Thought Leadership Content Marketing: Fuel the Buyer’s Journey
When people need expert insights, they turn to leaders they trust. Why shouldn’t you be one of those leaders? Thought-leadership content marketing is a way to establish your authority, expand your reach, and share your knowledge. It’s also a way to inform the buyer’s journey to turn leads into sales.
- What Is Thought Leadership Content Marketing?
- Why Is Thought Leadership Important?
- How Thought Leadership Informs the Buyer’s Journey
- Thought Leadership and the Buyer’s Journey in Action
- Thought Leadership Examples
- Developing Your Thought Leadership Strategy
- Thought Leadership Best Practices
- Become a Thought Leader
What Is Thought-Leadership Content Marketing?
HubSpot calls thought leadership “a tactic content marketers use to build credibility for themselves or leaders in their company.” By sharing their knowledge and expertise, individuals can establish themselves as experts in their fields and as a go-to resource their readers can rely on. Likewise, by sharing helpful information – and taking an educational stance, your company can become a go-to resource for its prospects.
Why Is Thought Leadership Important?
Thought leadership isn’t about stroking egos. If you have developed expert knowledge and valuable insights through your years of professional experience, it makes sense that you would want to share that information with others. Likewise, your audience is hungry for valuable content that can help them solve their problems.
For this reason, thought leadership is a solid marketing strategy. People don’t want ads, but they do want go-to resources. If people come to think of you as a thought leader they can learn from, they’ll keep coming back to your website and social media feed. They may also share your insights with others, increasing your social media exposure and adding to your website’s backlinks. When this happens, your reach can expand tremendously.
Brand awareness plays a huge role in purchasing decisions. People are simply more likely to choose brands they’re familiar with than brands they’ve never heard of. Trust is also critical. Adobe’s Future Marketing Research Series found the 71 percent of consumers show that they trust a brand by making more purchases and 61 percent show trust by recommending the brand to friends. Thought leadership is a great way to build brand awareness and trust. Plus, people who have established themselves as thought leaders are more likely to win speaking engagements and other opportunities that spread awareness of their brand.
How Thought Leadership Informs the Buyer’s Journey
A good decision is a well-informed decision.
B2B buyers usually go through 13 pieces of content, including eight vendor sources, before making a purchase.
Thanks to the internet, we live in an age of information. But we also live in an age of misinformation. People want to make informed decisions that will help them navigate the changing world. To do that, they need information they can trust.
Finding trustworthy information can be difficult, but people are turning to businesses more and more. In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 shows that businesses are now the most trusted type of organization: the study found that 61 percent of people trust businesses. As a comparison, 59 percent of people trust non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 52 percent trust the government, and only 50 percent trust the media.
Of course, people don’t trust all business leaders equally. However, if you can establish yourself as a reliable source of valuable insights and helpful content, people will keep coming back to you.
And you need them to keep coming back – one interaction isn’t enough. According to a report from FocusVision called Content Really is King: Content Consumption in the B2B Buyer’s Journey, B2B buyers usually go through 13 pieces of content, including eight vendor sources, before making a purchase. Decision makers find this content in multiple ways: 70 percent say they get it directly though the vendor website and using internet searches and social media is also common.
Thought Leadership and the Buyer’s Journey in Action
Here's what can happen: a B2B decision maker is searching online for information related to a product. She finds a blog post on your website and reads it. Since the information is useful, she clicks on the social button on your website and follows you. As a result, she sees more of your posts in her feed over the following weeks. One of these posts includes a call to action to download a white paper. As she’s interested, she fills out of the form to access the white paper. By the time she’s ready to make a decision, she’s familiar with your brand and she’s come to trust your insights.
The details will vary, but the underlying concept is the same. People don’t go out of their way to look for ads, but they do look for information that will help them. This is a huge opportunity for business leaders who have keen insights to share. People are hungry for reliable information. If you can provide it, they’ll keep coming to you. If you don’t provide it, they’ll have to go elsewhere – and their buyer’s journey will take them straight to your competition.
Thought Leadership Examples
Thought-leadership content is any content that educates the reader. The topic doesn’t have to be new or unique, but ideally, you should share the topic in a new way. Examples of thought leadership content include:
- Blog Posts: A blog article is a simple way to make your thought-leadership content available to a wide audience. It’s also a great way to get consumers to come back to your website. However, unless your website already has significant traffic, you’ll need to use blogging in conjunction with other strategies to build your readership. People don’t want ads; they want fresh ideas and useful insights – and that’s what you need to give them. A strong call to action at the end of your blog post should be incorporated to guide the reader to a next step.
- Journal Articles: In addition to writing thought leadership articles for your own blog, you can also create content to publish in trade journals. This marketing strategy can help you reach new readers while increasing your authority. Since the journal decides what to publish, it’s important to meet the style guidelines and stick to the preferred word count. You’ll also need to provide content that the journal will want – this isn’t a place for self-promotion. However, your byline will help build credibility and reputation.
- White Papers: Blogs are suitable for most topics, but if you want to explore a topic in depth, a white paper may be the way to go. These reports vary considerably in length, but they tend to be longer and more detailed than blog posts. According to HubSpot, B2B companies are more likely to use white papers than B2C companies. Like blogs, white papers should not be overly promotional. Since, they are often gated (meaning people need to complete a form with their contact information to access the content), offering a high-value white paper can be a good lead generation tactic. You can also promote white papers through industry journals. Most journals now offer paid thought leadership campaigns.
- Case Studies: You know what your company is capable of achieving – now you need to show your potential clients. A case study is a great way to highlight your results in a way that feels factual instead of boastful. These pieces can delve into common pain points and provide key takeaways that apply to other companies in similar situations.
- Interviews: An interview is a natural format to share insights. You can use interviews in different ways. For example, you can record an interview and release it as a video or an audio podcast, but you can also take the transcript and publish it in written form. As well as publishing the entire interview, you can repurpose snippets in different ways.
- Infographics: Most people are visual learners. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing for a B2B or B2C audience – many readers want visuals. An infographic is a great way to provide valuable content in a visual way. Infographics can focus on statistics, but they don’t have to – they can also focus on facts or steps in a process. You can include your infographic in blog posts and white papers. They’re also great for social media and can help you earn backlinks to boost your site.
- Decision Trees: Similar to an infographic, a decision tree is a fantastic type of highly-visual content. It’s also an incredibly useful piece of content for people who are trying to make complicated decisions – and decisions are at the heart of everything. By guiding readers through the difficult decisions involved in these goals, you’re establishing yourself as a thought leader and a valuable resource.
- FAQs: Your potential clients have questions; you have answers. One of the most straightforward ways to provide those answers is in an FAQ. People will bookmark a useful FAQ to refer to in the future and will share it with others. This means it’s not just an important part of your thought-leadership strategy – it’s also an important part of your SEO strategy.
- Social Posts: According to Pew Research Center, 72 percent of US adults say they use social media. If you want to reach them, you should be on social media, too. You’ll need to select the social media channels that make sense for your brand. For example, although Facebook may the king of social media, LinkedIn reigns when it comes to B2B content. Once you’ve created your profile, you need to start posting and interacting on the platform to start building a following. You can share links to your blogs posts, white papers, and other content on your website to promote thought-leadership content. You can also post infographics and shorter posts directly to social media. Finally, sharing relevant content from other sites provides value to your followers while showing that you have your finger on the pulse.
- Emails: Instead of waiting for people to find your latest thought-leadership piece, send it directly to their inboxes. You can send emails to existing customers as well as others who have expressed interest in your brand or your ideas, such as people who filled out a form to access your white paper. You can also create a regular e-newsletter to send to your customers and subscribers.
Developing Your Thought Leadership Strategy
When developing a thought-leadership content strategy, you need to think about your target audience and create content that meets their needs. This is not about self-promotion – at least not directly. For thought-leadership marketing to work, you need to put your audience first.
When you are brainstorming content ideas, think about the following:
- What problems are your target customers trying to solve? These are the issues that they’ll be searching for online. If you provide relevant information, they’ll turn to you for advice.
- What decisions are your target customers facing? Your company offers one option; what other options are there? Think about the choices available to potential customers and the factors that may influence their decisions. Try to provide insights that can help inform these decisions.
- What pitfalls and traps should your target customers avoid? If you give them the information they need to avoid problems, you can establish yourself as a thought leader.
- What personal insights can you share? A personal narrative can make your content more relatable and help you stand out. Think about the anecdotes you can share and the lessons you’ve learned through your own experiences.
- What changes are happening in your industry? When people need help navigating change, they turn to thought leaders. When producing thought-leadership content ideas, an industry analysis can help you focus on the most critical issues and current pain points.
Thought Leadership Best Practices
You have the ideas; a thought-leadership content marketing agency can help you turn your ideas into valuable thought-leadership content.
When reviewing your options, consider the following:
- You need a system that works for you. A thought-leadership content marketing strategy can build your reputation and strengthen your brand, but it shouldn’t eat up all your time. Find a marketing partner who can work with you to turn your ideas into content with a minimal time commitment on your part.
- You need a content marketing agency that understands what it takes to be a thought leader. A thought-leadership strategy is fundamentally different from an advertising strategy. The content marketing agency should know how to avoid self-promotion while still leveraging thought-leadership pieces for lead generation and fueling your sales funnel.
- You need to produce thought-leadership content that earns trust. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2022 showed that people trust businesses more than government agencies and the media, but it also showed that 59 percent of people are inclined to distrust until they see evidence that something is trustworthy – as opposed to trusting until they see that something is untrustworthy. Even more worrying is that 63 percent of people think business leaders are trying to mislead people with false statements or gross exaggerations. You need to prove that you’re worthy of trust. A good way to do this is to support your claims with verifiable facts from reliable sources. You know that what you’re saying is true; a good content marketing agency can do the research to provide proof for your readers.
- Your content needs to be easy to read. When you’re trying to establish yourself as a thought leader, poor grammar and spelling can undermine your authority and make the material frustrating to read. Good organization is also important. As many of your readers have busy schedules, your long form thought leadership pieces should be easy to scan.
- You need to speak to readers on their level. When you’re writing for a general audience, it’s generally best to stick to common terms that everyone knows, i.e. layman’s terms. However, when you’re writing for a specialized niche, using layman’s terms isn’t always appropriate. This doesn’t mean you should stuff your content with jargon and buzz words; it just means you should use the most precise terms possible – and sometimes this requires industry-specific vocabulary. When writing for a specialized B2B audience, it’s important to work with a content marketer who understands your industry and its lingo.
- You need a distribution strategy. The internet is extremely crowded. It doesn’t matter how brilliant and revolutionary your ideas are if no one sees them. A good distribution strategy should have a content calendar with multiple elements that complement each other, such as a blog, an e-newsletter, and social media accounts. Once you’ve developed a strategy, you need to analyze and adjust it until it achieves your desired results.
Become a Thought Leader
Thought-leadership content marketing is an important part of your overall content marketing strategy. Get your content marketing road map.