If I told you that there was a marketing technique that had the power to convert 40% of your content readers into leads, would you use it?
(That’s a rhetorical question – of course you would.)
The good news is that this technique already exists, and it’s called ‘thought leadership’.
But 40%? According to a survey of 200 senior executives, conducted by Grist1, the number is right: Two out of five leaders will contact a company that has published a thought-leadership piece that hit the mark.
A 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study2 reports that 92% of decision makers say that thought leadership has increased their respect for an organization, while 58% state that it has led them to award business to an organization.
“I had a call from an unknown number. After introductions, he told me he had been following me on LinkedIn and liked how our values aligned. He then said he wanted to build 12 new data centres and he wanted my team to build them.”
Vice President, Fortune 500 Company, Current MMS Client
A “Historic” Buzzword
The popularity of thought leadership had skyrocketed so much, so quickly, that in 2013 Forbes magazine bestowed it with the title “the most annoying business slang”.
Surprisingly, though, the concept is not new. Ralph Waldo Emerson, essayist, lecturer and staunch abolitionist, was probably the first person to be described as a thought leader, and that was back in 18783. But it wasn’t until 1994 that the actual term ‘thought leadership’ was coined by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of Strategy & Business magazine4
“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.”
The Oxford dictionary describes it as an “intellectual influence and innovative or pioneering thinking”, but don’t let that scare you. In reality, you don’t have to be a pioneer or a tech unicorn to become a thought leader; you just have to be ready to share what you know and be authentic in the process.
When done right, with strong vision and substance, thought leadership leads to tangible business results. Yet, the previously mentioned Edelman & LinkedIn study reveals that traditional B2B marketing and sales people vastly underestimate the influence of thought leadership on demand-generation and sales efforts.
That’s a lot of missed business opportunities. If you’re not using thought leadership in your marketing efforts, you are missing an effective way to:
- Boost your brand affinity – Over 80% of the C-suite in an organization say they believe the company seems more trustworthy if it regularly shares its expertise and advice. When searching for a product and solution, people are naturally drawn to those that have an established authority in their field.
- Shorten the sales cycles – Thought-leadership blogs and articles help you become a part of the conversation very early in the consumer journey, while they are still undecided or while they are still looking for initial information that can help them resolve a problem they have. With your experience and valuable information, you create “purchasing shortcuts” in buyers’ minds.
- Build trust and brand credibility – The buying journey has changed. Early in the process buyers want to be educated – they don’t want to hear about your product or service AND they don’t want to talk to anybody – yet. Mid-funnel, they still want to be educated, and they MIGHT be open to attending a webinar or even connecting with an online chat-bot. At this stage, they are open to learning more about your product or service. At the bottom of the funnel is when you can move from thought-leadership content to product/service content. This is also when your sales team can finally start to engage.
The bottom line is that you start by building a trusted digital relationship where you share your knowledge freely so that prospects have established a connection with you by the time they are ready to buy.
Bigger Than Marketing
Thought leadership is never about direct promotion, and is all about providing value to your audience. It transcends content marketing, which has a very similar definition (never about promotion, always about value). But thought leadership is usually aligned to specific individuals in your organization that can build online digital relationships with buyers.
Thought leadership is an important part of your overall content marketing strategy.
When you empower your people to talk about their knowledge, you introduce potential buyers to the faces behind your organization and enable real people to talk to real consumers. That type of content creation goes beyond the outlined marketing strategy, and becomes an effective part of a broader business conversation.
People buy from people they know, like and trust.
Ultimately, when your leaders and subject matter experts (SMEs) share their expertise and deliver valuable information, all of that non-intrusive messaging is being orchestrated into a strategy with the same unified goal: drawing an audience towards your products and services.
2 Ways to Implement Thought Leadership into Your Content Marketing Plans
How do you embed thought leadership into your planned content-marketing efforts? Here are the two techniques that are proven to work:
1. Content that hits the mark
It is very important that you share quality content, not something that you put together without real value, just for the sake of having a company blog (because it’s a nice thing to have). If your content is weak, your efforts will fall flat and even backfire. A poorly written article can make readers stop following your organization and decrease their respect and appreciation!
When developing your company blogs, articles, videos, guest blogs on other websites with your leaders’ bylines, webinars, authentic social media posts or other types of content, your approach should have quality and value top-of-mind.
2. Social Proof
One of the fastest ways to establish authority in your sector is to win industry recognition. Recognition by peers can establish thought leadership in an instant; it’s a third-party reference that establishes your trustworthiness, validates your authority and demonstrates your expertise – exactly what thought leadership is all about.
Another way to boost your status as a thought leader is to win awards. We have seen first-hand the impact that winning an award can have on partners in the Microsoft eco-system. Our new portal allows partners to capture the essence of what they do for their customers all year so that they are ready when awards open.
Awards Self-service Portal
Applying for different awards programs is often complex and time consuming. At Mercer-MacKay Digital Storytelling, we know that very well. For the past 15 years we have been serving Microsoft partners with writing services that help them submit their flagship projects for the global Microsoft Partner of the Year awards.
We have also helped partners write award submissions for multiple other awards platforms.
Recently we launched a free resource on our own marketing SaaS platform to help you gather all the information you might need to submit to any awards program. The tool is open year-round. You can check it out and register to use it.
If you’re a Microsoft partner and thinking of starting a thought-leadership marketing strategy, I encourage you to do two things.
Firstly, think about the 2021 Microsoft Inspire awards now and start to collect the required materials and prepare through our free portal. You’ll thank us later.
Secondly, create a good strategy, start to create valuable content, and ramp up your digital marketing efforts with blogs, eBooks, videos and more. You won’t regret it.
And if you need help with any of those two tactics, we are here for you.