12 thought leadership predictions for 2016

Rob Mitchell

To kick off the new year, we asked the FT Longitude team for their predictions about how thought leadership is likely to evolve over 2016. Here are their forecasts — and, if you’d like to discuss any of these issues with our team, then please do get in touch.

Thought leadership strategy

Content planning goes strategic

“At times, companies are too reactive or tactical in their approach to thought leadership. For example, marketing teams don’t give enough consideration to how their content plan aligns with their commercial objectives. Companies set out to say something new and interesting but, in the rush to get content out into the market, they end up missing the mark. In 2016, leading brands will develop a more strategic approach to content planning. They will analyse the content landscape more systematically to identify topics that will give them more impact and relevance in the market. They will shift from delivering ad hoc projects to managing a sustained programme of research and content, where every campaign makes sense within a broader strategic vision.” – Gareth Lofthouse, Managing Director

Thought leaders need to become content orchestrators

“Organisations will need to start looking beyond their borders, ensuring that their thought leadership reflects not just voices and expertise from within, but the perspectives of key subject-matter experts and partners from outside the corporate walls. This means identifying the key experts whose opinions matter, and ensuring their insights are integrated into thought leadership. This will help to position your firm as the conductor of the orchestra, not the second violinist.” – Peter Elkins, Senior Business Editor

A more personal approach will emerge

“Personalisation, needs-based, predictive — 2015 was the year when these terms featured in almost every piece of thought leadership. Over the next 12 months, we’ll see producers of B2B content apply these attributes to their own work: designing research and content programmes that are flexible enough for readers to pick and choose what matters most to them. This means crafting the user experience as well as the words.” – Sean Kearns, Managing Editor

Digital will move from style to substance

“Digital is nothing new, of course. We all recognize that thought leadership is gradually evolving from the days of the long-form PDF and printed report to a more modular, digital-first way of publishing content. Yet it remains surprising how few really good examples there are of digital thought leadership in B2B marketing. All too often, there is an issue of style over substance. The package looks good, is interactive and bears all the hallmarks of a ‘digital’ report, but scratch beneath the surface and the content does not always live up to the hype. We think that 2016 will be the year that good content and good digital execution starts to come together for the first time.” – Rob Mitchell, Co-Founder

Brave brands will excel

“We constantly hear that companies want to be provocative with their thought leadership, yet often the final messages get watered down by nervous stakeholders concerned about upsetting the apple cart. In today’s uncertain markets, audiences are looking for genuine thought leaders with the courage to stand by their convictions. Companies that are bold enough to raise their head above the parapet will have the biggest impact and receive most credit from their audience in 2016.” – Joe Dalton, Senior Editor

Thought leaders will learn from supermarkets

“Many supermarkets stock loss-leaders, such as milk and eggs, to attract customers into the store. As businesses plan their content marketing for 2016, they could learn from this approach. Typically, thought leadership campaigns will only get budget if they can be shown to deliver a clear commercial benefit. But savvy audiences expect more than this. To engage people more effectively, companies in 2016 could dedicate some of their budget to producing broader thematic content that is closer to mainstream business journalism than traditional thought leadership. This ‘loss leader’ content would have less direct commercial value, but will bring a steady stream of new visitors to the site — many of whom will go on to read the targeted, business-specific material that will convert casual readers into defined sales leads.” – Piers Tomlinson, Senior Business Editor

Industry trends

Old school industries will get in with the new

“Consultants, professional services firms, and technology companies have been exploiting evidence-based content marketing for many years. In 2016, we expect to see more traditional industries, from infrastructure companies, to oil and gas firms, increasingly expand their investments in this area. Within industries more used to a marketing diet of golf days, boozy networking lunches, and trade shows, not everyone will welcome this switch. But sustained budget pressures, and a need to show better results, will drive greater uptake of content-led marketing.” – James Watson, Co-Founder

Financial institutions will stand out and be counted

“Financial institutions vary widely in the degree to which they have adopted thought leadership. While we have seen some sophisticated first-movers clearly understand how evidence-based content can distinguish their offerings in very crowded markets, there is tremendous scope for some players in the industry to improve the impact of their content. They need to become more comfortable about sharing their knowledge, know-how and insight. This divergence in thought leadership quality will go a long way in separating the industry’s winners from its losers.” – Anthony O’Connor, Senior Editor

Where is the tech TL?

“Technology should be synonymous with thought leadership. Yet many tech companies produce little or no thought-leading content, preferring their products to do the talking. But as the burgeoning fintech scene shows, technology can nowadays create new markets in a matter of months — and these markets can get crowded pretty quickly. As the Internet of Things takes hold, and as a host of new sensor, software and service companies emerge, a grasp of cutting-edge thought-leading content could ultimately be what makes a tech brand stand out, regardless of how good its product is.” – Ben Sumner, Senior Editor

Thought leadership execution

Collaboration across marketing teams will become the norm

“Marketers will get smarter about how they invest in content. Marketing colleagues who would have historically worked independently will look for opportunities to create more of a splash by pooling their budgets in a shared core programme of research and content. They will then carve up the insights to meet their respective marketing goals. Similarly, there will be more cross-brand collaboration on thought leadership projects, where there is common interest in a theme and opportunities to leverage the power of multiple brands when targeting a similar audience.” – Kate de Lima, Business Development Manager

Marketers get smart about measurement

“In our experience, marketers have often struggled to quantify the return on investment they can achieve through thought leadership. We think that 2016 will be the year when they start taking measurement seriously. This means defining what ‘success’ looks like for a thought leadership campaign at the outset. It also means looking beyond traditional indicators to track, for example, how much content is shared on social media and other channels, and how often content helps to convert prospects into genuine leads. Internal metrics will also matter, including how many business development executives use thought leadership to initiate or develop client conversations.” – Victor Chauhan, Business Development Manager

Don’t just translate — localise!

“Most large companies will translate their thought leadership to suit the needs of local markets. But translation alone is not enough to ensure that content resonates with local markets. In 2016, companies will move towards a more focused localisation of their content, which will ensure that it is more closely aligned with the region or country’s culture and market environment.” – Keisha Shah, Senior Project Delivery Manager

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads FT Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with FT Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees FT Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding FT Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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