Thought Leadership: What happens if you get it wrong?

New research by Edelman and Linkedin has shown thought leadership to be a decidedly two-sided coin. Their study, which surveyed over 1,300 Business Decision Makers (BDMs) on the extent to which their B2B purchase process is influenced by salient thought leaders, confirms becoming a thought leader as being worthwhile, but also highlights some worrying consequences should you fail in this endeavour.

We’ll start with the reassuring stuff first, though. The study indicated 90% of BDMs firmly believe in the importance of thought leadership with over half of them spending an hour or more a week actively consuming it. And this consumption plays a key role in their adjudication process: 63% of these BDMs told Linkedin that reading a company’s most thought provoking content is ‘one of the best ways to get a sense of the type and caliber of thinking an organisation is likely to deliver’.

When framed in this way, it seems like a no-brainer. Of course thought leadership would have this effect. It’s your way of showing your in-depth insights into the most important issues of the day, and helping prospective buyers ‘get to know you’ in a way that surface level brand interaction just can’t. It establishes trust, according to 82% of the BDMs surveyed in the study, and builds a much deeper relationship after the fact, which results in more closed deals. Not a bad return for sharing your opinion.

So we know it’s worthwhile. But here’s the kicker: you have to hit the nail square on the head, every single time.

Operating in such a cerebral space makes this a rigorously difficult process, but failing to strike the metaphorical nail means bludgeoning your metaphorical thumb, and this can have dire consequences. The study says when thought leadership is ‘executed poorly or fails to connect with an audience, it can serve as a net detriment to business development’. This might sound vague but when it’s put into to numbers it’s noticeably more frightening, and it goes like this: over a third of CXOs will withhold their business from companies who publish ‘poor’ thought leadership. That’s a veritable sea of opportunity gone out the window just because you said the ‘wrong’ things.

After highlighting this distinctly alarming tendency the study does at least, thankfully, throw some answers our way. An acute referral system is key, with 84% of BDMs being more receptive to thought leadership that has been forwarded to them by someone they are familiar with and whom they respect. And the content must be relevant, according to 63% of BDMs. It also points out that thought leadership consumers call for insight, and hard data in the form of infographics, facts and figures on the topics they are interested in.

However the majority of the solutions offered equate to: if you want to avoid the risk, be better. A resolution with about the same capacity for reassurance as a pat on the back in the face of an erupting volcano. It’s all very well knowing the thought leadership ‘landmine’ is there, but what’s the strategy for avoiding it? Thankfully, our Strategy Director Nick Pearce has some insight in this regard: keep your eyes peeled for his next post.

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