How to harness thought leadership in your B2B content marketing

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It wasn’t so long ago that thought leadership was an alien concept for B2B marketing. Instead, businesses focused on presenting their product features and pricing. Quantifiable values that everyone could understand.

But today, it’s different. Most marketplaces face intense competition and businesses must learn to stand out. Product specification sheets alone no longer cut it.

Meanwhile, many B2B customers have higher demands. They don’t want vendors, they’re looking for trusted partners. Suppliers who can provide guidance and support in their specialist niche.

When you take these two evolutions together, it’s easy to see why B2B thought leadership is now a key focus. So, for many B2B businesses, thought leadership has changed from being insignificant to incredibly important in a short space of time.

I want to unpack thought leadership content from my perspective and experience. Because once you understand it, and see the point, you’ll want to discover your own flavour of this valuable marketing approach.


What is B2B thought leadership?

While the definition can be muddy depending on who you ask, this is my take with content in mind:

B2B thought leadership content presents unique insights, views, and learnings from subject matter experts wanting to educate and engage a specific target audience.

Others may suggest it’s about sharing wisdom, taking a stand, or driving change. All true. The most important thing is to remember why you’re creating thought leadership content, and how it fits into your marketing activities.

I came across an interesting comparison by Forbes: content marketing versus thought leadership. They say they’re not the same thing, and here’s why:

  • Thought leadership sparks conversations, content marketing solves problems
  • Thought leadership solves tomorrow’s problems, content marketing solves today’s
  • Thought leadership is created less frequently than content marketing (but is more in-depth)

I like this distinction. Though, in practical terms, thought leadership can be an important pillar of content marketing. So, it’s not always that simple.


Why create B2B thought leadership content?

Whether you create thought leadership pieces in-house or hire a ghostwriter (and other services if you’re considering audio and video) becoming an industry authority requires time and a budget.

So, there must be good reason. And there is.

Here are the main benefits of creating B2B thought leadership content as I see them.

#1 Build your brand

Providing thought leadership pieces helps to build brand awareness among your target audience. Whether an editorial contribution or a whitepaper, you’re putting your brand forward in a valuable and interesting way.

#2 Build trust

Your prospective customers will probably sift through many businesses like yours. When it comes to our products and services, few are that unique. But when you effectively harness thought leadership content, people start trusting what you have to say and come back for more.

#3 Differentiate your business

This is the “stand out in a crowded market” argument. When you invest in thought leadership content, you become a more dynamic contender and differentiate yourself from others in the same sector.

#4 Establish authority

You may well be an expert in your field, but nobody knows if you don’t demonstrate this. By leaning into thought leadership content you can establish authority (and build trust).

#5 Generate leads

Some thought leadership content results can be quantified. Perhaps it’s the contact list from a gated whitepaper. Or enquiries gained from an expert insight piece. Sure, these leads matter. But remember the bigger picture too. Many thought leadership pieces are evergreen and work alongside other aspects of your marketing for months or years to come.


Who can become a B2B thought leader?

We’ve all heard of Seth Godin and Steven Bartlett – high-profile thought leaders in their fields. But can any business achieve something similar, whether they sell software or structural engineering?

Yes, in their own way.

Look at the people in your team. Who has the knowledge and experience to take on this role? Who has a desire to share their wisdom? That’s a great place to start.

Alternatively, your brand can become a “thought leader”, leaning on internal subject matter experts to create valuable content. I’ve seen many B2B businesses achieve this successfully. So, don’t just think in terms of actual people, you can approach this in several ways.

Remember consistency is important here – “one-and-done” achieves nothing. If you want a key person (or your brand) to drive thought leadership content, sit down and establish a plan to meet your goals. And know that becoming a thought leader doesn’t happen overnight.


How to make thought leadership part of your content marketing

We must all start somewhere, so if this is new to you, that’s ok. Start simply and build momentum over time.

Understand what expertise you have to share

The starting point is your people and their knowledge. This could be your leaders or specialists in a particular department. I’ve seen both approaches work well. Arrange a meeting to understand who’s enthusiastic about getting involved and what they could offer.

Understand your audience (and what they need)

This goes hand-in-hand with understanding your expertise. You must know who your audience is, their needs, and the topics that may inspire or influence them. Absolutely no point creating thought leadership content that’s either over their heads or of little interest to them.

Review who’s doing what in your sector

See if any competitors in your sector are embracing thought leadership content. What could you do better? What topics aren’t they tackling? And look outside your industry too. What business thought leaders (or brand thought leaders) do you admire and what can you learn from them?

Establish your leading subject matter experts

This may be your CEO, even if some expertise comes from others in the business. Or you may collaborate with various subject matter experts to present your brand as the thought leader. Whatever your preferred approach, know who will provide most of your knowledge.

Define your goals (how will thought leadership help your marketing)

What are you looking to achieve with thought leadership content? For example, you may want to build your brand and authority for the long term or favour medium-term goals. Some businesses want both.

Understanding your goals helps you assess the effectiveness of thought leadership activity. While you can’t measure everything in content marketing, you can assess how particular pieces support your goals.

Plan your themes or topics

So, what are you going to talk about? Content marketing plans typically include themes. You might consider your thought leadership as long-term brand building or you may use the approach to support various topics.

Again, there is no right or wrong here. But making time to form a plan helps. You may find my worksheet: “Content people want” sparks some ideas and inspiration. It's free to download.

How to deliver your thought leadership content

Finally, decide what type of content you want to create. Of course, one thought leadership topic could fuel several pieces of content, so keep your thoughts broad. Popular types of content for thought leadership include:

  • Articles
  • Whitepaper and reports
  • Editorial in industry publications
  • Videos
  • Public speaking


Enriching your B2B content with thought leadership

B2B audiences have become more demanding. Increasingly, they want trusted expertise to help them make complex buying decisions. This needs more than standard content. By embracing thought leadership in your content marketing you’ll become that trusted authority. And you’ll become a go-to option when they’re ready to buy.

Should you have further questions about B2B thought leadership content, or would welcome a chat about your current situation, please get in touch. I’d be happy to help you.