Thought leadership is a tested concept that works. But the tactics behind this strategy have changed. So what should you know about thought leadership as it's used today? Let's look at the top thought leadership trends and how you need to respond to these trends.
What You Need to Know About Thought Leadership Strategy
Before we get into what trends could affect your thought leadership strategy, let's discuss the basics of thought leadership and why every brand should use it.
First, let's consider what is thought leadership....
Thought leaders are admired in their business community because of their expertise and passion for what they do. They selflessly share useful content with their audience, earning their audience's trust.
Michael Brenner, a thought leader in his own right, puts it this way...
It’s not pedigree. It’s not where you went to school. Thought Leadership means you provide the best and deepest answers, to your customers’ biggest questions, in the formats your audience likes to consume.
As you can see from that explanation, a primary component of thought leadership is content. Content, such as blog posts, ebooks, videos and infographics, help thought leaders to connect with their audience and extend a helping hand.
Why should brands use thought leadership?
Thought leadership has proven its value time and time again. In one study from Grist, 66% of senior level executives noted they seek thought leadership material that helps them to stay ahead of emerging trends and make better decisions.
Bottom line? Especially in the B2B industry, where purchase decisions are a complex process, thought leadership and B2B PR can help you stand out. One study from Edelman and LinkedIn even showed that many executives awarded business to organizations based on their level of thought leadership -- and executives were willing to pay a premium price for an organization's product or service.
But enough with the whats and whys. Let's get into the trends that currently impact thought leadership and personal branding, and what you need to do in response to the trends.
8 Thought Leadership Trends That You Need to Know
1. Trust in CEOs Wane
Research shows that trust in businesses and business leaders are at an all-time low. For instance, only 37% of respondents in one study ranked CEOs as extremely or very credible, with 63% giving them a thumbs down.
It's easy to understand how people must feel -- with so many stories surfacing about how brands have cut corners. It's no wonder that people look at business leaders with a skeptical eye.
Does this spell the end of thought leadership for business leaders? No. But it does provide a trajectory of what to do.
Knowing this, thought leaders earn the trust of their audience. In fact, 62% of communicators who help business leaders to develop thought leadership said that one of their biggest goals was to build trust.
How can you do this? Communicate authentically with people and always support facts and figures with real data.
Selflessness is also an important quality to bring to the table. Do things for the sake of your audience, not your brand. Provide helpful, actionable content. From such selflessness, trust will begin to grow.
2. High Quality Content Scores
Thought leadership content is crucial to your strategy. But trends show that not all content is created equal -- and when content is not on par or better than the zillions of content out there, thought leadership suffers.
Because of the quantity of content they consume regularly, business decision makers are more discerning than ever in selecting content. Thought leadership content has become so important in terms of purchase decisions that business leaders on average read around 3 pieces of content before they make a purchase decision.
Consider a study from Grist on The Value of B2B Thought Leadership, which surveyed over 200 senior level executives. When asked what turns them off about thought leadership, the top three reasons included that the content
- Was too generic (63%)
- Lacked original content or ideas (58%)
- Promoted the adviser rather than addressing my problems (53%)
How can you improve the quality of your thought leadership content? Focus on providing value to your audience with content that's genuinely helpful and answers their biggest questions. Take time to create original content that goes deeper and further than any other piece of content.
And, as we'll get into more later, don't promote your brand within your content. Your content should purely be for your audience's education.
3. B2B Decisions Are Complicated
Many businesses have several individuals involved in purchase decisions. For example, let's say your brand provides project management software geared toward large corporations. Before a brand buys your product, it might need the go-ahead of the CEO, CFO, COO, and perhaps others.
How can your strategy meet this challenge? As a thought leader, you need to be able to appeal to the concerns of each party involved in the purchase decision process. Create customer personas for each of these parties and create content that answers their key concerns.
Going back to our management software example, you might for instance address a company's CFO with content about how management software helps a company's bottom line.
4. Hard Facts Win the Day
In a recent study, when asked what convinced them to follow a thought leader, the number one answer (at 47%) among businesses was that the person was a source of hard facts.
This makes sense on many levels. In this age, everywhere you turn you'll find somebody ready to offer advice -- some of it legit and some, sadly, not. This means we put more stock in those who back up their advice with hard evidence.
Keep this in mind as you formulate your thought leadership branding strategy. When giving industry insights or advice, don't go into it with a "just trust me" mentality. Always seek to back up your thoughts and predictions whenever possible with actual facts, figures and quotes that will lend credibility to your thought leadership.
5. Your Opinion Matters
Aside from hard facts, the second biggest draw for people was thought leaders expressing their opinion -- in fact, 42% said that this was a major factor in their following a thought leader. Now you might ask: Aren't hard facts and opinions the exact opposite? While it's true that these strategies might seem diametrically opposed, both blend well into a well-rounded thought leadership strategy.
While facts and figures back up your statements with evidence, your opinion is what draws people to your content. Nobody enjoys a fact-spouting automaton. People want to feel engaged with a real, live, flesh-and-blood human -- you. Your opinions and viewpoints are what will distinguish you from other industry leaders and make you the one that people want to follow.
Don't be afraid to share your feelings with your audience about where the industry is heading and what you think is going to impact it down the line. Give your honest opinion about innovations and trends as they arise. But be ready to balance these with facts and figures as needed.
6. Competitive Advantage Needed
Every business needs a competitive advantage -- something that sets it apart from other companies in its industry. This could be a key difference between your firm and a competitor, or simply something that your business offers that others don't.
This has become even more necessary in recent years, with an influx of new companies to many industries.
As part of a well-rounded thought leadership strategy, understand what makes your brand different. Become familiar with your competitive distinction. Determine what areas you excel in and take advantage of those.
As a thought leader, it's important to carve out a specific area of expertise. More than that, select an area of expertise where a lot of experts don't exist. If you notice a specific area of your industry lacks experts and content, that might be space for you to fill.
7. Audiences Require Experience
One study reported that senior business decision makers crave case studies that show a business in action. This is not merely customer testimonials; instead, it consists of in-depth studies that show the challenges that a business faced, and how a brand was able to help.
Companies want real-world, comprehensive examples of how organizations have solved industry problems, met challenges, and stayed on top of trends. Hone in on shining customer experiences that you can use as case studies. After a particular problem has been solved and a customer is happy with the work you've done, approach the customer about participating in a case study.
This approach will undoubtedly strengthen your reputation as a thought leader in your industry.
8. Influencer Marketing Scores Big
Influencer marketing as a B2B PR strategy has shown remarkable potential. Thought leadership and personal branding are two areas where influencer marketing can do some major good.
How can influencer marketing help your thought leadership branding strategy? Influencers in your industry already have a solid footing within your audience. By working with an influencer, perhaps collaborating on a guest post, you can use their reach to get your brand and name in front of their audience.
Do your research to find out which influencers would be the best fit for your brand. For instance, ask yourself: Which influencers share your industry values and have the ear of your audience? Who follows them and how do they engage with their audience?
Once you determine which influencers vibe well with you and your brand, it's time to reach out. Follow them on social media, like and comment on their posts, possibly starting conversations. After an appropriate time has passed, you might approach them about working together.
Thought leadership and personal branding are powerful tools for your brand. Thought leadership trends can empower your brand to overcome challenges and attain bonafide thought leadership status.
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