Demand generation

Thought leadership makes headlines. But does it generate demand?

Why investing in thought leadership is more powerful than you might think.
Thought leadership makes headlines

Scroll through your LinkedIn feed and see: thought leadership is hot. From blog articles that feature expert views to resourceful comments about industry-related matters: companies invest a lot of time in positioning themselves as authorities in their field. But as social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook get increasingly saturated with expert opinions, you start to wonder… Does thought leadership just generate clicks and likes, or does it actually fuel demand?

Thought leadership: it’s about trust

Before we dive into the merits of thought leadership for your company, let’s get our definitions straight. What is thought leadership?

According to Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine, a thought leader is “recognized by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate. They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights”.

Essentially, thought leadership boils down to one thing: reliability. A thought leader is a reliable source of information. And when it comes to building customer relationships, there are few things more valuable than trust.

In the 2020 Thought Leadership Impact Study conducted by Edelman-LinkedIn, a staggering 88% of business decision-makers reported that thought leadership increases trust in an organisation. Especially in a B2B context, where sales cycles are usually longer and budgets are higher, reliability is a key deciding factor for your potential customer.

Brand impact

A measure of how effective Decision-Makery says Thought Leadership is in enhancing their perceptions of an organization.

Average of inputs 89%
Respect increase 90%
Perception of capabilities 88%
Trust 88%

Source: Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study

Effects of thought leadership on demand generation

So, thought leadership increases trust. But establishing yourself or your company as an authority is a lot of hard work. Keeping up to date with new tendencies in your field of expertise, establishing a clear point of view on industry-related matters and creating compelling content that reflects your expertise are time-consuming efforts. So, the question marketers ask themselves: Does all this hard work really pay off?

According to the 2020 Thought Leadership Impact Study, B2B marketers and salespeople significantly underestimate the impact of thought leadership on demand generation and sales efforts compared to actual feedback from B2B buyers. When done well, the study shows, thought leadership can make expert knowledge accessible, strengthen a business’s reputation, and spark meaningful conversations that lead to increased demand.

First of all, most business decision-makers spend one hour a week or more reading thought leadership content. The majority of decision-makers also think it’s a more reliable source for assessing the company’s capabilities than other marketing materials. The time spent reading thought leadership content also results in sales. Half of business decision-makers report that it influences their business decisions, from consideration to cross-selling:

Sales impact

A measure of how effective Decision-Makery says Thought Leadership is in influencing their purchasing decisions.

Average of inputs 49%
Consideration – Generated RFP invitations 42%
Purchase – Led to awarding a business 48%
Upsell – Led to increasing the amount of business you do 53%
Cross-sell – Led to purchase of new product/service 53%

Source: Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study

So, investing in thought leadership is highly effective. Good quality thought leadership content impacts sales decisions and generates demand throughout the entire sales and marketing funnel.

By raising awareness about certain challenges customers in your field struggle with daily, and by providing a solution for these challenges, thought leaders directly influence business decisions. From the awareness stage to the decision stage, with the right content, you can persuade potential customers to contact your company when they need a solution to their challenges.

How to get started?

But how can you become a thought leader in your field? And how do you provide customers with the right content throughout the sales and marketing funnel? Building a reliable reputation through thought leadership is challenging. With these 5 experts tips, you can start developing a thought leadership strategy fit for your company.

  1. Develop your own ideas
    Thought leaders aren’t copycats. They stand out of the crowd by developing their own original ideas about a specific industry. And they gain people’s trust by consistently applying their views to a myriad of subjects related to their field. So don’t just start parroting others and think about the new perspectives you can bring.
  2. Keep up to date with industry-related matters
    Developing your own ideas is crucial. But if you want to gain reliability, you need to become a trustworthy source of information, too. Keeping up to date with everything that moves in your industry is crucial. Religiously tracking new advancements and assessing them is the next step to achieving a thought leader status.
  3. Start writing regularly
    The writer lives on, they say. So, if you want to gain reliability and get people to think about you when a certain subject crosses their mind, you need to start writing regularly. A weekly blog post and daily social media updates are crucial if you want to stay top of mind. Also, start commenting on news articles or your peers’ blog posts. Although commenting on LinkedIn status updates or posts doesn’t take a lot of time, it does make people notice you.
  4. Engage with your audience
    Thought leadership isn’t just one-way conversation. You need to actively engage in discussions with your audience. And social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are a great platform to do that. Find out what your followers want to learn more about. If they have a question, write a blog post or a status update about it. Tag them or refer to them in your content. By keeping the conversation going, you forge a powerful bond with your followers.
  5. Use thought leadership throughout the funnel
    Every stage in the sales and marketing funnel corresponds to a different type of content. So, as a thought leader, you need to create content for every step of the way. In the awareness stage, you need to focus on problems and challenges that your audience deals with daily. A little later on, you offer a solution. And towards the bottom of the funnel, you need to focus on the specifics of your solution and provide examples of successful projects you’ve completed.

To sum it all up

Becoming a thought leader costs time and effort. It requires a lot of hard work, dedication and expertise. But with the right mindset and our valuable tips, you’ve got a great place to start. Good luck!