What it means to be a B2B thought leader, and how to develop a successful thought leadership strategy for your company
Many companies aspire to be thought leaders in their industry, but few are successful at it. In fact, the term itself is often used as a buzzword. Everyone claims they’re a thought leader, but what does that really mean, and why is it important?
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why B2B thought leadership matters
- What it means to be a thought leader
- How to develop a successful B2B thought leadership strategy
a. Evaluate your competitors
b. Know your audience
c. Define your content niche
d. Adopt a multi-channel distribution approach
e. Measure results
Why B2B thought leadership matters
In the B2B world, winning at thought leadership matters now more than ever. Why? Because being a thought leader reinforces the idea of trust at a time when many institutions (like the government and the news media) are losing it. This means that brands have a unique opportunity to establish themselves as reliable, respected industry voices in a way that will resonate with buyers.
As companies searched for ways to maximize digital touchpoints with customers during the pandemic, we saw an explosion of B2B thought leadership content. So today, breaking through the noise is becoming harder than ever. Is it still worth it to invest in thought leadership? In a word: yes. From establishing trust to changing buyer perceptions and increasing purchase consideration, the case for thought leadership continues to be a compelling one.
What it means to be a thought leader
Earning trust and credibility with buyers can be a daunting task – especially for B2B companies. Sales cycles are longer and more complex, and buying decisions typically involve multiple decision-makers.
But when you’re viewed as a thought leader in your industry, earning that trust and credibility with buyers gets A LOT easier. True thought leadership means that your buyers already view you as the expert. You don’t need to sell them on this point. They see you as a trusted and authoritative source for the information they need. When they’re looking to grow, innovate or solve a problem, they’re likely to come to you first for guidance and advice.
Companies that are great at thought leadership tend to have these characteristics in common:
- They are a promoter of insights, ideas and trends over products and solutions
- Their content goes beyond the “what” and focuses on “how” and “why” a topic is important
- They have a unique point-of-view, often with a recognizable face behind it
- They aim to teach their customers something they didn’t know before
- They have a strong social media presence with high engagement
How to develop a successful B2B thought leadership strategy
We do a lot of work with clients who are trying to develop or enhance their thought leadership strategy. Here are some important best practices to keep in mind to help ensure yours is a success.
Evaluate your competitors
Before you start thinking about a roadmap for your own thought leadership content, first you need to understand the competition. Identify 3-5 competitors and analyze their thought leadership content, paying close attention to these key characteristics:
- Frequency – how often is content published?
- Topics – what are the most common subjects or themes covered?
- Channel mix – what channels are typically used to distribute content? (LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, company website or blog, digital advertising, etc.)
- Format – what types of content are produced? (Podcasts, videos, webinars, articles, infographics, etc.)
- Target audience – what types of buyers do they appear to be targeting? (C-suite executives, senior managers, analysts, project managers, etc.)
It’s helpful to view this information in a grid so you can easily compare differences across companies. This exercise will also help you identify content gaps that you can use to your advantage. For instance, if you notice that none of your competitors has a podcast, then starting one may help you stand apart from the crowd. Or if no one’s talking about vendor consolidation even though it’s a big challenge for your clients, then you’ve just identified a key content theme.
Know your audience
The temptation to be everything to everyone is real. But this approach doesn’t typically work well when it comes to thought leadership. You’ll find more success if you narrow your focus to an ideal set of customers and then target your content for their specific needs.
Great thought leadership content should make your target audience feel like you’re speaking directly to them. And buyer personas are a great tool to use during content development to crystallize what’s important to them. Buyer personas provide a snapshot of your ideal customer set, offering a summary of demographics, goals, challenges, interests, and preferences. They make it easier to create hyper-relevant content that your buyers are more likely to engage with.
For more information about buyer personas, read our blog’s previous post, Buyer Personas: 6 Keys to Better Understand Your Prospects.
Define your content niche
Figuring out what key content themes you should cover can be trickier than it looks (again, the temptation to be everything to everyone looms large here). A good way to start is to think about the following questions:
- What are the hottest trends everyone’s talking about in your industry right now?
- What common pain points do you consistently hear from your customers? (Hint: ask your salespeople for their insights on this)
- What things make your company unique? How do you stand apart from the competition?
- What are your current business priorities?
Ideally, your content niche should fit at the intersection of all (or most) of those four elements.
Let’s say that artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic in your industry right now, and you know that work automation is a big challenge for many clients. You’re also the first company in your industry to offer an AI-driven software platform to drive work automation. And your company has aggressive growth goals for the platform this year. So, incorporating AI as a key content pillar in your thought leadership strategy is a no-brainer.
Chances are, you’ve got a handful of slam-dunk topics that are fairly easy to identify as key components of your content strategy. Then you can fill in others based on the opportunities you identified in your competitor evaluation or based on insights from your buyer personas.
Adopt a multi-channel distribution approach
Great thought leadership content will languish in obscurity without a solid omnichannel distribution plan. Here are some tactics to consider:
- Social media – Thought leadership content was made for social media, and you should be leveraging it across all your company’s social channels. Pro tip: don’t just repeat the same posts across all channels at the same time. Switch up your post language a bit and experiment with timing/cadence on each channel.
- Digital advertising – Select a handful of “blockbuster” pieces of content, such as a whitepaper or industry study, and consider amplifying them with paid digital or social advertising using a gated content approach. Pro tip: develop a thought leadership campaign that ties your key pieces of content together with a creative theme to maximize impact.
- Social selling – Develop a plan to engage your salespeople in promoting your thought leadership content through their own social media networks. Pro tip: offer a calendar with suggested post language to make sharing as easy as possible.
- Company blog site/website – Think of your company blog site as your library or hub for all thought leadership content. Pro tip: to increase traffic to your hub, add a link to your blog site in your standard marketing email footer and in your press release boilerplate.
Ensure you can show the impact of your thought leadership activities by measuring results. Think beyond just clicks and engagement and focus on buyer behaviors as well. Here are some metrics to consider:
- Blog site traffic
- Engagement on social channels (likes, comments, shares)
- Webinar attendance
- Account lift
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs)
Becoming a B2B thought leader is a tough job. It requires companies to set aside their sales pitch and act more like trusted mentors or objective news publishers. But we can’t overstate the importance of thought leadership as a differentiator. This is especially true in today’s environment of eroding consumer trust.
Consider this: 64% of buyers say that an organization’s thought leadership content is a more trustworthy basis for assessing its capabilities and competency than its marketing materials and product sheets. In a world where the buying journey has gone mostly digital, this makes a compelling case for B2B thought leadership.
Here at GrowthMode Marketing, we’re experts at helping our clients establish and grow their presence as industry thought leaders, and we can help you too. Contact us today to learn more.