Thought Leadership – What It Is, What’s It’s Not, and Why Your Business Needs It

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By Jen Patterson, B2Launch Writer & Content Strategist

There’s plenty to be excited about when it comes to thought leadership. And though it may be a hot buzzword — and often a high priority — for marketing teams, many organizations think they’re effectively creating thought leadership content, but they’re not. So what is thought leadership really, and how do you know if your business is engaging in effective thought leadership?

Whether it’s in the form of a blog, white paper, or eBook, effective thought leadership positions you (and your business) as an expert in your field. It’s innovative, it sparks thoughtful conversations, it’s collaborative and most importantly, the B2B world is hungry for more of it. With all of the click-bait and viral fluff that’s all-too widely available, value-focused educational content has become the exception — leaving space for you to stand out among your peers. 

If your current thought leadership program isn’t translating into lead generation, a widened audience or strengthened partnerships, it could be the result of a poor content strategy. And if you just haven’t taken the time to implement thought leadership, you’re missing out on inexpensive and effective growth opportunities for your business. 

Thought leadership isn’t selling — it’s sharing. 

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Done correctly, an effective thought leadership strategy should increase quality leads, connect you to like-minded partners, and build a loyal base of repeat customers. But the reason many organizations aren’t seeing full benefits from thought leadership is due to a misguided approach. To best understand how effective thought leadership works, let’s look at how it doesn’t.

First and foremost, thought leadership is not selling; it’s sharing. At its core, this kind of content is meant to build a relationship with your audience. If there are ‘hidden’ sales pitches or if it’s regularly touting your good work, readers will notice and quickly lose trust. This includes blogs or social media threads that are full of self-promotion. If you won an award or were mentioned in a high-profile publication, let your PR team do the work to spread the word, and instead keep your content customer-focused.

Another common mistake companies make — especially when initially building the brand — is assuming that there’s an immediate need for quantity, and sacrifice quality in the process. Yes, B2B companies that blog more often can increase inbound traffic by three fold. However, the damage done by rushing to share a high quantity of content, rather than taking the time to develop quality, will set you back and make it harder to establish your work as credible. In a recent study conducted by Edelman and LinkedIn, 30 percent of business decision-makers and 35 percent of C-suite employees reported deciding notto do business with a company because of their poor thought leadership.

Remember, as a thought leader you’re sharing, and who wants you to share yourscraps with them? Practice restraint and thank yourself later. 

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Why is thought leadership worth your time?

Because the C-suite or founders are often the face of thought leadership — though they don’t necessarily have to be — there’s the misconception that there just simply aren’t enough hours in the day for a robust thought leadership plan. Well, it’s time to make time.

Obviously, high performing thought leadership content builds a strong foundation at top of the sales funnel — creating a greater level of brand awareness. But in the B2B world, where companies are more likely to have repeat customers and long-term relationships, the lasting effects of quality thought leadership are even greater. Hubspot reports that 95 percent of B2B buyers want content with more input from industry leaders, and 47 percent of buyers viewed three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. So if you want to convert more leads, it’s crucial to provide your audience the high quality content they desire. 

When considering time management, whether you decide to put your CEO or founder as the face of your thought leadership is up to you, and it can be done effectively either way. Consider Moz. Even though Rand Fishkin was the most recognizable face (okay, mustache) of the company for many years, White Board Friday, their blog feature that’s been successful in curating a cult-like following of digital marketers, has always regularly been hosted by less senior Moz employees. Fishkin has, of course, contributed on a regular basis, but because the content is thoughtful, educational and valuable, followers are able to trust the information no matter who the author is. 

The point is, having a robust plan in place does not have to mean taking up any one person’s time, and, even more importantly, a well-documented strategy should mean that it doesn’t. 

Successfully integrate thought leadership into your content strategy.

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Building an effective thought leadership strategy should streamline the bulk of your content planning when it comes to blogs, long-form articles, eBooks and even social media. Information that is thought provoking and educational can be repackaged and dissected from multiple angles and presented in various lights. If you’re revamping your strategy or beginning from ground zero, start with the basics:

Define your message and your audience. Hopefully, you’ve already done the work to both define your  and understand which topics your company is most passionate about.  These details will help you decide what kind of content your audience will get most excited about and which platforms are the most effective to reach them.

Engage your writers. You have as many writers and potential contributors as you do team members. Everyone on your staff, especially Directors, VP and the C-Suite  should have something meaningful to contribute to your thought leadership library. It’s all about capturing experiences that are meaningful to your audience. 

Do the work. A great first step to build your thought leadership content library is sharing valuable first-hand knowledge and experience. Your next step should be to engage both other industry professionals and your customers. Performing an in-depth customer survey is a great way to learn new insights, that you can then package in a meaningful way and share (for free!) with your followers. 

Measure. It’s both possible and necessary to measure your thought leadership campaigns. Perform regular benchmarking and see what’s resonating with your audience. 

Repeat. As you continue to position your business as a thought leader, opportunities to partner with like-minded brands should grow. Encourage your team to speak on panels, publish work and engage with your audience. 

Putting it into practice...

Thought leadership done right should embody your brand, harness your company’s know-how and demonstrate expertise, all in a way that’s valuable to your audience. If you don’t feel like your current thought leadership content meets those requirements, it’s time to pivot. Contact B2Launch if you need support identifying your audiences or building and implementing a thought leadership plan that will create results for your organization.