Boom! Shake, shake shake the Zoom: How the C-suite view and use thought leadership is changing

Posted by Andrew Rogerson | 29-01-21


At the end of last year we completed the third edition of our bi-annual Value of B2B Thought Leadership Survey. First launched in 2016 and repeated in 2018, this edition marks our most extensive global research programme yet.

We track the C-suite’s attitudes and preferences about thought leadership: why they consume it, the qualities they value, the formats they prefer, whose views they seek, the sources they use and the actions they take when thought leadership hits the mark.

For this edition we’ve surveyed over 500 senior executives at enterprise-level organisations in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific. As you’d expect there are some fascinating findings: both longer-term trends we’ve been witnessing over the last four years, as well as more abrupt changes in response to the disruptive challenges over the last year.

The role of advisors is growing fast

  • Covid-19 has radically altered the business landscape. Now more than ever before, senior executives need practical support and they’re turning to advisors to help them make better decisions, as they make sense of the new world.
  • Almost all the senior executives we surveyed (91%) say that thought leadership is either critical or important to their decision-making when appointing an advisor.
  • Back in 2018, when thought leadership hit the mark, senior executives were typically motivated to dig deeper and review additional content. But now they need to take swift and decisive action. They immediately review the sector specialisms, service offerings and capabilities of the professional services firm that are creating the thought leadership.
  • Thought leadership can do the hard work of attracting the C-suite, but unless you close the loop that opportunity might go to waste.

Timeframes are shortening

  • Thought leadership has traditionally focused on megatrends and horizon-scanning. But the attention of the C-suite has now shifted to the near term.
  • Almost one third (29%) are primarily concerned with getting through the crisis over the next three months and nearly half (49%) are focused on how their organisations should respond over the next 3-12 months as we emerge from the long shadow of Covid-19.
  • These changing priorities are disrupting the annual marcoms planning cycle and necessitating a fundamental shift in how we create and disseminate thought leadership.
  • Marketing leaders are reflecting on how long it takes to produce thought leadership and how long it remains relevant. Publish thought leadership when it’s relevant, not when it’s ready.

Tailoring content is now essential

  • Senior executives want thought leadership tailored to their needs and in particular they want it tailored to their sector: given the choice, some 71% prefer a sector focus to pan-sector coverage (29%).
  • But in each case, over 50% also want it tailored to their job role, company size and/or region. This has massive implications for how we plan and personalise thought leadership.
  • How they consume thought leadership is also changing in the age of Zoom. Without face-to-face events, the C-suite are looking for personal and engaging formats, such as videos, presentations and online events. But it’s not a simple case of choosing what’s most popular; formats and channels are increasingly blurred.
  • So when you’re planning a thought leadership campaign, you should understand why each group consumes thought leadership, the qualities they value, the formats they prefer, whose views they seek, the sources they use and the actions they take when thought leadership hits the mark. One-size-fits-all won’t work.

A copy of the full report including commentary from senior marketing and communications professionals from BCG, McKinsey & Company and PwC can be obtained here.

Andrew Rogerson

Written by Andrew Rogerson

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