“Business buyers don’t buy your product; they buy into your approach to solving their problems.” – Laura Ramos, Forrester Research
Published last year, Laura's commentary on how to develop a results - driven thought leadership marketing strategy is still spot-on. As 21 Handshake has seen from working first-hand with clients, B2B companies are still struggling with how to position themselves as leaders on the issues that their buyers face. A website is just the first step. B2B companies need to create engaging content that establishes themselves as marketplace leaders, drives lead generation, and keeps leads engaged as they move through the sales funnel.
Laura nails the problem on the head here when she cites Forrester’s 2015 study that found 87% of marketers fail to produce engaging content. Most companies simply do not have the framework or processes in place to undertake a thought leadership program. They pass off a white paper or case study as thought leadership and then wonder why this content fails to engage customers or drive sales. That’s because these companies are trying to run a program without truly understanding the program’s purpose and goals. The result: a mismatch between content and audience needs and content that then gets lost in the digital chaos.
How Thought Leadership Defines the Buying Vision in Your Favor
Today’s B2B sales cycle is fundamentally different than it was a decade ago– and content is not a “one size fits all” solution. For thought leadership to be effective, your business needs to understand your buyers’ needs at each phase of the sales cycle. This starts with the earliest phase, awareness. Your challenge here is to define the buying vision in you favor.
During the awareness phase, your prospective clients may be aware that they have a problem or need, but do not fully understand the extent of the problem or possible solutions. This is where a thought leader can make a difference by establishing your business’s authority and perspective on these problems and needs– and then convincing them that your approach to solving their problem or meeting their need is the preferred approach.
Your content in the awareness phase generally falls into one of three categories:
- Advice. This authoritative content offers guidance based on your expertise. Content is presented in an easy-to-read, skimmable format, such as “5 Reasons to XYZ”. There’s no mention of products or services here, simply action-oriented advice.
- Ideas. This is long-form content created for a deeper dive into your business’s unique perspective on an industry topic or issue. Rather than a short blog post, this content may be a longer piece posted to LinkedIn Pulse or Medium. You’re exploring a big idea or trending industry issue and establishing your company’s position on it.
- Facts. This content is objective and fact-based. Recently completed an industry benchmark survey? Have a wealth of data on best practices? This is where you turn these facts into engaging infographics drawing on your extensive knowledge base.
Creating compelling content sounds straight forward, right? Like any marketing tactic, however, it will be most effective when you follow a clear strategy for content creation and distribution. It’s an understatement to say we’re drowning in digital clutter these days. Consider this: Forbes.com now has 1500 unpaid contributors, posting between 7,000 and 8,000 articles per month. It’s not enough to just create engaging content. You need a clear strategy for audience engagement and distribution.
Check back tomorrow for the second post in this series, where we’ll dive deeper into setting up your strategy.