How to Create Impactful Thought Leadership Marketing
November 13, 2019
Editor's Note: LinkedIn and Edelman will release tomorrow new research on the underappreciated power of thought leadership for B2B marketers. Read all about it in a post on the LinkedIn Marketing Blog.
Why is thought leadership so important in the modern B2B marketing environment? Because customers want to do business with people and brands they trust, and trust is developed in part through credibility and expertise. Thought leadership marketing content helps you demonstrate these qualities.
Read on to learn all you need to know about this vital marketing concept: what it is, why it matters, and how to maximize its impact on LinkedIn and elsewhere.
Thought Leadership 101: Your Complete Guide
The Essentials of B2B Thought Leadership Marketing
B2B purchase decisions are weighty, and heavily scrutinized. Buyers must have the utmost confidence in a solution, and the company behind it, before signing off. As such, it comes as no surprise that thought leadership marketing content is highly impactful at every stage of the funnel.
As we’ve put it in the past, “thought leadership leverages the knowledge and experience in your organization to best answer your audience’s questions—especially the ones they haven’t thought to ask yet.” There are three different categories of thought leadership content:
Industry: News, insights, and viewpoints about your industry and where it’s headed
Product: Extensive knowledge of your solution, how people use it, and how it compares to others
Organizational: Clearly defined values, purpose, and point-of-view for your brand
Why Is Thought Leadership Important?
LinkedIn and Edelman recently conducted a survey of business decision makers to gain an understanding of the true impact of B2B thought leadership. Here are a few of the findings:
Thought leadership consumption is increasing: The amount of weekly reading by decision makers increased by 8 points year over year.
More than half of decision makers (55%) cite thought leadership as an important way to vet organizations.
47% of C-suite executives say they shared contact information after reading thought leadership.
45% of decision makers say thought leadership compelled them to invite an organization to bid on a project when not previously considering them, and 57% of say thought leadership directly led to awarding business.
61% of C-suite executives say they’re more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that has articulated a clear vision.
“I don’t think you can gain a competitive advantage without thought leadership. The reason why thought leadership is a prerequisite is because trust is a prerequisite, and thought leadership is a way to build trust.” — Joe Chernov, Vice President of Marketing, Pendo (via the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership)
Interestingly, there is a clear disconnect around the perceived importance of thought leadership between those who create it and those consume it:
The bottom line: Thought leadership matters, and perhaps more than you’d suspect. But marketers and brands are also being challenged to do it better; 60% of decision makers say half or more of the thought leadership they encounter does not provide valuable insights.
Corporate Thought Leadership vs. Personal Thought Leadership
There are differing dynamics attached to thought leadership depending on the source. Personal thought leadership refers to individuals sharing their own views and beliefs, while corporate thought leadership refers to cultivating views and beliefs from a brand standpoint. In many cases, corporate thought leadership is largely shaped by the collection of voices within, so personal thought leadership plays a major role. But it’s also important for a company to be associated by its audience with clear values and stances, and this is a key marketing function.
“The more brands can present their executives with authenticity on key channels, the more they can build the brand in a more human way.” — Jessica Jensen, Global Director of Marketing, Qualcomm (Find more Perspectives from B2B Leaders)
Creating a Thought Leadership Marketing Plan
If you’re trying to build or refine your B2B thought leadership strategy, you’ll want to account for each of these considerations.
Step 1: Align on Your Brand’s Perspective and Priorities
It’s not realistic (or necessarily even healthy) for everyone in an organization to agree on everything, but you’ll want to be on the same page when it comes to strategic perspectives and priorities. Thought leadership runs astray when there are blatant inconsistencies and contradictions coming from different leaders, employees, or units within the business. Ask questions like these:
What do we stand for as a brand (especially in the broader context of society)?
Where is our industry heading, and how do we fit?
What differentiates our products and services from others in the field?
To develop consensus around these key points, it’s advisable to routinely cover them in meetings. Encourage discussion and debate. Ensure that company leaders are both vocal and approachable regarding these matters.
Step 2: Determine Thought Leadership Goals
What do you want to accomplish with your thought leadership initiatives? Ultimately it all comes down to strengthening trust and increasing revenue, but there are numerous objectives laddering up to these outcomes in the scope of thought leadership. For example, among the paths in LinkedIn’s Objective-Based Advertising experience, thought leadership could be tied to objectives such as brand awareness, engagement, video views, job applicants, and more.
From there, you can select the metrics you’ll use to measure the success of your efforts.
“Specifically, the content we create to help business customers manage risk aims to be of use to those folks. We call that utility content, as it aims to empower – help them actually get something done that is important to them.” — John Bell, VP, Enterprise Digital Marketing, Travelers (via Perspectives from B2B Leaders)
Step 3: Identify Thought Leadership Tactics and Channels
You’ll want to be purposeful in how and where you share thought leadership marketing content. Consider the context and mindset of your audience. Determine a cadance and topical mix, infusing third-party perspectives to support your own original thought leadership.
There are many different ways to create and distribute thought leadership content, including blog posts, social media posts (short and long-form), video, whitepapers, infographics, speaking sessions, and so forth. Make sure you’re connecting your tactics and channels to the goals you’ve laid out.
Above all, you want to ensure your thought leadership marketing content is: accurate, digestible, shareable, actionable, and relevant to your audience (especially decision makers and C-suite executives).
Step 4: Activate Employees and (Especially) Company Leaders
As mentioned earlier, a brand’s thought leadership is shaped greatly by the individual voices within. People relate to other people more than companies. Thought leadership provides an excellent opportunity to build personal brands within your organization, especially among the leadership.
An employee advocacy platform like LinkedIn Elevate can be extremely effective for these purposes, providing a curated stream of thought leadership content for team members as well as execs to easily access and share.
Step 5: Engage, Learn, Adjust
As with any marketing initiative, your thought leadership marketing plan should be an adaptable ongoing focus. These statements should never be one-sided. Welcome conversations with your community about the topics that matter to you and them. Make available additional resources for further learning.
“The key is both inspiration and inclusion. It's a two-way conversation that ensures prospects and customers are part of the dialogue and provides them value to lift up their brands.” — Katica Roy, CEO, Pipeline Equity (via Perspectives from B2B Leaders)
Cornerstones of Effective Thought Leadership Marketing
Having a plan for the creation, distribution, measurement, and optimization of thought leadership is vital. But once you’ve got that nailed down, you might wonder: what makes for good thought leadership marketing?
Based on our research with Edelman, we developed a Thought Leadership Flywheel illustrating the tenets of effective thought leadership in modern marketing. These directives emerged as most urgent:
Capitalize on White Space: Analyze the market and find opportunities to provide fresh, unique perspective.
Be Relevant: Drive thought leadership engagement by aligning with customer needs and interests.
Set a Vision: Boldly lay out the future you hope to forge for your company, industry, and customer.
Build Trust: Harness executives, employees, and subject matter experts to develop authentic authority.
Be Concise: Create bite-sized thought leadership content that can easily be consumed and shared on a smartphone.
Measure Progress: Map you thought leadership tactics to objectives and outcomes, and aim for greater sophistication with attribution.
Tips for Success with Thought Leadership on LinkedIn
Hosting a community of more than 600 million professionals, LinkedIn is an excellent place for sharing B2B thought leadership. Here are a few pointers for maximizing your impact:
Zero in on the Right Audience: If your buying audience spans multiple personas or functions, you can take advantage of LinkedIn’s robust targeting capabilities to orient thought leadership content toward those who are most likely to find it valuable.
Strike a Balance with Organic and Paid: The best LinkedIn marketing strategies include a strategic mix of organic content and paid promotion, building a foundation with the former and bolstering it with the latter. Use Sponsored Content and other advertising tools to amplify your best thought leadership assets.
Gain Inspiration from Your Feed, Groups, and Hashtags: Not only is LinkedIn a great way to make your voice heard, it’s also a great place to listen to others. Follow prominent influencers, groups, and hashtags within your niche to keep a finger on the pulse. This will help you chart your thought leadership marketing plan.
Partner with Influencers: You can extend the reach of your thought leadership content by co-creating with strategic influencers who share your values. Pursue mutually beneficial engagements that allow you to tap into their networks and vice versa.
“We found that executives at companies that reap the rewards of social media engagement are much more active on social media than executives at companies that are not socially active. They also play a bigger role in driving a socially engaged culture.” — Brian Solis, Best-Selling Author (via the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Thought Leadership)
Lead the Way with B2B Thought Leadership
If you’re not leading, you’re following. B2B buyers and decision makers want to work with leading minds in their industry, so it’s crucial to continually reinforce this reputation through strong, compelling, accessible, and impactful thought leadership marketing content. Once you’ve built a strong foundation of trust and confidence with your audience, the rest of your marketing strategy will become vastly more effective and fruitful.
Ready to run a thought leadership campaign on LinkedIn? Create an ad, choose your appropriate objective, and take the lead.