Data is great. Hardly anyone would argue otherwise. The abundance of it has made running a business easier. It’s helped CEOs make better decisions. It’s helped us pivot quickly when things aren’t working. It’s changed how we see just about every aspect of our operations.
It has created a culture of accountability that serves us well. But it can have its downsides, too.
No doubt these functions are meant to help a business grow. But when marketers are tasked with tracking every dollar spent to a dollar earned—or five, 10 or 15 dollars earned—we risk losing sight of the big picture in favor of short-term gains.
That’s one reason so many companies are so bad at thought leadership marketing.
Bad Thought Leadership Is Worse Than None at All
How bad? According to a recent Edelman survey, more than half of B2B decision-makers spend more than an hour each week reading thought leadership content — but only 15% consider the content they consume to be of high quality.
What a missed opportunity.
Not only that, but nearly 90 percent of decision-makers said that thought leadership content influenced their perception of a brand. That means for companies cranking out bad content, doing thought leadership poorly might be worse than not doing it at all.
So let’s get a few things straight. Thought leadership is designed to help, not sell. It’s meant to make you look smart, not pushy. And it won’t increase your SQLs tomorrow.
But when your thought leadership is authentic, actionable and attractive — the three A’s of thought leadership marketing — it will pay off in time by building brand trust.
Here’s how to use the three A’s to make straight-A content for your audience:
- Authentic. High-quality thought leadership is authentic. Our radars are pretty finely tuned these days, especially after the year we had in 2020. We are able to tell when someone is trying to sneak something by us. If you’re writing about topics you’re unqualified to write about—either through training or through in-field experience—it’s going to show. But when you match the topics with your expertise and your experience, you start creating content that resonates with those consuming it because that authenticity comes through. We can’t all be experts in everything, and that’s fine. But when you lean into your expertise as part of your marketing, you’re going to create the kind of content that naturally builds trust.
- Actionable. High-quality thought leadership is actionable. Business leaders who are actively looking for thought leadership content aren’t just needing to kill time. They are looking to learn things they don’t already know. They are looking for statistics they haven’t seen. They are looking for insights they’ve never read before. And they are looking to thought leadership for something they can implement in their business. Content has always been about a transaction. When someone visits a blog or downloads a whitepaper or listens to a podcast, they give that content provider their time. What they expect in return is something of value. If the content isn’t giving them that, they lose faith in that content provider and don’t engage with them again. In the end, everyone loses.
- Attractive. High-quality thought leadership is attractive; it connects and builds affinity with the audience. Ultimately, the purpose of a thought leadership marketing program is to create affinity for your brand with your customers, prospects and other constituencies. Brand affinity builds trust. When you focus on trust-building as your goal, rather than short-term lead generation, it frees you up to think about content in a whole new way. More topics open up to you. More content formats become available. All of your possibilities expand.
The poet T.S. Eliot warned us about the folly of “measuring out our lives in coffee spoons.” So it is with thought leadership marketing. By all means measure your content’s performance, but don’t let it limit your imagination. Put your audience first and the rest will follow.
Scott Baradell is founder and CEO of Idea Grove, a unified PR and marketing agency based in Dallas that helps its clients “Grow With Trust,” its service offering for building trusting relationships between brands and their audiences. Scott’s first book, Trust Signals: The New PR, will be published by Lioncrest later this year.