There is more business-to-business (B2B) thought leadership in the marketplace than ever before, aided in large part by the pandemic that has turned our lives — and our work — upside down and moved us even further into a digital-first economy. The past twenty months have ushered in unprecedented uncertainty, accompanied by new challenges to address and new courses of action to chart. It is understandable that when faced with this level of unpredictability, employers and employees alike were clamoring for answers on how to keep their head above water, and furthermore, stay ahead of the curve.
Enter thought leadership. More and more B2B leaders are flocking to opinion pages, webinars, and podcasts to share their POV on the trends and thinking affecting their industries during this tumultuous time. While thought leadership consumption remains high and critical to c-suite decision-making, it is also harder than ever to break through, and even harder to be perceived as valuable.
Edelman and LinkedIn’s fourth annual B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, released in September 2021, reaffirms this shift with 66 percent of B2B decision-makers saying the pandemic spawned a huge increase in the amount of thought leadership in the marketplace. In response to this overabundance of information, 71 percent say that half or less than half of the thought leadership they consume actually provides them with valuable insights. The question then becomes, when operating in a space this saturated, how can you make your voice stand out?
It is no question that this proliferation of thought makes it more difficult for leaders to not only attract eyeballs but also to shift thinking and buyer behavior via their perspective. Here are six key considerations for B2B marketers wanting to produce thought leadership that breaks through the noise — and moves the needle:
- Strike the right balance on tone — 87 percent of buyers say that thought leadership content can be both intellectually rigorous and fun to consume at the same time, and 64 percent want to hear a more human, less formal tone. Approachability matters.
- Think outside of the box — 81 percent of buyers prefer provocative ideas that challenge their assumptions regarding a topic versus an idea that simply validates their current thinking on the issue. This is your opportunity to share something new.
- Understand the specific needs of your customers — Almost half (47%) of buyers say that most thought leadership does not seem to be created with their specific needs in mind. Conduct the research needed to understand the wants and needs of your audience.
- Back up your findings — 80 percent of buyers prefer thought leadership that includes third-party data and insights from other trusted organizations or people, as opposed to only featuring the propriety insights from the publishing company. Don’t be afraid to quote other experts, especially when they support your argument.
- Beef up your byline — 67 percent of buyers want to read an op-ed that prominently features the POV of an identifiable author. Attach a credible individual’s name to the piece, and don’t just publish under the name of your larger brand or company.
- Stay current, not conjectural — Buyers don’t want thought leadership that is speculative about what might be going on in their industry in the future. Instead, 62 percent are seeking analysis of current trends that are likely to be affecting a business today.
Our study finds that when B2B buyers think of low-quality thought leadership content they have consumed recently, they call out content that is unoriginal, or worse, overly salesy. The appetite for thought leadership is there, but we need to give readers, listeners, and viewers something worth consuming. Sharing original thinking that is backed up by quality data and authored by true subject matter experts will help you authentically and effectively engage your target audience on the issues that matter most.
Joe Kingsbury is U.S. Managing Director, Edelman Business Marketing.