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The Drum x FT Longitude insight | Measuring thought leadership: from engagement to impact

Rob Mitchell

The Drum x FT Longitude insight, November 2021
This article was originally written for and posted on The Drum.

Exceptional B2B content goes far beyond just getting noticed by the audience or informing them about business trends. It creates tangible value for the brand, enhances reputation and nurtures future customers.

But because these outcomes are difficult to measure, most of us resort to metrics such as downloads, open rates and bounce rates. These might be tried and tested, but they are a blunt instrument to measure the impact of B2B content. The best campaigns don’t just inform audiences or get themselves seen – they influence and inspire them too.

Think long term

It is easy to see why marketers reach for these inadequate measures. Most sectors have very long sales cycles that can last several years. This means that at any given time only a small percentage of our target audience is ‘in market’ and might consider buying from us. So the impact of B2B content might only become apparent in one or two years’ time, after a sales cycle has completed.

Despite these difficulties, we are selling ourselves short if we focus on easily quantifiable, short-term marketing KPIs. Instead, we need to think about how our content influences the audience and gets them to think differently, and then look for ways to measure that.

The basis of influence is trust

But securing influence is not easy, and is founded on a relationship of trust between our brand and our audience. Writing in Harvard Business Review, Frances Frei and Anne Morriss list the three elements of trust as authenticity (giving the audience the real us), logic (having sound reasoning behind what we say) and empathy (showing that we care about others’ success).

Influential content balances these three elements. Too much content in B2B is heavy on logic and light on empathy. It can feel remote and abstract because it leans too heavily on research and doesn’t build a connection with the audience. Logic is important – because there must be solid reasoning behind the change we want our audience to make – but it must be balanced with empathy. And too few campaigns are authentic. It is important to let our brand personality shine through.

The real test of influence is whether it leads to tangible impact. Measuring influence, as opposed to engagement, is challenging. But it is possible. Typically, it needs a combination of quantitative research methods: brand surveys, social media sentiment analysis, media/PR metrics and qualitative input such as anecdotes and examples from client-facing teams.

How we measure influence and impact

There are numerous metrics we can use to track influence, such as marketing contribution to pipeline and perception of expertise, and numerous indicators that can suggest content is having a positive impact by encouraging tangible outcomes, such as meetings generated and customer lifetime value.

One strategy is to think about four key dimensions of influence and then find the best ways to assess performance in each:

  1. Expertise: The audience trusts our knowledge and ability to solve their problems.
  2. Empathy: The audience sees us as an ally and has a positive, open relationship with our brand.
  3. Practicality: The audience is confident that we can solve their specific problems.
  4. Brand strength: The audience wants to work with us, and they feel comfortable about that association.

In B2B, we need to be more confident that content can have genuine brand and commercial impact by influencing audiences. Focusing on what is easy to measure, rather than what matters, limits us to obsessing about short-term metrics.

It is not easy to escape this pitfall. But if we can understand the real impact of B2B content on reputation, growth and profitability, we will be taken more seriously by business leaders. They will be less likely to think of content as a cost that they have to control, and more likely to see it as an investment – one that could have a measurable effect on their business.

This was the goal behind FT Longitude’s recent ebook, featured on The Drum, which looks to behavioural science, persuasion experts and advertising for ways to create influential content that has real impact. Download your copy of ‘Influence and impact’ here.

This article was originally written for and posted on The Drum, November 2021.

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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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