Thought leadership and reputation: Using B2B content to grow in stature

Rob Mitchell

Today, the vast majority of most companies’ value comes from their intangible assets. Property, stock and physical assets matter less – increasingly, it is intellectual property, people and knowledge that are most highly prized.

Perhaps the most important intangible asset of all is reputation. Having a good reputation helps a company to stand out in a crowded market, and builds trust with potential buyers. But, as we have all seen, reputation can be damaged in an instant. Building and maintaining reputation has therefore become a fundamental part of good management.

Thought leadership is playing an increasingly important role in helping to build companies’ reputations. There are several ways in which it achieves this:

First, good thought leadership helps to demonstrate a company’s expertise and insight about the broader challenges that senior executives are facing. It shows that you don’t just know about your company’s products and services – which is a given – but that you are tuned into the wider commercial and macroeconomic context.

Second, it enables the differentiation of your brand from your competitors. This is extremely important in a B2B context, when there can, on the surface, be little to separate the offering of key players within an industry like professional services or technology. Thought leadership can help you stand out from the crowd and give you an edge – ultimately leading to more sales.

And third, it helps to protect reputation by building your “brand equity”. Creating trust among stakeholders means that you will be better able to weather the storm and avoid irreversible damage should a crisis befall your business.

In our experience, there are several techniques that companies can apply when strengthening reputation is the key objective of their thought leadership campaign.

Use research to provide a foundation of evidence

Good thought leadership needs primary research to elevate it above being just opinion. A strong body of research findings enables you to say something original, and builds confidence among the audience that you are not just telling them what they want to hear, but playing back the views of the broader market.

Be provocative

To gain traction in the market and stand out from the crowd, it is essential to have a strong point of view. As well as getting your thought leadership noticed, a provocative point of view reinforces the opinion that you are at the leading edge of key trends, rather than just being a follower. This helps to build trust among your audience, strengthening your reputation as a knowledgeable partner.

Generate press-friendly findings

When reputation is a key objective of thought leadership, it is essential to emphasise findings that the media are likely to report. Anything that is surprising or counterintuitive generally goes down well with journalists. Focusing on key topics of the day that are widely covered, such as cyber risk, also helps. Whatever your topic, we always advise clients to think ahead to the headline of a press release when designing research that has reputation-building as a key goal. What would you like it to say, and what questions and approaches might help you to get there?

Make sure your content is authentic

To enhance reputation, thought leadership needs to engage its audience. Anything that is perceived as overly commercial will be a turn-off. You need to be engaging your audience in a dialogue about wider issues, and publishing high-quality, insightful content that has intrinsic value for your readers.

Stay the course

Reputation is not something that can be built overnight. Yes, you may have short-term wins such as press coverage, but that, in itself, is not enough to enhance reputation. You need to be willing to invest over the long term and be consistent in your approach and messaging. A campaign-based model, built on a regular editorial calendar that may span many months, is critical.

In our conversations with clients, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a strong trend towards measuring the effectiveness of thought leadership. If building reputation is your key objective, then you need to be able to measure progress towards this goal. Crude metrics, such as advertising value equivalent to track press coverage, are useful, but reputation is a much wider issue. Ultimately, you need to track perceptions of your brand, and measure the value of your brand equity, using tracker studies.

Be patient, because improvements to reputation don’t happen overnight. But the benefits are considerable. You will be perceived as offering more value to your clients, which will generate greater loyalty. You will stand out from the crowd through the association of your brand with knowledge and expertise. You should be able to charge a premium for your services. And ultimately, you will be seen as a trusted partner to your clients and prospects.

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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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