About 50% of B2B marketers believe thought leadership builds trust in their organization. However, among actual buyers, that number is much higher—around 83%.

That disconnect is preventing B2B marketers from using thought-leadership content in their quest to become a trusted resource for their customers.

More marketers need to understand that establishing a thought-leadership program drives value and builds trust, whereas not doing so risks falling behind or damaging their brand's credibility in the industry. However, many marketers struggle to identify their unique industry perspective, and then to integrate that perspective into their messaging, positioning, and content.

Are you in the same boat? Here are five easy-to-follow steps for kicking off (or elevating) your brand's thought-leadership program.

1. Analyze and assess your brand's credibility

Your brand's visibility and credibility go beyond SEO. Consider paying attention to your online presence as a whole:

  • Is the content on your social channels aligned?
  • Do you have someone monitoring your earned coverage to ensure consistency across channels?
  • How does your share of voice compare with your competitors'?
  • What overall message are you sending to your customers through your paid, earned, shared, and owned channels?

Establishing a consistent tone and flare that speak to your target buyer personas is the first step toward boosting credibility. If your content also doesn't speak to your customers' needs and preferences, then you probably lack authority and credibility in their minds.

Consider a visibility assessment or lean on an agency that has the tools to conduct a full assessment of your online presence.

2. Solidify your brand's messaging and positioning

This step goes hand in hand with a visibility assessment. As you're evaluating your brand's footprint, are you finding that your messaging and positioning are consistent?

Start off by developing foundational brand language that details your unique selling proposition and elevator pitch.

It's important to remember during this step that you have various audiences to account for, and so you should deliver messaging that is clear to all concerned—your customers, analysts, influencers, or the media. Your messaging and positioning should be clear and concise, leaving nothing for interpretation.

If you're unsure where to start, check out this checklist:

  • Determine your brand's differentiator against its competitors.
  • Define and develop foundational brand language.
  • Test and assess your positioning and messaging with your audiences and channels.
  • Personalize and segment your thought-leadership efforts to align with your buyer personas.
  • Train your executive thought-leadership team for success across earned, owned, and shared media initiatives.
  • Treat your thought-leadership program as a vehicle for successful recruitment and higher retention rates.

3. Build your thought leadership program

A common misconception among marketers is that thought leadership has to come from the C-suite, but that's not the case. Thought leadership is any content that presents knowledge, experience, or a unique point of view. It could be in the form of an article, speaking engagement, or social post; the format can vary.

Thought leadership can be broken down into four categories:

  1. Subject-matter experts (SMEs): Choose an expert who is passionate and authentic, who consistently voices the impact your brand is having on the industry, and who has followers to hear it.
  2. Employee advocacy: Develop a dedicated employee-advocacy plan. In some situations, employees need to be motivated by incentives, and that's OK. Just remember that employees may feel comfortable advocating for your brand in different ways, which is a win for you in that it increases awareness across channels.
  3. Voice of the customer (VoC): We like to call this your marketing secret weapon. By building a VoC program and cultivating a group of customers who actively help you drive business growth, you authentically build credibility for your brand. B2B customer advocacy programs have grown, so something must be working.
  4. Influencer marketing: Here's where you look to experts outside of your organization to validate your product or service. Influencers can move ideas seamlessly into their everyday engagements, and that includes inserting your brand into those important conversations.

Combining those four areas of thought leadership and implementing a plan that brings content into the mix will help take your brand to the next level.

4. Increase awareness by partnering with your brand advocates

At this point, you've solidified the foundation of your thought leadership program by assessing your digital footprint, fine-tuning your messaging, and positioning and establishing various types of brand advocates. Now it's time to engage those advocates.

Considering that 50% of B2B companies increased their budgets for influencer marketing in 2018, it's apparent that this marketing strategy is resonating. Find ways on social to organically engage with influencers by liking posts, starting conversations, and sharing content. Find the combination of listening, monitoring, and engaging that is right for your brand.

From there, look to level-up your engagements by fostering awareness through guest blogs, content promotion, or other techniques that spotlight your brand on other channels.

And, finally, find ways to use case studies, podcasts, video content, and Q&As that highlight your customer advocates. Your brand's credibility is only as good as the customers you have bolstering it.

5. Measure the results of your thought leadership success

Now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty. Skip the vanity metrics and find the program results that will showcase ROI the fastest:

  • Google Analytics: Tap for insights such a which content is driving the most traffic, areas you should improve SEO, and time on site.
  • TrendKite: Monitor your share of voice and earned media mentions in real-time.
  • Audiense: Track your influencer engagements across social media. What is your top engaged account? Who recently shared specific content?

Some 41% of marketers have reported that they are challenged with proving the value of their efforts and are struggling to use data and analytics to become more predictive. Update your martech stack or enlist an integrated agency to help so that you don't become one of those marketers.

So, are you ready to launch your thought leadership program?

You're now armed with five steps for building or elevating your thought leadership program, but there is more to thought leadership than meets the eye.

Make sure you prepare the right resources—staff, budget, KPIs—and work with the right partners to get your program off the ground.

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image of Mark C. Nardone

Mark C. Nardone is executive vice-president at PAN Communications, an integrated marketing and PR agency for B2B technology and healthcare brands. He oversees the firm's strategic focus across brand marketing and business development efforts.

LinkedIn: Mark Nardone

Twitter: @MarkCNardone