The best thought leadership campaigns can build awareness, trust and quality leads for B2B firms. But poor planning and topic selection can undermine your chances of success.
According to Forbes, ill-conceived thought leadership and poor topic selection can lead to a waste of resource, a negative perception of your understanding of critical issues, and a diminishing of the firm in the eyes of clients and prospects.
The right idea, however, will connect what you want with what your clients want, and bring tangible benefits.
"A true thought leader knows a topic inside and out, has formed a clear, unique and defensible point of view about it, and freely shares that perspective."
The Sophisticated Marketers Guide to Thought Leadership, LinkedIn
So how do you select the right topics? Here we reveal four sources of inspiration to guide your decision-making.
1. Your clients
No-one should understand your clients better than you. After all, you are working with them now to solve their business problems and realise their opportunities.
But are you thinking far enough ahead? Yesterday’s B2B firms were reactive, today’s firms are proactive, but tomorrow’s firms need to be predictive. The best thought leadership is forward-looking, anticipating change that your clients lack time to or dare not think about.
And while your clients and prospects should be your single most important source of ideas, they are often ill-defined and rarely consulted in the planning stages of a thought leadership campaign.
Map out the specific personas you want to reach and be prepared to invest in regular and robust research such as surveys or focus groups to find out what is, or should be, keeping each group awake at night.
Planning targeted campaigns in this way is much more likely to prompt a response than if your themes are too wide.
2. Your offering
Now it’s time to put your own firm under the microscope. What do you do that is different from your competitors or, more likely, how do you do it? Focusing on your strengths, and the insights derived from first-hand experience of a particular business problem, will make your ideas more compelling and trustworthy.
Your thought leadership is more likely to resonate in areas where you have an established track record and a clear mandate from your audience.
Analysis from business advisers Forrester concludes that the best thought leadership should be entirely free of direct product or service promotions, but the business benefits will be greater if you align topics to your service offering, and the leads generated will be ones your sales team will want to pursue.
This shouldn’t stop you from introducing new topics, but you will need to invest more in building proprietary IP, such as through a heavyweight piece of research.
3. The market
What are the burning issues within your industry and why does your audience need to know about them now? Perhaps there are useful parallels to be drawn with other industries that can offer crucial insights and a new perspective?
B2B firms tend to operate in their own little bubble so a bigger picture view like this can be invaluable to give your ideas context.
Demonstrating deep and wide industry expertise will position you not just as a technical provider but also a strategic partner. This will help you develop a loyal following from which to grow your reach.
Forrester recommends developing a thought leadership platform consisting of ‘one big idea about the trends affecting your industry and a hierarchy of supporting points of view on the major issues your audience faces’.
4. Your competitors
To truly be considered a thought leader, clearly you will need to avoid repeating ideas that are already in the marketplace. Analyse what competitors are doing, to find some ‘white space’ to play in and develop a unique, bold standpoint.
If you have to speak about the big challenges of the moment, which will almost certainly be covered by others, how do you propose doing things differently? You are more likely to become famous by focusing on a specific audience group, or how the issue affects a particular sector.
Creating genuinely useful thought leadership is extremely challenging, but by deciding what your objectives are and sense-checking your topic choices in the planning phase against these four areas, you are more likely to find the sweet spot for your firm.