A tale of epic thought leadership:

For techies and internet industry leaders around the world, it’s an annual event that’s not to be missed.

Every summer, acclaimed author and analyst Mary Meeker delivers her eagerly awaited annual Internet Trends Report that’s rapidly consumed by executives and covered by tech and mainstream media. This definitive document — actually a slide deck with 333  slides in 2019 — contains key stats, insights, and predictions that are echo around the globe for a year until the cycle repeats.

That is an example of the power and potential impact of content marketing. Fundamentally, thought leadership is about positioning yourself or your organization as an authoritative and trusted industry leader. How?

By publishing and promoting original content that answers questions and solves problems for your audience.

It isn’t about overtly pitching products or services, but positioning your organization as the premier source when it comes time to buy those products or services. Savvy content marketers know how to use content throughout the customer journey, from awareness and engagement to sales and loyalty.

It’s a simple idea, but differentiating your organization — and positioning it at the top of the food chain — is no simple task. In an era where people are exposed to hundreds of marketing messages each day, consistently publishing authoritative can create a powerful competitive advantage for your organization. And although some content creators may consider thought leadership to be an overused buzzword or a worn-out strategy, research indicates just the opposite.

Whoa, meta — thought leadership about thought leadership

According to the 2020 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Study, thought leadership actually is a powerful strategy that can accelerate growth throughout the customer journey.

  • 89% of decision-makers agree thought leadership helps enhance their perceptions of an organization
  • 59% of decision-makers said they trusted thought leadership more than its marketing materials when evaluating capabilities and competencies
  • 49% of decision-makers said thought leadership was influential in purchase decisions

Advantages include:

Online visibility: Google has demonstrated a preference for original, relevant content authoritative content since its Panda update nearly a decade ago. Relevant content enables you to build on what has been called the Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust. The number of people who read, share, and link to your content can help boost your position in search results toward the coveted #1 spot.

Sales and growth: Many marketers consider thought leadership to be a top-of-funnel technique that’s best-suited for building awareness. But in reality, thought leadership is very much a full-funnel strategy. The Edelman-LinkedIn research showed that thought leadership helped companies win new business and sell more, including products or services customers previously had not considered buying.

Credibility and trust: Most people think about trust as a sort of vague concept that’s difficult to define — but you know it when you see it. I recently interviewed Charles Green, founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates, who told me that trust definitely is not some nebulous concept that can’t be measured or developed, but the result of a very specific formula, shown below. Green helps leaders master trust-building skills to improve relationships within organizations and build loyalty with their audience. Thought leadership content is a unique opportunity to establish authenticity, customer centricity and to communicate that you value long-term relationships over short-term transactions.

Trust equation Charles Green

How to build thought leadership in 2020

Tell data stories: Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report contained data points like the fact that more 51% of the world’s population is now on the internet and seven of the top 10 of the world’s most valuable corporations are tech companies. People reference and republish this “evergreen” content, again and again, and it continues to build authority and trust for Meeker and her organization. It’s also important to note that data and insights are key to supporting thought leadership. Data aggregators like CB Insights and Statista also have positioned themselves effectively as trusted sources for business and trend data.

Conduct original research: Large consulting firms like Accenture, Forrester, and PwC continually publish original articles, research papers, and industry trend reports to share their insights and stay top of mind with decision-makers. These materials are often sought out by industry executives seeking to stay current and by purchasing decision-makers evaluating products and services. Original research also presents opportunities for co-publishing and partnerships that can help grow your audience.

Publish long-form content: Thought leadership is distributed in many forms, through multiple channels, depending on audience preferences. It can vary in length from tweets to white papers to full-length books. Thought leadership content often leads to media appearances and speaking opportunities. Book publishers earned nearly $26 billion in revenue in 2018, with e-books accounting for $2.04 billion and print books $22.6 billion, according to the Association of American Publishers’ annual report 2019. Books authored by business leaders are not likely to sell a million copies, they do carry a cachet that other forms of thought leadership can’t match.

Create original models and frameworks: Infographics and data visualizations not only make concepts faster and simpler to grasp, but they can become famous in their own right, like the graph depicting Moore’s Law below. Moore’s law posits that the number of transistors that can fit on an integrated circuit chips doubles roughly every two years. Intel CEO Gordon Moore first described this model in a 1965 research paper, and it has been used thousands of times to illustrate the exponential growth of computing power since that time.

Moore's Law - exponential growth of computing power

Moore’s Law

Accelerating growth with content

If I’m your ideal customer, why should I buy from you instead of a competitor?” — Marketing Experiments definition of a value proposition

High-quality thought leadership is uncommon, so it’s a powerful way for organizations to differentiate themselves in 2020 and beyond. Conversely, poorly executed thought leadership content can cause your audience to turn away to other sources that they perceive as more authoritative.

B2B marketers often can’t connect content marketing efforts to bottom-line revenue and growth. This situation may be improving as marketers gain more access to free and low-cost attribution tools, but it is still a challenge to measure the impact of printed materials that are shared among the audience, especially over time.

But the bottom line is that creating effective thought leadership is a challenge, but it remains an effective way to build authority, relevance, and trust — and fuel growth in today’s crowded marketplace. Should thought leadership be part of your 2020 content strategy? We can help with thought leadership content for your organization at Content Marketing Factory. Contact us to learn more.