The term “thought leadership” was coined decades ago by Joel Kurtzman, former editor-in-chief of Strategy and Business magazine and Harvard Business Review and was defined as one who “possesses a distinctively original idea, a unique point of view, or an unprecedented insight into their industry.” Since then, it’s been proven that it’s not just a buzzword, but that it has real impact on influencing decisions.
I asked Michael Norton, Harvard Business School Professor, how he would define thought leadership in today’s digital age. Michael shared, “Unfortunately, most self-proclaimed thought leaders tend to be thought followers — they reflect back the current zeitgeist and conventional wisdom rather than shine new light. Especially in times of dramatic social change, thought leaders who actually lead our thinking in new directions are sorely needed.”
If new ways of thinking is the new way of owning thought leadership, how can you ensure your strategy is effective? If done right, thought leaders can be powerfully influential. Studies show that B2B companies with demonstrable expertise are those that will get noticed by other influencers and their core audience, and will realize real ROI. Now more than ever, in a post-pandemic world, business leaders are facing many unknowns, and thought leaders have an opportunity to influence and help guide their decision-making process.
So what does this mean for B2B and B2BC marketers?
I connected with industry-leading marketing and PR experts who have partnered with VentureBeat Lab, a thought leadership consultancy, and asked them to share how they defined thought leadership and how it’s become even more important post pandemic. Here’s what they shared:
“Thought leadership is a powerful way to engage an audience that prefers to be educated versus sold to. Companies often make the mistake of trying to sell through the lens of what’s best for them, versus what’s best for their audience. Thought leadership helps bring your audience on a journey of shared understanding and insights, in order to drive toward impactful solutions.
Born from necessity, the pandemic catalyzed the shift to a more digitally driven selling process, and consequently thought leadership has become an increasingly important top of the funnel marketing tool.”
–Leah Hardy, Head of Gaming Marketing, Americas, Facebook
“The pandemic has forced everyone to rethink how they do business, from doctors to data centers. After a year of fear and uncertainty, people will look to those who clearly understand how technology can fuel the recovery and deliver exciting new capabilities. Thought leadership is all the more important during these transitional times, to show the way forward.”
— Ken Brown, Director of Corporate Communications at Nvidia.
In this digital age, marketers are continuously adapting to the changing needs of the marketplace, and the continually evolving cycle of consumer behavior. The ways content is consumed is also constantly changing, and your thought leadership strategy should recognize this evolution. Whether you’re a marketer for an emerging start-up that’s looking to find its way into building awareness, or you’re representing a Fortune 500 company that’s globally well- known, thought leadership is an ongoing venture that keeps delivering results.
For marketers in the start-up stage, your go-to-market strategy falls in what we can call “Phase 1” of your marketing efforts. Phase 1 means your company, services, and story is still “unknown” and has limited exposure and visibility in the marketplace, and your goal should be focusing on building awareness thoughtfully before you ramp up any lead generation efforts. The takeaway: make sure your audience gets to know you organically first before you attempt to schedule a meeting with prospects.
High-impact brand awareness and digital marketing is going to be part of the strategy, but a combination of branding and a well-conceived thought leadership strategy is what will really build meaningful awareness — you can’t do one without the other if you want to establish your brand. To summarize, in Phase 1, thought leadership is fundamental to taking the steps towards getting noticed and getting in front your top prospects — and again, if done right, that strategy is going to drive real ROI.
For marketers who are developing a strategy for a corporation that is already well known, the need for thought leadership is continuous as it’s important to stay top of mind and highly engaged with your community, in an authentic way. Building authority as a thought leader is never ending, and those who have a thoughtful approach that puts the audience’s needs first will experience real turn-key engagement points with their target markets.
This is why we still see experts from big brands and some of the most innovative companies speaking at events, publishing new content, and engaging with new and growing communities — and those who are authentic in their communication and approach will create value for those who are in the market for their services. So how can you stand out as an authentic thought leader and bring new value?
For B2B companies, you want to create value by showing how your expertise is helping business decision-makers make more informed decisions. According to a 2020 Edelman study, 89% of decision-makers surveyed believe that thought leadership is effective in enhancing their perceptions of an organization — yet only 17% of them rate the quality of most of the thought leadership they read as very good or excellent.
This is a real challenge for marketers, particularly in the B2B space, where marketers are facing a growing saturated market where it’s difficult to get noticed.
As the marketplace evolves, it may seem hard to get it right.
This is what inspired the creation of VentureBeat Lab, a thought leadership consultancy for brand partners. VB Lab has a proven process that helps brand partners establish their authority and influence as a global thought leader. Because VentureBeat reaches an influential audience of key enterprise business decision makers, partners have a real chance of influencing decision-makers and engaging with top prospects. VB Lab’s Thought Leadership Platform helps B2B marketers identify the most innovative go-to-market solutions and get in front of influencers and their core audience in a thoughtful way.
It starts with identifying what makes you different. Hone in on your differentiator, offer new insights, and understand where the value lies in your target audience.
Through high-touch collaboration, at VB Lab we’re focused on marketing strategies that nail your most important differentiator — and from there, we create new, disruptive partnership solutions, and custom content strategies, and then thoughtfully execute on your key core objectives.
Thought leadership isn’t just the core part of building awareness and staying relevant, but a necessary tool for quality lead generation. When done right, the opportunities with thought leadership are endless.
Gina Joseph is Co-Founder of VB Lab and VP of Strategic Partnerships, VentureBeat