Around the turn of the millennium, the fundamental way businesses and buyers thought about sales began to undergo a substantial shift, due to the proliferation of inbound sales and marketing. As a result, the power changed hands from the sellers to the buyers. No longer was the ball in the B2B marketers’ court – prospects became the ones with the serve.
As the digital landscape has evolved and B2B markets have become even more competitive, the desire (and need) to separate from the pack has become more important than ever. One such way marketers are trying to accomplish this is through thought leadership content. And, according to 2020 research from Edelman, “companies with the best ability to produce timely, thought-provoking thought leadership content are much more adept than their competitors at capturing their customers’ attention and turning that attention into positive results.”
However, saying you will become a thought leader, and understanding how to do so are two very different things.
In this post, we will outline a B2B thought leadership content roadmap to success. But, before we do so, we must first understand exactly what thought leadership content is.
What is Thought Leadership Content?
Thought leadership content is a marketing tactic used by organizations to expand their share of voice within an industry and to boost credibility and separate from the competition. A well-executed thought leadership content strategy positions a brand or individual as a go-to resource, and as a result, drives awareness and the frequency of returning visits.
Common forms of thought leadership content include:
- Blog Posts (on-site and contributed bylines)
- Original Research
Now that we have a better understanding of what thought leadership content is, let’s take a look at some of the steps that should be taken to achieve success.
Identify the Goals
As is the case with any marketing strategy, you must first outline and establish the goals you want to achieve. Your strategy should align with your overall brand position, sales objectives, and target marketing/audience. Some common goals and KPIs of thought leadership content include:
- Share of Voice (SOV)
- Branded Search Queries
- Brand Mentions (social media, third-party links, etc.)
- Web Traffic (Organic, Referral, etc.)
- Web Conversions
- Speaking Engagements
Define Your Target Audiences and Create Buyer Personas
With your goals and KPIs in place, it’s then time to move into the content development portion of the process. Before pen hits paper (or fingers hit keys), you need to establish a target. We recommend beginning at a macro level. What questions (pain points) are you trying to answer with your content? Are there specific markets or industries of focus? These questions are critical to answer within your organization, then you can move into more micro-level targeting, which begins with buyer personas.
Effective thought leadership content will make the recipient feel like they are being spoken to directly. A great way to ensure this is done properly is through the creation of buyer personas. When creating buyer personas, consider factors like age, geographical location, job title, purchasing power, and challenges.
Also, once buyer personas are created to match your diverse audience, be sure to monitor and revisit them as needed over time. Customer questions and challenges evolve, and you must make sure you keep up to deliver the right content at the right time.
Monitor the Competition
To beat the competition, you must first understand who they are and what you are up against. As you build out your thought leadership content roadmap, identify a core set (3-5) of competitors. From there, you should conduct an in-depth competitive analysis. Using tools like SEMrush and Screaming Frog, our team typically begins this process by evaluating the overall content portfolio of the competition. We do so by looking at how often content is being created, the types of content being utilized, the topics being covered, the publications/audiences being targeted, etc.
Pull all of this information into a presentation to have a quick and easy way to view the competitor information. From there, compare the strategies to your own, and start mapping out the areas of opportunity that exist for your organization to get out ahead of the pack.
Create the Content
Isn’t it interesting that actually creating the content falls more than halfway down the list? This is because, like any strong structure, there must be a solid foundation beneath it. With your goals, audience, and knowledge of the competition under your belt, you can then confidently move forward with content creation.
As you build out your thought leadership content, be sure to identify the “theme” you are going after. Think of this as a targeted subset of your organizations’ strengths. While you don’t want to push your brand or offerings within thought leadership content, you do want to make sure the themes and topics can be directly tied back to what your organization has to offer.
With many of our clients, we begin our thought leadership content strategy with the development of what we call “cornerstone content assets.” These are the pieces of content that will live at the center of the strategy, such as whitepapers, case studies, or eBooks.
From there, you can create supporting assets like blog posts, infographics, videos, and social media posts to get ready for promotion and outreach efforts.
Sync PR, Email and Social Media Efforts
To truly hit your thought leadership content goals, you will need a comprehensive and cohesive promotional strategy in place. If possible, identify a few subject matter experts (SMEs) who will be the faces behind the content. These individuals are typically executives that have years and years of experience within the targeted area of focus.
With the SMEs in place, you can then create blog posts, bylines, email campaigns, and social media posts to drive awareness of your content through as many avenues as possible. In a nutshell, your thought leadership content should be showing up wherever it is you believe the target audience is spending their time.
Showing the impact of your thought leadership strategy is, of course, important to justify future efforts, but it’s also imperative to show the very SMEs you are using to promote the content the impact of their work and representation.
As you roll out your strategy and produce multiple campaigns, be sure to pull data points and share them across your organization. This should most definitely include the sales team – as they can use the data to understand what content is resonating the best and what pain points that content is focused on. For the content team, data points will help to identify what content is working the best with the audience, and from there, the overall strategy can be refined for future growth and engagement.
B2B brands in 2020 and beyond must be focused on more than website product and services pages to drive inbound leads and sales. Regardless of what industry your organization is in, there is most definitely a competitor out there establishing themselves as a thought leader and taking eyeballs away from your brand.
We hope this B2B thought leadership content roadmap has inspired you to create or refine your strategy!
Feel free to drop a comment below or connect with me on Twitter to keep this conversation going!