Most leading B2B brands are spending resources on thought leadership, but few succeed in cutting through the content clutter. The opportunity is clear: differentiate and position the brand, while creating a closer, ongoing entangled relationship with clients between the buying cycles. In fact, 54% of decision-makers spend over an hour every week consuming “thought leadership,” yet a huge 71% state in a recent B2B Thought Leader Study by Edelman and LinkedIn that less than half of this content provides any valuable insights.
While the COVID-19 pandemic engendered an enormous increase in thought leadership content as we accelerated our virtual lives, it also corresponded with a massive change in the relationships between buyers and sellers. Gartner research finds that 83% of a typical B2B purchasing decision occurs before a buyer even talks to a supplier, and during that entire buying journey, sales representatives only comprise a mere 5% of a customer’s time. This trend is confirmed by a McKinsey study which concludes that more than three-quarters of B2B buyers and sellers say they prefer today’s digital reality over the frequent face-to-face interactions of the past.
Before we call someone a “thought leader,” we assume that the individual or organization is recognized as an authority in a field or exceptionally experienced and successful within a given market. This signifies real-world understanding, proven actions, and genuine authenticity.
According to Oxford’s dictionary:
thought lead·er: one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.
Jake Dunlap, Founder and CEO of Skaled, a sales-consulting firm that helps startups and established companies scale more efficiently, recently said that “modern thought leaders draw on the past, analyze the present, and illuminate the future to create a comprehensive, unique, and impactful view of their area of expertise.” His point is well made.
Whether thought leadership content offers best practices, lessons from hard-won experiences, rousing success stories, advocacy for social responsibility, specific expertise, or relevant perspectives on current events, its goal is always to create a richer and more meaningful relationship with your customers and stakeholders. Yet, brands have difficulties earning credibility and breaking through when that content is complex.
A Vertic study shows that many leading brands have created thought leadership sites; however, most content is adding to the existing massive sea of sameness. The platforms are not integrated into the buyer’s journey, nor does the content rank for buyer-specific intent terms. Therefore, these organizations have established an organizational setup that allows for ongoing content creation, but without being able to demonstrate a ROI from that content.
Vertic's study analyzed search performance and rankings for 10 popular thought leadership topics1 to understand A) who are the brands and solution providers that are ranking and therefore gaining the most traffic and awareness for those topics, and B) whether their content is aligned with a typical buying journey providing unique and relevant insights for those individuals.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding between thought-leadership and what is content marketing.
At Vertic, we have created a unique methodology to ensure that brands are granted “a license to talk.” We’ve found that many companies are both good and comfortable communicating their product leadership, but this does not necessarily translate to “thought leadership” when addressing key audience groups. Brands must first understand how they can meaningfully be part of a key conversation by being clear about the unique insights they can add. Plus, they need to realize that their thought leadership content not only positions them alongside their usual category competitors, but also among true topic owners—in many cases professional services companies like McKinsey, Bain, Deloitte, and others who now use the power of their well-researched and trendsetting thought leadership content every day to build their position within the minds of decision makers.
To be relevant to your stakeholders, and earn the license to talk, we use an outside in approach – one that focuses on what keeps stakeholders up at night, and connects those concerns to unique insights, suggestions, and possible solutions.
Many brands will argue that they are already developing their thought leadership outside in, but the research tells a different story: Nearly half (47%) of B2B buyers say that most thought leadership does not seem to be created with their specific needs in mind, according to the Edelman/LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study.
Through data driven methods, Vertic sheds light on the concerns of stakeholders and then provides insights or recommendations for solutions. Vertic’s topic identification model considers digital behavior as more than 90% of our journeys start with a search and then understands competition (from both an awareness and direct product perspective), helping to further differentiate a whitespace for a brand to authentically communicate its unique value proposition. These findings grant the brand a license to talk because they provide a perspective to something that matters to the audience. It’s not about the brand, it’s about the topic.
Now the brand is ready to act and communicate and this to done through an operating model that integrates thought-leadership into the marketing and communications function and then throughout the rest of the organization’s functions. In this way thought leadership will resonate better with the customer audience as they experience the brand through multiple touchpoints.
So why should you invest in thought leadership? Because it drives your business success.
Thought Leadership helps to move people beyond an initial transaction. The B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study demonstrates that decision-makers react in the following ways after engaging with a stimulating and authentic piece of thought leadership:
So, where to begin? There are a few fundamental questions you should be asking as your start evaluating the thought leadership strategy.
Thought leadership can be an impactful method for providing value to B2B decision makers and enabling a brand to cut through the noise in an overcrowded world of content. However, if you or your organization is not dedicated to consistently doing it right, your efforts will be more random thought than true leadership.
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