How to create thought leadership that works

The term “Thought Leader” is nearly 30 years old. It regularly appears in lists of annoying business buzzwords. But it remains one of the most popular methods for B2B organisations to gain potential customers’ attention.

Why? Because when it’s done properly, it works. A recent report by Edelman and LinkedIn found that:

But this is a double-edged sword. Over a quarter said that most of the thought leadership they are reading is mediocre at best.

Nearly 40% of respondents said that their respect and admiration for an organisation can decrease after reading poor thought leadership.

So why do companies so often fall flat in their quest to become thought leaders? And what can B2B marketers do to ensure that they don’t make the same mistake?

Saturated market

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, thought leadership content had been at saturation point.

With the cancellation of any in-person conferences, 43% of budget associated with live events has been reallocated to content creation.

That means there are even more reports, whitepapers, eBooks, and more in the market.

However, the amount of time spent consuming thought leadership hasn’t shifted as dramatically. So while there’s much more content out there, the vast majority isn’t gaining attention.


The primary question any brand needs to ask is, “Will this piece of content be different to what’s already available for the audience?” If not, there’s a strong argument for holding back, or changing tack.

Self-centric content

One reason that so-called thought leadership fails is that it is too focused on the company that has created it.

Rather than giving valuable information or advice to its audience, the content focuses on what makes Company X so great, or what Product X can do for you.

The audience is not looking for a sales pitch. That may come later in the process. There is a time and a place for lower-funnel messages. True thought leadership recognises this is an investment in a longer-term relationship, not a hasty one-night stand.

Siloed teams

Sometimes even great content fails to cut through. This can be because of a siloed approach to planning and creating marketing content.

A winning strategy also needs the support of cross-business teams, and systems to capture valuable data. It must be surrounded and supported by additional articles, calculators, case studies, infographics, guides, and much more.

Even more important are the technologies which allow for a personalised user experience. Implementing platforms like Drift or Folloze allows customers – wherever they are in the buying journey – to get to the answers they need faster.

What success looks like

Creating a great piece of content is only half the battle. The top reason thought leadership fails is businesses viewing it as one-way communication.

Thought leadership is not about showing how clever your company is. It’s the start of a conversation. The real aim should be to gain an understanding of why someone is consuming that content in the first place. Then you can help them address their challenges.

Marketers should avoid vanity metrics like reach, downloads, or video views. Instead, the focus should shift onto what happens next. Thought leadership activity should capture data about what’s important to specific customers. So that future conversations can show an understanding of their organisation’s pain points and ambitions.

For more greater detail on which content fits where, head to our recent blog post. Alternatively, discover how to implement Drift into your ABM programmes to get your prospects where they want to be, faster.

Got questions about creating thought leadership that works? Get in touch.

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