For the past three years, Edelman PR, one of the largest public relations organizations in the world, and LinkedIn have conducted studies investigating the effectiveness and influence of Thought Leadership articles. While the term “Thought Leadership” has different definitions for different people, for the most part, a Thought Leadership article is one that:
- Presents a unique perspective to major stakeholders in an industry.
- Is published in a trade publication, online or in print, or posted in LinkedIn as an “article.”
- Is designed for corporate decision-makers to read.
- Is typically longer than, for instance, blog content, which runs about 600 to 800 words. Thought Leadership articles are usually 1,200 words or longer.
- Is much more in-depth and insightful than blog posts.
- Presents the value the Thought Leader brings to the corporate table, helping organizations solve problems and address challenges.
We should repeat that Thought Leadership articles are not blogs. Blogs tend to be shorter as we mentioned and have become much more promotional over the years. Often, they contain links to products and services, further making them promotional.
This is not true of Thought Leadership articles. Plus, blogs usually focus on one subject at a time – issue that may be transitory. Thought Leadership articles have greater staying power; they take a broader perspective. Blogs do, however, bolster an organization’s website if they are effectively search engine optimized.
With these disclaimers out of the way, here are some particulars revealed in this study, known as the 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study:
- There were 3,275 decision-makers involved in the study who were based in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Singapore, India, and the U.K.
- The decision-makers reported that quality Thought Leadership articles “not only strengthens a company’s reputation but also positively impacts RFP (requests for proposal) invitations, wins, pricing and cross-selling that occurs post-sale.”
- On the other hand, poorly crafted Thought Leadership articles “can have an equal and opposite effect, leading decision-makers to remove a potential vendor or partner from consideration altogether.”
While decision-makers confirm that Thought Leadership articles can have a tangible impact on organizations, most are disappointed in the quality of the articles.
- Only 15 percent report that the Thought Leadership articles they read are very good or excellent.
- Twenty-nine percent report that decision-makers gain valuable insight after reading a Thought Leadership article.
- Decision-makers report they spend one hour or more per week reading Thought Leadership articles.
- Nearly 60 percent report that Thought Leadership articles are a more reliable barometer for assessing individual or organizations capabilities than marketing materials.
- Forty-two percent in the study indicated they are willing to pay a premium to work with in an individual or an organization they consider a Thought Leader.
The study also found that for a Thought Leadership article to be influential, it must have “ample” distribution. This refers to spreading the article on social media platforms.
What Makes Thought Leadership Articles Work?
There are some “tricks of the trade” that can help make Thought Leadership articles more effective, build trust with your customers, and generate sales. Among these are the following:
- Stay one step ahead of your industry. The goal here is to determine what pain points your industry may encounter five months to five years down the road.
- Don’t be afraid to cover complex topics, difficult, or unexpected subjects. These are often the most read and prove to be the most valuable content produced by a Thought Leader.
- Find unexpected and creative ways to present your insights. Videos, podcasts, and info graphs can be very effective. However, the best bet is to mix traditional Thought Leadership presentations – articles – along with more innovative strategies.
- Stay relevant. Some Thought Leaders get into an “everything for everyone” trap. Often this happens when they are seeking new clients in different industries. Stay focused on your niche.
- Listen carefully. Attend tradeshows, listen to what manufacturers, distributors, end-customers, and attendees are discussing. Very often, they are the first to address something that is evolving in the industry.
And finally, always focus on the “big picture.” Minor issues often can be tackled in-house without turning to an outside expert. It’s your expertise and awareness of the significant problems and the big picture in your industry that can result in an organization hiring you.