If you’ve logged into LinkedIn recently, perhaps you’re wondering why every other person in your newsfeed is a self-proclaimed “strategic thought leader” or “guru,” overwhelming your feed with so-called thought leadership content?
Snarky answers aside, it’s part of what LinkedIn & Edelman’s 2021 Thought Leadership Study defines as a “pandemic-induced glut of low-quality thought leadership.” In an effort to connect with prospects, businesses have been scrambling to up their thought leadership game. And who can blame them? The same study revealed that nearly half of decision makers would choose a business with strong thought leadership over one without.
But clearly, current attempts to become thought leaders are failing. The study found 71% of decision-makers feel that less than half the thought leadership content they consume gives them valuable insights.
The best thought leadership content is original, thought-provoking, and deeply valuable to the reader. This is the type of content that businesses should be striving for. Unless your thought leadership content is perceived well by your audience, you’re unlikely to reap the rewards that thought leadership has to offer.
So, where do you begin? First, you’ll want to find out what defines thought leadership, what constitutes good thought leadership, and the reasons why B2B companies are so keen to use thought leadership for marketing.
What Is B2B Thought Leadership?
Thought leadership is authentic, original content written by an author who seeks to share their expertise and experience with their audience. This can be written by the “thought leader” themselves (i.e., by a business or technology leader), ghostwritten on their behalf (i.e., by a content writer), or a blend of the two. For many, a longform blog post comes to mind when hearing thought leadership, but multiple formats work—whitepapers, eBooks, videos, and webinars to name a few.
How Is Thought Leadership Different Than Content Marketing?
The terms are often used interchangeably but thought leadership and content marketing aren’t one and the same. Thought leadership is a form of content marketing, but not all content marketing is thought leadership. Content marketing is generally focused on promoting your brand and selling your products, whereas thought leadership is selling your ideas and insights. Arguably, the best thought leadership doesn’t focus heavily on marketing KPIs, but on the simple desire to share wisdom and impart knowledge.
What Constitutes ‘Good’ Thought Leadership Content?
We’ve identified that most of the thought leadership currently available is failing to impress B2B decision makers. To identify ‘good’ thought leadership, it’s helpful to first review the reasons why people consume thought leadership in the first place. LinkedIn & Edelman’s study uncovered such core reasons as:
- Keeping up-to-date with the latest thinking in their field/sector
- Stimulating thinking and helping to generate new ideas
- Gaining insight into future trends poised to impact their business
- Understanding key trends currently affecting their business
- Discovering new products and offerings
For prospects to take value from your thought leadership, it’s necessary to ensure you’re delivering on one or more of the points above. Use them as the foundation of each thought leadership piece you create. Then, to develop your own unique take on the subject, try and include a blend of the following:
- An author with real-world experience of the subject matter
- Authentic, original thinking
- Genuinely valuable insights
- Opinions that are contrary to common thought or offer a hint of controversy
- Ideas that provoke conversation
- Real-world examples and experiences
Given the sheer number of thought leadership pieces out there, it’s important to produce the best pieces you can to enjoy all the benefits that thought leadership has to offer. Using the points above as a checklist can help to identify whether a proposed piece genuinely classes as thought leadership, and whether it’s likely to impress your target audience.
Why Do Companies Use Thought Leadership in Marketing?
So, why exactly are so many companies and individuals keen to jump on the thought leadership bandwagon? Well, the benefits speak for themselves, and extend far beyond the fact that decision-makers are more likely to buy from you if they admire your thought leadership content. Those benefits include:
Whether you’re marketing to other business or direct to consumers, people are more likely to buy from brands they trust. They’re also more likely to reject ones they don’t—54% of people would stop purchasing from a brand they lose trust in. Thought leadership helps to build and maintain this trust, especially with prospects at the early stage of their buyer’s journey who are conducting research into potential vendors. If prospects at the top of the funnel consume thought leadership content that evokes a sense of trust, they’re more likely to progress through the funnel and be more receptive if they get so far as talking to a sales rep. With various global events contributing to declining consumer confidence, building a customer’s faith in your brand has arguably never been more important to prevent a sales downturn.
Generating Quality Leads
Lead generation shouldn’t necessarily be the goal of all of the content you publish, but it is certainly a welcome byproduct—nearly half of thought leadership content generates sales and leads. Your content should always be written with your target audience in mind, speaking directly to their needs, concerns, and interests. Do this, and your content is more likely to attract prospects that fit your buyer persona and ICP. Essentially, you get out what you put in, and if your content is compelling enough, it’s likely to attract quality leads. Instead of “garbage in, garbage out,” think “quality out, quality in.” If you want to exercise some control over the leads you generate, opt to distribute your thought leadership content via a paid distribution strategy, for example by using LinkedIn advertising. You can also enlist the help of a content syndication vendor who will help to ensure your content is served to prospects genuinely interested in what you have to say. (FYI: DemandScience can help with that!)
Cutting Through Noise
QR codes weren’t the only marketing tool to explode during the pandemic—thought leadership did too. But we’ve already gathered that in this instance, quantity hasn’t equated to quality, with those consuming the content mostly unimpressed with what they’ve seen. Therefore, producing genuinely excellent thought leadership can help you stand out in this over-saturated market. Given your competitors are vying for the attention of the same target market, it’s natural for there to be some overlap in the topics you’re discussing. If this is the case, strive for a unique angle or viewpoint on the matter, rather than regurgitating what’s already been said. If you don’t feel like you’re saying anything new, it’s better not to say anything at all. Equally, don’t overthink what “unique” means—simply providing the best, most thorough response to a common question in your industry may be all the differentiation you need to stand out.
Authoritative content isn’t only good for generating trust, but also for expressing empathy. It’s an opportunity to show your prospects that you understand their problems and the complexity of the challenges they’re facing. In turn, you can reassure them that you’re the perfect vendor to help solve them. If you’re unsure which issues you should be addressing, social listening can help to uncover the trending topics within your niche. Demonstrating authentic empathy requires an extremely clear idea of your target audience for every piece of thought leadership content you create. This isn’t the time to try and hit a broad audience, or your content will miss the mark.
Driving Traffic & Engagement
Distributed wisely, thought leadership can boost your website traffic. As a content format, it’s perfect for distribution beyond your owned channels, as it’s usually relevant for people beyond just those interested in your company and products. Guest posting is an example of this. Find publications that are relevant to your niche and accept guest posts. Medium.com is an example of this, Forbes is another, plus the internet is full of great tips to find guest posting sites relevant to your industry. No matter where you choose to post your content, whether on owned or other channels, ensure you keep an eye on the comments you receive. Reply to as many as you can to keep engagement high on the post—this two-way conversation reinforces your position as a thought leader.
Content that shows off your subject matter expertise isn’t only attractive to your prospective customers, but your prospective employees too. By positioning yourself as an innovative, forward-thinking company, you raise your chances of attracting top talent. Given the Great Resignation shows no sign of slowing down, a strong recruitment program is vital to retain and hire star employees. Including musings on company culture in your thought leadership strategy gives potential employees direct insight into what it’s like to work at your company and is an opportunity for them to pre-qualify whether they would truly enjoy working with you. This has potential to lessen churn, as new hires that have engaged with your thought leadership will already have a good understanding of your culture. To facilitate this, consider ‘day in the life’ content and insights from your HR and culture team into the latest news and events happening within your company.
Given the benefits listed above, it’s clear to see why so many B2B teams are amping up their use of thought leadership content in their marketing strategy. But as we’ve established, it’s only possible to enjoy these benefits if the thought leadership you create is high quality and covers the topics and challenges your target audience are interested in.
Deliver Your Content Straight to Your Perfect Prospects
You might have the best thought leadership in your industry, but without a distribution plan it’s not guaranteed that your ideal prospects will even see it. DemandScience offers a content syndication program that ensures your content ends up in front of the eyes it was designed for. For more details, get in touch today.
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