Jay Baer is the founder of Convince & Convert, a Hall of Fame keynote speaker and emcee, host of the award-winning Social Pros podcast, and the author of six books including Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth.
A headline from the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study caught my attention: Thought leadership has more influence on sales than marketers realize.
As it turns out, when it comes to thought leadership, marketers and those who create thought leadership have different beliefs when compared to decision makers and those who consume thought leadership content.
Consider these examples:
- Thought leadership creates access to top-of-the-food-chain decision makers. Forty-seven percent of C-Suite executives said they shared their contact information after consuming thought leadership content. Only 39 percent of marketers believe thought leadership generates leads or provides new contacts to call on
- Thought leadership content influenced 45 percent of business decision makers to invite an organization to bid on a project they were not previously considering. Only 17 percent of marketers said they felt thought leadership was effective at generating RFPs
- Thought leadership directly influenced 58 percent of decision makers to award business to an organization. Only 26 percent of marketers believe thought leadership is responsible for helping them close business
- Sixty-one percent of C-Suite executives said they would pay a premium to work with organizations that have clearly articulated a vision through thought leadership. Only 14 percent of marketers said thought leadership allowed them to charge more than their competitors who produce lower quality thought leadership content or none at all.
Here’s a chart that sums it all up: At every stage, decision makers value thought leadership more than those who produce it.
Source: 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study
Marketers and decision makers are aligned on one thing: There’s not a lot of great thought leadership out there. Only 18 percent of thought leadership content is considered “excellent.”
To get the attention of the C-suite, to generate new RFPs, to become a premiere service provider—to reap the benefits of thought leadership, you have to create something far above the run-of-the-mill content branded and touted as ‘thought leadership.’
Thought leadership is bestowed, not claimed. Leadership of thought is in the eye of the content consumer, not the content creator. They decide who is the leader, and they decide who is not.
Anyone can create thought leadership. It takes five fairly straight-forward steps:
- Develop an Idea
- Create content
- Merchandise your content
- Ensure your content is consumed
- As a result of your content, peoples’ attitudes and behaviors change
The fifth step is the one we overlook. But without it, what’s the point?
Today, I see a lot of marketers completing steps 1 – 4 but they’re not thinking about the fifth and most important step. Thought leadership without accompanying attitude and behavior change is a big waste of time and money.
If you want to create thought leadership that actually moves the needle—that actually influences change—follow these three commandments:
- Know the Landscape.
No content exists in a vacuum, and it’s nearly impossible to find a topic that is brand-new and uncovered. In order for your content to become “thought leadership” it must be different and better than everything else that is already out there on the topic. I don’t see enough businesses doing the research and leg work from the beginning (and there are a TON of tools out there to help do this work). If seven great eBooks or webinars already exist about your topic, the bar for your content to become “thought leadership” is high.
Know what you are competing against for attention (and for Google love) and make your content different and better.
- Prove It.
Today there’s a lot of essay-style “thought leadership,” which really isn’t that different than a guy on a street corner shouting at passersby. You see this approach with LinkedIn articles and Medium posts. When deconstructed, the content is someone venting or throwing out an idea. That canbe interesting, but opinions only aren’t likely to become thought leading.
If you want to be at the head of the pack, it’s better to use first or second-party research to develop more fact-based content.
- Atomize It.
Even within your target audience who share attributes and values, people prefer different modalities of content based on their age, technological aptitude, and job function to name a few. The best thought leadership respects these choices and provides content in a panoply of formats. Don’t just write a white paper and call the job done. At Convince & Convert, we counsel all our clients to atomize their thought leadership into different formats: teasers, videos, infographics, audio content, and more. The list goes on and on.
The rule we follow is for every single piece of content create at least eight new and different content formats. If your thought leadership content is a white paper, for example, produce eight videos and also distribute it as an episodic series. Generate additional content formats and use those to appeal to your audience in many ways. Don’t stop at one.
Very insightful piece, Jay. I very much agree that thought leadership has the ability to shift minds and decisions, while the onus is still with marketers to improve the quality of their content, and more importantly, understand and measure the shift in audience attitudes and behaviors. This is a timely conversation. In my recent travels, I’ve been spending time with Cisco partners who are hungry for ideas that can help them predict the future marketing landscape and more closely align to care-abouts of the C-suite. I absolutely agree that insights must be backed by proof points, and conveyed using the modalities partners prefer. Thanks for the thought leadership on thought leadership!
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