Building A Thought-Leadership Brand

Chris WrenJanuary 14, 20203 min

Thought leadership, especially for B2B brands, is an important tactic in the marketing and communications toolbox. While it’s growing in popularity there’s new data that points to declining value and effectiveness. Joe Kingsburry summarizes some of the key findings from an ongoing study around thought leadership brands and says, “The popularity of thought leadership may actually be making it harder to impress B2B buyers. It turns out they’re disappointed in the content brands are giving them.”

  • Only 32% of decision-makers this year say that they reliably gained valuable insights from consuming thought leadership – down from 39% in 2018.
  • 29% now believe that most of what they consume is “mediocre to very poor” in terms of quality (compared to 26% in 2018).
  • 25% say reading poor quality thought leadership has directly led them to not award business to the organization producing it.
  • Only 15% of marketers have the ability to tie their thought leadership efforts to business wins (compared to 19% in 2018).

One of the bigger mistakes brands make when approaching thought-leadership is to treat the tactic as one requiring low levels of effort. A subject matter expert, practice lead or other employee who may have some free time is asked to write a post for a company blog or lead a webinar. This may or may not align to an editorial calendar and may or may not have any governance or review process. This unstructured approach is no way to build a content marketing brand, and definitely not customer-centric enough to create and maintain an attractive thought leadership brand.

But when done right, thought leadership positively influences all of the activities that happen in the lower funnel: RFP invitations, awarding business, purchasing additional products or services not previously considered and pricing! 41% of decision makers responded that they would be willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that produces (high quality) thought leadership.

Developing a strong thought leadership brand first requires that brands define what they mean by “thought leadership.” It should be something authored by the brand that is supported with either original research or evidence that is highly valued by customers and prospects. It needs to be a topic that is something new and differentiated. It must include data or other evidence, not just cited but decoded and explained so audiences understand why it is important. And finally, thought leadership marketing must have some kind of follow-up action that will answer a reader’s “so now what do I do having learned this?” question. We follow this same approach here on Branding Strategy Insider.

Once you define, you should create an internal process that applies some governance around what you will create. Something like this:

1. The Pitch: In this first stage, your team should learn about the idea, question whether the idea has been explored either internally or at competitors, connect credible subject matter experts, be sure evidence exists or determine what research might be needed. Ultimately, this stage is where the idea gets pressure tested to meet the criteria your brand has set for valuable thought leadership.

2. Production: Manage the production as you would any marketing activity. Assign accountabilities, create a workback schedule and hold your team to it. If you can bring creative resources to bear, a strong design, writing and editing trio can go a long way into developing content that customers want.

3. Campaign Management: Determine the right channel mix, the length of the campaign, and create or link to any on-ramp/off-ramp content that completes the experience.

4. Measure and Learn: Determine who’s consumed your content. If you use ABM tools like DemandBase, are there ways to marry multiple interactions based on IP or cookie data in order to understand how the thought leadership has influenced pipeline and revenue activities. Do not be content with metrics that are easy to measure/easy to understand. Invest the time and resources so that a more comprehensive and compelling story can come to light.

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