In the world of B2B marketing, thought leadership is a term that frequently gets tossed around. It’s often viewed as a jargony buzzword — something so ubiquitous but hard-to-define that it practically parodies itself. Could someone truly be a so-called “thought leader” if they call themselves a thought leader? Surely, by design, not every B2B company that touts itself as such truly fits that role. Where someone leads, another has to follow, right? Wrong!
The truth is that every successful B2B company brings something unique to the table — and being a thought leader is all about being the master of your domain. You can become the authority on your unique value proposition and the problem your company is solving within your niche. In fact, a 2020 study by Edelman found that 88% of business decision makers believe that thought leadership is an effective way to enhance the perception of an organization. In 2019’s study, 57% of decision makers admitted that thought leadership directly led to them doing business with a company.
Unfortunately, research has also found that most (statistically, more than half) of the thought leadership content out there isn’t very valuable. So, how do you wind up above the fold? These tips can help you craft a surefire thought leadership plan.
What Is Thought Leadership?
This lofty term actually has a pretty definitive meaning. Thought leadership is when companies leverage their knowledge and experience to answer their audiences’ questions or solve their audience’s problems. Typically, this is done in the form of:
- Blog and social media posts
- White papers
- Research studies and original data
For example, a B2B tech company in the cybersecurity space might approach a thought leadership content strategy by writing a blog series about protecting customer information using cloud software. Overall, there are three different types of B2B thought-leadership:
- Industry thought leadership, where companies discuss news and insights about their specific industry and the future within that niche.
- Product thought leadership, where companies discuss products, how they solve consumer problems, and how they compare to other products.
- Organizational thought leadership, where a company discusses values, purpose, and brand viewpoint as it relates to their niche and the larger world.
You can use each of these in your strategy or focus on just one depending on your budget and goals.
Define Your Brand’s Message
The first step to creating meaningful thought leadership content is to define your brand’s message. You need to have a perspective before you can be the authority on it. This should be unified across all public-facing employee and company messaging. For example, just because a CEO’s blog post is from their own personal perspective doesn’t mean it should go against your company’s overall viewpoint.
In order to define your brand’s message, you can ask yourself the following questions:
- Where does your brand sit within your industry and within society as a whole?
- Where is your industry and where is it headed?
- Who is your target consumer?
- What is your unique value proposition and how does it differ from your peers?
- Are you solving a problem that needs solving and how?
Discuss these key points and make sure that all of your company’s leaders are knowledgeable about the answers. This is the metaphorical seed that will grow your overall thought leadership strategy.
Determine Your Goals And Distribution Strategy
You can’t craft a solid thought leadership strategy without first determining what you want to get out of it. Generally, the goal is to increase revenue by fostering trust and positioning your company as an authority within its industry, but there’s a little bit more to think about.
Ask yourself a few questions: are you looking to attract leads to a specific product? Are you hoping to raise your company’s profile in a new niche within your existing industry? Some businesses also use thought leadership in conjunction with an SEO link-building strategy. In this case, guest blog posts are extremely helpful in both reaching a wider audience and boosting search engine ranking.
Your answers here will determine your distribution strategy — whether it’s publishing a whitepaper with research findings and infographics or creating a monthly mailing list. Whatever the content, make sure to sync up your social media posts, newsletters, and PR. Every channel should be on the same page.
Don’t Limit Yourself To Blogs — Try Out Video
The ideal thought leadership strategy seamlessly mixes short and long form content. In this regard, mobile-optimized video is some of the most useful. According to AdWeek, video consumption on mobile devices is rising 100% year over year, and 92% of mobile users report sharing videos with others.
Video isn’t just a way to get users to share your content. It’s a foundation upon which you can build additional content. On its own, videos are increasingly prioritized in Google search results, but they can also be transformed into shorter clips for social media (think: Instagram stories and even TikTok, which is slowly gaining popularity in the B2B world), fresh infographics, or even blog posts. Video is like the veritable cat of the B2B marketing kingdom — it has nine lives.
According to research, 73% of millennials are involved in product or service decision making at their jobs. They also listen to a heck of a lot of podcasts. Overall, podcast listeners are more likely to follow brands on social media. Get the gist? Podcasts are a poignant way to reach an attentive audience looking for valuable insights. Consider starting your own podcast as part of your thought leadership efforts or seek out podcasts that share your company values and see if they’ll let you make a guest appearance.
Get Your Employees Involved
Your thought leadership efforts don’t have to be limited to a mysterious brand persona. People relate to people a whole lot more than they do a random brand (as much as people may love, for example, watching the Wendy’s Twitter account roast consumers). You can increase the impact of your thought leadership strategy by involving real employees — whether it’s C-suite executives, team leaders, or even a group of interns. Help your workers build a personal brand that promotes your company’s vision.
Trial And Error Goes A Long Way
With so many channels for thought leadership, don’t be afraid to try new things. Maybe jumping into TikTok seems radical for a B2B software brand, but it could help revamp a tired company image and create a fresh company culture by showcasing relatable, behind-the-scenes content. Maybe you’ve never thrown a virtual event and are afraid it won’t be well-attended. That’s okay. You can start small, adjust your strategy, and grow as you find out what suits your target consumers best. Thought leadership is a constantly evolving space, so don’t be afraid to try new things and adjust your strategy later down the line.