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Leading the way with thought leadership and content marketing

Leading the way with thought leadership and content marketing

By Paul Lindsell, MindMetre Research and Andrew Brown, Regus

“Thought Leadership” has become a widely used phrase in business, particularly over the last five years.  Originally an idea promoted by the large consultancy firms, it is now an embedded concept with most intelligent organisations and experienced marketers. It is correctly used to describe a set of activities that help ensure that a business or individual is recognized as an expert in their field.

In particular Thought Leadership is an excellent tool for defining commercial focus highlighting where a business is concentrating its commercial efforts and growth plans through expert analysis of those markets.  A good example is banks that regularly research and publish on SME finance issues to position themselves as knowledgeable about those issues and therefore, by association, preferred suppliers in that space.  Retail banking services are, after all, one of the most commoditised markets around.

Investor relations are another key area where thought leadership has a powerful role to play.  By closely researching the opinions and intentions of consumers or customers in key operating countries a business can showcase a very good grasp of trends in its markets and support share price even in difficult times.

Thought Leadership is often successfully used to work in combination with, or to feed industry specific insight into, Content Marketing activity. Content Marketing, at its simplest, involves authoring and publishing informative material that relates to a company’s area of business.  That content might range across press releases, social media interactions, blogs, video testimonials, webinar content, and so forth.  The problem for companies wishing to pursue this technique has so far been the lack of intellectual input, and lack of market knowledge, from agencies that specialise in all the web optimisation skills that lie behind ‘content marketing’, but that do not have enough knowledge of the markets the client is active in.  Linking Thought Leadership with Content Marketing can bridge this gap, but what is its influence over buying decisions?

In order to shed some light into the true value of Thought Leadership to sales and marketing and to define its commercial value, MindMetre Research canvassed over 2,000 UK businesses asking them how they felt thought leadership really affects their purchasing and tendering decisions. The research found that:

•    When compiling a tender list for technology and equipment, 61% of firms research possible candidate suppliers on the web
•    When looking for a business services supplier, this reaches almost seven in ten companies (69.6%)
•    According to the data 72% declare that thought leadership material from a potential supplier makes them much more likely to include that supplier in a tender list
•    But, businesses warn, to be credible, thought leadership material must be based on hard research data, not simply an opinion, according to 80% of respondents

This outcome clearly indicates that exhibiting thought leadership that is relevant to a buyer company’s business challenges over the web on a company site or over social media has a positive effect on whether a supplier is then selected to participate in a tender.  

However, there is one important caveat, as the majority of respondents highlight that thought leadership outputs that are merely opinion pieces are useless to the buyer community.  Four fifths of buyers clearly feel that only outputs backed up by hard statistical or research-based evidence are convincing.  This is a very important point as buyers will not be impressed by what amounts to little more than a loosely veiled sales pitch.

While the study provides compelling evidence of the commercial value of Thought Leadership, it also raises some important warnings: the process of gathering research statistics must be conducted in the outmost professional manner and at arm’s length.  Amateurism and commercial myopia are very real dangers. While the importance of product or service quality cannot be disputed, relevant, useful content is regarded by UK businesses as a positive indication of a company’s expertise and can provide the proverbial ‘foot-in-the-door’.

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