Aug 23, 2021

How to Create a Thought Leadership Marketing Plan for Your B2B Brand

Time and time again, research has proven that thought leadership content is a powerful way to reach B2B decision makers. According to Edelman’s 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, almost half of decision makers admit that thought leadership directly influences their purchasing decisions. How? It overwhelmingly impacts the way they view a brand. In particular:

  • 90% of decision makers say it increases their respect for an organization
  • 88% say it makes an organization look more capable
  • 86% say it increases their trust in an organization

Unfortunately, this only works if the content is done right. Anyone with a LinkedIn account and a couple of followers can claim to be a thought leader, but that doesn’t mean their message will resonate with decision makers. The reality is that most content isn’t actually very helpful. Just 17% of decision makers surveyed by Edelman believed that most of the content they read was “very good” or “excellent.” So, how can your brand stand out?

A solid thought leadership marketing plan can help you craft content that resonates with your ideal potential customer. These tips can help.

What is thought leadership?

Instead of solely pushing products and services, thought leadership pushes ideas. The main goal is to use content to establish your organization as a leading voice in its industry. The more helpful your content is to your audience, the more trust you’ll build. This helps sustain the type of long-term relationships that lead to conversions.

Though thought leadership plays out across blog posts, social media and a number of other forums and formats, it generally falls into three categories:

  • Industry: This includes industry insights, data, news and opinions. For example, an automotive manufacturer publishing an op-ed explaining how the novel coronavirus pandemic might lead to an increase in electric car sales.
  • Product: This focuses on customer solutions. Which products and services will help, how do they work, how are they used and how do they compare? For example, Hootsuite’s explainer on the best social media services to use in 2021.
  • Organizational: This helps a brand define their overall values and point of view. For example, nonprofit founder Julia Bossmann’s article for the World Economic Forum on ethical issues in artificial intelligence.

The type of content you produce depends on your overall goals. Are you seeking brand awareness or looking to push a new product line?

Step 1: Define your brand’s perspective

The first step to creating a thought leadership marketing plan is to define your brand’s perspective and unique selling point. You don’t want to confuse decision makers with mixed messages. Rather, you want to present as a decisive, unified front. To do this, think about:

  • Expertise: What unique knowledge does your company possess? In what areas are you knowledgeable?
  • Position in the industry: Where do you fit in among your competitors? What issues are facing your industry and where do you stand?
  • Values: What are your brand’s overall goals? What are your morals? How are you helping your target audience

Once you define your perspective, make sure that all departments are aligned.

Step 2: List out your goals

Obviously, the main goal of thought leadership is to increase revenue, but that’s a winding path. Thought leadership can contribute to a number of objectives. Are you hoping to raise brand awareness or promote a certain product line? Are you looking to increase engagement or win more subscribers? Are you trying to attract new talent or promote your existing talent? As soon as you understand your goals, you can figure out how to achieve them.

Step 3: Define your target audience

Good thought leadership answers questions, but the best thought leadership answers questions before they’re even asked. This requires a razor-sharp knowledge of your target customer. You need to know their passions, their problems and their unique needs. In the world of B2B, most companies focus on target accounts likely to provide the highest value. Whatever the audience, define them by creating a buyer persona. Ask yourself:

  • What are my target customer’s demographics? (Think: age, education, income, location).
  • What is their role within a company?
  • What are their job duties?
  • What is their decision-making authority?
  • What are their goals?
  • What are their challenges?

Moving forward, all of your content should benefit this type of core customer.

Step 4: Take a look at competitors

It’s difficult to be a true thought leader if you don’t understand what’s happening in the rest of your industry. For this reason, it’s important to look at your competitors. Parse through their social media accounts, company blogs and LinkedIn pages. Do a quick Google search and see what type of buzz they’ve generated. During this process, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are my competitors writing about?
  • How often are they publishing content?
  • Where are they publishing their content?
  • Are there gaps in their content that you could fill?
  • What is helpful about their content and where could you improve?

Use this to inform your own content strategy. You can take note of a competitor’s popular content and use it for inspiration in your own strategy. If you were already planning to write similar articles, you can adopt a different angle or ensure that your content is more comprehensive. In other words, use your competitor’s work to improve your own content.

Step 5: Create your distribution strategy

All thought leadership needs a distribution strategy. This is the where, when and how behind sharing your message. Consider a variety of avenues, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • eBooks
  • White papers
  • Op-eds
  • Guest posts
  • Case studies
  • Informational videos
  • Infographics
  • Research studies
  • Webinars
  • Speaking engagements
  • Podcast episodes

At the most basic level, B2B businesses should utilize both social media and a company blog. You can even work the latter into an existing SEO strategy to help boost your organic search traffic. Or boost your thought leadership visibility with a PPC strategy. Keep in mind that some types of content do carry more weight than others. For example, an appearance on an industry-related podcast can prove your expertise while promoting your brand to a new audience. A newsletter can help build on-going relationships with qualified leads. Regular LinkedIn posts can help you reach C-suite executives looking to network.

The overall goal is to get your content out there, but in a calculated way that will boost your returns. Create a content schedule and stick to it.

Stay connected and always look for what’s next

Once you’ve created a solid thought leadership marketing plan, it’s time to create content and push it out into the world. This is not the end of the road. Thought leadership requires persistent effort to build expertise and trust. Stay connected with your audience and grow along with your industry.

As such, the most successful thought leaders are always evolving. When a new issue arises, they’re there to solve it. When a customer comes forward with a new question, they have the answer. Don’t be afraid to look at the metrics and adjust your strategy as you go. The more you adapt, the better you’ll serve your target audience.

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