When it comes to thought leadership, the big question is why it’s becoming an integral part of content marketing – also known as growth marketing – strategies. In this article, find out five keys to successfully influencing prospects’ decision-making process, discover how to get started on your thought leadership journey, and how to measure your success.
What is thought leadership content?
It’s likely that you’re already very familiar with the concept of ‘thought leadership’, and the fact that it can be applied to help drive awareness of your brand’s expertise with your B2B customers.
Building that awareness relies on the proprietary knowledge of your organisation and forms the foundation of the concept’s value proposition. That’s to say, intelligently created and distributed content that delivers valuable insights and solutions to your prospective customers helps your company become more visible and trusted.
In the case of financial services – medical insurance and assistance – for example, the insights and solutions might simply boil down to avoiding risk exposure, achieving better individual health outcomes, keeping costs in check and supporting mission, trip or assignment success.
But creating and sharing insightful, solution-oriented thought leadership content is only half the story. The other half is analysing the data associated with its performance and making sense of it. By doing so, you can continually adapt your approach to thought leadership and its distribution. In this way, you can become more efficient at influencing your prospects’ decision making and achieving your lead generation and sales volume goals.
Thought leadership: how it optimises decision making
A commercial organisation – i.e., your prospective customer – is often looking for problem-identifying, risk-navigating or solution-oriented insights and guidance from industry experts.
Their challenges and opportunities are continuously changing based on various dynamic conditions, thanks to macro and micro forces at work. As there is no static view of the industry or competitor strategies, solution finding becomes reliant on having uniquely valuable insights from trustworthy sources delivered at the right time and in the right place. These insights, coupled with your service or solution, then allow the organisation to be flexible and agile in their approach to successfully finding their way forward.
Within organisations sits a group of individuals tasked with problem-solving and strategising for commercial purposes. These are the decision makers who research solutions, meet with potential suppliers, make recommendations or provide final authorisation for the purchase of professional services or solutions to help them perform their task.
Here, we outline five aspects important for the creation of thought leadership content to help influence decision makers:
1. Understanding the decision-making landscape
According to Gartner, more than three-quarters of organisations describe their buying and decision-making process as ‘very complex or difficult’.
Of the six buying ‘jobs’ Gartner identified that decision-making groups undertake before making a purchase, there are two that happen early in the process:
- The problem identification process
- The solution exploration process.
These jobs predominantly involve independent and impartial online or desk-based research. This gives you a small window of opportunity early in the buying process to inform, educate, influence, and win trust. While decision makers may dip in and out of different bodies of research, processes and conversations, there’s one overriding place they operate. McKinsey finds that 70 to 80 per cent of decision makers prefer to make their decisions digitally, as opposed to via one-on-one, in-person interactions with sales representatives.
2. Finding a window of opportunity
The online research carried out by decision makers is designed to help organisations better understand their problem or scenario, and what’s out there to help solve their problem.
This is the point at which decision makers are looking for relevant, credible information and content. Done well, thought leadership delivered at this point can help remove confusion and information overload by bringing laser focus to the crux of the issue and the solutions available.
This is critical because nearly four in 10 decision makers say that the market is oversaturated with thought leadership content. Having said that, 54 per cent of decision makers commit at least one hour per week to consuming thought leadership material, according to an Edelman-LinkedIn 2021 report.
3. Offering authoritative, novel insights
To cut through the noise, organisations should try to avoid focusing their thought leadership expertise on subjects that have been covered time and again. Instead, they should conduct thorough research to find ‘white space’ or unclaimed territory in the conversation.
There is room for carefully treading familiar ground though:
- Dust off a topic that hasn’t received much interest recently and bring it up to date with timely research or insights – both proprietary and third party to present a balanced view
- If a topic has been covered off previously but the arguments were weak or incomplete, there might be an opportunity to re-examine it and to challenge beliefs and assumptions
- Bring in specialists and take a deep dive into a broad topic to find relevant, important aspects that may not have been covered in detail previously.
4. Presenting a well-rounded view
Balance is important to decision makers. According to Edelman LinkedIn, 80 per cent of people want thought leadership material to include third-party data and insights from other trusted sources, as well as the proprietary insights from the company that published the piece.
True thought leaders can unearth new and unique data or opinions about a topic to shed new light on the matter. Not only are they able to be provocative, but they are also able to do it in a way that’s approachable and even, dare I say it, fun.
5. Making it timely
It goes without saying that thought leadership should address relevant topics that can have a significant impact on the commercial success and future of the prospective customer. To reach people when they’re making critical decisions, it can also be a question of mapping your content to risk predictions and trend analysis or current affairs and world events.
How to get started creating thought leadership content
Create customer personas: Draw out the expertise from subject matter experts within your business. Who are the decision makers and ratifiers at your prospective customer? What beliefs and assumptions do they hold? How does their industry vertically influence their requirements? Develop personas that reflect the key attributes of your target decision makers. That way, you know exactly who you’re addressing in your content.
Review customer questions: Do your research to find out what’s troubling your prospects and what’s likely to make their lives easier. What types of information do they typically use search engines to seek out? What’s unique about their buying process? From there, you’ll be able to build up a picture of the research topics of interest – or keywords – relevant to your target persona.
Tailor your topic: Once you have identified a topic that’s of interest to your prospective customer, consider whether it’s a good fit for your personas. Digging into the monthly search volumes for the topic of interest will help you determine whether there’s demand for your topic. This way, you can make sure you’re not only writing about topics on which you have authority and covering novel angles, but you’ll know that there’s an audience hungry for it. You can then set about generating fresh insights and perspectives to help uncover a new perspective or solution that’s uniquely yours.
Format your content: Find out how your prospective customers prefer to consume their thought leadership content. Do they download long-form reports? Do they prefer primer-style content, or like to pore over details or quantitative data? Do they engage better with videos? Do they listen to podcasts? You can then create your content in the best format.
Meet customers where they are: Find out where your prospects spend time making contacts, enquiries or collecting information. Are they researching from a desktop or a mobile phone? Are they active on social media channels such as LinkedIn or Facebook? What industry publications do they typically read? Do they follow particular journalists, experts or influencers in the market? Find your prospects and give them snackable extracts and fresh insights that reflect their requirements and spark interest in your topic, solution or perspective. Entice them to your website, where they’ll be able to find all the relevant thought leadership content on the matter and get to know your brand better.
How to measure success of content online
Knowing if your expertise is landing with decision makers at your prospective customer and the actions it’s inspiring are critical pieces of the data analysis puzzle. In the first few months after your campaign begins, growth indicators might include higher search rankings and new traffic to your website. After six months, you’re likely to see more significant traction towards your ideal results. Consider the following indicators:
- Changes to your search ranking position
- Changes to your overall web traffic
- Unique page views of your web page(s) that house your thought leadership content
- How much time are visitors spending consuming your content on your site?
- Which areas of key pages are attracting and holding their attention?
- Where were they before they landed on your site?
- What they do and where they go after they’ve engaged with your content.
Consider whether your visitors are acting on your sales-oriented call to action – there are numerous tools and data sources available to help here. For example, are your visitors:
- Downloading your reports or the data sets associated with your thought leadership content?
- Filling in a form to request more information or to request a call back?
- Signing up for a newsletter or email alerts?
- Participating in an online quote journey? If so, are they completing it?
- Visiting additional thought leadership or other pages on your website? If so, which ones?
Understanding how your thought leadership content is impacting your organisation’s lead targets and growth can allow you to adjust your approach to increase message effectiveness and reduce wastage. Those insights are the ones that lead to actionable intelligence and, ultimately, to increased sales volumes.
As with so many solutions in the medical assistance and insurance world, the most effective thought leadership solutions are valuable, balanced insights carefully tailored to the needs of decision makers and delivered in the right place, at the right time.