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Your thought leadership may be missing the mark.
New research shows that almost three out of four buyers find no value in at least half of the thought leadership they consume. However, from the same research group, nearly half bought an unknown company for its thought leadership.
This difference raises big questions about what distinguishes mediocre from good thought leadership. In my experience, the answer comes down to five characteristics. Here’s what they are and how you can use them to improve your results.
Related: How to Harness the Power of Thought-Leadership Marketing?
1. Educate, Not Sell
Think about who you trust. Does that person want to see your life improve without getting anything in return? Or is that person asking for compensation before investing in your growth?
The most trusted brands educate their audience without expecting immediate profits. They serve the role of the professor rather than the salesperson. While the seller offers value in exchange for monetary gain, the teacher only asks for engagement and application.
And often the former sees better results than the latter. In B2B, where customers spend as much as six months in their buying process and change supplier approximately every five yearspatience and a methodical approach prove to be much more effective than a short-term focus.
This isn’t to say your content shouldn’t sell – it should. But it’s a matter of timing. Prospects seek thought leadership to learn. This happens in the early stages of their buying journey (aka “top of the funnel”) when they may not be fully aware of their problem or the solutions available to them.
To inform your audience:
1. Meet your customers at their Point A. To do this, use voice or customer data, internal lessons and external research to build a buyer persona for your audience. This persona should contain the attributes that are important to your business and define at least the following:
- Failed Solutions
- Decision Barriers
2. Provide content that takes them from point A to point B. Once you define your buyer persona(s), you understand who your prospect is and where they stand. You can then develop thought leadership that meets them at point A and takes them to point B.
Point A can create awareness for your prospect of their problem – or it can introduce the solution.
Related: Buyer Personas: What They Are, Why They Matter, and How Best to Build One
2. Take a Stand
Do you trust the person who stands for nothing, who hesitates to take sides in an issue? Or the person whose perspective remains consistent, clear and uncompromising?
Trust requires consistency and reliability. And by reliability I mean knowing that someone believes in (and will continue to believe) something. By setting up your belief system, communicating it to your prospects, and taking action on it, you give your customers a foothold to trust you.
If their perspective matches yours, they will. If not, they move on.
Taking a stand creates a binary decision, which is incredibly valuable to your business. You no longer waste time on prospects who stick around because they don’t fully understand you yet. Instead, focus your scarce resources — time, talent, and capital — on the prospects who step into your philosophy, the ones most likely to close and renew.
To take a stand:
- be provocative. Your company exists to defy the status quo. Embrace that role. Mention the danger of slowness and why alternative solutions are not enough.
- Brighten up your logic. State clearly not only what you believe, but why you believe it. Give your prospects full context to relate to your position.
- Lean on your research. Back claims with support to prove the credibility of your perspective and expertise.
Related: 11 Ways to Build Thought Leadership With Your Personal Brand
3. Support your claims
Experts don’t give an opinion. They present perspectives based on Research, data and proven experience. As a result, they gain trust and confidence through authority.
A total of 80% of B2B prospects require brands to validate their thought leadership with support from credible third parties. Given the amount of content being produced every day, it’s no surprise that they feel that way. Trust requires more than your word, but the voice of many.
To support your content with research:
- Mention your sources. Link to your independent research where appropriate. You may also explicitly state your source, but only do so for well-known organizations (for example, “found a Gartner study…”).
- Vary your research type and source. Include independent research as well as empirical evidence, such as customer case studies or internal data. Also, rely on multiple sources, not just one for an entire content item.
- Make it stand out. Make it easy for numerical data readers to recognize and process them. Use explanatory notes to highlight data points and substantive statements.
4. Tell a story
The story appeals to emotion, the greatest motivator of all.
Storytelling also influences behavior by grasping the full audience attentionso that they can consider new perspectives and help them understand complex information.
But unlike Hollywood movies, your story should position your prospect as the hero and yourself as the guide that will help them on their journey. Doing so will put you in the role of a trusted advisor, personalize your business and make it transparent and recognizable – all useful prerequisites for building trust.
To take advantage of the power of the story:
- Build the journey of transformation. Use customer case studies and anecdotes to help prospects understand the journey they can expect before, during, and after adopting your solution.
- Process your founder’s story. Provide background on why your company exists and its heroic pursuit of becoming the partner best equipped to help your prospect achieve their desired state.
- Predict the future. Build enthusiasm by describing the potential to your prospects and the wider industry with full adoption of your solution.
Related: The Value of Building Thought Leadership
5. Stay on the cutting edge
Looking to buy prospects from forward-looking organizations that are not complacent in current success. Complacency is a sign of a declining business, one that is unlikely to remain a good partner for the average five-year term of a B2B supplier contract, which we referred to earlier.
With technology becoming more entrenched in our lives and changing ever faster, companies must actively push to stay ahead. That means staying on top of the latest industry findings and constantly adapting to signals that prompt you to change your mind.
To stay on the cutting edge:
- Do social listening. What do you hear from your prospects about their transformation journey? What do you learn from your competitors, what they say and do, and how they interact with your prospects?
- Keep an eye out for credible third parties. Update the support base for your perspective with recent independent research. Avoid citing old findings that question your industry’s awareness and commitment.
Put the “leader” in thought leadership
By leveraging these five hallmarks of effective thought leadership, you create the conditions to set yourself apart from competitors.
You can grab the attention of skeptical prospects, gain their trust and win.
But only if you see thought leadership through the lens of your readers and what they really value: a necessary transformation, as efficient and effective as possible – so help them. Infuse your content with these five attributes and see the difference it makes.