There's no safe middle ground with it comes to thought leadership. It's a classic double-edged sword. Great thought leadership makes a positive impact on buyers at every stage of the buying process. Poor thought leadership, on the other hand, will result in lost business opportunities.
These are some of the major findings of a recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn. How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation was based on a survey of 1,329 business decision makers representing a wide range of industries and company sizes. Fourteen percent of the respondents were C-level executives, and another 43% had titles of Vice President or Director.
Like several other studies, the Edelman/LinkedIn research revealed that business buyers view thought leadership as important and spend considerable time consuming it. Nine out of ten survey respondents said that it is important or very important/critical for companies to produce thought leadership that provides a vision or point of view on important issues. About half (49%) of C-level respondents said they spend an hour or more per week reading and/or viewing thought leadership.
The Good News
Many B2B marketers have long believed that thought leadership content can be an effective tool for creating awareness and competitive differentiation. The Edelman/LinkedIn study shows that great thought leadership content has positive impacts at every stage of the buying process. For example:
- Forty-four percent of respondents said that engaging with a company's thought leadership content can cause them to provide their contact information to the company for follow up, and 31% said that it can prompt them to reach out to the company to follow up on some of the points raised in the content.
- Fifty-two percent of respondents said that looking through a company's thought leadership content is one important way they "vet" a company that they are thinking about working with.
- Thought leadership content led 41% of C-level respondents to include a company in an RFP.
- Over 80% of respondents said that a company's thought leadership content could increase their trust in the company.
- Nearly half (48%) of C-level respondents said that a company's thought leadership content had directly led them to decide to do business with the company.
The Bad News
So, the Edelman/LinkedIn research shows that thought leadership content can be a powerful demand generation tool, but it also shows that thought leadership is a double-edged sword. When it's done poorly, it has significant negative impacts on a company's demand generation performance. For example:
- More than half (53%) of C-level respondents said they have lost respect and admiration for a company because of its poor thought leadership content.
- Over a third (35%) of C-level respondents said that a company's poor thought leadership content had directly led them not to do business with the company.
The most important lesson for B2B marketers from the Edelman/LinkedIn research is this: If you plan to use thought leadership content in your marketing effort, make sure that you invest enough time and money to develop thought leadership content that's truly valuable to your target audiences. Poor thought leadership content can be worse than none at all.
Image courtesy of Soren Niedziella via Flickr CC.