(If you've decided to add thought leadership marketing in 2022, or if you need to improve your thought leadership program next year, the time to start planning is now. This post describes three steps B2B marketers can take to elevate their thought leadership efforts in 2022.)
It's now abundantly clear that compelling thought leadership content is a vital component of effective marketing for many B2B companies. Numerous studies conducted over the past several years have shown that business buyers are relying more and more on thought leadership content and that it has a substantial impact on purchase decisions.
The latest significant research on this topic is the 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study by Edelman and LinkedIn, which was released last month. This study involved a survey of 3,593 global business executives across a wide range of industries and company sizes. The survey was conducted in June and July of this year and included respondents from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia and India.
The new Edelman/LinkedIn study confirms the importance and value of compelling thought leadership content. For example:
- Fifty-four percent of Decision Makers* and 48% of C-level survey respondents said they spend more than one hour per week reading and reviewing thought leadership content.
- Sixty-three percent of the survey respondents said thought leadership is important in providing proof that a company understands or can solve their business challenges.
- Sixty-five percent of the respondents said they had significantly changed their perception of a company for the better because of a piece of thought leadership content.
It's also clear, however, that many companies need to improve the quality of their thought leadership content. In the Edelman/LinkedIn survey, only 15% of Decision Makers* rated the quality of the thought leadership content they consume as very good or excellent, while 30% rated the quality as mediocre, poor or very poor.
Producing thought leadership content that will earn and keep the attention of potential buyers is not easy. Marketing with thought leadership content has many of the same requirements as other forms of marketing. Marketers need to understand who their target market is and what their company's value propositions are. And just like all other forms of marketing, thought leadership marketing efforts should the aligned with the company's overall strategic objectives and plans.
But thought leadership marketing also has some important characteristics that set it apart from other types of marketing. Here are three steps that B2B marketers should take as they develop their thought leadership plans for 2022.
Set High Standards for Thought Leadership Content
The explosive proliferation of content over the past several years has made it more difficult for marketers to create content that will cut through the noise and earn the attention of potential buyers. Thought leadership content can do just that, but only if it constitutes "real" thought leadership.
Several studies have identified the characteristics that make thought leadership content persuasive. While the exact descriptions used in these studies vary somewhat, the research findings consistently show that three attributes define real thought leadership and distinguish it from other types of marketing content.
Relevant - Real thought leadership content addresses topics and provides insights that are highly relevant for the target audience. Of course, all marketing content should be relevant for its audience. What sets real thought leadership apart is that it addresses topics that can have a major impact on the business or professional success of the target audience.
Novel - Real thought leadership content provides information and insights that are genuinely novel. Merriam-Webster defines novel as "new and not resembling something formerly known or used." So to qualify as real thought leadership, a content resource must provide information or insight that adds something new to the body of knowledge about a topic. In other words, real thought leadership provides the audience information they cannot find elsewhere.
Authoritative - It's important for all types of marketing content to be credible, but thought leadership content must meet a higher standard. Because thought leadership content introduces new and novel ideas, it's essential for content developers to support those ideas with sound and persuasive evidence.
Most B2B marketers have demanding jobs, and the never-ending pressure to "feed the content beast" can make it tempting to take shortcuts when developing thought leadership content. But it's vital that marketers not make compromises regarding these three standards.
Set Realistic Expectations
Producing relevant, novel and authoritative thought leadership content almost always requires a significant amount of original research. Original research actually plays two essential roles in the effectiveness of thought leadership content. First, it is required to uncover the new information and develop the new insights that make thought leadership content novel. And second, original research provides the evidence that makes thought leadership content authoritative.
Original research takes time, and that's especially true when it consists of primary research such as surveys, focus groups or interviews. Therefore, marketers need to set realistic goals for the amount of thought leadership content they can produce during any given period of time.
Map the "Knowledge Landscape"
Once marketers have identified a list of potential topics for thought leadership content, it's important to conduct sufficient research to determine where the "white space," if any, exists regarding those topics.
Marketers can't determine what topics are appropriate for thought leadership content until they know what subjects have already been addressed. To develop thought leadership content that is truly novel, marketers will usually want to avoid topics that have already been covered.
There are, however, three notable exceptions to this general rule.
- First, a broad topic may have been already 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 potential customers.
- Second, if a topic has not been addressed for a considerable period 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 treatments are flawed or incomplete, that can be an appropriate subject for thought leadership content.
*The Edelman/LinkedIn study defined Decision Makers as company executives ". . . who consume thought leadership and are involved in recommending and/or making final decisions on their company's choice of professional service providers or products."
Image courtesy of Erdonzello via Flickr (Public Domain).