By Daniel Lin, Head of Operations
Before companies purchase new software or sign a contract with an agency, the vast majority have already calculated the return they can expect on that investment. It’s one of the most basic concepts in business: Know your ROI.
As companies increasingly dedicate portions of their marketing budget to content creation, thought leadership holds particular importance. At its best, developing thought leadership articles can raise a company’s profile through association with respected publications. At worst, sloppy thought leadership could drive away potential customers.
As head of operations at Hippo Thinks, I’ve talked to hundreds of companies about how thought leadership drives ROI. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Thought leadership grabs attention in sales pitches
When I receive an interesting sales pitch, I usually don’t contact the company immediately. Instead I put it aside, and dive in on my own research. I look for proof that the company can deliver what’s being offered, so I go in search of a good video demo, client case studies, and articles written by a principal of the company, or in which the company is mentioned. I’m not alone. According to Forrester research, 75 percent of buyers will search online before engaging a person and 53 percent of buyers find going online superior to interacting with a salesperson.
Sometimes pitches arrive with a note saying “featured in Forbes” or “as seen in TechCrunch” – even in cases where the company in question is referenced fleetingly, or cited for something completely unrelated to their business.
So why does the salesperson include them? Quite simply, because association with a top business magazine enhances a brand, company or individual, instantly bestowing an extra layer of authority and, more importantly, trust. But being mentioned in an article is one thing; the real benefits come from authoring a piece and becoming known as a thought leader. A 2018 study by Edelman and LinkedIn showed why thought leadership marketing is particularly beneficial with B2B. Here are some of my favorite findings.
Thought leadership marketing improves your bottom line
The study asked approximately 1,200 business decision makers, content creators and salespeople from a variety of industries how thought leadership impacts the customer’s journey throughout the B2B purchase process. Among the findings:
Those numbers aren’t that surprising. After all, it’s no secret that well-placed thought leadership can increase awareness and trust, but a series of questions in the study that focused on B2B demand generation revealed that creators of thought leadership actually underestimate its power–right through the sales process.
For example, the study found that 14 percent of thought leadership creators believed having high-quality thought leadership allows them to charge more than their competitors who produce lower quality content. In response to the same question, 61 percent of C-suite executives said they are willing to “pay a premium to work with an organization that has publicly articulated a clear vision for the future.”
When it comes to making the sale, only 26 percent of thought leadership creators believed that “it helps us close and win” when in fact 58 percent of decision makers reported that thought leadership directly led them to give business to a company. And that often-touted benefit of thought leadership marketing: enhancing a brand’s reputation? The study revealed that for 89 percent of business decision makers, engaging with thought leadership increased their respect and admiration for an organization, far above the 55 percent of thought leadership creators who expected such engagement to do so.
If you’re going to do thought leadership, do it right
Of course not all thought leadership campaigns are created equal. There’s an awful lot of mediocre content out there, from blog posts that are strictly self-promotional, to articles full of empty platitudes and clichés. Not only do these quasi-advertisements disguised as thought leadership not help a company, but the Edelman/LinkedIn study found that they can significantly hurt it.
In fact, when asked about their reaction to poor thought leadership content, 46 percent of business decision makers agreed with the statement: My respect and admiration for the organization DECREASED, and 29 percent of business decision makers said that poor thought leadership content directly led them to decide NOT to award business.
In a report about the study’s findings, Spencer Ante, an editorial director at Edelman wrote, “Most people are disappointed by the lack of valuable insights they find in what’s passed off as thought leadership. But if brands can take a more journalistic approach and make content that is original, relevant, digestible and timely, they will be greatly rewarded by the return on that investment.”
According to the survey, 60 percent of decision makers said that half or more of the thought leadership they read provides no valuable insights, indicating that there’s significant room for improvement.
High-quality thought leadership content is worth the investment
The findings of the Edelman/LinkedIn study is confirmed by my own experience as a business decision maker and in our client work at Hippo. Good thought leadership, particularly when published in a business magazine, can have an enormous influence on business decision making. It may take a little more time and effort to get into a top, prestigious publication, but if thought leadership strengthens credibility and trust, the luster of a prestigious outlet serves to magnify both.
Wherever it is published, however, it’s paramount that thought leadership provides solid, actionable information and is not a glorified sales pitch. We are all inundated with content, much of it vacuous and irrelevant. And, as the study demonstrated, bad thought leadership is worse than no thought leadership at all. It may be a cliché, but it’s also true that we never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Want to improve your thought leadership ROI? Get in touch with Hippo’s experienced editorial team.