Why Thought Leadership Is the Key To Marketing ROI

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The following is a special guest post from respected author and top CMO influencer, Michael Brenner

Every organization wants to do two things with its content — build its thought leadership and drive marketing ROI. Guess what — they’re connected.

Thought leadership is a key driver to positive marketing ROI. Here’s why.

Quick Takeaways

  • Thought leadership translates your expertise and knowledge into credibility.
  • When buyers trust your brand, they’ll be much more likely to become your customer.
  • Sophisticated decision-makers expect thought leadership.
  • A consistent strategy for being a thought leader can equate to higher ROI.

Customers Buy from Brands They Trust

Trust is becoming increasingly important in the brand-buyer relationship. People have higher expectations than ever before and crave transparency.

Plus, there have been so many scandals to erode trust — Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Volkswagen’s emissions fraud, and others.

With a storm of disinformation, fake news, and companies under the microscope, trust is hard to win. It does, however, impact buying decisions.

A trust barometer report found that 81% of customers said trusting a brand is a deciding factor in buying.

Image: Edelman

The report also shows a correlation between trust and repeat purchases. When people trust a brand, they are more likely to stay loyal to, advocate for, and defend the brand.

Image: Edelman

There are many opportunities to gain trust — being socially responsible, showcasing transparency on a large scale, and responding to negative press — one of the best ways to do it is by using content marketing.

Content marketing is a marketing tactic that embodies thought leadership. It allows you to speak directly to your audience, share your knowledge, and cultivate that relationship of confidence.

How Do You Express Thought Leadership via Content Marketing?

Thought leadership should be a pillar of your content strategy. You’ll want to define what it is, how to execute it, and how it connects to marketing ROI.

Here’s a breakdown of that process.

What Is Thought Leadership for Your Company?

First, define it for your brand. A probable definition is that it’s content marketing that taps into the talent, expertise, and passion internally to deliver answers and insights to your target audience consistently.

It’s the secret sauce of what makes your company stronger — without revealing the full recipe. It also means having a consistent point of view and original insights. And, it is never promotional.

Thought leadership content that drives engagement delivers value, is accurate, and educates.

It’s also a form of sales enablement content. It should be a tool for your sales team to build trust, encourage conversation, and overcome objections.

Another aspect to decide at this point is the who. Is your brand itself the thought leader? Or does it come from specific subject matter experts? It could also be a combination of both.

Next, you’ll work on how to execute it.

How to Execute Thought Leadership

Follow these steps for execution:

  • Get buy-in from all stakeholders: For thought leadership to work and be consistent, you need everyone to agree it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
  • Define the topics and key messaging: What specific areas of your industry or current challenges can you speak about, and what is the message? It needs to be consistent.
  • Determine what type of content you’ll produce: Blogs, whitepapers, e-books, and videos can all include thought leadership. It’s not product-driven and seeks to solve problems.
  • Create a list of trustworthy sources from reliable organizations: Your points will need data to support them. That would include internal data as well as third parties. Be sure you are using information that’s credible.
  • Address real-world issues: Content won’t mean much to your audience if it doesn’t take on timely and emerging issues.
  • Expand your reach: This content doesn’t just live on your owned and operated properties. If it’s engaging and truly original, others will want to publish and promote it, from guest blogs to industry articles.
  • Settle on the frequency of blogs or other content that is thought leadership-specific: Not every piece of content you write will fall under this category, so you’ll want to decide on this for your content calendar.

How Thought Leadership Content Drives ROI

The point of brand storytelling that includes thought leadership is to generate traffic, interest, and conversions. That’s where you find your ROI.

Some specific ways it does this include:

  • Using gated content to acquire leads: If you offer something valuable with a new perspective, people will complete those forms!
  • Creating original research projects where your audience becomes part of the content (i.e., state of the industry reports).
  • Creating more interaction on social media: When your SMEs and employees are active on social media, sharing this type of content, they are more accessible. As a result, your buyers may engage more on these profiles, driving them to your solutions.
  • Empowering your sales team to be social sellers: When your sales team shows their expertise by sharing content or even creating their own on LinkedIn or Medium (with a content team’s help!), it makes them more credible to prospects.
  • Leveraging marketing intelligence and data to support positions that are unique from your competitors.
  • Providing strong organic SEO results because the content is high-quality. Google’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) is key to ranking. If your content fulfills all three, the more likely you are to be a top result. Watch the video below for more on this.

  • Delivering content that decision-makers want to consume: A Thought Leadership study from Edelman and LinkedIn found that decision-makers spend an hour or more on this type of content every week. They also use content to vet a company’s capabilities, and it influences their buying decisions.

Image: Edelman-LinkedIn

  • Enabling you to demand a premium price: The study referenced above also determined that buyers are willing to pay a premium for a product from companies that engage in thought leadership.

Thought Leadership Is One More Critical Way to Drive ROI

Thought leadership and building trust have never been more important in the sales process. Buyers have lots of information available, but you can rise above the noise by delivering something substantive.

More leads and sales can be the positive result of a thought leadership strategy. The first thing to do is develop that plan and execute it.

Michael Brenner is the former VP of Digital Marketing at SAP, he’s been a CMO of multiple high-growth startups, and he now runs Marketing Insider Group, a fast-growing content marketing agency that delivers weekly content marketing and thought leadership to growing brands. He is the author of two books, The Content Formula, and Mean People Suck

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