Trust plays a critical part of today’s shaping a company’s brand perception and a buyer’s confidence in working with that company. One of major drives of this trust is authentic thought leadership. Business to business (B2B) marketers are in a great position today to build meaningful relationships with customers and prospects with the help of thought leadership.
The true value of thought leadership is often assumed but rarely measured. Research from Edelman and LinkedIn found most marketers significantly undervalue the power thought leadership, which impacts their demand generation efforts.
The study of 1,300 C-suite executives and business decision-makers, underscores that marketers producing thought leadership consistently underestimate their impact on various stages of the brand journey, demand generation, and sales process.
Thought leadership impacts demand generation more than marketers realize
This study shows that 26% of marketers believed thought leadership was responsible for helping them close business while 58% of decision makers said thought leadership influenced them to work with that organization.
As a result of underestimating the power of thought leadership, marketers are having less impact on helping their companies win business from current customers and potential new customers, helping the sales team be a part of more request for proposals (RFPs), and helping your company make the short list of final vendor candidates.
The thought leadership study highlights some key findings:
- 17% of marketers see thought leadership as effective in generating more RFPs while 45% of decision makers reported that consuming thought leadership content encourage them to extend an RFP invitation
- 55% of decision makers use thought leadership pieces to vet potential vendors
- 82% of decision makers say thought leadership increased their trust with a organization
- 90% of decision makers believe companies should create thought leadership content
- 79% of C-suite executives want thought leadership to reveal new trends or issues
As the thought leadership study shows, successful thought leadership content is a major contributor to building a brand, opening new doors, and closing deals in your pipeline.
Strong thought leadership content conveys the quality of your work and boosts the overall reputation of your company. Thought leadership can help you amplify your demand generation strategy, make it a key part of your overall marketing strategy, and increase your alignment with your sales team.
So what is thought leadership and demand generation?
What is thought leadership?
Thought leadership is the process of positioning people at your company and your brand as experts in your industry while boosting your overall awareness and credibility. In other words, thought leadership is all about using your business experience, passion and expertise to consistently answer the questions of your customers and prospects.
However, poorly executed thought leadership can have an equal and opposite effect, leading decision-makers to remove you from consideration.
What is demand generation?
Demand generation is generating demand for your brand and solutions and services via various digital and offline channels and methods.
Demand generation generates demand by getting your customers and prospects excited about your company’s product and services. It captures the umbrella of marketing programs that helps your organization reach new markets, build your brand and buzz, and drive inbound interest.
The goal of demand generation is to nurture key prospect and customer relationships for the long term and move them from marketing-qualified leads to sales-qualified leads to opportunities to customers.
10 tips to creating successful thought leadership content and improving your demand generation
To ensure your thought leadership content successful drives your demand generation efforts, these 10 tips can help you:
1. Create a vision for your thought leadership content
According to the thought leadership study, decision makers want you to have a vision with 88% of decision makers felt it was important for organizations to lay out a vision for the future. In other words, decision makers know in advance what they want from your content.
How do you paint that vision?
To help answer that question, there are six characteristics of an effective content vision based upon research by Content Science.
They spell out the word “Vision.”
- Out of the ordinary
- North star
By following these characteristics, you can create thought leadership content that is motivating, compelling, and clear.
2. Make your content digestible and readable
It is important to create content that is easy to digest, scan, and comprehend. Think of your thought leadership like Google thinks of your thought leadership. Google will not rate your website high in its search results if your content is not easy digestable.
Google wants to help its searchers quickly find what it was looking for and Google has one goal: searcher task accomplishment. It learns each time a user searches via Google Search. Google wants to give each searcher answers to their question(s) as soon as possible. They are going to reward websites that quickly help the needs of their searchers.
Google also analyzes the readability of your website so that it matches its searchers’ intent. If a website’s content does match the search engine user’s reading level, it will not be difficult to read and visitors will lose interest and leave the website.
So what is the sweet spot for a reading level? Your content should be at an 8th-grade reading level.
Start producing longer-form content such as an eBook and then re-purpose that content into smaller chunks of content.
According to the thought leadership study, 72% of decision makers say being short and easy to absorb makes thought leadership very compelling.
3. Quality content over quantity
Quality not quantity is critical to driving results. Creating content for the sake of needing more content can backfire on your efforts. Thoughtful and value-driven thought leadership pieces are critical to build an audience that trusts your organization.
It is better to create fewer higher quality thought leadership pieces of content than creating a lot of content that doesn’t provide a lot of value. These pieces of content will get more engagement and shared more.
There is a lot of bad or weak thought leadership content so it is important to do it right from the start. This gives you a great opportunity for you to rise about the content noise and capture your audience with thought provoking and insightful though leadership content.
According to the Edelman and LinkedIn thought leadership survey, marketers who produced thought leadership content said 25% of their content was very good or excellent. Business decision makers agreed, citing 18% of thought leadership content was at that level.
4. Reframe the conversation
According to the Eldeman and LinkedIn study, 55% of decision makers use thought leadership pieces to vet potential partners and/or vendors. Done right, strong content conveys the quality of your work and boosts the reputation of your business. You can make your thought leadership content more powerful by rethinking how you communicate with your customers and prospects in that content.
There are three things to think about when “reframing the conversation” with them. If customers don’t understand how your thought leadership content will make their lives better, they don’t care.
What do most people care about?
Anything that helps them excel at their jobs, help their company save money, help them improve work processes, and help them keep their company find a competitive advantage.
A simple shift in that perspective can make your thought leadership more effective. You want to get the customers and prospects saying:
“Wow, I never thought of it like that before.”
After extensive research across a whole range of industries, the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) (now part of Gartner) discovered successful salespeople challenge their customers by redefining their needs.
A good challenger provides insight, helps a customer avoid pitfalls, and offers products and services that the client doesn’t even know exist. Based on data from thousands of B2B marketers, sellers, and buyers around the world, The Challenger Customer: Selling to the Hidden Influencer Who Can Multiply Your Results book helps organizations find and engage the Challenger Customer.
The Challenger Sale book describes a new and bold approach to sales and the challenging concepts mentioned above, their new research suggests that being a “challenger seller” is not enough. Now, it depends on who you challenge.
5. Educate internally, especially with your sales team
This thought leadership study highlights that marketers and sales teams aren’t recognizing the potential for thought leadership and that thought leadership goes beyond just bringing in leads, it can actually help close a deal. According to the study, 26% of marketers thought such content was directly responsible for helping them close business while in fact, 58% of decision makers said thought leadership led them to award business to that organization.
With most business to business (B2B) sales cycle being long and investment high, it is important for marketing to help sales with a series of conversations with customers and prospects over time that leads to quicker and better decisions.
The sales process is about education, consultation, and effective communications and marketing plays a big role in this process. Thought leadership provides a great place for your organization to bring together its collective ideas and insights to life.
Marketing teams should help educate and empower salespeople to leverage thought leadership content and enable better conversations with customers and prospects.
Your thought leadership content should have additional elements such as:
- Talking points, sales scripts, and checklists about the thought leadership content
- Customization with specific statistics for particular industries
- Multimedia tools such as video to help further explain the ideas
- Extra, valued-added information beyond what’s in the thought leadership piece
6. Develop consistent thought leadership content
Are you publishing thought leadership content on a predictable and consistent basis? It is like appointment television (TV) viewing for your favorite TV show. You know it is going to be on a certain day and time.
- Are you doing that with your thought leadership content?
- Are you publishing content on a certain day and time?
Too many marketers create and publish content and hit “publish” when they feel like it or when the content is ready to go.
Your audience should not be the number of people who consume your current piece of content but the number of people you can count on to consume your next piece of content.
To make sure you are consistent with your content and grow your audience, an editorial calendar is one solution. An editorial calendar will help keep your content creators and your content organized. It will help you balance your blog with a variety of topics and formats and you will ensure your content is developed on time and on budget.
An editorial calendar holds everyone on your team accountable, becomes a database of ideas, and you’ll ensure you have content to engage your audience.
For delivering real value, the Edelman and LinkedIn thought leadership study said 90% of business decision makers said the best thought leadership they read touches on timely topics.
By creating timely, specific, and relevant thought leadership content that addresses the pain points and needs in your industry, you will become the top of mind organization when your customers and prospects are ready to buy.
7. Write and publish guest blog contributed content
Guest posting is an important strategy for building thought leadership. Writing bylined guest posts for other websites provides your brand and your subject matter experts with an opportunity to showcase your brand voice to a new audience. A report found 87% of B2B buyers give more credibility to industry influencer content such as guest blog contributed content.
Publications are always looking for new guest blog contributors. It is important you submit an authentic and original article on a topic that is relevant to each of these website’s readership. And before you submit anything, make sure you spend time reading the website’s articles. It’s important to understand what the website likes to publish. Also, make sure that your articles are well written and well researched. The better you write, the less work it is for editors. Ensure you have a firm grasp of your topic.
To help you save time on sorting through the requirements and gathering information, these 10 websites are looking for guest blog contributors.
8. Create content offers to capture leads
A content offer is a critical piece of a thought leadership program. It attracts interest, convert interested people into leads, and nurture those leads into sales opportunities. Gated content is any content that your visitors can access only after providing their contact information. In most cases, this means a person’s name, their company name, and an email address.
A big part of building a strong thought leadership strategy is to always be experimenting with new types of content to capture leads. For example, your audience may love podcasts but that doesn’t mean they don’t love whitepapers, eBooks or videos as well.
Fresh thought leadership content can expand your reach and attract more, and possibly even better leads. If your looking for content offer ideas, there are 20 types of content to put behind a gated landing page.
Research shows that 76% of buyers are willing to register and share personal information in exchange for whitepapers. And 63% will do the same for eBooks. It is important to have a good mix of gated and non-gated thought leadership content.
Pro tip: If you are wondering what to gate and not gate, there are three questions you should ask to decide.
9. Nurture your leads generated by thought leadership
Lead nurturing is the purposeful process of engaging your thought leadership leads along their buyer’s journey to move them through your marketing efforts to the point where they become paying customers. Nurturing leads focuses marketing and communication efforts. Listen to the needs of prospects, and providing the information and answers they need.
You have a done a lot of hard work creating quality thought leadership content. It would be a waste to not nurture them with other related and relevant thought leadership. Nurturing can help you turn them into qualified leads that your inside sales and field sales team would love to talk to.
Despite the clear benefits of lead nurturing, a study indicates that only 36% of marketers actively nurture their sales leads. This means there is big opportunity to implement effective lead nurturing strategies such as email nurture drip campaigns.
Email nurture drip campaigns are a set of automated emails triggered either by action on certain time intervals. Drip email campaigns are a primary nurturing channel. The goal is to constantly and consistently re-engage your audience with your content.
Pro tip: Companies who create drip email campaigns, see an average return on investment (ROI) of 4,400%.
10. Make your thought leadership content easy to find
Since thought leadership is time sensitive, you should think about it the same way you would a new product or service launch. It is important to building up anticipation well in advance so your thought leadership content gets responses quickly.
According to the Edelman and LinkedIn study, there are three key places that business decision makers find thought leadership content:
- 47% is find it through through their LinkedIn feeds and Google search
- 32% find it through colleagues, conferences, or opted in sources
- 18% find it through paid and earned social media and search channels
Are you making your content easy to find? It is important to first determine what type of conversations are taking place about your brand and in your industry. You should understand this before you engage in a community or building a community from scratch.
Pro tip: Make sure you understand the 7 Cs of a successful social media strategy.
Bringing it all together
This thought leadership study by Eldeman and LinkedIn underscores the importance of quality thought leadership and its important in driving demand generation, branding, lead generation, and sales efforts. Thought leadership is likely untapped in your organization, but it shouldn’t be because thought leadership can boost the size and scope of your sales deals.
Building trust with your customers and prospects is not easy. It takes time and effort. By utilizing thought leadership, you can enhance your overall marketing efforts. It will help marketing show that it is critical in building trust. The study shows 55% of decision makers said consuming such pieces increased the amount of business done with an organization. In fact, 60% reported buying a new product or service they had not been considering.
As a marketer myself, I’m asking you — my fellow marketers — to not undervalue the power thought leadership. It significantly impacts your demand generation efforts. It can help your team show its value more. Ultimately, thought leadership can help your organization grow.