There’s a good reason I often recommend thought leadership content as part of a content marketing strategy for technology companies. It works!

A quick definition: Thought leadership content is insight and wisdom shared from someone deemed a trusted source in a specific industry, company or within an area of expertise.

For the last three years, global communications firm Edelman has partnered with LinkedIn to produce the B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study. And the 2020 report confirmed the trend once again: B2B decision-makers pay attention to high-quality thought leadership content. In fact, more than half of the B2B decision-makers surveyed spend more than an hour every week consuming thought leadership content.

What we know for sure:

  • Thought leadership content is a powerful way to connect with B2B decision-makers.
  • Companies that have a culture of thought leadership reap greater reputation and sales impact than those who don’t.
  • And yet … Many content producers are unable to connect thought leadership to measurable business impact.

While thought leadership is an excellent way to gain the attention of B2B decision-makers, your company must dedicate enough resources to do it well — or the negative consequences could outweigh the positive.

Is your organization using thought leadership content to its greatest advantage? If you answered, “No,” or “I’m not sure,” read on.

The Edelman study found that while thought leadership has a proven impact, only 15% of decision-makers would rate the content they read as very good or excellent. If your company is churning out subpar thought leadership content, you could be wasting time and money, plus missing out on a powerful opportunity to drive business. A few powerful stats from the report:

  • 59% of decision-makers judged a company’s competencies through effective thought leadership
  • 49% of decision-makers confirmed that thought leadership influenced purchasing decisions
    • Not only did existing customers choose to increase the amount of business they did with a thought leader, but the thought leadership content also drove new business from those not previously considering buying (54%) as well as generated RFP invitations (49%)
  • 42% of decision-makers are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that produces thought leadership
  • Higher-quality thought leadership generates a greater brand and sales impact

It’s good business to invest in thought leadership.

But it’s not enough to churn out thought leadership content just to check it off your to-do list. To be effective for your business and valued by decision-makers you wish to attract, thought leadership must be high-quality.

According to the Edelman study, high-value thought leadership content gives decision-makers a new perspective. It rises above the cacophony of other content to offer insights on things decision-makers may have overlooked, and gives them a competitive advantage. If the content you generate as thought leadership just repeats what is already published or tries to sell your products or services, your team has missed the mark.

As with any effective content, to be compelling, thought leadership content must be timely and address a topic a decision-maker is currently grappling with. (Speaking of compelling, 75% of B2B decision-makers surveyed thought short and easy-to-consume content is very compelling.)

In addition to creating compelling content, you have to have a distribution plan that gets the thought leadership content in front of the right audience. While 54% of decision-makers discovered the content while researching a specific topic or “came across it in their day-to-day,” 26% received it directly from someone else.

Embrace a culture of thought leadership to sustain success.

Your company’s success with thought leadership is not only in the hands of the content producers.

Support from leadership and across the organization was deemed by 65% of content producers to be critical to success. Not only do content producers need the support and time to be able to conduct rigorous research and deep thinking on a topic, the organization as a whole must collaborate to make it a success.

Senior executives must be highly visible when the content is released and the content must be promoted broadly and effectively. Employees should also be involved in amplifying the content.

Over time your commitment to a culture of thought leadership will produce greater success.

The Edelman Thought Leadership Flywheel

To improve your odds of success with thought leadership, consider deploying Edelman’s six-point flywheel to create effective thought leadership content.

White Space: The sweet spot for your organization’s thought leadership is topics where timely industry trends, your company’s growth priorities and your customer’s pain points intersect. When you offer a perspective that’s new, bold or imaginative, it helps you stand out from the competition.

Relevance: If your content isn’t relevant, it will be ignored. Create relevant content by tailoring your communication to niche audiences and using martech that allows you to personalize the content experience. Your frontline sales and customer service staff can help content producers identify timely topics.

Vision: Provide more than the “what” in your content — demonstrate the “why” in a way nobody else does. This helps inspire your readers as you help them see new opportunities and insights into trends that link back to the key business challenges of B2B decision-makers.

Trust: Trust is key to driving thought leadership engagement. Help customers solve key problems by providing knowledge consistently over time. Align with trusted partners and industry influencers to provide more valuable content that can be used by B2B decision-makers.

Brevity: B2B decision-makers are busy professionals, so simple storytelling is most effective. You should provide immediate value with snackable content that will then lure readers into pursuing your longer-form content.

Attribution: One of the key findings of the Edelman Survey was that only 26% of marketers could tie the thought leadership they produced to sales and business wins. In order to give thought leadership content the credit it deserves, your organization must define what success looks like and how it will measure the effectiveness of thought leadership campaigns.

Thought leadership can be effective if it’s done well. It can strengthen your company’s reputation and can positively influence sales. But it can have absolutely the opposite impact if done poorly. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.