B2B thought leadership has always been important for business, whatever the year.
In the days – if you can recall them – before the internet and the media migrating online, creating thought leadership was often the bread of butter of PR professionals, both agency and in-house.
For example, it was common to commission surveys and highlight findings pertinent to issues facing B2B customers and other audiences, tapping into the wisdom of experts to generate “thought pieces” that associated a company with a particular depth of knowledge and skill in an area, etc.
Pre-internet, the B2B audience was more a passive recipient of thought leadership, delivered to them via their preferred publication; broadsheet, trade and technical or specialist programming on radio and television. Gaining credible editorial space or airtime was possible only with the scrutiny of the journalists acting as arbiters of valid comment. In those days advertorial – a.k.a. paid-for editorial – never fooled anybody that it was remotely thought leading and publications made it patently clear its presence was a commercial transaction.
Thought leadership or rubbish?
Today, the capability for the B2B buyer/decision maker to search for what they want online has led to a veritable avalanche of information available within a few clicks. It’s important to note that (despite Google’s algorithms) only some of what they’ll find is genuine thought leadership. The democracy of the internet has allowed many new voices to emerge, but many of them talking a lot of rubbish.
However, a joint study among 1,200 B2B decision makers by LinkedIn and global PR business Edelman found that thought leadership has “much more influence on decision makers than previously thought” and has a “tangible business impact” when done well.
The survey’s findings suggest that B2B businesses wanting to reach, engage, influence and persuade potential customers (and, indeed, existing customers) need to invest in high quality thought leadership content.
Some of the most arresting results of the survey are:
- Consumption of thought leadership growing: 55% use thought leadership to vet organisations; 69% to get a sense of calibre of thinking in an org.
- 47% of the C-suite share contact information after reading thought leadership; 45% invite a company to bid on a project even when they weren’t previously considered.
- Thought leadership wins business opportunities: 58% of buyers said thought leadership directly led to them awarding business to an organisation.
- Thought leadership helps command a premium: 61% of C-suite decisions makers are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organisation that has articulated a clear vision versus one that does not publish thought leadership.
- Thought leadership drives growth with existing customers: 55% increased the amount of business done with an organisation and 60% bought a new product/service not previously considered
Opportunity and risk
However, the research results also supports the hypothesis put forward earlier: there’s a lot of rubbish out there that needs sifting before you find real thought leadership.
According to the results:
- Quality thought leadership pieces are scarce – only 18% see excellent or very good pieces. 30% are mediocre to very poor. This offers a clear opportunity for real thought leadership content to stand out.
- Thought leadership has an impact on trust/reputation: while 87% of decision makers feel thought leadership builds trust and 89% think it enhances brand reputation, it can be a “double-edged sword”: almost half (46%) felt poor content “decreased their respect for an organisation” and, 29% decided against doing business with a company based on their so-called thought leadership.
From thought leadership to market leadership
Tari Haro, Executive VP – B2B Technology, Edelman, summarisest how to do thought leadership well and turn it into market leadership:
- Find opportunities where your brand can own and lead timely conversations (where there are currently no valuable insights).
She said: “Audiences want brands to inspire creativity and foster innovation…where a brand has permission to lead the conversation and align with real customer need.”
- Relevance: Put customers first – stay close to customer needs; use data to inform insights and on relevant topics/trends. Be ultimately useful when it matters to the customer. “Utility” content will educate and help solve business challenges.
- Vision: where is the industry going – define the future: inspire confidence by capturing the imagination of what’s possible today and tomorrow. 88% of decision makers believe it’s important for companies to lay out a clear, future vision.
- Build trust by being a trusted source – establish credibility by harnessing the power of executives, subject matter experts and employees to validate your brand.
- Brevity: be concise: think smart in bite-sized content that can be consumed quickly and easily on mobile devices. Guides and white papers can be broken into chapters for shorter reading, plus video/infographics.
- Attribution: measure progress – have a way to link business wins back to specific pieces of thought leadership.
So, what has been a long-standing approach for B2B PR professionals supporting B2B clients is now very much mainstream and – according to LinkedIn and Edelman’s research – validated with the end consumers themselves as a highly effective approach for marketing success.
But your aim is to be, at the very least, among the 18% of companies producing excellent thought leadership. And if the quality and credibility of your content can push you into the top 10%, even better.
Contact Metamorphic PR to help your B2B business identify and create thought leadership content