8 Types of Thought Leadership Events to Build Your Brand

Merrative, a community-led marketplace, conducted literature-themed events consistently everyday for 3 months. We hosted author interactions, book discussions, and TED circles as a part of community experience.

The result: Merrative’s signups went from 800 to 2500+. Our event marketing efforts fetched us do-follow links for reputable news publications, shoutouts from authors whom we invited, and helped us enter the publishing industry as a new brand.

That’s the power of thought leadership event marketing, and it can be used by both B2B and B2C brands alike.

At Merrative, we used it as our go-to-market strategy. Read more to learn how you can use thought leadership events for your brand.

What is a Thought Leadership Event?

Thought leadership events focus on showcasing expertise and highlighting the experience of an individual or brand in a specific industry. You can organize these events virtually or in-person.

The aim is to showcase subject matter expertise via sharing new perspectives or contrarian insights that spark a conversation in your industry.

For example, Adobe holds an annual digital experience summit. In 2023, it featured 485 speakers and 200+ on-demand sessions. While Adobe conducted this summit, they had sponsors, where other brands could buy attention via ads and showcase booths.

In the B2C space, Groww investment app is one of the Indian Fintech startups that organized localized offline workshops to educate about stock market investing via ‘Ab India Karega Invest’ campaign

How do thought leadership events help build a brand?

Thought leadership events help shape brand perception by bringing together industry experts and learners or enthusiasts – all of which are the brand’s target audience. By positioning yourself with the industry leaders via one-to-one dialogues and event experiences, your company establishes credibility and creates brand awareness.

8 Types of Thought Leadership Events to Build Your Brand 

1. Webinars

Webinars are topic-focused, online  presentations or discussions  This is a highly scalable event format that’s usually 1-3 hours long and accessible to a worldwide audience.

For example, GoToWebinar is a webinar platform that runs a Webinar best practice series. It focuses on enabling its viewers across the target audience to organize successful webinar experiences.

2. Panel Discussions

A panel discussion involves gathering subject matter experts (usually 3-4 individuals) for a structured conversation who have the authority to provide insights on a topic. The goal of panel discussions is to help the audience explore various perspectives and opinions.

Email and More is an online panel discussion series by Airmeet. It uses their own event hosting platform to target email marketing professionals and product owners.

3. Roundtables

Roundtables are informal group discussions, where stakeholders or subject matter experts gather to share opinions and ideas. Roundtable discussions are useful for showcasing live dialogues and interactions to the audience that they can interact with by asking live questions.

Deloitte, a consulting firm, conducts regular roundtable discussions under its CFO Forum program. It publishes the session material via a downloadable PDF, while also sharing agenda and key insights from each roundtable session.

4. AMA Sessions

Ask me Anything sessions enable the audience to engage directly with a subject matter expert or brand’s leadership to ask questions. Such sessions help the brand nurture trust and create a positive impression on the audience with their answers.

Techstars, an investment network, organizes regular AMA sessions with industry leaders for its community. These sessions are conducted live, which boosts engagement. A recording is made accessible for replay which requires a sign up to generate leads.

5. Hackathons

A hackathon event is a collaborative concept where developers or creatives solve business or technology problems by finding innovative solutions within the event duration. It helps a company recruit proven talent, find product blindspots, and build a community around their brand.

Shell, an oil and gas company, collaborated with universities and online platforms for the Shell AI Hackathon. The challenge had participation levels for students, startups, and the public – all aiming to leverage AI for affordable energy solutions. This Hackathon engaged innovation hot beds like institutions, students, and startups, aligning Shell’s brand with them.

6. Industry Awards

Industry awards involve highlighting key contributors, thought leaders, products, or companies in your industry via an awards ceremony. These uplifts your company worthy to honor and enable the best minds or products of the industry – thus increasing your brand value.

Zapier, a no-code automation SaaS, conducted Marketing Operations Awards to highlight exceptional marketers and RevOps professionals. These are an important customer segment for Zapier. By engaging them, they raise awareness and recall about their software in the industry circle.

7. Networking Events or Meetups

Networking events are professional meetups aimed at gathering industry leaders, professionals, and enthusiasts to connect and learn from each other. By organizing one, you build relationships, expand the brand’s network, and sow seeds for future business opportunities.

For example, Google for Developers is a community initiative where hosts organize community meetups in their cities. With this, Google is able to nurture a developer ecosystem that uses their products and improves brand awareness.

8. Conferences

Conferences are large scale events that span across multiple event formats, consisting of lecture sessions, panel discussions, and networking areas. These are multi-day events and are often held annually.

Amazon Web Services conducts annual AWS Summits across the globe, designed to enable its AWS product ecosystem users.

How to Position Your Brand in a Thought Leadership Event Cycle

Choosing a relevant thought leadership event format

Below is a rubric designed to help you decide which thought leadership event formats you can combine as per your budget and resource bandwidth.

Tips to position your brand across thought leadership event cycle

Pre-event

  • Leverage speakers: Heavily collaborate with speakers and industry influencers for event promotions to tap into their audience.
  • Event calendar reveal: Engage previous attendees and attract new ones by running an event reveal campaign across social media.
  • Attract relevant audiences: Find ways to attract audiences to your event. For example, you can implement referral loop campaigns using the existing attendee’s network.

Live event

  • Time well spent: Make sure the session content presented truly delivers value. Don’t be salesy!
  • Use interactive content: Engage the audience with event engagement tactics, like live chats, polls, and merchandising.
  • Be a good host: Let the industry leaders and event attendees shine; focus on how to make them collaborate throughout the event.

Post event

  • Repurpose recorded content: Convert sessions into other content formats, like blog posts, email courses, on-demand videos, YouTube videos, and Instagram reels.
  • Connect: Make sure attendees can connect with speakers or your company for additional questions.
  • Feedback: Ask attendees and speakers for feedback. Analyze tracked KPIs and recommend improvements.

Versatility of Thought Leadership Events: B2B and B2C Perspectives

B2B Thought Leadership Events

1. Webinars as Business Catalysts

In B2B, webinars stand out as a scalable and efficient event format. These topic-focused online presentations allow industry experts to share insights, trends, and best practices, fostering knowledge exchange among professionals. Companies have perfected the art of using webinars to enable their target audience to organize successful experiences, establishing themselves as thought leaders in the process.

2. Panel Discussions for In-Depth Industry Exploration

B2B thought leadership often involves intricate discussions among subject matter experts. Panel discussions provide a structured platform for experts to share perspectives on specific topics, offering valuable insights that resonate with professionals in the field.

3. Roundtables: Elevating Strategic Conversations

Consulting firms in the B2B space leverage roundtable discussions under specialized programs. These informal group gatherings allow stakeholders and experts to engage in live dialogues, sharing opinions and ideas.

4. Industry Awards to Recognize Excellence in B2B

B2B brands can elevate their status by organizing industry awards that honor key contributors, products, or companies. Engage a crucial customer segment and boost brand awareness within the industry circle.

B2C Thought Leadership Events

1. Localized Workshops for Consumer Education

In the B2C space, brands have successfully organized localized offline workshops. You want a direct and personal connection to get to know every attendee.

2. Ask Me Anything Sessions for Consumer Trust

B2C brands can build trust through Ask Me Anything sessions, allowing the audience to engage directly with subject matter experts or brand leadership. Create a platform for transparent and authentic communication.

3. Networking Events and Meetups

Professional networking events and meetups play a crucial role in connecting B2C brands with their audience. It fosters a developer ecosystem by organizing community meetups, nurturing relationships and improving brand awareness.

4. Conferences for Consumer Engagement

Large-scale conferences are not exclusive to B2B brands. Create an immersive experience for consumers to learn and interact with your product.

About the Author

Harshala Chavan is a maker and writer in the no-code, process automation, and publishing industry. She helps brands publish thought leadership via data storytelling, narratives, and webinars via the publishing talent marketplace–Merrative.com. She enjoys using no-code tools to make digital products, writes on topics that interest her, and travels avidly. Check out her projects and connect with her on LinkedIn.