Thought Leadership

B2B thought leadership: Content that packs a punch

In a world flooded with b2b thought leadership content, it's important to ensure that your content has the power to connect with your audience.

Over recent years, thought leadership has become one of the biggest trends in b2b marketing. But amid a saturated thought leadership market, it is important to create high-quality content with the potential to really cut through with your audience.

Thought leadership is an especially powerful tool for B2B businesses because it is all about marketing your business on the basis of your expertise, experience, and the insights of your core team members.

This is effective because many b2b buyers choose suppliers based on their specialist, technical industry expertise, whether that's technology, financial services, professional services, or something else besides.

We conduct regular research into the effectiveness of thought leadership content. Source: Profile.

But starting to plan a b2b thought leadership plan from a blank sheet of paper can be very intimating. This is especially true when it comes to putting together a proper thought leadership content marketing strategy because there are so many options:

  • What topics should you focus on?

  • What type of content?

  • How much content should we produce?

  • How can we get eyeballs to that content?

In this article, we provide a headline primer on b2b thought leadership, and what to think through as you're starting to put together your own plan.

What is b2b thought leadership?

Let's start with the basics: what is b2b thought leadership, and how does it work?

Thought leadership is the process of raising the profile of a company or, potentially, an individual within a company by highlighting their insights (and opinions) on industry topics, trends, and hot-button issues.

Importantly, this differs significantly from traditional advertising or marketing, which is, generally, focused on showcasing a product, its features, and benefits.

Many b2b buyers hire other service providers not only for their company's products and features, but because of their depth of experience and expertise

Jordan Greenaway

Here's another way of thinking of it. Thought leadership content doesn't directly sell a company's products or services: instead, it positions the company in a positive light by showing that they know their stuff about a particular industry, topic, or subject.

This is why thought leadership is particularly powerful for b2b companies because many b2b buyers hire other service providers not only for their company's products and features, but because of their depth of experience and expertise. They want b2b service providers to know their stuff.

For example, a financial services business might raise their profile amongst other businesses by posting blog posts and articles about different changes to the tax rules. This would be b2b thought leadership.

Types of b2b thought leadership content.

But b2b thought leadership content doesn't need to be limited to blog posts, and it doesn't even need to be restricted to written content alone.

There are lots of different options that you might want to consider as you start to pull together your content strategy.

  • Short-form blog posts. Short, snapshot blog posts (400-600 words) to discuss hot-button issues and concerns within your industry, or posts to share single, quick pieces of advice and guidance to clients. These are especially useful if you're writing a quick article responding to a piece of industry news, and giving your perspective.

  • Long-form website content. Longer-form blog posts or website articles, usually located in the Insights section of a website, that breaks down a bigger industry topic or issue. These will usually run to around 1,000 words, but in some cases might be as long as 3,000 words. These articles will usually include subheadings, bullets, and numbered lists to make the content more consumable.

  • Case studies. Short or longer case studies that showcase your advice and expertise in action. These are not necessarily about showing how great you are as a company but, instead, a way to demonstrate how your expertise was applied to solve specific challenges.

  • Written interviews. Interviews with key members of staff within your company, usually about a specific topic or issue in the industry. These interviews might be written up in Q&A format for publication on the website. This content is also a good way to showcase the wider personality and culture of your team.

  • Briefing notes. Short 1- or 2-page briefing notes, potentially shared as PDFs or as printed material, that provide an overview of a particular technical area of interest, such as new laws, industry terms, or otherwise. These are double-up as basic explainers for your audience.

  • White papers. Extended research-driven white papers that provide a comprehensive overview of a particular topic. These white papers might be as short as 5 or 6 pages, or as long as 50 pages (or even longer). Usually, a white paper will be based on data that you have collected or analysed, such as industry polling or proprietary internal data.

  • Podcasts. Long or short audio discussions between key members of your team, clients, or other industry stakeholders about industry topics of interest. While podcasts are quite a flexible format, generally it is best to keep them to below 30 minutes in length.

  • Videos. Short, punchy videos where your executives or experts internally can give their views or perspectives on industry topics in an engaging format. Usually, these will be filmed in a conventional thought-leadership 2-camera format. Most videos will be under 1 minute, but it might be possible to extend the length up to 5 minutes if the topic and subject is big enough.

  • Newsletters. Email newsletter that provide a regular, timely update on industry topics. Given that newsletters are distributed (and read) immediately on sending, these newsletters are usually tied to timely events and news updates in the industry.

  • Graphics & infographics. Graphics that provide a snapshot, easy-to-understand visual overview of statistics, data, processes, or complicated concepts. These might be posted on a standalone basis on social media or elsewhere, or be included in other content, such as white papers and briefing notes.

Tips for creating powerful thought leadership content.

1. Ensure you have robust data.

The very strongest thought leadership content is built on robust, proprietary data. It is not enough simply to express your opinion or take on an issue.

B2B buyers are more likely to trust your content (and, by extension, your brand) if you have strong data to back up your point of view. That might mean mining data within your business, conducting polling or surveys, or analysing public trends data.

2. Tie your topics to SEO search data.

Don't just write about topics that you think your audience will be interested in.

Instead, it is usually helpful to be driven by search data: in particular, search tools, like Ahrefs, can provide you with a fine-grained breakdown of how many people are searching for information about different topics.

For example, you might find out that people are searching for topics like 'thought leadership content', which might inspire you to write about that particular topic. (That's how this article came about!)

3. Create a blend of different content types.

It is not enough just to focus on one form of content, such as articles or blog posts. Increasingly audiences and stakeholders want to engage with different forms and types of content at different times.

A successful thought leadership content strategy means having a diversity of different content.

Jordan Greenaway

While they're in the office, they might want to read extended, data-driven white papers. While they're scrolling through LinkedIn, they might want to watch easier-to-consume snappy videos.

A successful thought leadership content strategy means having a diversity of different content that can be leveraged across all different marketing channels.

4. Inject some personality into the content.

Don't make all your content dry, technical analysis.

It is important to make your content genuinely interesting and fun to read. On one hand, that'll mean that your content is more likely to actually get read (and, hopefully, shared). On the other hand, it will showcase the unique personality and culture of your firm.

5. Do not accidentally lapse into marketing-ese.

Watch out for the risk of accidentally lapsing into marketing. As we discussed above, effective thought leadership content is all about showcasing your expertise and insights, and not just hawking your products and services.

Resist the temptation to turn your content into full-frontal, obvious advertising.

Jordan Greenaway

That said, it can be very easy to accidentally (and naturally) start talking about your products. This will hurt your thought leadership content, so strike it all out in the edit. Resist the temptation to turn your content into full-frontal, obvious advertising. It will turn off readers.

6. Consistency and regularity is important.

Don't expect a single piece of content to breakthrough. Also, don't spend weeks and weeks refining a single piece of content.

Of course, it's very important to get all your content absolutely right, but it's easy to accidentally think that a single piece of perfect content holds the keys to all your thought leadership problems.

Instead, the key is to create a so-called content machine, which is a set of processes that enable you to reliably publish good-quality content content across all marketing channels. Don't let perfection get in the way of consistency.

7. Keep all content tied to a wider competency area.

While your individual articles and thought leadership content might talk about different, very specific industry issues or challenges, this content – when taken together – should sketch out a rough area of expertise that you're seeking to position your company on. We call this an area of competency.

Before you start leveraging SEO tools to brainstorm individual topics, it's important to identify a specific niche that all your content will talk about. Set your area of competency clearly and explicitly, and then stick to it.

8. Promote the content itself.

Finally, do not expect your own to market itself. After you have produced a good-quality piece of content, you will need to undertake concerted steps to actually get that content in front of your target audience.

The thought leadership marketplace is hugely competitive, so it's important to have a robust, strategic thought leadership content strategy.

Jordan Greenaway

That might mean promoting the content through social media, public relations, physical distribution, event launches, technical SEO activity, or similar. Importantly, if you have invested a lot of time and resource in creating a great bit of content, don't be afraid to put a bit of advertising budget behind it to actually get it read.

Thought leadership content is a very powerful tool for b2b businesses to raise brand awareness, drive leads, support recruitment, and much else besides.

But the thought leadership content marketplace is more competitive than ever before, and it's important to have a robust, strategic thought leadership content strategy.

This will mean not only identifying your area of competency, but much more than that setting up an efficient and effective content engine that ensure that you produce a blend of content on a regular and reliable basis.

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