Thought leaders are not only subject matter experts but also facilitators of transformation. They can inspire innovation and challenge the way we think. Thought leadership has gained popularity in the world of business and marketing. Since 2019, average monthly searches for the term "thought leadership" have increased by 50%.
According to the 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study by Edelman, 66% of B2B decision makers say the pandemic spawned a huge increase in the amount of thought leadership in the marketplace.
This growth is not surprising, given that thought leadership has proven to be an effective digital marketing tool to enrich a brand’s web ecosystem. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of not just businesses, but industries as a whole. Thought leadership content can guide customers through the early stages of their buying journey by providing them valuable decision-making insights and expertise along various digital touchpoints. An enriched digital journey that like that is an exemplar of a ‘one-with-one’ entangled marketing relationship. The brand is no longer a transactional service provider, but rather a trusted advisor and friend.
In 2020, SurveyMonkey , Orbit Media Studios and Mantis Research surveyed 481 marketers to understand their perspective on thought leadership. 66% of marketers said they considered thought leadership a “top priority” for their marketing organization. However, only 26% of them considered their current thought leadership program “very successful” and 65% of them considered it “moderately successful.”
Edelman validates the dissatisfaction expressed by marketers by reporting that 71% of B2B decision makers say that less than half of the thought leadership they consume gives them valuable insights. 63% of B2B decision makers note that thought leadership that is too generic turns them off to this kind of content.
Before delving into my key takeaways, let's gain insight into how marketers approach developing their thought leadership program. According to marketers:
Most marketers view thought leadership content as a downloadable PDF or contact form that helps drive website traffic and generate leads. Yes, that’s true. But somewhere in this tactical execution, the inspiration and transformational leadership of this type of content is lost. ‘Inspirational content’ ranked lowest on the marketers’ list.
As a strategist I see thought leadership content as a rolodex of actionable value-adding insights owned by a brand. Based on the data charts above we can assume most marketing organizations have a myopic perspective on the potential value of a good set of actionable insights. It’s no surprise that we see marketing organizations struggle to secure budgets for thought leadership programs.
Furthermore, I believe the strategic value of thought leadership extends to a wider audience than just prospective buyers. It is also a powerful tool to lead employees internally within your organization and a powerful tool to inspire existing customers to achieve more with your services.
Putting my Share of Life® hat on a second: The more you entangle a person by rewarding them with value-adding experiences, the greater share your brand will receive of that person’s life. This applies to thought leadership as well. Value-adding thought leadership positions your brand as a trusted advisor that people will continue to engage as they navigate their industry’s challenges.
True to the spirit of a marketer, here's a framework that can help you maximize the mileage and value of your thought leadership platform.
Every organization has its own set of brand values and a unique purpose that defines its identity and culture. But purpose written somewhere on a strategic messaging framework can get lost in the archives of a brand marketer.
Bringing purpose to life is just as important as stating that purpose. This is where thought leadership comes in. By publishing research and insights that align with an organization's purpose, thought leaders can demonstrate their commitment to industry leadership and show how their organization is making a difference.
And it’s not just internal stakeholders. External stakeholders are also purpose-driven. Edelman reports that 54% of B2B buyers believe thought leadership is important for drawing attention to topics that news media rarely cover but are still relevant to their industry. Thought leadership should be purposeful and meaningful knowledge sharing.
By anchoring thought leadership in the brand’s values, organizations can rally internal and external audiences. There is power in communicating your organizations beliefs and building a community that champions your purpose. Jim Stengel Company reports that purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow on average three times faster than their competitors.
54% of B2B decision makers and 48% of the C-Suite say they spend more than 1 hour per week reading and reviewing thought leadership.
Buyers and decision makers have questions and marketing organizations can use thought leadership to provide the best answers to those questions. Share of Life takes this one step further. Providing the right answers at the right time of a buyer’s decision-making journey positions your brand to build a meaningful one-with-one relationship with the buyer. It allows companies to meet buyers where they are in their journey.
47% of survey respondents engage with 3-5 pieces of content before talking to a salesperson. Be it podcasts, digital events, short form content or long form research reports, activating thought leadership content across your brand’s multichannel digital ecosystem help you meet a buyer wherever they are in their buyer journey. This is true entanglement. According to Forrester, 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. Account-based marketing (ABM) programs have never been more critical in accelerating the decision-making process. A good ABM strategy not only caters to early-journey thought leadership content but also late-journey thought leadership content that is more in service of customer success and experience. Giving your existing customers meaningful insights-enriched experiences every time they visit your corporate website can go a long way. They will value and put even more trust in your relationship with them.
Thought leadership gives a brand credibility. But if you look at the volume of content on thought leadership hot topics, one thing is clear: there is an excess of content for the sake of content. For topics like Digital Transformation, 980,000 articles were published across social platforms like blogs, news, and social media channels within the last year. Source: Vertic Digital Insights, Pulsar, Feb 2022-2023.
55% of buyers say if a piece of thought leadership does not pique their interest within the first minute, they will move on. So how does one stand out from the clutter and share a unique perspective? Original research. 9 out of 10 companies who do original research found that it’s successful. This is according to a new study by BuzzSumo and Mantis Research. 56% of marketers report that their results met or exceeded their expectations. Only 3% were disappointed in results from original research. Original research givers marketers an opportunity to disrupt and innovate.
Learn more about Vertic's approach to thought leadership and what it takes to share unique insights and ‘earn a license to talk’ in this article by Sebastian Vedsted Jespersen.
Thought leadership adds strategic value that percolates all areas of a business, beyond its marketing function. If we adopt the previous pillar of Perspective, marketers can empower their organization’s business units, product teams and sales teams with actionable insights and original research.
Industry and customer insights acquired from Thought Leadership research can inspire product innovation as well as inform communication strategies. Thought leadership content is just as valuable a tool to lead internal teams as it is to lead the market.
It's time marketers fully utilize the value of an asset like thought leadership by implementing a multichannel approach that targets multiple audiences.
Foster your thought leadership platforms by consistently creating compelling and thought-provoking content that resonates with your customers, employees, and the industry as a whole. Be a trailblazer by addressing unanswered questions or even venturing into uncharted territory with questions that have yet to be asked. This will inspire a following that can rally behind your brand.
Maximize the reach of your thought leadership content by implementing a multi-channel activation strategy. Repackage your content to suit various channels and cater to the specific information needs and digital behaviors of each audience. This approach will ensure that your message resonates with a wider audience and generates a greater impact.
Your thought leadership platform should be a two-way conversation. Continuously track and measure feedback from your audiences and use this information to enhance your engagement with them. By valuing and implementing their feedback, you can continuously improve the quality of your interactions and establish deeper connections with your audience as a trusted advisor.
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