As we head into 2023 facing yet more economic uncertainty, the brands who are delivering value and demonstrating impact are the ones who will capture the hearts, minds (and budgets) of their customers. The Edelman 2022 Thought Leadership Report found that 61% of decision-makers say that an organisation’s thought leadership can be moderately or a lot more effective at demonstrating the potential value of its products/services compared to traditional product-oriented marketing. So if problem solving is at the heart of B2B marketing, thought leadership is the lifeblood of a brand’s ability to successfully influence the B2B buyer journey.
When executed successfully, thought leadership can provide a platform for your customers to get to know, like and trust your people and your business. But whether you are aiming to inform or inspire depends on where your target audiences are at in the B2B buyer journey. Here, we explore the role thought leadership can play from awareness to action, to build trust and demonstrate value that ultimately converts prospects into customers.
Making the unaware aware
Attracting, engaging and educating your prospects before they are even aware they have a problem that needs solving – or indeed that you can help them overcome it – is half the battle won in today’s overly saturated information market. During this ‘unaware’ stage of the buyer journey, true thought leaders can inspire their target audience with genuine, authentic value exchange that addresses broader industry challenges. Whether that’s through a blog post, video or infographic, thought leadership content at this stage should aim to encourage a different way of thinking, new perspectives that illuminate unexplored opportunities. Inspirational thought leadership helps to build emotional connections with your target audience, laying the foundations for a longer-term relationship built on trust and respect.
Providing context to fuel curiosity
Ok, so now you’ve captured the attention of your intended audience with stand-out opinions and unique insights – what next? It’s time to go deeper and start introducing data and evidence to equip them with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. As a go-to source of trustworthy information, subject matter experts are ideally placed to deliver robust and relevant proof that helps to unlock new opportunities in the B2B buyer journey. Whether it’s in a guide, webinar or explainer video, informational thought leadership is the high-performance fuel that has the potential to transform your content engine.
However, the impact of thought leadership at this stage of the funnel is often undermined by too much of a focus on ‘me and mine’ rather than ‘you and yours’. By misjudging the readiness of the audience for promotional messages, the opportunity to add value is lost.
Thinking desirable thoughts…
At the desire stage, the aim is to create a sense that life will somehow be easier or better by buying your product or service. This is also the time to differentiate yourself from your competitors, highlight your unique selling points and the reasons why someone should partner with you over anyone else. Product and technical experts, who are highly knowledgeable and skilled in a specific business area come into their own here by connecting their solutions to the bigger picture challenges that customers are trying to overcome. They can also support sales teams with overcoming particularly complex or unique challenges. Industry influencers can equally play a role through product endorsements or testimonials, adding gravitas and reassurance for prospects considering making a purchasing decision.
Thought leadership: a catalyst for conversion
Successful conversion of a prospect into a customer relies on delivering on the promise of value, expertise and support. Thought leadership has traditionally been seen as most critical towards the top of the funnel but it can play an important role in winning business too. The old adage of people buy from people still rings true. And when times are tough, thought leadership has the potential to be even more powerful. Research has shown that 50% of C-suite executives say that high-quality thought leadership has more impact on their purchase decision-making during economic downturns than when times are good. Thought leadership gives brands an edge over their competitors – it’s reassurance that no matter what, they’re focused on the bigger picture, solving challenges together to help the customer achieve their goals. But – and there is a big but – to be effective at winning business, thought leadership has to be high quality, easy to consume and provide clear guidance on how to respond to current industry challenges.
Playing the long thought leadership game
Reaping the rewards of successful thought leadership is not something that will happen overnight. It’s a long-term endeavour (just like the B2B buyer journey) that requires commitment and resilience. It can often be difficult to demonstrate the ROI of your thought leadership efforts if the right measures aren’t in place. Like any other marketing campaign, goals and objectives should be outlined from the very start. Sales and marketing functions need to be closely aligned to ensure that sales are delivering on the promise of value.
Thought leadership can’t be approached as a commodity – relying on shortcuts and templated processes (we’re talking about those recycled listicles from a 10-minute scan of Google that you’ve probably seen everywhere) that lack any sense of originality or purpose. How you present yourself, your reputation and your authority on a particular topic over time contributes to whether you successfully persuade your audience to follow and interact with your content. The focus of thought leadership should always remain on adding value more than anything else.
Establishing goals and objectives from the get-go and being aware of how prospects behave and think at each stage of the buying journey, along with understanding their most pressing pain points, helps to guide the type of thought leadership content that is curated, rather than adding to the content clutter that fails to have an impact on the B2B buyer journey. Approaching thought leadership with a strategic, customer-centric mindset can be a powerful medium to inform and influence the B2B buyer journey.