The latest statistics show that most businesses are well aware of the potential of content marketing for their business. In the UK, up to 90% of marketers say they are investing in content marketing, with half saying they are planning to increase their budget for the coming year. For the majority, the focus is still on graphic and social media content. Although both of these are valuable, businesses also need to ensure their content plan includes detailed thought leadership pieces.
Thought leadership content – such as white papers, blogs, ebooks and guides – helps to position your company as a leader in your market area. By creating this kind of content, you can provide useful answers to the questions people are asking, while demonstrating the knowledge and expertise that exists within your organisation.
Although such business writing doesn’t contain direct sales messages, high quality thought leadership pieces are beneficial at every stage of the purchase funnel – helping to grow awareness of your business, generate new leads, and build brand trust to make prospective customers confident in making a purchase from your company.
Business writing to gain awareness
The first area where thought leadership pieces can have a positive impact is in growing awareness of your business while also demonstrating the market and customer expertise that you have around your product or service.
One of the key ways that people might come across your business is through search, and writing pieces that answer common questions can position you as an authority in your field. It will also help you be found ahead of competitors for the questions your target audiences are asking in search engines.
This kind of awareness-building content is normally available to access without any kind of browser sign-up commitment, for example on blogs or within searchable online guides.
- Case study: Moz online guide
A classic example of awareness-building thought leadership content is the comprehensive Moz Beginner’s guide to SEO. This guide demonstrates their expertise in the subject matter, as well as positioning them as a leader in the field. Although a beginner’s guide may not seem particularly forward thinking, the world of SEO is full of people trying to sell this kind of information, so putting it online for free was unusual and innovative for this industry. The fact that they have shared such a valuable resource also means they attract lots of links from others to the content. Consequently the guide is the top result in Google, hugely raising Moz’s visibility.
Using content to generate leads
Once you have attracted new visitors to your site, it makes sense to collect their information so you can stay in touch. Understandably, people are less likely to sign up without an incentive of some kind, but by sharing your knowledge through extra downloadable content, you can create benefits for them whilst increasing your leads.
Prospective customers will be more willing to part with their details if you provide genuinely valuable, detailed and informative downloadable content such as email courses, white papers, ebooks and in-depth guides.
- Case study: Hargreaves Lansdown
Many businesses have used this approach to generate leads. For example, Hargreaves Lansdown has a huge range of free guides and white papers, useful to their target audience of would-be investors, all of which are available by providing your details. They also provide a reviews of their business writing’s utility on the download page, encouraging new users to sign up.
Sharing expertise in the evaluation stage
In addition, writing content that positions you as an expert in your field is a valuable tool for the evaluation stage of the sales funnel. At this point, potential customers are actively evaluating different companies in order to make an informed choice on which product, service or supplier is best for them. Content that clearly positions you as authoritative on your subject can be extremely powerful in swaying decisions. In fact, a study by Forbes found that 63% of decision makers use white papers to evaluate prospective products and services.
- Case study: Mailchimp
Email provider Mailchimp cement their position as a leader in the email marketing space by providing a range of white papers full of valuable information for email marketers. Mailchimp openly share internal data on areas such as subject lines for the benefit of customers and other visitors to their website, helping them to be front of mind at the crucial evaluation stage.
Thought leadership pieces can also continue to bring you benefits after purchase. Happy purchasers are more likely to share your content with others on social media, so creating highly-shareable pieces of business writing can help your advocates to spread the word about your expertise. You could use any format – a blog post, white paper or guide – as long as it is easy to share with others.
- Case study: Seth Godin
Marketing thought leader Seth Godin has written 12 bestselling books, but he also shares new ideas in short, super shareable blog posts to enable his supporters to easily spread the word.
Conclusion: Use thought leadership to build trust
Internally, there can be some resistance to creating content that shares your most innovative thinking, as traditionally companies would keep their best knowledge and expertise in house. In the age of social media, this kind of attitude is outdated. Now, the more you share the more credible you appear. Sharing what you know positions you as an authoritative expert, making it more likely that people will trust your brand. It is one thing to say that you know what you are talking about, but demonstrating that you do through helpful content increases customer engagement. As you become known as a useful source of information, customers, prospects and others in your industry are likely to come back to you, over a competitor who is unwilling to share their knowledge.
There can also be other, less measureable benefits to being transparent with your knowledge and best thinking – in addition to customer engagement and hopefully increased business as a result, other people in your industry will think more highly of you, helping you to attract better employees and better partnership opportunities.