A thought leader is defined as an individual, or sometimes an organization, recognized as an authority in a particular field. A company led by a recognized thought leader is typically elevated in the mind of the business community and benefits from more sales opportunities. Organizers of public events or business conferences often ask thought leaders to share their expertise and insights with a relevant audience.

So how does one become a thought leader in their field?

Well, I’ve never met a person in business, especially the owner of a business, who didn’t have an opinion on the shortfalls of their industry. Many of them even had great ideas about how to solve those problems. And some had great vision. Getting those ideas and opinions written and published to your company or personal website is where you start.

Then, content marketing of that content via social media and email is how you distribute it.

Sure, it takes some work to research and write the content, and it helps to have a gift for spinning a phrase, but it’s worth the effort.

Patience is key – no one will call you up to speak at your industry’s next big conference after only writing 6 posts and 1 white paper (unless they’re revolutionary, exciting, and/or mind blowing). Content marketing to develop thought leadership is a long game – this may take a year or more. But as momentum builds around your content and your expertise is reinforced, clients and customers will develop more trust in you and your brand.

Thought leadership content marketing can fill the sales funnel and build your brand

But this goes even further than building brand trust. Thought leadership content is magnificent at accelerating your B2B marketing strategy and can be a massive magnet for driving organic search. For instance, you can write content which speaks to potential customers at any point in the sales funnel: those who have no idea what they need to solve their problem, customers who have done a little research and are circling back, and a customer who knows exactly what they want and is ready to close the deal.

For instance, FunnelKake works with a client who sells a medical device which measures certain human physical characteristics useful in a wide number of medical disciplines. They are a small business with an outstanding product, but their competitors are ferociously huge. We optimized our client’s website pages, yet search activity was still relatively low. This was due to 1) low volume keyword search industry-wide and 2) on-site content which didn’t lend itself well to broad searches – you had to at least have a good idea of what you were looking for in order to find our client’s site.

But our client’s technicians were really, really smart. Really knowledgeable. And when we discovered during a conversation that they frequently consulted with scientists performing clinical trials with their products, the light bulb went off: we asked them to supply us with technical content on these studies (some of which featured their products) and related studies (which did not feature their products). In the image below, can you guess when we introduced the content?

content marketing

Image shows a 550% increase in organic traffic after expert content was introduced.

This Thought leadership content strategy worked extremely well, delivering a 550% boost in organic traffic, hundreds of new keyword searches, and more leads via sales and email.

“The business impact of thought leadership is well-documented, especially by analyst firms like Forrester Research. Thought leadership helps drive more inquiries and puts you on more shortlists because you’re recognized as an expert. It creates faster sales cycles by aligning buyers to you philosophically. It allows you to charge a premium and increase your close rate due to differentiation. It provides greater reach at a lower price based on the organic word of mouth your ideas can foster. The value you provide to customers is greater, leading to a higher lifetime customer value…”

“But, in my opinion, the most important benefit of thought leadership today is the emotional connection and trust that it fosters. We are working in a time when 42% of buyers don’t know which organizations to trust, a CEO’s number one concern is that their company is trusted, and 95% of CMOs and brand managers stay up at night concerned about establishing trust between their brand and the consumer.

“When we give our knowledge and ideas away in a transparent, honest, open manner, it demonstrates to buyers that they can in fact trust us. And, let’s be honest, we don’t do business with people or companies we don’t trust.”LinkedIn

Benefits of thought leadership:

(according to a study of 1300 business leaders conducted by Edelman Research and LinkedIn)

  • 41% of C-Suite executives included a company engaging in thought leadership in an RFP opportunity, directly contributing to sales wins.
  • Nearly half of business decision makers said thought leadership has directly led them to award business to a company.
  • Close to half of decision-makers feel thought leadership helps companies command a premium for their products and services.
  • Thought leadership impacts every stage of the B2B buying process.
  • Business decision makers find thought leadership important, and sometimes critical.
  • 16% of CXOs spend four hours or more per week engaging with thought leadership content.
  • Decision-makers value timeliness and relevance of thought leadership content more than the originality of ideas.
  • A majority of business decision makers are disappointed in the overall quality of thought leadership.
  • Thought leadership done poorly can damage your reputation and lead to lost business opportunities.

Read the conclusions of the research study, How Thought Leadership Impacts
B2B Demand Generation.

Types of thought leadership content:

• Research reports
• Thought pieces
• Essays
• Videos
• Webinars
• Presentations
• Similar items made freely available (or in return for submitting contact information)

There’s an enormous opportunity for companies of any size to gain traction in thought leadership marketing, as few businesses outside of the Fortune 500 engage in it. We grant you that it’s hard to directly measure. But when employed as part of a B2B marketing strategy, it’s definitely measurable and definitely effective.

Tips for creating thought leadership content:

  1. Post relevant, engaging content.
  2. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth or your truth. Don’t be afraid to disagree with the titans of your industry.
  3. Be transparent and open to build trust.
  4. Get to the point quickly and deliver facts, insights, and substance.
  5. Post regularly – once a month is fine, once a week is better.
  6. Explore and explain tactics to take action on problems facing your industry.
  7. Create how-tos and explainers for common problems.
  8. Ask sales and customer relationship managers what topics most concern customers and prospects.
  9. Align thought leadership strategy with demand generation efforts.
  10. Focus on delivering value to the reader, not selling.
  11. Be indispensable – make yourself the go-to information source for expertise and knowledge in your industry.
  12. Include a contact form at the bottom of each page to start a dialog with potential customers who are entering your sales funnel.

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