It is well known that content strategy and thought leadership matter as elements in your overall marketing strategy, but according to the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, you are probably grossly underestimating their impact on your brand, leads, and closes. 

Relatively speaking, content marketing and “thought leadership” as deliberate objectives are recent additions to the marketer’s tool kit (at least as compared to branding, advertising, and so on). For that reason, research to back up the return on investment for these initiatives has been lean. 

This recent study of 1000+ respondents underscores that (perhaps because of the lack of research) even the people producing thought leadership pieces consistently underestimate their impact on various stages of the brand journey and sales process. As it turns out, thought leadership, if done right, is a major contributor to building a brand, opening doors, and closing deals. A few highlights worth noting:

Thought Leadership Has More Impact Than Marketers Realize

Decision makers value thought leadership content-;the percent of decision makers who spend one or more hours per week reading such content jumped eight points year over year from 50% to 58%.

On top of that, 55% of decision makers use thought leadership pieces to vet potential partners and/or vendors. Done right, strong content conveys the quality of your work and boosts the reputation of your business. 

And while 17% of marketers thought that thought leadership was effective in generating more RFPs, a whopping 45% of decision makers reported that consuming that content would lead them to extend an invitation to bid on a project when they wouldn’t have otherwise. Visibility matters.

Finally, marketers and salespeople aren’t recognizing the potential for thought leadership to go beyond bringing in leads and actually help close a deal. According to the study, 26% of marketers thought such content was directly responsible for helping them close business while in fact, 58% of decision makers said thought leadership led them to award business to that organization. 

Thought Leadership Boosts the Size and Scope of Deals

We know that it’s more efficient to increase the level of business with a current customer versus acquiring a new one, and thought leadership is tremendously effective on that front. 55% of decision makers said consuming such pieces increased the amount of business done with an organization, and 60% reported buying a new product or service they had not been considering. 

Quality Thought Leadership Content is Critical to Driving Results

Churning out content for the sake of content may actually backfire on your content marketing efforts. Thoughtful and value-driven thought leadership pieces are critical to build an audience and carry them all the way down your sales funnel. 

The glut of weak content means there’s an opportunity for you to rise above and capture mindshare with pieces that provoke thought, insight, and learning.

Even those who produce thought leadership content said that only 25% of it ranked as Very Good or Excellent. Decision makers were close in their opinions, citing 18% at that level. 

Interestingly, despite content marketing and thought leadership initiatives often being treated as brand/reputation builders vs sales builders, marketers even underestimated that impact. 49% of content marketers thought engaging with a thought leadership piece built trust, vs 87% of decision makers! 

Decision Makers Know What They Want from Your Content

Interesting statistics so far, no doubt. But what should you do to ensure your content is capitalizing on the strong interest decision makers are showing in thought leadership?

Create content that is timely, specific, and relevant to current pain points and needs in your industry. It’s better to create fewer high-quality pieces that are widely engaged with and shared versus more frequent content of little value.

Decision makers also want you to have a vision. An overwhelming majority of decision makers (88%) felt it was important for organizations to lay out a vision for the future. 

Also, consider the platforms on which this content is largely consumed-;probably online and mobile. Keep it concise: 57% of decision makers preferred “snackable” content that can be finished in a few minutes. Note to the wise: to capture those 57% along with the group that prefers longer content, start by producing long-form content like a book and then repurpose it into smaller “chunks” of content. It’s harder to effectively go the other way.

This interesting study drives home the importance of quality content when building a thought leadership platform, and the power of such content to drive brand, lead gen, and sales efforts. While effective content in this area takes strategy and time, the upside is strong and is likely untapped in your own organization.