IntroWith the increase in content use of social between b2b companies, the importance of thought leadership is increasing steadily year on year.In this paper, we’ll be going over the basics of thought leadership, why it’s important for b2b companies, whether your the right fit as a thought leader, what to do if you don’t fit the profile and a 360 guide on producing thought leadership content.What is thought leadership?The definition of a thought leader has been set out by Forbes as:A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.Magazine interview, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen defines thought leadership as:”Someone who stands above subject-matter expertise and is an authority in their field. And they have to be able to prove that expertise with a track record. Think of it this way: subject-matter expertise resides within a company. Thought leadership resides within an industry. Thought leaders provide clarity, especially to industries that are in flux. They teach.”It’s quite a common understanding that B2B marketers strive towards two key objectives 1) Build new business2) Become a thought leaderIn a recent Economics Intelligence Unit study 56% of B2B marketing executives stated “positioning our company as a thought leader” as their top objective and a third of respondents felt thought leadership would be the best way for b2b businesses to market their services in next 3-5 years.Thought leadership content is an important tool to position yourself and your brand in the minds of potential customers. But beyond awareness, how effective is thought leadership content in impacting decisions throughout the funnel? Why thought leadership is importantIncite have collected the best results from a number of materials including a recent report by Edelman & LinkedIn, a Forbes and Google survey and an Economics Intelligence Unit study.For ease, we’ve gone through the most important results from the report to provide an idea of what you should keep in mind when considering implementing thought leadership.SearchThe web has enabled top executives to gather their own information via references, social networks and search engines. A Forbes and Google survey shows 64% of senior executives are clicking “search” more than six times a day seeking business information. It wasn’t so long ago when B2B marketers were having to search for leads, now leads search for them. This increases the importance of being a thought leader, and providing thought leadership information that resonates with your clients in order to put your digital marketing KPIs ahead of your competition.SocialB2B social media marketing builds your brand, creates awareness, loyalty and equity while strengthening your lead gen. With 69% of B2B buyers using social networks, the opportunity to share relevant content is evident. B2B buyers and marketers are turning to social media to gather their resources, and while there, looking for industry thought leaders to share information. SeperationCustomers want to attach a personality to a company and, more importantly, they want to know how companies differ. Thought leadership enables customers to separate companies into the who’s who of the industry. They’re better able to understand a company’s personality and ultimately understand how processes and strategies work.The Sales FunnelRelevant, buyer mapped content, delivered at the right time, is core to effective marketing strategies. However, having a thought leader deliver this content, can lead to greater impact by creating familiarity, confidence and preference with buyers – and even directly contribute to winning business.Of course you would expect thought leadership to have a top of funnel impact, and indeed, 44% of business decision makers and 55% of C-level execs have given an organisation their contact information after seeing good thought leadership content.However, thought leadership content also drives impact further down the funnel:According to the report, 45% (nearly half) of decision makers and 48% of C-level execs said thought leadership directly led them to award business to a company.Another 31% of business leaders and 42% of C-suite executives reached out to an organisation to follow up after seeing their content.Should you be a thought leader?While thought leadership can pay rich dividends, it requires time and effort. Fast Company warns:”Successful thought leadership does not arrive with a published idea linked to a hope that someone will recognize brilliance and sweep your firm from obscurity into industry prominence. Establishing a firm or an individual as a thought leader requires consistent, diligent effort. Thought leadership is cumulative.”Customer InteractionsFirst you need to think about how you interact with your customers. Are they a part of a collaborative relationship, or are they simply customers that buy your product and move on? For the latter customer interactions are often brief, and being an effective thought leader means that you need to keep the market’s attention. If you feel like you can’t do that because of how long your interactions with your customer are, then it’s probably advised to stay away from thought leadership. We’ll come back to what to do in that situation later.**Note that transactional relationships may act more like collaborative ones if you have a high rate of repeat business and your products / services are of a high perceived value to the customer; it’s not just about how a single buying journey behaves.**Collaborative interactions however are far longer lasting and provide more attention. While a marketing agency may be in a good position to take a thought leadership role, a design agency could as well if they had a lot of high-volume, repeat customers.Complicated ProductsIf your products are particularly niche or the use of your product is difficult to explain to a laman, this provides a greater opportunity for thought leadership. Complex MarketIf your average client knows very little about your market or the products and services within it, there is a greater opportunity to be a thought leader. Ambiguity generally leads to difficult purchasing decisions. Through thought leadership you can create clarity and understanding for your audience; your audience will in turn reward you with its business.What to do if you don’t fit the profileIf you’re not in a position to be a thought leader, that doesn’t mean you should give up on content marketing. Thought leadership being one of the most popular approaches, there’s a lot of competition for the position of thought leader. Doing something else can actually be an easier way to achieve customer engagement. Some of our ideas include:Take some of the best ideas you can find and package them into more appealing formats, such as videos, infographics, or interactive content.Provide something other than knowledge. Not all content has to be about information. Share entertaining content as an default alternative.Think of out of the box content that’s perhaps more niche or situated around the problems of some of your clients.Offer simple, to-the-point content that helps them streamline their buying journey and reach a better outcome.Thought leadership guideThe best thought leadership helps people in an industry, or more likely, in a role within an industry, do something better or gain insight that helps them better understand their market, or their job.Step 1: Create Quality ContentWriting about your area of expertise is the raw material for most everything else in building a thought leadership effort. The body of knowledge from your writing will be distributed in a variety of formats such as blog posts, whitepapers, eBooks, articles, webinars and speeches.A blog should be the home base of all your content efforts. A blog enables two-way communication with your target audience, facilitates social media sharing and can boost your lead generation and search engine rankings. Take a look at incite’s blogs here.From the look of the studies we’ve seen, it’s really important to make sure the content you’re producing is quality. If content isn’t perceived as quality, or doesn’t deliver value, it can have a negative impact on purchasing decisions.In fact, the report found that more than half (53%) of C-level execs have lost respect or admiration for an organisation because of poor thought leadership content. Additionally, 30% of decision makers and 35% of C-level execs decided NOT to award business because of the quality of thought leadership content through the buying process.Make sure you include facts and figures that stack up with your advice, with 78% of decision makers and 79% of C-level execs rate content that “identifies new trends and issues that I should be aware of” as important and 66% of decision makers and 63% of C-suite executives also indicating a preference for data in content.Promote Your Content On Social and MediaWith great content, social media can help it reach a large number of people in your target audience. But even more important, social media enables thought leaders to answer questions. On sites like LinkedIn or Twitter people ask questions or talk about your area of expertise, you can post replies and, when appropriate, drive traffic back to your blog by including a relevant link.Contributing your content in the form of articles and blog posts to authoritative websites and publications can raise your profile quickly with a large audience. In addition, when guest blogging, a link back to your site helps improve your search engine rankings.Attend Live EventsLive events are still one of the best ways to raise awareness and promote your thought leadership. Start out with smaller events in your industry and work your way up. Always keep the information educational and non-promotional and ask for feedback on your talks.Write a BookRepurposing the content you have developed for your blog, whitepapers, ebooks, speeches etc. can form the basis of a book. And with digital printing, you no longer need to publish a large quantity. Few people do this but more will in the future.