Blogs, ebooks, white papers, webinars--in the B2B marketing world, everyone wants to be a thought leader these days, judging from the volume of content that appears on a daily basis.

And, done right, developing high-quality content on your brand's behalf can really pay off: According to an Economist Group study, a third of executives consume thought leadership content daily, and eight in ten say that strong thought leadership content influences their choice of solution or business partner. But how can your company cut through the content marketing noise to become one of these key influencers?

Simple: Before you start developing content, try putting some actual thought into it.

Too many executives are using "thought leadership" as an avenue for showcasing approved corporate platitudes wrapped up as original thoughts.

That needs to change, argues Robert Rose, a widely respected leader in the content marketing industry. Rose serves as Chief Strategy Advisor at the Content Marketing Institute, and is co-host of the This Old Marketing podcast with Joe Pulizzi.

Rose believes that thought leadership requires true vision--and that there are three separate levels of content that executives must develop in order to build trust and authority, and ultimately drive new business.

I talked with Rose about his vision for what thought leadership can and should be. Read our Q&A below:

Hawkins: You've discussed on the This Old Marketing podcast that you believe there are three levels of thought leadership in content marketing. Let's walk through them, starting with the first point of entry.

Rose: Stage one is focused on industry trends. These are high-level pieces that cover the coming or present trends within an industry, or the future state that the company is trying to inspire a company to change into. The whole point is that this thought leadership drives the inspiration to change. It's supposed to intrigue, inspire and drive someone to want to know more.

OK, so you've got someone hooked--where do you take them from here?

The next stage is what I like to call the messy middle.This is where we get inside the customer's head and lay out the implications (good and bad) of the change being proposed. Its drive is to actually convince and motivate the change, or at least the decision to change.

Now your prospects understand the industry trends as a whole, and have a clear sense of the problem that you're trying to solve. In stage three, do you finally pose a solution?

Right. This is the 'how-to' of an approach that relays our point of view on the topic. It's specific, and it talks through the details of the implementation of this change. It drives a choice. It engenders trust. It differentiates our approach from others.

So what are most businesses doing wrong?

Most businesses really try to do all three [at once] in their thought leadership. It provides for a muddy water of which part the customer is really interested in.

If we can be smarter about the way that we create, and sequence our thought leadership, we can start to ascertain much more closely where the customer is in their journey--and when it might be appropriate to actually hit them with a sales message or call.

By separating them, we can get a much more interesting view into where each prospective customer is in their "change" journey. So--if I'm doing a thought leadership piece--I like to create the whole thing, then separate out into other assets the different layers.

Many businesses are worried about going too far in advancing a particular point of view, in case they might offend potential customers. Do you think there's an inherent risk in good thought leadership content?

In order to be right for someone, we have to be willing to be wrong for someone. So--if you're trying to be all things to everyone, you'll end up being nothing to anyone. What is differentiation if not having a different view on how to solve a customer's challenge?