Flywheel of B2B Thought Leadership

Edelman’s Framework for Engaging Executives

May 13, 2021

Flywheel of B2B Thought Leadership illustration

A study conducted in 2019 by Edelman and LinkedIn confirmed what most already suspected to be true: quality thought leadership content has a significant influence on business decision makers. Events unfolding in the world since then have only magnified the need for credible, trusted, impactful information and guidance. 

Business leaders are navigating tremendous uncertainty. Those organizations that provide real help and support with their content are poised to make a memorable impression. But “thought leadership” can feel like an ambiguous term. What constitutes quality thought leadership? And how can B2B marketers gain awareness and influence with those most senior decision makers and executives?

At Edelman, we’ve developed a framework to help: the Flywheel of B2B Thought Leadership.

Reaching Key Decision Makers Through the Flywheel of B2B Thought Leadership

Through our research, we’ve developed a series of best practices that tend to be shared by the most effective thought leaders and the content they produce. We’ve arranged these practices into a flywheel guide, which I’ll unpack below. Although this model applies to B2B thought leadership more broadly, excelling in each of these six areas will make your content more likely to reach and resonate with higher-level stakeholders.

1. White Space: Carve Your Niche

One of the most critical qualities of indispensable thought leadership content is that it can’t be found elsewhere. You want to address topics and points of view that aren’t well covered by others. To facilitate this, you should reach for the intersection between:

  • Timely industry trends
  • Customer pain points
  • Your company’s growth priorities

Consider differentiating your point of view from existing content by taking a contrarian or unexpected angle. Use bold and imaginative storytelling techniques to stand out from the crowd.

2. Relevance: Map to Customer Needs

Aim to be more specific than general. The most impactful thought leadership is laser-focused and speaks directly to a narrowly defined industry, buying committee function, or set of companies. Engage with the sales team and customer relationship managers early in the content development process so that your content is shaped by first-hand insights drawn from real experiences. 

3. Vision: Chart a Path for the Industry

Don’t settle for explaining what’s happening; take the next step by explaining why it’s happening. Tie business challenges to underlying causes and help your audience make sense of trends in the bigger picture. By doing so, you can paint a realistic picture of what’s to come, helping business leaders anticipate their own customers’ expectations and stay ahead of the competition. 

This is a true signature of thought leadership that is valued by senior decision makers and executives, who think about their businesses more holistically. Visionary ideas can inspire and stimulate demand.

4. Trust: Become a Go-to Source

The recently-released Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 reveals a unique opportunity: respondents cited businesses as being more trusted than NGOs, government, or media entities. Brands can capitalize on this trend by reinforcing trust at a time where other institutions are losing it. 

A few tips for building trust with your thought leadership

  • Put relatable and authentic human faces on the content by featuring your own employees, executives, and subject matter experts.
  • Invest in creating journalistic-quality content that goes beyond product promotion and delivers meaningful value for your audience.
  • Demonstrate consistency and longevity to establish yourself as a reliable go-to source.
  • Align with trusted third-party voices who are recognized and respected by your audience.

5. Brevity: Keep It Concise

Business decision makers, especially those in the C-suite, are pressed for time. An hour-long video or 2,000-word writeup is likely to be pushed aside at a glance. Keep it brief and rapidly digestible. Enough said.

6. Attribution: Measure Accurately

Thought leadership is by nature a quality-over-quantity approach, so gauging success based on vanity metrics like impressions and clicks can be counterproductive. The goal for high-level thought leadership is not to be seen by the most people possible, it’s to be seen by the most influential people possible. 

Build a reflective attribution model by identifying what success ultimately looks like and working backward. Align sales and marketing to pinpoint prioritized KPIs, whether account lift, MQLs, SQLs, or otherwise. Measure impact on customer behavior, not number of eyeballs. Adopt tools that allow you to track customer actions across channels after they’ve engaged with your thought leadership. (For example, LinkedIn’s Conversion Tracking.)

Stop Spinning Your Wheels with Thought Leadership

A troubling finding in our 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact study was that only 32% of decision-makers said they reliably gained valuable insights from consuming thought leadership. It’s time for B2B companies collectively to raise the bar and deliver for their audiences at a critical time. 

Our Flywheel of B2B Thought Leadership was created to help make your content more effective in its reach and resonance with higher-level stakeholders. Download the full pocket guide today.