“Hey, it’s great that you guys get our CEO on the cover of Electronic Business and write our whitepapers, but I can’t possibly believe that any of that helps us sell even one more microcontroller.” –Former client, c. 1997
In my early 20s and barely a year into my public relations career, this statement echoed a persistent criticism that has haunted nearly every communicator or marketer whose work wasn’t strictly product focused. Many years later, I finally have a rebuttal, thanks to the study Edelman undertook with LinkedIn aimed at understanding the potential business development power of thought leadership.
Thought leadership — necessarily involving communications and materials that address issues sitting well above and beyond product marketing — has always been something that many companies just do for any number of reasons. Certainly, they view it as almost exclusively a reputation- or corporate-brand-building exercise. Rarely, if ever, have companies looked across the rhetorical gulf between its thought leadership and its product marketing, asking how and to what degree the former supports the latter. Now, at the very least, we know what the size of that gulf actually is.
Having presented this study to clients, partners and colleagues multiple times leading up to today’s launch, many have been amazed and encouraged by indications that their work might be performing better than they thought. As you might imagine, the results are particularly encouraging for anyone tasked with 1) producing thought leadership content and 2) partnering with a sales organization.
Let’s look at three of the most revenue-significant aspects of the study within the broad segment of business decision-makers:
From a business development perspective, thought leadership appears to perform well beyond expectations — few producers feel it has revenue-generating potential at all. This points to a difficulty with conventional sales attribution mechanisms, which do little to provide a link between thought leadership and revenue generation. Since executive suites often must deal in very broad strokes, it’s easy to attribute the majority of any business development success to a sales or product-marketing function. This, however, would seem to tell only part of the story.
Worth noting: To fully exploit the advantages that thought leadership offers sales teams, that team not only needs to know how to talk about its company’s thought leadership, but it must fully understand when certain thought leadership content will have the most impact. After all, we found that timeliness and relevance were vastly more important than presenting new and original ideas, even as important as the latter obviously is. This supports current trends in account-based marketing (ABM) and targeted online media.
So this good news comes a bit late to help twentysomething Phil Gomes win an argument, but I imagine it would be of use to many of you. To learn more about how to leverage this study to your maximum thought leadership advantage, subscribe to our upcoming exclusive expert guides. These will outline winning strategies for operationalizing this study’s findings through analytics, paid media, and thoughtful customer journey design.
Phil Gomes is a senior vice president, Digital, Edelman Chicago.