Robust research is brain food for thought leadership content

Robust research is brain food for thought leadership content

Thought leadership is the pinnacle of content marketing because it allows businesses to do more than simply promote their products and services.

With high quality thought leadership content, businesses can demonstrate their intellectual rigour – the depth and calibre of their thinking. This builds brand awareness, generates interest (leads), and assists in converting prospects into clients (and clients into loyal advocates).

B2B decision makers have a strong appetite for genuine thought leadership. They want to have their thinking challenged (or validated), to be exposed to alternative points of view. They also value competitor and market intelligence and to be made aware of potential challenges and opportunities.

At the same time, B2B decision makers are suffering from information overload, necessitating they be more discerning about the sources they favour. So, while executive audiences are consuming large and increasing quantities of thought leadership content, the number of sources they trust and respect is shrinking.

Most thought leadership is mediocre, at best

It’s not easy to create high quality thought leadership content. And according to Edelman and LinkedIn, most businesses don’t.

In the 2020 Thought Leadership Impact Study, 28% of global executive respondents rated the overall quality of the thought leadership they consume as mediocre or very poor. Further, less than one-third (29%) of respondents mostly gain valuable insights from thought leadership content. More likely, executives rated the thought leadership they’re exposed to as unoriginal, superficial and little more than thinly veiled sales pieces.

Just 15% of respondents mainly consume thought leadership that is excellent or very good quality.

It’s a huge missed opportunity because not only do B2B decision crave quality thought leadership, they’re heavily influenced by it and they act on it. The Edelman/LinkedIn study found virtually all (96%) executives had taken some action (with sharing being the most common) after consuming compelling thought leadership content.

Original research fuels thought leadership

The quest to produce genuine thought leadership is driving many businesses to commission or undertake their own research. Why? Because B2B decision makers value content that is original, fact-based and forward looking.

With original research, businesses can:

  • Explore topics their target audiences are (or should be) interested in
  • Measure attitudes, opinions and behaviours
  • Unearth meaningful statistics
  • Benchmark things against a point of reference
  • Index and rank like-for-like
  • Validate hypotheses
  • Identify trends, their causes and impacts
  • Predict opportunities and challenges
  • Take the pulse, for example on an issue or during an event.

Whether it’s a simple web poll or a sophisticated, blended (qualitative, quantitative) study, to be valuable, original research must be relevant and robust. That means it should:

  1. Address a theme or topic that is original and compelling to the target audience
  2. Be forward looking
  3. Be timely
  4. Be concise
  5. Be credible, neutral (not biased), reliable and certifiable
  6. And ultimately, be able to withstand scrutiny – and that applies to the methodology, analysis and reporting.

Of course, a piece of original research alone does not demonstrate thought leadership.

Once the research has been undertaken, any associated content (for example, in the form of a report, executive summary, slide deck, press release…) should do more than blandly list the results. After all, the goal is to be thought provoking. To produce high quality, thought provoking content:

  • Don’t just present the what; propose why, when, how
  • Extrapolate – draw substantial, meaningful insights from the data
  • Challenge the status quo by offering a fresh perspective.

Beware the perils of low quality thought leadership

The imperative to produce robust research – and from it, high quality thought leadership – is clear.

The Edelman and LinkedIn study affirms for the third consecutive year that poorly executed thought leadership can weaken a company’s reputation and negatively impact business development opportunities and outcomes.

The study found low quality thought leadership could cost a business an invitation to tender, contribute to it losing a tender, eliminate any potential for it to command a price premium, and compromise its cross-selling efforts.

Businesses would almost be better off doing nothing than producing low quality thought leadership.

On the flip side, those that get it right, and are recognised as genuine thought leaders, are rewarded with their target audiences’ trust, respect, business and advocacy.