For marketers, creating great content should be a top priority. But for those who haven't found the right marketing tools or set aside the time to actually make content part of their marketing efforts, it can be kind of intimidating. A lot of content teams think the best way to get started, then, is just to dive right in and start creating content because they know they need to and they know it's important.

Now, I understand how content teams might think that half a content loaf is better than none. But without a solid strategy in place, it's nearly impossible to see the results you're after. You can end up with various pieces of content that don't exactly work together, and before you know it, you call it quits because your investment isn't paying off.

Instead, you need to outline the specific goal you want content to achieve and build a plan around it first. And one of the most common goals I see companies trying to achieve through content is thought leadership. They understand the value of a strong reputation and of being the go-to resource for the audiences in their industry, and they know content is key to achieving that.

The trick is making sure that the goal and the strategy you're using to reach it are aligned. If building thought leadership through content is a goal your marketing team is responsible for, then be sure to ask yourself these simple questions before you get started:

1. Who?

Who is your thought leader? This seems like an obvious question, but you might be surprised by the number of teams that think content should be bylined by the company itself and not by an individual within the company.

There's a belief that because content benefits the company, it should be created by the company. But here's the thing: It can only be beneficial to your company when it's effective at connecting with your audience members and earning their trust -- and a real person can earn trust in ways a company can't. That's why selecting the right person on your team to be your thought leader is so critical.

Thought leaders don't always have to be CEOs and presidents, but they should be key employees with a lot of expertise and experience to share. To start narrowing down who this person is, study your audience. Who in your company has expertise that aligns with your audience's needs? And does that person have the time to get involved in creating and sharing expert content to help meet that audience need?

2. What?

What topics and content formats will your thought leader lend his or her voice to? Once you've found the person to be the thought leader behind your strategy, you've got to identify what kinds of topics he or she will speak or write about.

Ideally, your thought leader has a lot of experience in the field and stays ahead of the curve when it comes to trends your audience wants to know about. Keep an eye out for developments that are starting to bubble up in your industry, and create content around them to capitalize on the buzz. When your thought leader can contribute to and help shape the conversations happening in your field right now, your audience will know it can trust your company for high-quality insights.

Topics aren't your only concern, though. You'll need to consider what formats your audience responds to best. Will it make more of an impact for your thought leader to appear in a video and discuss a topic, or would a written article work better? And which formats do you have the resources for? You should consider all these factors in your planning phase.

3. Where?

Lastly, consider where your content will reach the right people and generate the most engagement. While your blog and social media accounts are good places to publish content, they're not the only places. Again, think about the members of your audience. Where are they most engaged? What publications do they read and trust?

When my team surveyed publication editors for "The State of Digital Media 2018," editors told us that the No. 1 reason they publish content from outside contributors is the guest author's expertise -- the insights that only experienced leaders and thoughtful storytellers are able to share. That's what editors and audiences want, and it's why putting the thought into where your content will be published is so important.

And no matter where you publish your content, be relentless in its distribution. Leave no stone unturned when it comes to social media distribution, email marketing, paid ads, etc. so you can get your content in front of the right people.

By asking these three questions, you can ensure that your thought leadership content is effective -- not only in establishing your thought leader as an expert, but also in solidifying your entire company as a trusted resource for your audience.

Published on: Jul 29, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.