What is thought leadership content?

Thought leadership content shares insights into an area of expertise of the organisation publishing it. The content itself can be anything from an article to an infographic, a white paper to a video.

Thought leadership content doesn’t focus on a product or service your organisation offers; it’s not a sales pitch.

Is thought leadership content being undervalued?

Because thought leadership content isn’t focused on selling a product or service that the organisation provides, it can be tempting to think that it doesn’t do much for persuading potential clients to enter into business.

In fact, data from the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study shows that very few marketers believe that thought leadership content has a large impact on B2B purchasing decisions.

17%

believe it’s effective in generating more Requests for Proposals (RFPs)

26%

believe it’s directly responsible for helping them close business

14%

believe it allows them to charge more than their competitors

If the majority of marketers are to be believed, then, little value should be placed in thought leadership content. But it turns out that such content means much more to the B2B decision makers who are consuming it.

How is thought leadership content being consumed?

Despite marketers poor opinion of thought leadership content, the same study reveals that high level decision makers value such content, and that it has a huge impact on what they do next.

47%

share their contact information after reading thought leadership content

45%

invited the organisation to bid on a project when not previously considering them

60%

bought a new product or a new service they were not considering

It’s perhaps even more surprising to discover that an incredible 61% are willing to pay a premium to work with an organisation that has published quality thought leadership content compared to an organisation that has published no thought leadership content.

And it turns out decisions are being made without even giving your sales team a chance to do their jobs; 47% of decision makers consume 3 to 5 pieces of content before engaging with a salesperson. Your content isn’t just attracting prospects, but it’s helping craft decisions before you even speak to them.

A photo of one pink boat leading four small blue boats.

This may have already sent you racing to your keyboard to hammer out a piece of thought leadership content. But be wary; while such content could certainly deliver dividends, it could also potentially damage your organisation’s prospects.

Thought leadership is a double-edged sword

The key to the success of any piece of content is quality. The only reason people read bad content is to make fun of it or to see if there’s anything worth reading. And it’s even more important that thought leadership is of the highest quality.

A thought leadership piece exemplifies your organisation’s expertise, its authority in its field, and its values. If the content is confusing, thin, or outdated, this doesn’t reflect well on your organisation. Despite the risk of poor quality content, 60% of decision makers report that half of the thought leadership pieces do not provide valuable insights.

That’s worrying enough, but it’s even worse when you consider how much business this poor content could be costing businesses. An incredible 58% of decision makers award business based on the strength of thought leadership. But bad content will lead to 29% deciding to dismiss an organisation from consideration.

In short, thought leadership content could be a great asset to your organisation, but you need to put in the time and the resources required to craft quality content that truly impresses your prospective clients.

How can you create successful thought leadership content?

It’s all well and good encouraging you to create quality thought leadership, but how do you go about doing that?

Choose your form of content

The first step is to choose the content that B2B decision makers want to consume. The DemandGen 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report reveals that the top six types of content used to make purchasing decisions are:

  • White papers 71%
  • Webinars 66%
  • Case studies 79%
  • Ebooks 67%
  • Infographics 62%
  • Blog posts 71%

Decision makers are also highly likely to share the same types of content too, so focusing on these types of content will be a strong starting point. If you’re starting out with thought leadership content, it might be worth trialling the different formats to see which one your audience prefers.

A photo of a pencil with the words 'Sharpen your strategy' written on it.

If you’re already creating thought leadership content, try branching out into a new format to see what results you get! Retire anything that garners negative results and apply the lessons learnt to your next piece of content.

Choose your type of content

Prescriptive content
This is content that establishes your authority by providing guides, tips, handbooks, procedures, or anything that answers ‘how to’ questions. There is a marked preference for this kind of content in the B2B sphere.

Predictive content
Content that discusses upcoming trends, outlines. forecasts for your industry, or other attempts to guess at the future, falls under predictive content. Its popularity isn’t unsurprising; where prescriptive content tells the reader the best way to do something today, predictive content helps the reader anticipate the best way to do something tomorrow.

Foundational content
This includes content such as toolkits and blueprints. Creating foundational content can sometimes feel counterintuitive, helping your potential clients do things for themselves rather than hiring you. But foundational content is focused on a single element or task; it shouldn’t be able to replicate your entire service!

Conversational content
This includes interviews and Q&As with prominent industry figures or influencers. Conversational content is often easier to digest and can be less traditionally B2B, though it should still contain key insights into the industry.

Just as with the different formats, it’s worth trialling these different types to see which one resonates with your audience.

Offer insights

It’s important that your thought leadership content offers something new, something that clarifies the unclear, isn’t lacking in insights and doesn’t state the obvious. For instance, the owner of an eCommerce website doesn’t need to be told that cybersecurity is important. But they might be interested in an in-depth comparison of security software solutions. When you’re thinking of topics to cover with your thought leadership piece, think along lines such as:

  • distill a dense collection of data into something that’s easy to read
  • simplify a process from your industry that might seem complicated to an outsider
  • predict the next big thing in your industry
  • put together a comprehensive guide to how to achieve a goal held by many organisations
  • conduct an in-depth interview with a well-known figure, or with a prominent figure in your organisation, on a timely and relevant topic for your industry
  • create templates or toolkits that your audience could use to achieve a goal that’s related to your services

Ultimately, you’re trying to create a piece of content that answers a question your target audience might ask, so that you can demonstrate how clearly you provide an answer and how much you know about the topic. As we’ve seen, that kind of authority has a big influence on high level decision makers, so you could start attracting new leads and winning new business

If you want to know more about thought leadership content, or you’d like some help with content strategy, why not get in touch and let us show you how much we know?