Harnessing the power of thought leadership to break through the marketing noise for B2B businesses
In a crowded market space, commanding the brand conversation requires a breakthrough strategy that will ensure that your voice is heard above the marketing noise. A powerful tool that isn’t just another piece of marketing jargon, but will help to position your company as a leader in its field.
With 83% of buyers believing that ‘thought leadership’ had increased their trust in an organisation, 88% saying that they use thought leadership to build a shortlist of potential vendors and 47% of c-suite execs saying thought leadership content had a direct impact on awarding business (*research by Edelman and LinkedIn), thought leadership could well be your breakthrough strategy and an important part of your content marketing strategy. Particularly as only 50% of B2B marketers said that they take advantage of it!
So what exactly is thought leadership?
Thought leadership has been defined by many but perhaps the best definition came from Elsie Bauer (of Apple fame and blogger of Symantec):
“Thought Leadership is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates”
To be a thought leader in your industry is to share your business knowledge and the unique ways that you/your company thinks, proving that you are an authority on a specific topic/sector. It is about having your own perspective and new ways of thinking that will have a significant impact on (maybe even revolutionise) business models, consumers, employees and the marketplace, and will place you ‘top of mind’ within your sector. Thought leadership is also about understanding the breadth of the environment whilst having a recognised and valued forward-looking perspective that is communicated and validated to your audience.
How can thought leadership help your business to achieve its key objectives?
The key benefit of thought leadership is that it increases the individual’s profile and, by default, their company’s. It can help achieve key business objectives by:
- Enabling you to be the real voice of your customer
Thought leadership builds brand affinity and the simple truth is that people buy from people and companies that they trust. By becoming part of the conversation early on in the buying journey of your target audience you allow them to get to know you, and prove that you are trustworthy enough to provide an outstanding product or service.
Building trust with potential customers will be more easily engendered by replacing blatant promotional messages with strong, authentic and authoritative thought leadership content that speaks in their language. Content that acts as their voice by providing them with help, guidance, and support. Understanding key customer talking points and building a disruptive conversation around them will begin the process of building a social business – platforming real people with real personalities and views, interacting with real customers and buyers.
- Enabling you to build and own a market, not just be part of a campaign
In a crowded marketplace, it is vital that your B2B business stands out and that its voice is heard above the marketing noise. Differentiation is the key to ensuring that you are a leader and not a follower. Staying one step ahead of the competition will enable you to retain existing customers and grow your market share. Failure to do so will inevitably see your customers head to your competitors – it is very hard for a business to recover once customer retention rates begin to dwindle. This is where thought leadership excels. It will help you to find and provide that point of differentiation that will make your business stand out from the crowd and keep you ahead of the race.
Within the B2B space particularly it pays to be perceived as an ‘authority’ in your sector i.e. to own your market. As a buyer, if you were choosing between potential suppliers and one company regularly published thought leadership content that was well researched with innovative technical ideas and the latest data, this activity would make them stand out from their competitors. The level of authority and demonstration of competence that such content suggests would make you far more likely to work with them. It creates a lasting image of expertise and knowledge. In many B2B sectors, it takes time to become regarded as a brand authority. However, the right thought leadership strategies will cut through the red tape and quickly and effectively position your company as being the ‘go to’ brand within your sector.
- Enabling you to be a “champion” of customer engagement
Thought leadership is a very powerful tool in creating a culture of customer engagement. It has the ability to make B2B buyers feel like they are part of the ‘company conversation’ which engenders positive engagement. This is largely due to the fact that the ideal B2B buyer is generally always hungry for new ideas, information on the latest trends, and investigating new ways of doing things to enable them to stay ahead. By discussing sector relevant trends, issues and solutions which are personal to their interests; thought leadership content acknowledges and feeds their needs which creates positive engagement. During a time when disruptive marketing is taking the world by storm, thought leadership sits right up there providing an excellent way for you to communicate with your target audience so putting your business at the forefront of their mind.
Identifying your potential thought leaders
Thought leaders are most generally experts on a particular subject or passionate advocates for that subject (or even both). A thought leader doesn’t necessarily have to be a CEO or senior manager to be credible but does have to have a passion for his/her chosen subject and a commitment to undertaking the work required by a thought leadership strategy. Once you have identified what your company wants to be known for (aligned to your business strategies and key objectives) you will then be able to identify the most appropriate people to become thought leaders. The next step is to create a thought leadership strategy to capture and develop their thoughts to be communicated to your target audience/market.
How to create a thought leadership strategy that drives real value
When adopting thought leadership as a strategy for business growth and innovation providing regular high-quality content is the key to driving real value. Consistently delivering valuable content to your target audience will not only encourage them to become customers but to also become brand champions by sharing your content socially so ensuring that it is read by key prospects. The research by Edelman and LinkedIn showed that over half of buyers were willing to share their contact information in exchange for content of interest, and that 42% of c-suite execs reported that they had reached out to content providers to follow-up if they were impressed with their thought leadership content.
However, poor quality content can have the adverse effect – 49% stated that their opinion of a company had decreased after reading poor quality content, and a third had removed a company from consideration based on their thought leadership output. So it is important to remember that publishing content for content’s sake is never a good strategy as it could lead to the publishing of low-quality content.
What type of thought leadership content do B2B readers actually look for and engage with?
The Edelman and LinkedIn survey showed that on average one to three hours per week are spent reviewing thought leadership content. The top three reasons why users engage with content weren’t surprising:
(i) Readers are interested in content that relates to a topic that they are currently working on.
(ii) The content is short and therefore easily absorbed.
(iii) Readers look for thought leadership content that they perceive to have new or original ideas. This includes comment upon new trends and issues, analysis, key facts and supporting statistics that can be used in their work.
Of course, thought leadership topics will vary from industry to industry. However, regardless of the subject, the content pieces that work best are those where the author gets to the point quickly, where something is created that is valuable, which makes ‘music’ rather than just noise.
With the increase in online content, audiences are becoming increasingly choosy over the content that they wish to consume. It would, therefore, be naive to assume that a thought leadership piece should always be a word blog post. Much like any marketing campaign where it pays to know your audience, the format of your content should always be determined by who you are targeting, their preferred format, daily routine, analytics etc. Dependant upon the preferences of your target audiences there are various formats that you can use for your thought leadership campaign, including:
- Research Whitepapers
- E Guides
- Blog posts
- Online pages
Successful thought leadership campaigns have the potential to form the basis of the best content marketing campaign you will ever run, creating a loyal following for your company and its products/services. However, it must always be remembered that to create a successful thought leadership campaign the content must be of value to your target audience. Powerful, thought leadership content will make your company look like an innovative disruptor and will work to differentiate you from the competition winning the hearts and minds of your customers and prospects.
*Edelman and LinkedIn: