Explore why thought leadership is vital and how it's supported by a content marketing program
When brands practice thought leadership, the natural result is trust. When an audience trusts a brand or its representatives, they are more likely to convert. Research supports that there is a strong, positive relationship between consumer trust, brand loyalty and increased customer referrals. In fact, 84 percent of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral, and customer disloyalty can stunt growth by 25-50 percent.
So how does a brand gain this trust through thought leadership? It’s more than just saying “trust us.” It’s about building powerful content that goes way beyond the quality of SEO-optimized blog posts. Content marketing is the best approach for building trust, and it will need to have a well-oiled plan.
A successful plan will include a stream of consistent, high-quality content that’s distributed on the most frequented customer channels. With this type of infrastructure, the ability to cement your brand as a thought leader and cultivate trust will be an easier, more effective path.
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A Thought Leadership Framework, with Content Marketing
If you are going to focus on thought leadership as a goal of content marketing, you’ll need the proper framework. The framework includes:
Foundational brand language
This language should be part of a voice and tone guide. With a value proposition, a unique selling proposition (USP) and elevator pitch - you have the essence of what type of stance the brand can take within the industry. If your USP is about keeping your industry informed of changes and how to handle them, then your thought leadership position would be to deliver content that answers these questions.
It’s not necessarily about your brand picking a side. It’s about delivering accurate portrayals of what’s happening and how those changes can impact your ideal customer.
Types of content
There are many different types of content to consider for thought leadership. They may, however, be somewhat limited because of the need to feature an author in a piece. Attributing to a specific person is a necessity on video, wherein your thought leaders would be talking about some challenge or issue the industry is facing.
Also, content may be limited by the subject. Some topics lend themselves to blog posts while others are better expressed with a video.
When deciding on a format, don’t limit yourself to the content you control. Thought leadership is supported greatly by third-party articles that include your brand. This enhances trust because other parties are giving your brand legitimacy.
Key messaging consistency
No matter what formats you use for thought leadership, the message should be consistent. Go back to your foundational language and specific ways in which your brand has historically discussed the problem. If it’s a new one, then develop, as part of the content marketing campaign, key talking points as the basis of the message.
Now that you have thought leadership content from your program, what will you do with it? Distribution is often a neglected area of content marketing, but it’s crucial. Even if you write the greatest piece ever, it doesn’t mean much if no one sees it.
Get creative in how to spread your content. Use social media, pitch abstracts to your brand’s industry publications, become a guest blogger with a related or similar brand that’s not a competitor, leverage advertorials, and other industry-specific channels such as associations.
Additionally, content marketing programs have to run like clockwork. Consider your brand to be in the digital publishing business, adding new content on a regular basis.
One thing that differentiates your thought leadership content marketing plan is the insights you can regularly deliver to audiences. When executed well, it places your brand top of mind to your audience. They’ve done their research, and your brand’s approach to educate and inform has been a much better attractor than sales-related language.
These insights put your brand in the advisor role. The advice shouldn’t be solely based on your products or services. That dilutes the message. Instead, take a question-answer approach or tell a great story around the issue. You might find that your brand is hardly mentioned, and that’s a good thing, as the content seems more genuine.
Be a Leader, Not a Follower
To capture all the benefits from thought leadership content marketing, your brand needs to be thought leading.
That designation in this context means several things. First, it means that your content has to be timely. You can’t wait six weeks to talk about a burning issue in your industry. By then it could be resolved, or another problem may have supplanted it.
Being a leader means also not sitting on the fence. As discussed earlier, thought leadership isn’t about saying which avenue is better. It’s about delivering a thorough dissection of the two with plenty of facts and data so that the audience can make the decision.
Finally, leadership means not copying what everyone else in the industry is saying or doing. You need your own point of view—one that is customer-centric and looks at changes or problems from their perspective.
In thought leadership pieces, leading with expertise isn’t bragging. It’s offering real-world examples. When your content focuses on overcoming challenges with specific anecdotes, this immediately influences readers to seek you out as a go-to source. Think of the content as offering the best option or result.
Your expertise also delivers a unique factor to your content. Your content won’t be overly general. It will have detailed accounts that make it more valuable to its reader.
How Content Marketing Thought Leadership Elevates Your Brand
So, it may seem like a lot of work to establish yourself as a thought leader via content marketing. You know you have to have a great content marketing program foundation, and build upon that foundation through the development and distribution of content. But at the end of the day, having a rock-solid content marketing program will be well worth it. According to Forrester, thought leadership content has a greater impact of ideas on prospects than all other forms of content marketing.
Consider this: which brand would you consider more trustworthy - the one that gives you ways to solve problems or one that has lots of fluffy content with no usable information?
Of course, you’d choose the first brand. You want to be that brand. When you are that type of brand, your buyers will trust you and look to you for help. Having customers that believe in you is a responsibility, but being in this position is a fine perspective to have.
Thought Leadership Attracts Buyers Early
In any good content marketing program, you have content for every stage of the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration, and decision. Ideally, you want to first attract a buyer at the awareness stage. Thought leadership content can do just that.
By publishing education-focused content on a regular basis in channels where potential buyers are, you are more likely to catch them at awareness. This gives you the opportunity to connect with and begin to build a relationship with a prospect very early on. They then may speed quickly to the next steps and decide to partner with you.
Thought Leadership Content Marketing Relevant for the B2B Industry
B2B brands are typically more apt to use thought leadership as a means to attract buyers. This is true for several reasons. B2B buyers spend a lot of time researching their needs—thus your assets are relevant to them. Recent Gartner research found that the modern B2B buyer now relies on digital channels when first researching an offering, and continue to use them along the way to validate the information they receive from sales reps. A total of 83 percent surveyed stated that they rely on digital channels even in the late stages of purchasing, strengthening the importance of thought leadership content distribution at all stages of the buying cycle.
Get Your Thought Leadership Content Marketing Program on Track
If you’re not using thought leadership as you should, because you don’t have the resources or the experience, consider partnering with PAN Communications. We help brands seamlessly incorporate and leverage thought leadership to fuel growth. Find out what it’s like to work with us.
Michael Brenner (@BrennerMichael) has been recognized as a Forbes top CMO influencer, and a Top Business Keynote Speaker by the Huffington Post. He is CEO of Marketing Insider Group, and co-author of 2 books including The Content Formula, and Digital Marketing Growth Hacks. Michael's innovative leadership has resulted in massive growth for his clients. His workshops and keynotes for Fortune 500 brands and tiny startups have inspired profound personal and professional change.