The Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study found the method has far greater impact than sales and than marketing teams realise. "High value decision makers are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organisation that has articulated a clear vision versus one that does not publish thought leadership," the study reports. And thought leadership gains authority if shared, the report adds: "82% of decision makers said that thought leadership being shared by someone they know and respect is a critical factor", the 2019 study found and the newly released 2020 study says half of the decision makers it surveyed spend over an hour a week consuming thought leadership material.
Cleevely agrees with the findings: "It is used as a voice to peers, whether CIO-to-CIO or CEO-to-CEO. We have used our CTO for content that talked to other CTOs."
Kathleen Schneider CMO for technology provider Sunguard Availability Services has also found that thought leadership enables organisations to tackle technical topics. "When it is complex thought leadership is useful."
The Edelman research found that organisations were not using thought leadership effectively to generate business opportunities and the trend continues into 2020. Just 39% of sellers said thought leadership generates sales leads and new contacts and only 17% of those surveyed said that led to an RFP and only 26% said thought leadership played a role in closing a deal in 2019. In the 2020 research Edelman found 74% of thought leadership using organisations had no way of linking it to their sales.
"One of the mistakes is that marketing leaders can take some thought leadership content and make it too glossy and shiny. In many cases technology people are talking to technology people and so if it is too glossy then it loses its authenticity," says leading interim technology CMO Emma Sinden. Something the Edelman research backs up, in 2019 Edelman found 60% of those surveyed said that the thought leadership they encountered did not provide valuable insight and in 2020 the research found that 15% of respondents said thought leadership was of a disappointing quality, but 57% rated the thought leadership they were receiving as good.
Defending thought leadership
There is clear value for technology marketing leaders in using thought leadership strategically, 55% of respondents in 2019 said it was an important way to vet an organisation they were considering working with and 63% said this was of particular importance when considering working with a small organisation.
Sinden adds how important thought leadership is for consultancies. "They are selling their intellectual property (IP), so it is important to expose that IP," she says. In 2019 Edelman found that 47% of c-suite executives shared their contact information following the usage of thought leadership content and in the 2020 report Edelman found that 49% said thought leadership influenced their decision making. This is an increase on the 2019 report, which found that 45% of C-suite leaders invited an organisation to bid on a project following consuming thought leadership.
Thought leadership has tangible benefits to the brand of a technology company according to the Edelman 2020 report, with 89% of those surveyed stating thought leadership enhanced the brand perception of a technology company using thought leadership and a further 69% of respondents believing it gave them insight into the calibre of organisation they were considering.
The 2019 report demonstrated a long tail of activity too, with 75% of respondents beginning to follow a creator of thought leadership.
"Thought leadership has to be used more strategically. We need to talk about specific technology for specific markets, so we won't use generic material. Take retail for example, there are a lot of sub-categories within retail," says Cleevely.
"If the marketer is trying to drive the leads of an organisation, then it helps if the thought leadership helps the reader to do something," Schneider at Sunguard Availability Services says. "There are lots of analytical tools and data to help an organisation develop an understanding of who they are targeting," she adds. Cleevely agrees and adds: "You can get a validation and from that we can draw up material that we can then take to market."
"Genuine and thought provoking material is more valuable, because if you are buying from people, you want to know how they think," says interim CMO Sinden of the value of authenticity. She adds that a flipside of authentic thought leadership is it can help technology companies with their recruitment challenges. She advises organisations to start producing content and see where it takes them. "There is an obsession in marketing with the business decision makers, but they can see through marketing fluff and will ask their technology leaders to assess it," Sinden says, advising companies to let their technologists demonstrate their knowledge as this brings "evidence" of expertise.
Cleevely's experience is the same. "At Global Reach Technology we are recognised for our contribution to the standards for secure wireless connectivity, as the CTO was instrumental in writing the standards," she says, adding that the business needs to continue to have a valid voice on technical topics like this," she says, adding that the business needs to continue to have a valid voice on technical topics like this. A point Edelman agrees with, in its research it advises technology marketing leaders to "define the future, inspire confidence by capturing the imagination of what's possible today and tomorrow." But Edelman warn CMOs not to go too far with blue sky thinking; in its 2019 research the PR and comms agency found 66% of respondents wanted thought leadership related to topics they were currently working on.
Quality of thought leadership was cited as an area needing greater attention in both the 2019 and 2020 reports with 30% of respondents saying thought leadership was poor in 2019 and 38% saying poor thought leadership depreciated a brand's perception in 2020.
Perhaps a sign of the times we live in, there remains a demand for short format thought leadership something that has been Schnieder's experience too.