Thought leadership metrics that matter

Rob Mitchell

Why do companies develop thought leadership? It sounds like a strange question, but the reality is that many companies do not have a sufficiently clear idea of the rationale behind their B2B research and content. They develop content because they think it provides a ‘halo effect’, demonstrating their expertise and knowledge, but don’t look beyond that to consider how their investment can support their broader strategic and commercial objectives.

Any serious thought leadership programme is a large investment, so it is essential that companies are clear about their goals and objectives, and can measure progress towards them.

For many marketing teams, however, this can be a real challenge. It is notoriously difficult to demonstrate a direct link between investment in thought leadership and the kind of commercial and marketing objectives that companies set out to achieve.

For example, if your primary thought leadership goals are lead generation and client conversations, how do you separate the impact of your content and research in securing those things, versus the skill of the business development executive who set up the meeting? Few sales people are going to give all the credit to thought leadership.

Another challenge is that, in the B2B world, the quality of conversations often trumps quantity. The number of times that a report is downloaded or shared may be small, but if one of those downloads leads to a prospect being converted into a sale (however indirectly), then the investment in thought leadership will have more than paid for itself.

The challenge of measuring a return from thought leadership investment means that many companies retreat into metrics that are easily quantifiable, rather than those that matter most. They will focus on the number of downloads, or PR metrics like advertising value equivalent. These are fine, but they only tell part of the story.

When planning thought leadership campaigns, we advise companies to take a broader approach to measuring their return. This means adopting the following steps:

Be clear about what success looks like from the outset

Companies have a number of goals for thought leadership, from PR and brand building to lead generation. It is essential to be clear about what these goals are, and to set targets so the success of a programme can be measured against them. The research and content approach also needs to be adjusted to reflect those different objectives.

Be creative about the metrics you use

Companies need to look beyond the easily quantifiable metrics — just because they are easy to measure doesn’t mean that they matter. For example, if a key goal of a programme is lead generation, a key metric will be internal adoption. How many business development executives downloaded the report, or requested a client deck, or set up meetings with their clients to discuss the research?

Ensure alignment

Most thought leadership programmes involve multiple stakeholders, from marketers to business development teams to company leadership. All may have a slightly different perspective about the rationale for a thought leadership investment. It is therefore essential to be transparent about your chosen metrics and to seek agreement from across your stakeholder base. If you are using an external thought leadership agency, they need to be clear about the metrics too — and be measured against them.

Report and learn from the experience.

Marketers seeking to protect their budgets need evidence that thought leadership is achieving its objectives. Compiling a report showing where the programme has been successful is key to ensuring that senior stakeholders see the value of the investment. And, if metrics have fallen short of expectations, it is crucial to investigate why this is the case. The old adage that ‘what gets measured, gets managed’ is as true in thought leadership as it is in any other area of business.

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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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