In recent decades and especially in the past few years, companies across industries, and especially those engaged in business-to-business sales of products or services, have come to discover and greatly value thought leadership as a central part of their marketing and brand strategies.
Leaders share their expertise
It makes sense. Would you prefer to purchase products or services from an organization with no identifiable expertise in their field, or might it be more appealing to engage with organizations whose leadership in their respective industries is clearly established in the body of research, analysis and commentary they produce on their area of expertise? The appeal of organizations whose thought leadership is reflected in their written and broadcast works has become undeniably and quantifiably valuable in the attraction and retention of customers and clients.
A crowded space
But successful tactics have a way of attracting copycats, and that is the challenge now confronting the thought leadership function. While some companies and firms continue to provide content that is groundbreaking and impactful in their respective industries, the newcomers have made it a more crowded space since the number of books, manuals, research reports, articles, op-eds, newsletters, and podcasts produced in the thought leadership space has expanded considerably (especially during the pandemic). In a more crowded space, how can companies with demonstrable knowledge to share ensure it receives the notice they deserve?
The expert’s tips
If there is any firm that can answer that question competently, it likely is public relations giant Edelman. Founded in 1952, Edelman has grown incrementally and impressively over the decades—and, today, books nearly $900 million annually in revenue from 65 offices across the globe that employ roughly 6,000 employees who counsel companies and non-profit organizations on this and other issues confronting organizations that seek to build their brand identity and marketing in successful ways.
In 2022, this Edelman report argues, thought leadership remains more important than ever, but organizations employing it would benefit from ensuring they follow a few guidelines to maximize its impact. Among these guidelines:
Strike the right balance on tone
Corporate and organizational writing is sometimes too formal. Avoid this. Instead, Edelman counsels, seek to convey approachableness through a “more human, less formal tone.” Among B2B buyers surveyed by Edelman, 87 percent say “leadership content can be both intellectually rigorous and fun to consume at the same time.”
Back up your findings
Even as thought leaders seek to adopt a less formal tone, however, B2B buyers still expect that the content of thought leaders be fact-based—and that means utilizing “third party data and insights from other trusted organizations or people.” In so doing, Edelman counsels, “don’t be afraid to quote other experts, especially when they support your argument.”
Stay current, not conjectural
Edelman found that 62 percent of buyers “are seeking analysis of current trends that are likely to be affecting a business today,” and less interested in speculation about a future that may be less predictable. It may be tempting to offer educated guesses on where various businesses and functions are headed, but it is more valuable to address present needs and challenges that are present tense questions confronting buyers.
The key to the most effective thought leadership, Edelman argues, is to “authentically and effectively engage your target audience on the issues that matter most.”