We define thought leadership as research that has original insights which challenge industry thinking. Thought leadership is a catalyst to new strategies and whilst it benefits from the rise of content marketing it is also being challenged by it. The distinction between the two is that thought leadership tends to take longer to research, requires more analysis and is often presented in long form. By comparison, B2B content marketing is often executed as repeated communication of a known message e.g. ‘Millennials are technology positive, better change the way you sell.’
So, what are the opportunities to make thought leadership more useful for B2B content marketing strategy for sales-lead generation?
1. Chunk-up thought leadership studies for social selling– the 30-50 page management report has traditionally been the end result of thought leadership. These days the opportunities to break that report down into social media content, blogs, Vlogs, videos, infographics, PDFs, dashboards, viral content etc. are almost unlimited. The benefit for the B2B organisations which fund thought leadership studies is that they are able to reach fragmented audiences.
2. Visualise through online dashboards– having a destination URL for the thought leadership content, with visualisations, white papers, infographics, videos, quotes and a dashboard is the leading way to present thought leadership.
3. Improve the quality of research– the rise in popularity of radio programs such as the BBC’s More or Less(https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qshd ) (Tim Harford et al) and books including Weapons of Math Destruction (Cathy O’Neil) mean that to qualify as thought leadership, the quality of research has to be excellent. Integrating new ways of doing research or being more robust in methodologies is primary way of doing this. Audiences are getting better at spotting self-serving or low quality research methodologies.
4. Support Account Based Management (ABM) strategies– Many large B2B marketing and sales organisations have moved to Account Based Management (ABM) models where a small number of individuals at a prospect or client are tasked with highly relevant content (to their business challenges). This personalised approach recognises that all organisations are different. This bespoke approach is time-consuming, but the future.
5. Build ROI – the digital world is giving us more ways of working out what marketing works and what doesn’t (John Wanamaker would be happy). In B2B, it’s not always about the number of hits to your website, but more about the size of contracts won. If a piece of thought leadership gives the persuasive evidence for one large contract it will have paid for itself many times over.
6. Continue with a theme– it’s hard to get attention in a noisy market place, and new is always appealing. However, in thought leadership some of the most successful studies (like Shell’s scenarios https://www.shell.com/energy-and-innovation/the-energy-future/scenarios.html) have been on-going for years. Repeating research and tracking data over time strengthens the thought leadership messaging for compelling content marketing.