Still Waiting for Your Thought Leader-SHIP to Come in?

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According to our 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, only 29% of B2B purchasing influencers say they reliably derive value from the thought leadership they consume. The top value-quashing sins in the eyes of the audience that thought leadership is designed to impress are: 1) merely repeating what everyone else is saying on the topic, 2) offering analyses and insights that are too elementary, and 3) placing too much emphasis on selling something rather than on imparting insights.

This unholy trinity defines the hallmarks of perfunctory thought leadership -- a bolt-on a function that is relegated to more junior staff to produce and is nothing more than a thinly disguised product sheet or pap designed merely to keep a brand top of mind.  

As part of this year’s study, we asked people from organizations that produce thought leadership to recall their last exceptional thought leadership success. Specifically, we asked what were the key drivers of that success? These were the most cited factors:

  • An appealing and easy to digest format
  • Effective distribution
  • Senior executive engagement
  • Topicality
  • Rigorous research
  • Saying something new and game-changing on the topic covered

Individually, none of these six are counterintuitive. Yet, despite how basic each of these attributes may seem in themselves, only 33% of thought-leadership-producing organizations say the quality of their content is very good or excellent. We attribute this less than stellar performance to the fact that consistently achieving the full set of success drivers requires that an organization dedicate itself to developing a culture of thought leadership.

An engaging format requires access to top tier design and copywriting resources. Effective distribution requires full marketing support and amplification by all levels within the organization. Senior engagement entails a willingness to have your top consultants and best rainmakers allocate significant time to non-client endeavors. Topicality and saying something new means adopting a reflective orientation towards your field. It is the difference between consulting with clients about a topic and being students of it.

For all of this to happen on a consistent basis, thought leadership must be central to an organization’s mission, and time must be allowed for all the skills and cross-function coordination necessary to develop. In our experience, organizations that lack a culture of thought leadership tend to give up on thought leadership too quickly or it gets deprioritized and their best people are never engaged. This results in stale insights, elementary thinking, and anemic amplification.

In contrast, organizations that have built a culture of thought leadership devote significant resources to creating knowledge rather than just applying it. They view themselves as engaging in science, with a goal of furthering the ongoing conversation on a topic and not merely generating flash-in-the-pan headlines based on a tawdry data nugget or two. Building such a culture requires commitment and investment, but the payoff is greater trust in your organization, a reputation for deep thinking, sales growth, and a license to charge premium prices.

DB Visual

David M. Bersoff, Ph.D. is the SVP, Head of Global Thought Leadership Research, based in our New York office.

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