Why Thought Leadership Content Should Be Part of Your Inbound Program

Posted by David Terry on January 03, 2018

In a recent research report by the global PR giant Edelman and the business social media platform, LinkedIn, we got a better picture of how quality content can influence B2B decision makers, and the role of thought leadership in developing that content.

Thought leadership has been around for a while, and is proven to have remarkable ROI – potentially higher than any other Inbound Marketing activity, because it positively changes your company’s brand perception, giving your prospects the impression that your company is the best at what it does in your industry.

B2B businesses with a strong thought leadership presence get more website traffic, more leads and more sales - and here is the big bonus .... their customers are willing to pay higher prices for products and services delivered by thought leaders.

First, let's go back a step and remind ourselves of the standard definition of thought leadership.

"Thought leadership should be an entry point to a relationship. Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships."

If thought leadership has the power to start relationships, then thought leadership should be the goal of many B2B businesses, especially professional services such as legal, financial, environmental, cloud services, engineering, technology, and so on.  By developing thought leadership content that shows your depth of experience and knowledge, you can position yourself and your brand to better influence your prospects, as an extension of your Inbound Marketing strategy.

From this Edelman / LinkedIn report, “How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation” - we have distilled down the key findings into some practical tips on how we can deliver quality thought leadership content, with the goal of influencing B2B buyers.

The Edelman / LinkedIn report shows that B2B companies can strategically use thought leadership content to build a solid brand reputation for themselves, in the minds of potential customers, as subject area experts. 

Here Are The Key Takeaways From The Report:

1. Thought Leadership Content Can Influence Conversions Throughout The Funnel

We all know from our Inbound training that relevant, buyer-journey mapped content, delivered at the right time, is core to effective Inbound Marketing. However, having an established and recognized thought leader delivering this content, can generate a greater content impact by creating familiarity, confidence and preference with buyers.

When B2B buyers see good quality, relevant thought leadership content at the top-of-the-funnel, the report found that 44% of business decision makers, and 55% of C-level execs have given their email contact information and filled out a request for more information form.

However, here's the really interesting part of this report, thought leadership content also drives impact further down the funnel, again according to the report, 45% of decision makers and 48% of C-level execs said - thought leadership directly led them to award new business to a company - concluding that thought leadership directly contributes to the closing of sales! Another 31% of business leaders, and 42% of C-suite executives reached out to an organization to follow up after seeing their content.

And, as one C-Level executive responded - “I am more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that has publicly articulated a clear vision for the future.”

Here's Your Brit Agency Tip: Map your thought leadership content through all the stages of the buyer’s journey for a full-funnel approach to content (awareness, consideration, decision) and ensure it addresses stage-relevant buyer challenges. Where possible (and where you need your content to resonate with specific key accounts) personalizing your thought leadership content (as in an account-based marketing ABM campaign) can help. 

2. Content Quality Determines Value

We all know that quality content has more value, but the quality of thought leadership content is imperative - this includes the copy, the layout, graphics and overall design of the content, as well as its actual information value. All of these are key factors that contribute to the success of thought leadership content.

If this content isn’t perceived as really good quality, or it doesn’t deliver the value promised, then, it can have a negative impact on purchasing decisions, and push people away from this brand.

In the study, they found that 53% of C-level execs have lost respect or admiration for an organization because of poor thought leadership content.

Additionally, 30% of decision makers and 35% of C-level execs decided NOT to award business because of the quality of thought leadership content through the buying process. 51% of respondents were disappointed by the overall poor quality of the thought leadership content they see.

So what did the report say to help us understand what quality thought leadership content is? 

Relevance, timeliness and referrals from trusted sources matter the most to decision makers:

  • 63% will engage with content where the topic is something they are currently working on

  • 67% will engage if content comes from a source they have opted into

  • 84% will engage if content is from someone they know and admire

  • 34% will engage if ideas are completely new and original

Here's Your Brit Agency Tip: This data should lead you to re-evaluate your current content quality. We recommend you always focus on thought leadership topics that are current, relevant, that will educate, add true insight, and deliver real business value.  Add to that, unique insights and opinions and the content will resonate with your buyer personas.

71% of business decision makers and 67% of C-Suite executives prefer documents no more than 3-4 pages long, want to be kept advised of business trends and issues that will affect them.

3. Factual Information And Industry Insights Create Effective Thought Leadership

The opinions and insights delivered by individual company leaders, who are real thought leaders will deliver more impact.

  • 78% of decision makers and 79% of C-level execs rate content that - identifies new trends and issues that I should be aware of - as important.
  • 66% of decision makers and 63% of C-suite executives also indicated a preference for factual data in content: e.g. research/charts/infographics.

The most successful thought leadership content, according to the survey, exhibits the following characteristics:

  • Relevant and Applicable: It is timely and relevant to a specific project the recipient is currently working on (63 percent of both decision-makers and C-level executives).
  • Industry Insights: It provides insights on specific trends and challenges within the target customer’s industry (78 percent of decision-makers; 79 percent of C-level executives) including underlying analyses of the causes and drivers of current events (63 percent; 64 percent).
  • Digestible: It is easily consumable, including short-form content (71 percent; 67 percent) or facts, data points, charts, infographics and figures (66 percent; 63 percent).
  • Trusted Source: It is forwarded by someone the recipient knows and respects (84 percent; 86 percent).
  • Staying Current: It is focused on current industry topics, supplementing long-term strategic intellectual property with opportunities to have meaningful touch points with customers and prospects.

Here's Your Brit Agency Tip:  In your thought leadership content development process, you need to do your research and add current key facts, data points and figures, and you need to deliver that data in a form that is easily digestible.

Interestingly, videos are the preferred medium for 49% of C-Suite executives and 45% of business decision makers. Growing in popularity, video is a great way to share industry insights, particularly if delivered by a thought leader and industry expert.

When done well, B2B thought leadership content has the potential to bring value, stronger customer relationships, brand awareness, greater conversion rates and sales.

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Topics: Inbound Marketing, B2B Inbound