In B2B PR, thought leadership is one of those concepts that gets spoken about all the time. But do you actually know what thought leadership is? And do you have the right tools and skills in place to make it work effectively for you? In this post we aim to clarify what B2B thought leadership can do and help you gain greater benefit from it.
What is B2B thought leadership?
True thought leadership is about being publicly recognised as an authority on a topic. However, many ‘thought leaders’ are simply people or brands sharing an opinion or perspective on things. This does not make them a thought leader in the purest sense but it does mean that they are engaging in thought leadership activities. After all, few people become thought leaders overnight.
Let’s explore some other definitions.
I like this one from FT Longitude which says: “Thought leadership means different things to different people, but the reality is that much of the content that describes itself as “thought leadership” falls wide of every mark.
“In its purest form, thought leadership consists of genuine insight that cuts through the clutter and has a real, lasting impact on its audience. Content that fails to connect with people, by definition, cannot be classed as thought leadership.”
This makes a crucial point. Real thought leadership must have some measurable impact. It must offer something unique, trigger an action, or make people think differently. The problem these days is, brands are so hungry for content that some treat thought leadership as a tick box exercise. They don’t put the required effort into finding their true thought leaders and effectively curating what they have to say. If you can do that, you’re one step ahead of most.
The marketing view
20 years ago, thought leadership was much purer – limited to the big brains and visionaries at the top of their industry. Like many things though it has been adopted by B2B marketers as a strategy to improve brand engagement and sales. The fashion for digital content marketing has put even more focus on thought leadership, as brands race to have the best and brightest insights in the market. However, this race for insights supremacy can have a detrimental effect on the quality of thought leadership content, something reflected in the quotes below.
HubSpot says “thought leadership is a tactic content marketers use to build credibility for themselves or leaders in their company…If you’re good at it, you’ll increase awareness among your target audience, generate more leads, improve social proof, and boost engagement online.”
This clearly defines thought leadership as an applied marketing tactic more than blue sky thinking. It shows just how important thought leadership has become to B2B marketers. It still needs to offer something unique, though, as SEMrush argues here:
“Thought leadership is the delivery of authentic and genuine content that uses the expertise, insight, and experience of the author, with the goal of sharing that wisdom with others…However, it requires more than just providing an opinion on a topic or offering new bits of information.”
What are the myths of B2B thought leadership?
- Thought leadership is a quick win – Anyone or any brand looking to become a thought leader needs to put consistent time and effort into it and be ready for the long game. However, the more insightful and relevant their views, the more quickly a thought leader can be established.
- Anyone can be a thought leader – If we were all thought leaders, there’d be no leaders! It is important to ask yourself if being a thought leader is the right objective for your brand, or if you’re an individual, do you have the ability to truly lead the intellectual charge?
- It has nothing to do with marketing – While true, original thought leaders are forged from their intellectual standing and ability to communicate. Most thought leadership today is in some way linked to personal or brand marketing.
- all about the brand – Countering the point above, while thought leadership has clear marketing benefits it should not be driven from a pure brand improvement perspective. The ‘thought’ element must come first. There must be something genuine to share. The brand impact should be led by this.
- Thought leadership should be a C-level activity only – Many great C-suite executives don’t make great thought leaders and should never try to be. A thought leader could be a technical expert, a marketer, or a scientist. The common thread is that they have leading thoughts!
What are the golden rules to effective B2B thought leadership?
- Expert first, marketing second – Echoing earlier points, if you’re beginning a journey of brand thought leadership it is important to highlight who your thought leaders could be and what they can talk about before you build a marketing strategy around it.
- Think multi-channel – don’t waste your words! Once you have worked out who your thought leaders are, the strategy should consider all marketing channels, and which are most effective for your thought leaders in reaching the audience. There’s no point putting someone with a fear of public speaking on stage, but they may be brilliant at writing whitepapers or joining online debates.
- It doesn’t all need to come from one source – Individual thought leaders can benefit from data and insights, knowledge sharing and more, to strengthen and support their arguments. They don’t need to operate in an echo chamber. A key role for marketing is to look at where they can be supported, for example, through market research to inform or put evidence behind their thinking.
- Who are you talking to? – As a B2B marketer you’ll have your audiences clearly mapped out but thought leadership might not apply to all of them. And different thought leaders might appeal to distinct groups. Whether this is an individual or corporate thought leadership journey, working out your positioning, and who the specific audiences are that you want to influence, is crucial. Also – don’t try and do too many things at once. You need to be recognised in a specific field. Unless you’re already a huge brand it may be unwise to attempt to set up lots of thought leadership areas at once.
- Think digital – The traditional view of thought leaders might be keynotes at physical events, whitepapers, or in-depth articles but today the digital opportunities for thought leaders are vast. Going digital can help you target and reach your relevant audience more directly. Whether you’re an individual or a corporate marketer it is essential to map out the digital channels that resonate with your audience. These can range from podcasts and social media platforms to digital publications and video.
Where can a B2B PR agency help with thought leadership?
If you’re already working with a B2B PR agency or content agency it is likely they will be helping you already with thought leadership. If not, here are some of the ways a B2B PR agency can assist:
Strategy and storytelling: A B2B PR agency can work with your thought leaders to help them develop the best angles and perspectives that will appeal to key audiences. It can also develop a thought leadership strategy, which is crucial to consistency.
Content creation: Creating high-quality content such as articles, blog posts, white papers, and case studies. This content can position the client as an expert in its field and provide valuable insights to its target audience.
Media relations: A PR agency can help its clients secure media coverage in relevant industry publications and podcasts, which can further establish the client as a thought leader in their field.
Speaking opportunities: Helping to secure speaking opportunities at industry conferences and events, which can help clients highlight their expertise and connect with potential customers.
Social media: A B2B agency can help build a strong social media presence by creating and sharing engaging content that showcases expertise and thought leadership.
Awards and recognition: Helping clients identify and apply for relevant industry awards and recognition programs, which can help increase visibility and credibility as a thought leader.
Research and insights: Conducting research and providing insights on industry trends and best practices, which can help position the client as a thought leader and provide valuable information to their target audience.
Although thought leadership can be an overused term, there are many opportunities for B2B brands to adopt this approach across their marketing and sales programmes. A planned and sustained approach is essential, however, as there is huge competition when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of your key audiences. A B2B PR agency can help you establish the right approach and deliver consistent and high-quality thought leadership with measurable benefit.