High-quality thought leadership can be vital in positioning your company as a trusted and essential partner. Andrew Mildren, Executive Director, Edelman Business Marketing, explains why it makes a meaningful difference in business decision making.
When times are tough, where do you cut back, what do you prioritise, and who do you trust? Challenging economic conditions prompt everyone to consider purchases more carefully, to re-evaluate priorities and to turn to those they trust most for advice on what comes next – affecting everything from individual household spending right through to government investment decisions.
And B2B buying decisions – such as new tenders, contract renewals, or large, strategic projects – are no different. In fact, a new joint study between Edelman and LinkedIn, surveying 3,500 business decision makers, reveals that 64% have already tightened their procurement processes. Meanwhile, 44% expect to be personally less receptive to sales calls and marketing outreach as economic conditions tighten.
This requires marketing programmes to work much harder, reflecting how customer needs have changed and making the best use of budgets and resources to meet these needs. One solution, as the study shows, is to invest in quality thought leadership because it can have a much greater impact during tough times when compared to other marketing activities because:
1. Thought leadership proves the value of an organisation’s thinking
55% of executives say that, as budgets are cut, products and services deemed ‘nice-to-have’ rather than ‘must-have’ will be where any necessary spending reductions come from. And because thought leadership is deemed the most effective tool for demonstrating a provider’s potential value, it offers a unique opportunity to persuade customers of a product or service’s necessity – more so than traditional advertising or product marketing.
In fact, our previous research with LinkedIn found that 69% of decision makers agree that thought leadership is one of the best ways to get a sense of the type and calibre of an organisation’s thinking, with 61% willing to pay a premium to organisations that can demonstrate both depth of thought and similar values. Correctly positioned content can therefore help turn a supplier or service from being deemed as expendable to one that is increasingly invaluable.
2. During a downturn, people are hungrier for fresh insight
The top three reasons decision makers consume thought leadership are to: keep up to date on the latest thinking in their sector (71%); stimulate new ideas for their organisation (71%); and gain insight into the trends poised to impact their business (68%). In a challenging environment, decision makers are seeking economic certainty and partners who can help them pre-empt or solve problems.
Companies can move from being seen as a ‘nice-to-have’ towards being a ‘must-have’ by identifying new opportunities or trends stemming from an economic downturn (48%), explaining how their organisation can help a business do well despite tough conditions (44%) and enabling executives to be more effective and successful in their job (44%). In short, it’s all about helping customers to understand how a challenge can become an opportunity. Within the marketing mix, thought leadership is the natural home for providing the advice, new perspectives, and insightful data that can make this happen.
3. Sustaining conversations with prospects for longer
During economic downturns, potential buyers will be more cautious about purchasing decisions as they evaluate the market, explore options and qualify potential service providers. As a result, they will spend more time in the early and middle stages of the sales process, extending the sales cycle further.
Great thought leadership lends itself to earlier phases of the business buying process, making it an ideal tool for maintaining engagement and coaxing buyers through the funnel. It can help drive awareness, aid consideration and even reach new potential decision makers by provoking discussion through a broader look at a specific industry need. As such, it creates more opportunities to nurture prospects and extend conversations over a lengthier sales cycle, in a way that a one-off campaign or activation is less likely to do.
4. People buy people first, products second
The old adage that ‘people buy people’ remains true today and is even more important during uncertain times. With buyers more selective about responding to sales calls or marketing outreach, thought leadership is more effective than other marketing activity at focusing on your smartest experts, providing a reassuring, personal perspective and platform for sharing their knowledge and practical advice.
Bringing in trusted third parties – such as analysts, academics, policy makers, industry bodies and business professionals, who have experienced similar scenarios – can also help open doors to busy decision makers who may be less responsive to other marketing activities.
The study shows that 67% of buyers want to hear the point of view of an identifiable author and are frustrated when companies simply publish content which isn’t attributed directly to an individual. Deep subject matter experts are also trusted and sought after, far more than more corporate senior executives talking in general, high-level terms about their own organisation.
5. Quality thought leadership can influence every aspect of the sales cycle
Buyers being more cautious can reduce the number of potential suppliers they consider. In turn, they are more likely to continue with existing contracts or stick with companies they know. The Edelman and LinkedIn research shows that thought leadership can be particularly impactful when an organisation is looking break through these barriers and move up the consideration list, especially when it is not necessarily the current leader in a category.
Nearly two thirds (60%) of business buyers say that thought leadership builds credibility when entering a new category where a brand is not already known, while 50% say it has led them to discover – and ultimately purchase from – a company that was not considered to be among the leaders in that segment.
Finding the right strategy and marketing mix is unique to each organisation and customer need, not to mention difficult as economic uncertainty increases. But thought leadership can help make a meaningful difference no matter the industry climate. Done well, high quality thought leadership can be vital in positioning your company as a trusted and essential partner through 2023 and beyond. Meaning that, the next time your buyers ask themselves “where shall we cut back and prioritise”, your company is more likely to be the trusted partner they retain.
Edelman & LinkedIn Thought Leadership Impact Reports (2020, 2021 and 2022) based on a survey of 3,500 business executives from six countries using LinkedIn’s online platform. Respondents varied in company sizes from less than 200 to over 1,000 employees. Seniority levels ranged from manager to C-suite.