Over the past three years, Edelman has collaborated with LinkedIn to investigate the business-generating impact inherent in publishing quality thought leadership content. This year's survey results reaffirm that the companies with the best ability to produce timely, thought-provoking thought leadership are much more adept at capturing their customers' attention and turning that attention into positive results.

The survey included 3,275 business decision-makers in Australia, France, Germany, India, Singapore, the UK and the US across a wide range of industries and company sizes. Of that group, 48% reported that they spend an hour or more every week reading thought leadership content generated by companies.

However, the decision-makers reading thought leadership continue to be disappointed in the overall quality of the content, which poses real risks to the reputation and sales of the B2B companies publishing it. This year's survey results show that 85% of decision-makers feel that current content under-delivers on quality, while only 15% of those decision-makers rate most of the thought leadership they read as very good or excellent. That perception becomes all the more important in light of the fact that 89% of decision-makers surveyed believe that thought leadership is effective at enhancing their perceptions of an organization.

The study also found that most marketers are missing the opportunity to connect thought leadership efforts to measurable business impact, including high-priority KPIs such as account lift, MQL, SQL and other measures of how content is driving positive customer behavior. This year’s survey found that only 26% of marketers can tie the thought leadership they produce to sales and business wins.

This lack of attribution is perpetuating a negative cycle of inadequate investment, poor quality content and an underestimation of thought leadership’s impact — both positive and negative.

In addition, this year’s survey examined the importance of longevity and creating a culture of thought leadership as keys to maximizing the benefits of this content. The study found that while only 9% of marketers who have been creating thought leadership less than one year believe their work is very good or excellent, that number jumps to 35% for organizations who have been producing it for 21+ years.

“After three years, our survey has undeniably established how much B2B decision-makers respect and count on thought leadership content to inform buying decisions,” said Joe Kingsbury, U.S. Managing Director, Business Marketing, at Edelman. “What continues to surprise, however, is how poorly the vast majority of executives rate the quality of content they’re seeing from brands. That disparity is a clear opportunity for thought leadership producers who can deliver content with strong editorial integrity and capitalize on modern communications technologies that enable much greater precision in message delivery and targeting.”

How Savvy Business Decision-Makers Utilize Thought Leadership

To help marketers understand the value of quality thought leadership, this year’s survey drilled down to find out precisely what decision-makers use thought leadership to achieve. Vetting an organization’s capabilities was key, with 59% of decision-makers reporting that an organization's thought leadership is a more trustworthy basis for assessing its capabilities and competencies than its marketing materials and product sheets. Thought leadership was also seen as a factor in pricing consideration – 42% of decision-makers said that they are more willing to pay a premium to work with organizations that produce thought leadership versus those that do not.

Key Attributes of Quality Thought Leadership

To give more perspective into what makes thought leadership so impactful, this year’s survey sought to uncover the key attributes of successful thought leadership. Leading the way was the value decision-makers place on addressing timely issues. The vast majority (87%) of decision-makers reported that thought leadership addressing a topic they are currently working on or thinking about makes it very compelling. Brevity was also key, with 75% of decision-makers looking for content that is brief and easy to absorb.

Thought Leadership Best Practices

To help thought leadership producers create their best work, our study also contains a primer on what goes into making it truly connect with an audience:

  • Capitalize on White Space: Find opportunities where your brand can own and lead timely conversations.
  • Be Relevant: Strong thought leadership is closely mapped to customer needs.
  • Set a Vision: Decision-makers want to know where their industry is going.
  • Earn Trust: Being a trusted source is key to driving thought leadership engagement.
  • Be Concise: Brevity is overwhelmingly preferred by busy professionals.
  • Measure Progress: Thought leadership cannot be appropriately valued without attribution.

Additional detail about this study—including a presentation, executive summary, infographics, and additional Edelman analysis—can be found at http://www.edelman.com/b2b-thought-leadership. You can also subscribe to a series of exclusive guides and business marketing content that will provide actionable insights for leveraging the study’s findings to your company’s best advantage.

About Edelman

Edelman is a leading global communications marketing firm that partners with many of the world’s largest and emerging businesses and organizations, helping them evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. Edelman was awarded the Grand Prix Cannes Lion for PR in 2014; six Cannes Lions in 2015; and the Grand Prix in the Titanium category in 2016. The firm was named “2016 Global Agency of the Year” by the Holmes Report, and one of Advertising Age’s “Agencies to Watch” in 2014. In 2015, Edelman was among Glassdoor’s “Best Places to Work” for the fifth time. Edelman owns specialty firms Edelman Data & Intelligence (research, analytics and data consultancy) and United Entertainment Group (entertainment, sports, experiential), a joint venture with United Talent Agency.