Sure, but how do you become perceived as a Thought Leader?
Thought Leadership Marketing has become one of the most fundamental concepts of marketing and sales in the B2B technology industries. Its popularity has been growing rapidly over the years. The Internet, easier access to information in general and the growth of different types of online marketing techniques transformed B2B buying behavior from a vendor-driven push process into a pull process driven by B2B buyers who are specialists of their industry practices.
The transformation of B2B buying behavior has eventually made Thought Leadership marketing strategy a B2B marketing category of its own.
Today, more and more of the B2B buying process takes place without contacting vendors’ sales representatives. B2B buyers are technology-savvy professionals able to collect and compare information about competing technologies and offerings. Vendors are contacted later after preliminary vetting.
Consequently, it is of the utmost importance for vendors to build a credible Thought Leadership position which is highly visible on social media, key discussion forums, industry media and search engines to stay on the radar of B2B buyers whenever they activate their buying processes.
A research conducted by Edelman PR and LinkedIn with more than 1,300 decision makers and C-suite executives discovered that Thought Leadership plays a critical and defining role in the sales success of B2B companies.
According to the research, a vendor’s Thought Leadership position attracts more RFP invitations and creates preferences with buyers and directly contributes to sales wins. Decision makers value timeliness and relevance of Thought Leadership content over pure originality of idea. Thought Leadership content is most credible when it is forwarded by a trusted party.
Still, the research found that majority of the decision makers and C-suite executives are disappointed in the quality of many vendors’ Thought Leadership content and are counterproductive. It results in lost sales opportunities.
Five Building Blocks for Thought Leadership Marketing
If Thought Leadership positioning alone plays such a material role in a B2B company’s sales success, every company should make it the centerpiece of the firm’s marketing strategy. Here is a list of five building blocks for B2B technology companies to establish a Thought Leadership position.
1. Create Thought Leadership Content with High Quality
As research concluded, bad quality Thought Leadership directly contributes to lost sales opportunities and drops a vendor out of buyers’ shortlists … permanently. Quality of Thought Leadership is subjective, but high quality Thought Leadership should provide answers and insights to the most important topical industry challenges, share best practice solutions and methods, without being a vendor’s product pitch.
High quality Thought Leadership must always be timely and relevant, but the ideas presented don’t necessarily have to be original as the research discovered. Good Thought Leadership provides new paradigms and perspectives and future projections for the industry and market.
2. Deliver it in Many, Small and Logical Units
Decision makers are busier and more overwhelmed by information than ever before. Deliver Thought Leadership content in several small units, which address only one logical topic at a time. That makes your content easier to consume for time-constrained professionals and facilitates targeting on social media and search engines.
Design the topics so that you address all stages of the buying journey, including articles about which technologies to select for various applications, pros and cons of different choices and so on. Delivering material that serves buyers further down the process is important as the first personal touch point with a vendor takes place later.
3. Make it for Humans and Search Engines
Credible specialist content, whether delivered in written, visual, audio or video format, doesn’t have to be boring! The most effective way to ensure that a Thought Leadership message becomes understood and remembered is to formulate it along the classic 5-stage story format, which describes the why, what and how of a topic, and makes it engaging and inspiring.
Badly produced content turns off buyers, and search engines. The Google search algorithms remove so called thin content sites … sites full of keywords and copy without real information from its search results. This and several other algorithm features penalize bad content.
Creating engaging and easy to understand Thought Leader content is crucial as it must sink in into readers’ minds instantly. At the same time, the content must be optimized for the right search keywords because search engines are the battle ground of competing Thought Leadership messages.
4. Use the Real Thought Leaders
While a Thought Leadership position is primarily associated with a company’s brand, people are more inclined to follow people rather than companies. The Thought Leadership position should therefore be built for the company brand and for those management and employee members who are the real thought leaders at the company. But beware … not too many however to get the benefits of focused attention. Additionally, well connected employees are a powerful social media marketing channel for the Thought Leadership message.
5. Thought Leadership Articles on External Media
As the research discovered, the Thought Leadership content is most credible when delivered by someone trusted. When a company only uses its own blog to deliver a message, there is a risk it becomes “self-pitching” and therefore less credible. However, when the message is provided on respected industry medias, it increases its credibility.
Additionally, publishing Thought Leadership articles on external industry medias provides access to a much wider audience, and the benefits of higher SEO ranking through backlinks provided by highly ranked media websites.
As the research by Edelman PR and LinkedIn clearly shows, the Thought Leadership position of a B2B company highly impacts its sales success. When it is done correctly, it has the capacity to boost sales. However, bad Thought Leadership image has the opposite effect; the company will lose business. The right Thought Leadership position becomes an invaluable business asset that B2B technology companies must possess making it a key performance indicator of their corporate strategies.
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About the author
Mikko Nurmimaki is a technology marketing entrepreneur and the founder of Grip marketing and PR agency. He has 15 years of global marketing experience from world class technology brands such as Nokia, Ericsson, Spirent Communications and several smaller innovative hi-tech vendors. Mikko has gained solid marketing skills with a broad range of technologies including telecommunications, mobile and IP solutions, cloud and virtualization, value added services, video streaming, Internet of Things and greentech.