One of the most interesting aspects of developing content for our clients’ business-to-business (B2B) content marketing programs is seeing how they evolve. As Bob Dylan famously proclaimed in 1964, “The times, they are a-changin’”.
Five years ago, when the concept of thought leadership was in vogue, the idea of shameless product promotion seemed gratuitous, garish even. Instead, content programs were focused on loftier goals: adding value through education, providing industry stewardship, offering thoughtful answers to customers’ biggest challenges, emphasizing a company’s unique expertise, and even pursuing the betterment of the human condition.
In the process, companies would theoretically build an audience to consume this content and ultimately translate that exposure into pull-through sales. And from our experience, when executed correctly — with clear program goals and a continuous stream of valuable content — it works!
Fast-forward to present day: marketing execs run the risk of getting permanently muted on their Zoom calls for suggesting a healthy thought leadership budget. So why the change?
Like the world around us, B2B marketing is subject to the ebbs and flows of changing tides and trends. In an age where infinite access to soundbites of information and the serotonin rush of instant gratification drive consumer behaviors, the desire to tap into this potential with fast-paced, funnel-filling demand generation programs has taken priority. I get it. Marketing, in general, has taken on a renewed urgency.
But there’s a catch in this logic. Demand generation programs need one key ingredient to fuel their engines: great content. How else can you hope to meaningfully engage potential customers along their buyer journeys?
Lest we forget, the very nature of B2B content is unlike the B2C marketing discipline. We’re speaking to a more technical audience who does its own research. According to most B2B industry studies, 70 to 90 percent of the decision-making process is completed before stakeholders even engage a salesperson. Potential buyers are hungry for fact-based, informative content with which to educate themselves and make their decisions. And it’s our job to provide it! Simply put: while B2B buyers may be attracted by a flashy cover, they also want to read the book.
Here’s the TL;DR takeaway: demand generation and thought leadership are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the two complement each other quite nicely. While thought leadership programs don’t necessarily need a demand generation component to be successful, there’s no question that successful demand generation needs thought leadership content. Demand generation based on empty calls-to-action — such as “fill out our contact form” or “view our product brochure” — is simply not that compelling. White papers, technical articles, case studies and data-rich infographics — which typically fall beneath a thought leadership umbrella — offer much more engaging and educational sources of information. A balanced approach of mostly thought leadership and minimal product promotion can create an ideal cadence for compelling demand generation campaigns.
So before you demote your thought leadership programs into the category of “nice to have, but not essential,” maybe it’s time to rethink that strategy. If maintaining a vibrant public relations (PR) program is also part of your marketing goals, then thought leadership content covers that base. If you’re considering an account-based marketing (ABM) effort — which requires even more refined and targeted content — then repurposing thought leadership content will be essential there as well.
But if you’re loath to utter the term “thought leadership” in your next planning meeting, then just tell your team that you need a “robust content plan” to support your demand generation program.