Three Critical Steps for Thought Leadership Success

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It’s now abundantly clear that compelling thought leadership content has become a vital component of effective marketing for most B2B companies. Numerous research studies have demonstrated that business buyers are relying on thought leadership content and that it has a significant impact on purchase decisions.

The 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study by Edelman Business Marketing and LinkedIn provides more convincing evidence that good thought leadership content has become essential for successful B2B marketing. This research involved a survey of 3,275 global business executives across a wide range of industries and company sizes.

The survey was fielded in September – October of last year, and respondents were drawn from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, India, and Singapore. Nearly 1,200 of the respondents were located in the United States.

The Edelman/LinkedIn study clearly shows the importance and value of compelling thought leadership content. For example:

  • Nearly half of the survey respondents (48%) said they spend at least one hour per week consuming thought leadership content, and 17% reported spending four hours or more per week.
  • 69% agreed that consuming thought leadership content is one of the best ways to get a sense of the caliber of an organization’s thinking.
  • 48% said that thought leadership content had led them to award business to a company.
It’s also clear, however, that thought leadership can be a double-edged sword. In the Edelman/LinkedIn survey, only 17% of the respondents rated the quality of the thought leadership content they consume as very good or excellent, while 28% rated the quality as mediocre or very poor. One in four of the respondents (25%) said that consuming a company’s thought leadership content had directly led them not to award business to the company.
What Makes Thought Leadership Content Effective
Several research studies have identified the attributes that make thought leadership content persuasive. While the exact descriptions used in these studies vary somewhat, the research findings demonstrate that three attributes are critical.
  1. It must address a topic and provide information that is relevant and important to the target audience.
  2. It must provide information that is novel (not previously available).
  3. It must be authoritative (supported by credible evidence).
Laying the Foundation for Thought Leadership Success
Producing thought leadership content that will earn and keep the attention and respect of your target audiences is not an easy task, but there are three preliminary steps you can take to lay a sound foundation for your thought leadership effort.
Step 1:  Set high standards for your thought leadership content. Remember that thought leadership content must address subjects that are relevant and important to your target audience, it must provide novel information or insight, and it must be authoritative. Don’t make compromises regarding these standards.
Step 2:  Be realistic about the volume of thought leadership content you can produce. Effective thought leadership content almost always requires original research, and original research takes time. Therefore, you need to set realistic goals for the amount of thought leadership content you will produce during any given period of time.
Step 3:  Before you start, conduct sufficient research to get a clear understanding of the “knowledge landscape” that’s relevant for your business, and keep that understanding up to date. You can’t identify topics that will be appropriate for thought leadership content until you know what subjects have already been addressed. To develop thought leadership content that is novel, you will usually want to avoid topics that have already been discussed. However, there are three notable exceptions to this general rule.
  • First, a broad topic may have been previously discussed, but specific aspects of the topic may not have been thoroughly covered. These particular aspects can be good subjects for thought leadership content if they are relevant and important to your customers and/or prospects.
  • Second, if a topic has not been addressed for a significant amount of time, it can be appropriate to take a fresh look at that topic.
  • And third, if a topic has already been addressed but the existing treatment is flawed or incomplete, that can be an appropriate subject for thought leadership content.
Obviously, these three steps are not all that’s needed for a successful thought leadership program. You will also need to conduct any required original research, produce the thought leadership content resources, and implement activities to distribute and promote those resources. But these three preliminary steps will provide a solid foundation for an effective thought leadership effort.
Illustration courtesy of Abhijit Bhadurl via Flickr CC.

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