Thought Leadership Strategy: How to Crush It in B2B Marketing

Posted by Wendy Marx

Thought Leadership Strategy: How to Crush It in B2B Marketing

Thought leadership strategy is like climbing a mountain. There are no shortcuts. It takes a lot of time and effort to work your way to the top, but once you're, what a view! You'll also have the advantage of towering over your competitors. 

But how can you know whether thought leadership is worth the time and effort involved?

A recent study from Edelman and LinkedIn may help you to see why so many B2B brands are using thought leadership to shore up their strategy. These two brands have joined forces to create the 2019 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study. This study reveals:

  • The power that thought leadership wields over both marketing and sales.
  • How senior decision makers view thought leadership.
  • How people interact with thought leadership content.
  • What kind of thought leadership matters to B2B audiences. 

What Does Thought Leadership Mean?

People use the term thought leadership to mean a few different things, so let's first clarify the thought leadership definition this study uses. According to the study, thought leadership refers to "free deliverables that organizations or individuals produce on a topic in their area of expertise, when they feel others can benefit from their expertise."

Note, however, that in terms of this study, thought leadership marketing does not include self-promotional content, which only serves the purpose of describing an organization or its products or services. 

According to the study, many businesses do not see the true value of thought leadership marketing.

This means that even if they do have a strategy in place to grow thought leadership, they may not put in the time and effort needed for this strategy to bear fruit.

So why should you dedicate your resources to a thought leadership marketing strategy?


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The Thought Leadership Divide

Thought LeadershipThe study uncovered a large disconnect between how buyers and sellers view thought leadership. While 87% of business decision makers say thought leadership increases an organization's trust factor, only 49% of sellers agreed. Similarly, 89% of buyers say thought leadership enhances a brand's reputation while only 55% of sellers concur. 

The disconnect extended throughout all parts of the sales process -- from awareness to consideration to purchase to cross sell.

"B2B buyers say thought leadership has more influence on their purchase behaviors across every stage of the buying process than marketers and sellers believe. This means that many marketers are likely engaged in activity that is underutilized or worse, actually detrimental to sales efforts. Companies need to scrutinize and better align internally around the "why and how" of their own thought leadership to fully harness its potential and ensure that, at minimum, it's not harming their reputation and sales."

-- Joe Kingsbury, U.S. Managing Director, B2B at Edelman

Why Thought Leadership Marketing Is Vital to Your B2B Strategy

For years we've promoted thought leadership as an important and necessary strategy for B2B brands -- but this study shows just how important it is.

58% of business decision makers said that thought leadership material was directly responsible for their awarding business to one organization over another. And 61% of C-suite executives were willing to pay a higher premium to do business with established thought leaders over their non-thought leader competitors.

Edelman LinkedIn 2019 Study

Another 45% of decision makers, upon reading thought leadership material, invited organizations to bid on a project even though they were previously not considering the brand.

These numbers speak to the power of thought leadership campaigns -- not only as a reputation builder, but also as a way to grow your bottom line. 

How can you improve your brand's thought leadership strategy?  What do B2B businesses want to see in thought leaders? Let's look at this Edelman-LinkedIn report in more detail and see what specific tactics you can use to boost your own thought leadership.

10 Ways to Strengthen Your Thought Leadership Strategy

1. Create High Quality Content

The biggest factor that can impact your thought leadership goals is the quality of your content. Business decision makers said that 30% of the content they came across was either poor or mediocre, and an additional 53% rated the content as merely good. 

Edelman LinkedIn 2019 Study

In another study conducted by Velocity Partners, 57% of businesses surveyed viewed the content sent to them as useless. Another 66% said that they received too much content from businesses.

Look at this as an opportunity.  Put your time and resources into creating top-quality content that leaves your audience wanting more. This includes long-form blog posts, ebooks, checklists, infographics, name it. Remember, "professional" does not mean cookie cutter -- be yourself and do not lose your own voice in the process.

Ensure that all your content is of professional quality, both in appearance and content. And be careful not to bombard and overwhelm your audience with too much content -- even if it is of top quality.

Don't just educate in your content but engage, appealing to both a need for knowledge and a need for resonance, for someone to say, "Aha, I get it." 

2. Address the Entire Sales Funnel

Thought leadership is a multi-layered tool that many marketers do not use to its full potential. Many use it for the top of the funnel, to gain their audience's interest and appreciation. But when we move down to the bottom of the funnel, we see a hole that thought leadership can fill. 

As people are nearing the end of their decision making process, more in-depth thought leadership pieces can help them to make up their mind -- and may help them to favor your brand over others.

3. Take the Front Seat of the Conversation

When asked in the Edelman-LinkedIn study how they viewed thought leadership material, 60% of respondents said a lot of it lacked valuable insight. 

Look at your industry for areas where you can provide a fresh voice. Share insights that show how well you know your industry and will help your audience make the best decisions. You need to be leading the conversation -- don't merely comment on what other industry experts say.

4. Weed Out the Bad Thought Leadership Content

Thought leadership is a double-edged sword. Done poorly, it can harm a business.  For instance, while 92% of those surveyed in the Edelman-LinkedIn study said that their respect for an organization increased because of thought leadership material, 46% of respondents said it had decreased.

Similarly, while 75% of business leaders will follow someone based on their thought leadership material, 60% said that they would stop following someone after reading their thought leadership pieces.

And even more telling, while 58% decided to award business based on thought leadership, 29% decided not to based on thought leadership content. 

What do these red flags tell us? While thought leadership is an effective and important strategy, if done poorly, it can have a destructive impact on your brand.

What can you do to ensure that your thought leadership content passes the test and positively impacts your audience? Be purposeful with your creation of thought leadership material. Identify the needs of your audience and seek to address those in your content. Make every piece of content you create easy for anyone in your audience to understand, digest and value. 

Edelman LinkedIn 2019 Study


5. Make It a Company-Wide Goal

Nowhere in the thought leader definition will you see the word "executive" -- and for good reason. Thought leadership is not restricted to the top of your company. Whether you are in the C-suite or on the bottom rung of the company, you have potential for thought leadership.

If you are looking to expand your brand's thought leadership strategy, look for talent in all areas of your company. Encourage everyone to cultivate their thoughts and ideas in order to produce expertise and insight.

Create an environment that nurtures people at all stages of thought leadership. As they grow, your brand will too. Remember, multiple thought leaders within a company strengthen its presence and attract a wider audience. 

6. Keep Your Content Relevant

Your content needs to be on point for your audience. It could be the most interesting, well-written content, but if your audience isn't hungry for it, it won't matter. 

The Edelman-LinkedIn study revealed that a key factor to getting people to engage with content is choosing topics that impact their business. This means keeping your ears to ground, so to speak, to find out what interests your audience.

Look to social media research, paid services like BuzzSumo, and listening to the concerns of current customers to fill in any gaps in your knowledge of what your audience needs.

As a side note, your content also needs to be easy for your audience to find. Research what platforms and forums your audience uses, and get your content into those places. If they are on Facebook, post to that platform. If they read a certain trade publication, aim to publish your content in that outlet.

7. Lay Out Your Vision

ThBusiness decision makers like assurances -- and when you have a vision statement that clearly articulates your vision for today and tomorrow, it instills confidence. This point is underscored in the survey.  Nearly 9 out of every 10 respondents (88%) said it's important for companies to have a clear vision of the future. 

If you don't already have a vision statement, it's time to create one. Think about what values guide you toward your goals. This should not be a run-of-the-mill answer. Be creative and purposeful -- it should capture the attention of your audience, but also convey sincerity.

8. Build A Foundation of Trust

Never underestimate the power of trust. In our advertising-infused culture, people feel betrayed by advertising and marketing -- and are more weary than ever about doing business with people they don't know. For example, 82% of business decision makers surveyed in the Edelman-LinkedIn survey said they prefer content that is shared by someone they know and respect.

How should this affect your thought leadership marketing? Tap into the power of word of mouth marketing and other tactics that can help your thought leadership material succeed.

Make it easy for people to share your content with easy-to-see share buttons. Consider creating a rewards program that encourages audiences to share your content. Seek opportunities to post your content on influential sites.

9. Be Concise

More isn't always better. And long-winded isn't a sign of expertise. In fact, the best way to showcase your thought leadership skills is with succinct, to the point content. 

While long-form content such as ebooks and white papers do have a place in your strategy, it should not be your only strategy. For many business decision-makers, time is a dwindling commodity that they don't want to waste. In fact, over half (57%) of business decision makers showed a preference for what is referred to as "snackable" media formats -- in other words, media that they can read within a few minutes. 

Look at ways to create infographics, videos, and blog posts that are easy for busy business owners to digest.

10. Measure Your Progress

Thought Leadership StrategyWhile measurement is one of the more mundane aspects of campaigns, there's no denying its importance. You can't know, much less prove, that your campaign is successful without measuring it.

As with many marketing and PR strategies, some businesses struggle to prove the worth of thought leadership campaigns. But it is well worth the effort to create measurable goals early on in your campaign and invest in analytics programs that can show you your progress.



In review...

10 Proven Ways to Grow Your Thought Leadership

B2B thought leadership does take time and effort -- but it is an investment with rich rewards. Take the time to do it right, creating content that resonates with your audience and positively impacts your bottom line.



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Dec 12, 2018

Wendy Marx

Wendy Marx is the founder and president of Marx Communications, a boutique inbound marketing and public relations agency. An award-winning B2B public relations pro, she has helped many small- & medium-sized firms (SMBs) become well-known industry brands and transform their businesses, going from Anonymity to Industry Icon™.

Her business articles have appeared in The New York Times, InformationWeek, Inc., Advertising Age, & Fast Company, among other outlets. 

View all posts by Wendy Marx