The True Value of Thought Leadership

October 18, 2017

LinkedIn 7 Trends in B2B Marketing

Earlier this month, we launched our 7 Trends in B2B Marketing eBook, which features seven sequential and interrelated trends observed through first-hand research, third-party studies, and broader observations from the business field.

Our first trend is around the “true value” of thought leadership, and the key phrase here is “true value.’’ Thought leadership may sound like a vague and fluffy concept, but it drives real business impact, and B2B marketers are getting better at articulating that impact.

So what makes thought leadership valuable?

Well, let’s start with a simple insight: B2B buyers are scared. There’s this common misperception in the market that B2B is “rational,” while B2C is “emotional.” You buy Coke because you want to “open happiness,” but you buy IBM afer years of analysis – vendor research, product reviews, pricing and implementation details. According to this narrative, B2B buyers are cold, Spock-like automatons. But as Jon Miller, a co-founder of Marketo, points out, that narrative doesn’t make any sense. In fact, the opposite is probably true – B2B is much more emotional than B2C.

Why? Because making a bad decision in B2B can be disastrous to your career. That IBM deal? Millions of dollars are riding on it. If you mess up, you could lose your job, and your salary, which impacts your family (hence, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”). It doesn’t get much more emotional than that. Meanwhile, if you don’t like the $1 can of Coke you bought, you throw it out, and move on with your life. No harm, no foul.

The point here is that buyers are fundamentally risk-adverse. And that’s where thought leadership comes into the equation. Thought leadership is valuable, because it removes risk from the buying process. It gives your buyers confidence that you know what you’re doing – that you are the foremost topical expert in whatever they are trying to buy.

In a word, thought leadership builds trust.

We’ve recently done some research on this with one of our partners, Edelman. Together, we surveyed creators of thought leadership (aka B2B marketers) and business decision-makers (aka buyers) to determine the true value of thought leadership. The first thing we asked was about “trust,” and we found that a gap exists between the perceived value of thought leadership and its actual value.

About 50 percent of B2B marketers believe their thought leadership builds trust in their organization. But among actual buyers, that number is more like 83 percent. In other words, marketers are massively underestimating the impact that thought leadership can have on buyer’s confidence in their company.

But “trust” is an abstract concept. What B2B marketers really care about is sales, so we asked about that too, and once again, we found a Grand Canyon-sized gap between the beliefs of marketers and buyers.

When surveyed, only about 17 percent of B2B marketers believed their thought leadership gets their company on more RFPs from potential buyers. But when you ask buyers, that number jumps to 41%. In other words, the people who are paid to create thought leadership severely underestimate the sales impact of their efforts. But that's starting to change, as more and more research confirms its true value.

Download the entire 7 Trends in B2B Marketing eBook to uncover more data-driven  best practices for B2B marketers in 2017.

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