According to a 2019 study by Edelman-LinkedIn, thought leadership has more influence on generating inbound leads than marketers realize – and that influence is growing. In fact, most B2B marketers miss the opportunity to capitalize on the full impact of thought leadership.
What is Thought Leadership?
Now, being a dog, I admit that I was originally confused by the term “thought leadership.” I wondered if this meant my human could lead me around with just his thoughts versus a leash. Or, even better, what if I could lead my human around with my thoughts? Now, that would be cool! We would go to the most interesting places!
But no, thought leadership is defined as “free deliverables that organizations or individuals produce on a topic in their area of expertise, when they feel others can benefit from their perspective.” This is a fancy way of saying you provide educational, useful, relevant information to people, which makes them think of you as an expert on that topic. And, of course, that leads to building trust (87% of decision makers say thought leadership increases trust in an organization) and generating inbound leads.
How Does Thought Leadership Work?
Whether it’s in the form of research reports, videos, articles, webinars or presentations, thought leadership content is being consumed by a growing number of people. The Thought Leadership Impact Study by Edelman-LinkedIn found that:
- 58% of decision makers spent an hour or more each day reading thought leadership content in 2018, versus 50% in 2017.
- 55% of decisions makers use thought leadership as an important way to vet organizations they’re considering working with.
- 69% agree that its one of the best ways to get a sense of the caliber of thinking an organization can deliver.
- 63% agree its particularly important to build the reputation of new and small businesses.
- After reading thought leadership content, 45% of decision makers invited the organization to bid on a project when not previously considering them.
- 61% of C-suite executives are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that has articulated a clear vision versus one the does not publish thought leadership.
In short, becoming a thought leader in your industry can give you edge over your competition, produce RFP opportunities, generate inbound leads and win business – in some cases, at a premium. Not bad for a human endeavor, right?
What Makes Thought Leadership Effective?
Everyday I have a lot of great thoughts, like “peanut butter flavored treats are awesome,” “humans should take more naps,” and “squirrels are annoying creatures.” But chances are, your customers are not interested in these subjects. Addressing what does interest them is the key to effective thought leadership.
To reap the benefits of thought leadership, here are few tips:
Provide valuable insights. Research which topics are important in your industry/market, and then find opportunities where your company/brand can offer useful information on these topics or start conversations.
Be relevant. According to the study, 66% of decision makers said the topic being related to what they are currently working on is one of the most critical factors in getting them to engage with content. Being relevant involves putting the customer first; determine what customers are asking and provide answers; understand their problems and offer solutions.
Define the future. Decision makers want to know where the industry is going. In fact, 88% believe it’s important for companies to have a clear vision for the future. You can inspire confidence in others by discussing trends and “what’s possible.”
Build trust. Being a trusted source is key to engaging decision makers with your content. You can establish credibility by quoting experts, getting customers and employees involved in the conversation, and providing research results or data.
Be concise. Despite the trend toward long-form content, busy professionals favor short formats. In fact, 57% said they preferred “snackable” content that can be easily digested in a few minutes and/or easily shared. (I get that. I love snacks, too!)
But, Proceed with Caution
While great thought leadership is effective at building trust, enhancing a brand’s reputation and generating inbound leads, it can do more harm than good if it’s done poorly. The same study also shows that:
- 60% of decision makers will stop following an organization based on poor quality content.
- 46% said poor thought leadership decreased their respect for an organization.
- 29% decided not to give business to a company based on poor thought leadership.
The bottom line: Be sure to put real thought in your thought leadership.