we need more than one measurement, as our measurement really is a proxy, and an imperfect one at that. However, I hope marketers are careful what they put into that metric collection, because so many of the goals (i.e. lead gen) that are often included don’t fit.

    I’ll stand by my recommendation for people wanting your perspective on changes in the market because it puts space between what thought leadership should be and what it has become watered down to be, IMO. And I’ll add, if that metric doesn’t feel like it fits in the mix, I’d question if thought leadership is really an objective an organization cares about. I’d rather see someone reframe their objective and give themselves more focus on awareness, lead generation, retention, or whatever else they care about rather than execute under a heading of “though leadership” while actually trying to accomplish something different.

    Thanks (as always) for taking the time to comment!

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