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3 Ways to Develop B2B Thought Leadership


For those in the business-to-business space, being recognized asthought leadership a thought leader or expert in your niche is an important goal.

I wrote about thought leadership content and a study by the Economics Intelligence Unit reported by which found: 56% of B2B marketing executives stated "Positioning our company as a thought leader" as their top objective. And a third of respondents also felt the best way to market services over the next 3-5 years was through thought leadership.

Developing B2B thought leadership can be done through creating and publishing content that stands out, gets shared, linked to and discussed. Here are some thoughts on steps you can take to develop thought leadership content.

Give Practical Advice

What is one of the main things you look for when scanning blogs, videos or any type of online content? Good and credible practical advice.  And, when you come across it you're likely to share it with others.

Two University of Pennsylvania, assistant professors at the Wharton School did a virality study of New York Times articles. They wanted to discover what made people most likely to share them via email. Turns out the utility aspect of the content to provide useful information was strongly linked to the information going viral. "More practically useful and more surprising content are more likely to make the New Your Times' most emailed list," concluded Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman.

Here are some ideas for rendering practical advice that may help bolster your persona as a thought leader, deepen your content marketing efforts while making your ideas more share-able:

  • Share your experience with solving common issues in a creative way.
  • Showcase your knowledge by giving tips and ideas.
  • Teach people how to do something.
  • Turn FAQ's customers and prospects have into blog posts.
  • Re-purpose training materials, whitepapers, press releases, etc.
  • Ask great interview questions, post in Q&A format and summarize with practical applications to your readers.
  • Give your perspective on trending news and issues within your industry.
  • Take what you've learned and applied from others and share it.
  • Evaluate a new product or service and write a review on your blog.
  • Reach out to producers and influencer's of the products and services you've reviewed and ask for their comments.

What other ways can you think of to generate thought leadership content by giving practical advice?

State Your Opinion

Not to repeat clichés, but thoughts do matter and opinions count. Those who excel do more than just state the facts about the news, trends, studies and the like. They give their interpretation, perspective and take a stand on what they believe it means to us - why we should care. You may love it or hate it, but it will most likely get you thinking and reacting.

There's a guy who writes frequent letters to the editor in my town's newspaper. Rarely, do I agree with his "politics." And, I notice his writings raise the ire of many a reader, evidenced by the editorial rebuttals. But guess what? Each day I turn to the editorial section of the newspaper and see if the antagonist has spouted off again.

The Wharton School study also found that the emotion of anger was another top reason people shared New York Times' articles. While Berger and Milkman recognize that "few studies have empericially investigated anger and social transmission," there seems to be something about polarizing topics and opinions that gets noticed - and shared.

I don't mean to suggest you should go after the "anger angle" of thought leadership. But know that communicating with an emotional punch while taking your stand on an issue is likely to generate some attention and get you noticed.

Inspire Awe

At first, my third point for this post was: "Give Them Hope." Then I read Karen Freeman's excellent article, Do You Inspire Awe? that first introduced me to the Wharton School study on virality. I now suggest, inspiring the emotion of awe is a key dimension to developing as a thought leader, and giving others reason to hope.

Hope that will cause them to view problems in a new light. Hope that will open their eyes to exciting new possibilities for the business they may not otherwise have thought about.

This is what thought leaders help do for us. They help elevate us to a new vantage point that transcends where we've been, where we are, and where we're going. "What (inspiring awe) means in a business context," writes Freeman, "is they need to learn something new and fascinating about their business. This requires a careful cocktail of surprising rational information about issues customers care about delivered with an emotional punch to grab attention."

Not only that, but we're most likely to share the source of inspiration with others. Berger and Milkman suggest awe may be linked to sharing due to a variety of reasons:

  • Awe is a social emotion that encourages people to connect with others and spread the word.
  • Awe-inducing stimuli tend to be entertaining, inspiring, and information-rich, all aspects that should increase the likelihood of transmission.
  • Awe drives people to talk to others to understand how they feel.

So, as you ponder developing your unique brand of thought leadership content, consider delivering it to us in such a way that (1) renders practical advice, (2) articulates your position, and (3) stimulates an awe inspiring viewpoint.