Achieving genuine thought leadership in an industry is among those ambitions for B2B businesses and marketers that is both highly desirable, yet frustratingly elusive.
It has always been desirable – certainly in the quarter century I’ve been working in B2B public relations and content creation – as a way of establishing trust and authority in your company, product or area of expertise. And it was, arguably, even more valuable in the era before self-publishing, when journalists and their editors were the judge, jury and sometimes executioners of your thought leadership aspirations.
But what makes it so desirable?
The latest LinkedIn-Edelman B2B thought leadership impact report suggests that “high quality thought leadership will be more important than ever for organizations seeking to break through with decision makers” because it is “one of the most effective tools an organization can use to demonstrate its value to customers during a tough economy – even more so than traditional advertising or product marketing”.
A recent webinar from FT Longitude, hosted by Gareth Lofthouse and Meg Wright, listed four key reasons to invest in the approach:
1. To reposition your brand
Citing the example of the big four consultancies, providing “powerful insights and research” on the topic of digital transformation has led these traditionally tax and audit-focused businesses to grab market share.
2. To raise awareness
91% of CEOs use thought leadership to build their own watchlist of companies to talk to, based on the ability of those companies to “own” particular topics.
3. To start commercial conversations
83% of business leaders say they’re likely to request a meeting with a company that creates interesting thought leadership, using content as a “hook to drive leads”.
4. To build long-term relationships
92% of business leaders agree that high quality TL has influenced their decision to award business to a company.
FT Longitude’s own research finds that executives spend five hours per week consuming intelligent content. However, to make an impact with this discerning audience, your content has an estimated 30 seconds. That means high quality is paramount.
And yet, the LinkedIn-Edelman report highlights that while almost half (48%) of senior decision makers according to the report expect thought leadership material to identify “new opportunities or industry trends”, only 29% of C-suite leaders rate their own organisation’s content as very good/excellent.
Today, with the power to publish at the (Word)press of a button, anyone can claim to be a thought leader. But it’s a crowded market and the ability to publish your thoughts doesn’t automatically make them “leading”.
So, what separates the wheat from the chaff in thought leadership? FT Longitude summarises six ways to create high-impact thought leadership:
1. Plan the strategy
- What is the commercial rationale for your content?
- Who is your audience?
- What is the best topic for them?
- What is your activation plan when the content is completed?
- How will you phase your campaign?
2. Find a distinctive angle
- What’s new?
- What is the “so what?” factor?
- Create a sense of urgency.
3. Back up insight with evidence
- Commission original research
- Create intelligent surveys
- Conduct journalistic interviews
- Select other data sources
4. Add to the conversation
- Show your understanding of the market rather than just “pushing product”
- Make it conversational
- Use it to engage the wider world.
5. Inspire the audience to act
- What do you want them to think, feel and do?
6. Be creative
- Make it eye-catching
- Be human
- Think multi-channel.
What does thought leadership look like in practice?
Our thought leadership activity with B2B companies includes:
Appleyard Lees: helping an IP and patent attorney firm to maximise the value of an annual research report and demonstrate thought leadership via relevant trade media about the latest environmental innovation across various industry sectors.
Broad Oak Security: enabling a managed security service provider to demonstrate its expertise in helping companies navigate cyber maturity, via a thought leadership report and specially-commissioned graphic imagery.
What isn’t thought leadership?
Many organisations’ marketers, communicators and content creators will have been trying to make sense out of what generative AI – for example, ChatGPT – offers in terms of accelerating and simplifying the content creation process (among other things).
But does the capability of generative AI equate to thought leadership?
By design, these new tools are taking information that’s already out there on the internet, curating and repackaging it. While this may be faster than anything a human can do, it doesn’t necessarily make it smarter. The amalgam of material the AI gathers may have been someone else’s thought leadership; but copying and reproducing it at speed doesn’t equal originality or even quality.
As Gareth Lofthouse of FT Longitude commented: “There’s a massive trust issue with the information it (ChatGPT) is generating.”
And this, he believes, is creating a “flight to quality on content” as “the more AI churns out, the less interesting it will be to people”. I agree with his notion that original thought leadership – something that genuinely stands out from the crowd and is valuable to the reader, listener or viewer – needs original insights rather than AI mimicry.
Need help developing thought leadership for you and your company? Contact Metamorphic PR.