How to Create a B2B Thought Leadership Plan
If you own a business, you must work effectively with other brands and companies in a productive and trustworthy manner that benefits both parties mutually. The problem often lies in building and maintaining trust in a healthy B2B relationship. An effective way to build this trust is through thought leadership.
The thought leadership approach involves creating valuable content that establishes your business as an expert in your field, inducing trust and confidence in other companies. The ultimate aim of B2B thought leadership is to make your business become the go-to source of industry information for decision-makers—and to make your website the top result for searches in your niche.
However, every brand now wants to be a thought leader. According to a study published by LinkedIn and Edelman, 66% of decision-makers say the pandemic caused a massive upswing to the amount of thought leadership in the marketplace. Yet 71% of them say that less than half of the thought leadership content they consume gives them valuable insights. If you want your brand to stand out from the crowd, writing a few posts on LinkedIn isn’t enough. You need to create a B2B thought leadership plan.
This article will demonstrate how you can create a B2B thought leadership plan for your own business, allowing you to positively impact brand awareness and take your business to the next stage in its development.
8 Ways to Build a B2B Thought Leadership Plan
Thought leadership is the result of hundreds of hours of planning, strategizing, and creating content. Here are eight ways to create a B2B thought leadership plan that increases your brand visibility and establishes you as a credible voice in your niche.
1. Figure out what you’re an expert in.
One of the most crucial things you’ll ever do as a brand is to define what sets your brand apart from the competition. Do you offer cutting-edge technologies, better customer service, or lower prices? Once you’ve identified your unique value proposition (UVP), you can then start creating your B2B thought leadership plan.
Let’s say your UVP is offering high-end consulting services at a fraction of the price of the large consulting firms. How do you keep your costs so low? What sort of clients partner with you for their consulting needs? These two questions alone can form the core of your thought leadership plan.
2. Identify your audience and know what they are asking.
If you don't know your audience, you can’t create a content strategy aimed at their needs. Your audience will just ignore your brand because your content doesn’t give them anything useful or offer a solution. In fact, 47% of buyers say that most thought leadership content does not appear to be created with their specific needs in mind.
Creating a buyer persona is the first step in knowing your audience. This process involves creating a research-based profile that depicts a target customer. You’ll need to identify your customers' needs and pain points (the specific problems faced by customers). This way, you can determine what you can offer them that solves their problems, ideally in a way that other businesses cannot match.
You can identify pain points by interviewing your customers and giving them surveys to complete. Target specific pain points by asking customers what they value about your brand and which areas they feel your brand could improve in, or solve issues currently experienced.
By knowing your audience, you can create content that speaks to them and offers solutions to their problems. The content should be able to provide value so your audience will consider your brand a source of actionable insights. Do it consistently, and you’re well on your way to becoming a B2B thought leader.
3. Create content that speaks to your voice.
Your brand is more than just its logo, colors, and name. It also includes the brand voice or the personality your brand takes on when it communicates with others. Even when you create a logo, think of the brand colors and name your brand identity should be reflected in these elements. You can “hear” it in everything your brand says, whether it’s on social media, a blog, or a video. And, just like people, your brand has its own voice that’s influenced by the industry where it operates, the people behind the company, or the audience you want to reach.
For example, your brand voice can either be friendly or authoritative. A friendly brand voice uses an amusing tone, a bit of humor, and an informal approach to complicated topics (or the avoidance of these topics altogether).
On the other hand, an authoritative brand voice seeks to establish your brand as the source of industry information. It uses a formal tone, a bit more industry jargon, and a more structured style of writing.
Some people seem to think that you have to use an authoritative brand voice to establish B2B thought leadership. However, this isn’t always the case. It will still depend on your industry, your personal experience as a business owner, and your target audience—with a reported 87% of buyers saying that thought leadership content can be both intelligently stimulating and fun to consume at the same time.
Sometimes, you’ll even find yourself having to shift between one brand voice to another, depending on the channel where you’ll publish your content. For instance, you can use a friendly brand voice in a listicle for BuzzFeed. However, you might need to take a more serious tone if you’re writing a case study for the Harvard Business Review. Different audiences, different brand voices.
4. Build a social media presence.
Social media is a critical area your business cannot ignore these days. Building a solid social media presence is vital to the success of your brand.
Many of your customers will already be on social media platforms, giving you access to a platform for promoting your content. In addition, because social media allows for instant customer and business interaction via comments and messaging, it’s the perfect platform for you to gauge how well your content output is working.
Effective social media content speaks directly to your target audience. In addition, the high level of interactivity gives you quick and insightful feedback on how well your B2B thought leadership campaign is faring.
For example, while we associate General Electric with consumer appliances, the company also offers innovative solutions to B2B clients in the energy, healthcare, and transportation industries. General Electric’s Instagram page gives its followers a look at its workforce and their passion for its products.
The page also promotes its focus on renewable energy. With almost half a million followers, this approach works for them and has extensively built up their social media presence.
5. Know what your competition is doing.
All successful businesses are forever monitoring their competition. The chances are that your main competitors are probably conducting their own B2B thought leadership strategy, so it always helps to keep tabs on their latest moves.
Make some notes on key aspects of your competitor's content output, such as the timing, frequency, and effectiveness of their blog posts, website content, and social media output.
Try to look for gaps in their content that you can exploit to benefit your B2B content marketing strategy. For example, if they claim to be an expert in a particular area but omit a crucial point, plug that gap with your content output to demonstrate your value and level of expertise in the area to your audience.
Don't worry too much if the competition produces similar content to you. This opportunity gives your brand the chance to do things better, further cementing the notion that you provide greater insight than your competitors.
6. Identify subject matter experts within your team.
Most businesses involve a team of people all working toward the same objectives. So take this factor into account when you are thinking about your B2B thought leadership strategy.
Your marketing team, in particular, should include specific individuals who can be identified as thought leaders. These people have particular expertise or experience in your industry and can offer unique advice and bring fresh ideas to the table.
These individuals can be classified as subject matter experts (SMEs) and lead your content creation campaigns. The SME is someone who knows the information that everyone else in your company needs to know and with extensive experience in the specific process.
For example, a suitable SME for a B2B company selling hospital equipment could be someone with a medical or product design background. These SMEs can explain your products with a high degree of credibility.
You may either involve them in the initial drafting of your content or let them read through your content before publishing it.
While you can find SMEs outside your organization, it’s better if you can find them within your business. This way, you’ll be familiar with each other and consult with them in the content creation process as needed.
7. Revise your plan.
The world of marketing never stands still. There are constantly shifting ideas, changes in audiences, and new industry trends that can come about very quickly.
With this in mind, your B2B thought leadership plan should always be ready to adapt and evolve concerning the wider marketing industry. Be prepared to make changes to product lines, company philosophies, and even your entire brand identity if it’s necessary.
Cisco, the California-based technology company, is a B2B brand that isn’t afraid to change tack when necessary. A 2019 blog-style interview with Devon Hood, Cisco’s director of digital marketing, revealed insights into how the company reacts to changes in the marketing landscape.
Hood explains Cisco’s openness to new ideas in a rapidly evolving environment, stating: “Our team is also free to try new things. We put ourselves out there and experiment. We take smart chances, but we’re constantly testing different ideas.”
Hood then discussed how this openness to new ideas is put into practice. A new separate team called the “Rapid Digital Office” was created and uses “research and insights to drive new experiences and utilities.” Cisco also uses internal hackathons where everyone objectively looks at each other’s work, reviewing and evaluating what is working and what isn’t. This new process allows Cisco to uncover and learn new practices along the way.
This fluid approach to B2B thought leadership demonstrates how open your business must be to changes and new ideas that come about. As of March 2022, Cisco is currently worth $225 billion, so the company is a great example of a B2B brand not afraid to revise its plans and react positively to an ever-shifting landscape.
Consider doing the same with your business, always looking to refine and adapt your B2B thought leadership strategy when necessary. Be open to new ways of doing things, reacting positively to discussions, and always planning for the future.
8. Go beyond the blog.
There’s no doubt that a blog section of any business plays a huge part in building up your audience and spreading awareness about your products and services. According to DemandMetric, 59% of B2B marketers consider regular blogging their most valuable content channel.
But blogging isn't everything, and its focus shouldn't distract you from posting valuable content on other platforms that can be just as effective. For example, you can create white papers, case studies, and e-books that show your industry knowledge and demonstrate how your solutions work in real-life situations.
Aside from establishing thought leadership for your brand, e-books and white papers can be used as lead magnets for email marketing. You can also adapt case studies into other forms of content, such as YouTube videos, infographics, or podcasts. The possibilities are endless. Check out how CIENCE produces a YouTube video from its weekly audio podcast:
By creating multichannel content, you don’t just confine yourself to one audience. Rather, expose your brand to as many B2B decision-makers as possible, which is the whole point of thought leadership.
Develop B2B Thought Leadership to Inspire
To stand out in the highly competitive business world, your brand needs to reinforce its reputation as a valuable, insightful, and ultimately unique place for people to go. By using these tips and taking the time to refine your B2B thought leadership strategy, the sky’s the limit for what your brand could achieve. You'll soon bolster the trustworthiness and expertise of your business, making you a desirable company for customers and industry leaders alike.