Thought leadership as a marketing and communications strategy certainly isn’t new in B2B, in fact its popularity seems to have only grown in recent times.

Over the past three years, Edelman has collaborated with LinkedIn to investigate how thought leadership influences the purchasing behaviors of B2B decision-makers. This year’s 2020 Thought Leadership Impact Study is now global, with insights from more than 3,200 business decision-makers (e.g. buyers) and thought leadership producers from a wide range of industries across APAC, EMEA and the U.S.

So, why have we continued to study it?

The popularity of thought leadership may actually be making it harder to impress B2B buyers. It turns out they’re disappointed in the content brands are giving them. Only 32 percent of decision-makers this year say that they reliably* gained valuable insights from consuming thought leadership – down from 39 percent in 2018.

More decision-makers (29 percent) now believe that most of what they consume is “mediocre to very poor” in terms of quality (compared to 26 percent in 2018). The risk in mediocrity is real: 25 percent say reading poor quality thought leadership has directly led them to not award business to the organization producing it.

And while the bar is getting higher to impress buyers, even fewer marketers (15 percent) have the ability to tie their thought leadership efforts to business wins (compared to 19 percent in 2018).

It's not all bad news, however, especially for B2B brands that produce effective thought leadership content.

Decision-makers affirmed that, when done well, thought leadership content positively influences their purchasing behaviors in terms of issuing RFP invitations (39 percent), awarding business (49 percent), and purchasing new products or services they hadn’t previously considered (51 percent).

Some might find it surprising that thought leadership can even influence pricing. Forty-one percent of decision-makers agreed they’re more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that produces thought leadership versus those that do not.

This year’s study identifies key attributes of quality thought leadership. Decision-makers told us they want perspectives into new challenges and opportunities, dislike when brands are superficial or simply “selling something” and highly value timeliness and brevity.

Lastly, new to this year’s study is a look at how building a culture of thought leadership affects brands’ efforts in terms of brand reputation and sales – and the impact of longevity on content quality over time. Some of the results might surprise you.

If you’re a B2B marketer, communicator or sales leader, I encourage you to check out the full research study for more data and insights, as well as thought leadership best practices in the Edelman Thought Leadership Flywheel.

You can also subscribe here to a series of exclusive content that will provide actionable insights for leveraging the study’s findings to your company’s best advantage. 

Joe Kingsbury is U.S. managing director of our business marketing practice. 

*Percentage of Decision-Makers who say they gain valuable insights more than half the time they consume Thought Leadership