For years, marketers have recognized that thought leadership can add tremendous value to their brand’s content experience. Despite that, much of the content being produced today falls short of buyer expectations. What makes thought leadership valuable to the C-Suite and other senior decision-makers? Relevancy, credibility and discoverability.

Consulting heavyweights like Edelman, ITSMA and Forrester agree and continue to study the impact of thought leadership on the buyer decision journey — boosting awareness, driving demand, providing education, and improving brand perception.

Check out these highlights from the 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study:

  • Thought leadership remains critical to customer engagement. More than 70% of decision makers consume it to stay up-to-date on the latest industry thinking and stimulate their own thinking and creativity;
  • Strong thought leadership can build credibility and trust, particularly when establishing a presence in a new category; BUT,
  • Content consumption is up; satisfaction is not. Better than half of respondents spend more than an hour reading and reviewing thought leadership each week, an uptick from before the pandemic, but 71% of decision-makers felt less than half of the content they consumed actually provided valuable insights.

As the pandemic spurred growth in ‘self-service decision journeys,’ marketers focused even more heavily on thought leadership content to stay top of mind with their stakeholders. Think about just how many studies you’ve downloaded and webinars you’ve attended. And still do. But along with the ‘good stuff’ came ‘a glut of low-quality content effectively diluting the perceived value of thought leadership’ at large.

So, the question is – what can you do to help your content cut through the elevated noise level and realize the benefits? Remember the fundamentals.

Job 1 (&2 &3): Be relevant. 

According to Forrester, 63% of buyers will disregard content if it’s not relevant to their needs or role. Compelling thought leadership captures the hearts and minds of your audience. It speaks to their most pressing needs, the pain points keeping them up nights. It takes into account dynamics at the industry, company and individual level.

To get there requires a deep understanding of your target.  If you don’t have well-developed personas, start building them. For those who have invested in these tools, take a closer look and refresh them. Roles, priorities, preferences and behaviors evolve and so should your personas.

Stay up to speed on what topics matter most to your prospects and customers in their industries. Audit the trades, conferences, and conversations. Check out what your competitors are pushing. Be sure to tap into internal SMEs who are closest to the market – in sales, relationship management and product management, to start.  Once you’ve got a solid list of core topics, prioritize them based on the best fit with your expertise.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the topic ownable or is it already a crowded space?
  • Can we add a fresh perspective or new information to the conversation?
  • Is there a timing factor – when there may be a natural ground swell of interest in the topic?
  • Does the topic have legs – meaning does it lend itself for use in multiple assets, formats and channels?

The answers will guide how you map out your topic development priorities.

Boost credibility and authority.

Even if you have the chops internally to speak with authority on your core thought leadership topics, consider supplementing that with outside experts’ perspective and data. High profile consultants, customers, partners and other influencers in the space that support your POV lend credibility to your content. According to the Impact Study, 80% of decision-makers prefer thought leadership that includes trusted third party sources rather than only proprietary insights from the company publishing the content.

Keep in mind – decision-makers are looking for fresh thinking that challenges, not just validates their current thinking. Whether you co-develop content with a well-respected partner — or go it alone – make sure you don’t slip into the hard-sell zone. If you do, C-suite decision makers will bail quickly – like within the first minute if the content fails to deliver.

Make it easy to discover and access.

Once you’ve invested the resources to build value-added thought leadership, be sure it’s easy to find. Aggregate or centralize assets in one place, like your website or a microsite, distribute across all your channels, and get featured in your target’s preferred media. Packaging the information into multiple assets helps leverage the investment across the year and helps you deliver content in synch with stakeholders’ format preferences.

For example, an industry study co-created with a respected consulting firm, can be developed as a white paper. The results can be presented via webinar – live and on demand. Infographics and summary findings can be used for media outreach or in secured bylined articles. That same content can be parsed out in a series of blogs or videos to boost SEO.

Once you’ve made your content easily discoverable, make it just as easy to access. All content should be downloaded with a single form fill at max. Gate selectively – early funnel content and content that you want discoverable via SEO, like blogs and videos, shouldn’t be gated.

Creating thought leadership isn’t easy. You need to invest some time and resources upfront to be sure your content is relevant, credible, and discoverable. But done well, high quality thought leadership can help distinguish you in the market, drive awareness and enable you to better control the narrative about your brand. And that is worth the investment.

 

Cheryl Treleaven
Cheryl Treleaven

Principal

Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.