How Effective Thought Leadership Campaigns Can Help Improve Your Business Prospects

Lately we’ve been having some conversations internally at REQ around our destinations and how we help our clients achieve their goals and get to where they want to be. I’ve specifically been focused on “deeper authority” (aka thought leadership) and the role it plays in helping businesses achieve their objectives. While you may come to us for help generating more revenue or to augment your recruiting efforts, chances are thought leadership will play a role in that effort.

It turns out that we are not the only ones thinking about how B2B companies can effectively leverage thought leadership. In a bit of serendipity, Edelman and LinkedIn recently released a report on How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation!

It’s a quick and interesting read and I highly recommend everyone check it out. I’ve called out below a few things that stuck out at me that I think are worth commenting on.

Thought leadership is more than media relations

This may seem like a no brainer, but I think it’s easy to lump the two together. In fact, media relations is only one part of thought leadership. Other examples of thought leadership include: research reports, thought pieces/points of view, videos, webinars, blog posts/essays, presentations (live or those published online) and other similar items that are freely available. Conversely, the report’s authors say (and I tend to agree) that thought leadership is not: content primarily focused on describing an organization’s products or services (i.e., white papers, data sheets, etc), paid-for client deliverables, subscription services and reports that must be purchased.   

One of the first things we’ll do when a client comes to us interested in deeper authority is a content audit. What pieces already exist, where is there room for improvement, and what needs to be created? That provides a baseline for determining where things go next. For example, an audit can help us ascertain whether new content needs to be created, or if it’s simply enough to update existing content.

Once the content is created or updated it’s important to make sure it’s being shared appropriately. Sure, media relations and proactive reporter pitching is a part of that, but so is your website, blog, and social media channels. After all, what good is your content if no one sees it?

Don’t just create content for the sake of creating content. Create good content.

According to the report, the majority of respondents were “disappointed by the lack of valuable insights gained from thought leadership content.” In other words, they didn’t find it to be good or useful. That can be a huge detriment. Thought leadership has a huge potential to impact the sales process, but just like good content can help, bad content can sink your chances of landing a deal.

The report found that nine in 10 decision-makers value thought leadership and find it important, however, “more than half of C-Suite decision-makers have lost respect and admiration for an organization because of its poor thought leadership content.” In fact, per the report, only 14 percent of respondents felt that the overall quality of thought leadership is very good or excellent. Conversely, a whopping 86 percent felt it could be better; this is a huge missed opportunity for marketers.  

So what does good thought leadership content look like? At the most basic level, it is well written and free of typos and grammatical errors. I would argue that at a higher level, good thought leadership content focuses on the customer (or potential customer) and demonstrates an understanding of their problem(s) while presenting ideas or thoughts on how to work around or through them.

Going further, good thought leadership content is provocative. Too often people can easily go down the path of “us too” when creating content, but that’s not going to get you anywhere. Having a strong – and clear – opinion on a topic that either runs counter to what others are saying or offers a new perspective can go a long way to getting you and your company noticed. In fact, per the report, “a majority of business decision-makers use thought leadership to vet an organization and understand its caliber of thinking.”

When done right, thought leadership can be very powerful.

Per the report, “thought leadership influences customer purchase behaviors across the entire purchase funnel.” While certain key decision-makers may engage at different points in time, high quality thought leadership clearly plays a role in driving awareness, consideration, preference and, finally, purchasing decisions.  

Looking more closely at respondents’ answers, the report shows very little difference between how C-Suite executives and business decision-makers feel about and interact with thought leadership. I’ll be honest, I was a bit surprised to see that more CXOs (16 percent) than business decision-makers (12 percent) spend four or more hours a week interacting with thought leadership. Also surprising: C-Suite execs are more likely than business decision-makers to give organizations their contact information and follow up.

One last thing to note about the report is that while B2B decision-makers value quality thought leadership, “creators of thought leadership tend to underestimate its impact on influencing sales.” Think about that for a minute. If you don’t believe in the power of the content you are creating are you likely to create the best content possible? Probably not. And that may be the reason why so many decision-makers are left unfulfilled by the content they read.  
The survey shows that, when done right, thought leadership can lead to a company being included in an RFP opportunity and can also increase the respect and admiration of decision-makers. I encourage you to check out the full report here and then share your thoughts on the findings below. What is most surprising – or encouraging – to you?