Great Thought Leadership Is ...
The nice thing about learning is that different people learn differently. Some learn through instructional series because they have the patience to follow things logically and in a linear fashion.
Some learn through exploration: trial and learn. They need ideas and thought starters, but thrive on testing these things and formulating their own ideas.
Some learn through mimicking and optimization. It's OK to copy someone's idea. We do it all the time in marketing, and it's the foundation of some of the most famous campaigns ever. Not all inspiration comes from a blank slate. Some people thrive on case studies that are contextual to their business, but have a unique ability to mimic programs in a way that makes them their own.
There are those who need several forms of information to develop. They need Webinars to hear problems laid out and how someone crafted a solution to the problem. They need stats to support their left-brain thinking or justification for change. They may need to see samples to support the right-brain approach that stimulates creative thinking.
Where should thought leadership support these styles?
The Email Insider columns that get the most feedback are those that are tactical and very simply articulated. How to do this? Tips for that? Case in point: Loren McDonald's article on gender personalization was very well-crafted to engage the reader -- and obviously, there are a few who see the poor assumptions marketers make with gender personalization. Lots of comments in the blog about this, and I believe it accomplished what the author intended. Bring a very basic subject, personalize it, and lay it out into a "shared" experience that elicits feedback.
There is too much to consume in so many venues to make sense of it all, so I'll leave you with a couple of tactical ideas for structuring thought leadership, using the channels to really evolve your thinking and ideas.
Compartmentalize your reading. Think carefully about what you subscribe to and scan with a purpose. If you are the type who needs case studies, there are many. If you need stats, there are more of those. If you need strategy or challenges to your approaches, scan them all, but pull out the ones that really help you learn. Compartmentalizing doesn't mean a topical listing (e.g. deliverability), it means assign meaning to the things that help you learn and spend time absorbing those and scanning the others.
Share what you learn. Most don't learn through memorization or reading. We learn through sharing what we've learned. If you forward articles with a note saying "this is a good read" without some written opinion about it, you've wasted an opportunity to recompartmentalize the information. If you've never taken an idea and challenged it in public or with your peers, you are missing the boat.
Archive good learning. I have research reports from 1999 and good articles from 1997. Great thoughts never go out of date, and a great archive is so valuable when you are thinking "transformation."
Lastly, thought leadership isn't something you do in a vacuum. It's also not reserved for those who have the luxury of a publishing venue. In 2000, we didn't have blogs to share opinion or develop our own. Not everyone has the time or energy to do this, but if you are truly trying to evolve yourself, you need an outlet to share and expand your view and gain confidence in your ideas. The best marketers I know have developed a knack for all these things and invest heavily in themselves.