FT Longitude insights: What do audiences really think of thought leadership?

Emily Taylor Gregory

Thought leadership is widely acknowledged as an essential part of today’s B2B marketing toolkit, yet our new research shows not everyone is getting it right.

The executives who consume thought leadership content know their stuff. Our study indicates that if the quality of the content is good, then audiences are receptive to it and can be influenced by the brand behind it. Conversely, if the thought leadership is poor, it can do long-term damage to your brand and reputation.

We surveyed 224 senior executives from around the world – thought leadership consumers and producers – to find out what audiences really think about this content and what advice they have for the marketing professionals who create it. The group included 21 CEOs and 52 other board and C-level executives, of which 21 were CMOs.

We hope you find the results as compelling as we did.

The audience’s perspective

Knowledge sharing

Be in no doubt – consumers of thought leadership see this type of marketing as an important source of knowledge:

  • 77% of thought leadership consumers agree that it provides original, business-relevant insight
  • 84% agree that it improves their knowledge of a particular topic

A few years ago, executives relied primarily on the business press, trade magazines and business books to gather knowledge about business issues. Today, our research shows that thought leadership is also an important source of insight about key business trends.

By demonstrating that they understand these issues and have a clear point of view about them, companies are tapping into a powerful form of marketing. Ultimately, they are showing that they can shape a debate and position themselves as the smartest people in the room.

A decision-making aid

Audiences also say that thought leadership helps to inform their decision-making:

  • 76% say that it can help them make better business decisions
  • 69% agree that it can be used as an effective tool to communicate with their colleagues/employees

In a world of unparalleled complexity and change, executives are constantly on the look-out for insight that can support their decision-making. Our research shows that thought leadership is often one of the inputs they use.

The fact that senior executives value thought leadership in this way is hugely powerful. It means they will associate the business decision-making process with the company whose content got them thinking, and they may well get in touch with that company when they need advice or help. So good thought leadership not only helps executives to make decisions that boost their company’s performance, it can also lead to new conversations and relationships.

Our research shows that these conversations will also happen internally. 47% of respondents say they share content with their teams and that content recommendations from peers and colleagues are one of their top three ways of accessing or hearing about thought leadership content – both of which increase the reach of thought leadership and help to disseminate it among a wider range of potential buyers.

Building trust

Our survey respondents tell us that thought leadership influences their perception of B2B brands:

  • 78% agree that if they read intelligent thought leadership they are more likely to trust or listen to that company in the future
  • 58% think that companies need to produce thought leadership if they are to be taken seriously

A brand that invests in thought leadership and shapes the debate in an intelligent way will earn trust from its customers and prospects. Sales-driven content is highly unlikely to achieve this outcome.

This trust generated by thought leadership is a hugely valuable commodity. It makes it easier for companies to engage with customers and prospects, spark new conversations and, ultimately, generate new relationships and sales. And over time, as customers grow to expect insightful information from a particular company, brand recognition increases and it can become the go-to provider for a specific service.

What’s more, these responses suggest that thought leadership is no longer simply a ‘nice to have’ that builds on existing relationships and brand recognition, but an essential element of a company’s marketing arsenal.

Risks of getting it wrong

Thought leadership can only provide these benefits if the quality is high:

  • 73% of content consumers in our survey agree that bad thought leadership damages the producer’s brand reputation

Content that is poorly structured or lacking in insight can have serious implications for your brand.

Here are the top five reasons why our respondents say thought leadership fails to hit the mark:

  1. Reports are too long
  2. The conclusions are too predictable
  3. The writing is too dry or bland
  4. There’s too much of it
  5. It’s too commercial or ‘sales-y’

In our next blog post, we share thoughts on how to avoid these five pitfalls, and reveal how to improve thought leadership – according to the consumers.

Don’t feel like waiting? Click here to access the full findings of the research.

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About the author: Emily Taylor Gregory

Emily is our marketing director, responsible for the brand, marketing and communications strategies for FT Longitude and the Thought Leadership Network. Emily leads our content and events programmes, our digital marketing channels, as well as our speaking engagements and PR activity, working closely with our editorial and research teams to develop and promote insight and best practice at the cutting edge of thought leadership.

Before joining FT Longitude, Emily spent 14 years working in various marketing roles in the publishing and technology sectors.

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