Tips from New Statesman Media Group’s tech-driven content marketing solution Lead Monitor on how to produce effective thought leadership for B2B campaigns.
In B2B marketing, having an authoritative and expert voice is a big differentiator in a world full of noise.
Indeed, in a survey undertaken last June by the New Statesman Media Group (publishers of New Statesman, Press Gazette et al), thought leadership was deemed the most important type of marketing content in generating leads (36%), ahead of video and case studies.
There is, of course, a catch: Producing headline-grabbing thought leadership content is tough.
According to a study by Edelman and LinkedIn (2020): “Only 17% rate the quality of the thought leadership they read as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’.”
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Thought leadership content tips
Thought leadership normally commits to the classic three-act structure found in the majority of storytelling – the protagonist, obstacle and solution.
By positioning a business as recognising pain points while simultaneously offering a solution, it is elevated above the crowded marketplace.
Thought leadership can come in many forms – written content or blogs, video, live events/webinars or audio – but at its heart, it is not a direct selling tool.
It should educate and contain actionable value for your audience – it is all about outward perception, based on a solid foundation (namely, the business).
Or as Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen describes: “I would define a thought leader as someone who stands above subject-matter expertise and is an authority in their field. And they have to be able to prove that expertise with a track record.”
Megan Groves, a member of the Forbes Councils, offers this sage advice: “Once you take a point of view, express an opinion or share insider or expert-level knowledge, your addition to the conversation isn’t just another link amidst the marketing noise. Instead, it’s a valuable contribution.”
And here lies the rub; thought leadership isn’t just offering up a CEO for interviews, but a strategic plan of content with an original – or at least useful – message.
At the heart of planning is targeting the right audience. Publishing content on platforms with desired readerships is a good start, as is being clever with social media (think researching potential customers, their reading habits, the content they enjoy).
To find your angle, start by surveying selected decision-makers and shining a light on their issues, which in turn opens up a host of original content ideas.
Also explore your competitors and how they present themselves within the industry. Naturally, a USP is advantageous, but if not ask yourselves: How can we stand out from the crowd? How do we communicate differently?
Next, explore the available distribution channels. From email marketing to social media, owned-and-operated to external, try to extend reach by hitting as many mediums as possible, budget allowing.
Finally, you have the small issue of deciding the content format.
Because thought leadership is more effective over time with a gradual build-up of the core messaging, most strategies are likely to contain multiple content strands.
With that in mind, they can be split into three distinct categories: Written word, events and video/audio.
Articles, both long- and short-form, and first-person blogs have existed in marketing since the year dot, and for a reason – they work.
If your goal is to demonstrate expertise in a given subject, then the written word remains king. You have space to curate your thoughts and unleash creativity with minimum time constraints. That said, it is easy to misinterpret words, so remaining genuine and real can be a challenge.
By appearing live – or virtually – at an event, webinar or filmed interview offers immediacy and the opportunity to show personality in real-time, but getting your message across takes skill.
To avoid such pitfalls, pre-recorded video will have a similar impact, with the advantage of clever imagery and graphics. Video is traditionally more expensive than the written version, although there are many online tools to get the basics done without breaking the bank.
Finally, podcasts are possibly the quickest growing media format currently, with 6.5 million adults listening to them weekly (Podnews, 2020), and they allow for an in-depth discussion. The negative? There are currently 850,000-odd available globally.
Whatever medium is chosen: Tell your story with verve and gusto.