Thought Leadership and B2B PR

Posted on: 2015-07-06 in How To

Paul Lindsell of MindMetre Research goes spelunking in the caves of B2B thought leadership. 

The phrase ‘thought leadership’ has long been bandied about the PR industry – especially in B2B – to describe a set of activities that help ensure that a business or individual is recognized as an expert.  

In particular, thought leadership is an excellent tool for highlighting where a business is concentrating its commercial efforts and growth plans through expert analysis of those markets.  A good example is banks that regularly research and publish on SME finance issues to position themselves as knowledgeable about those issues and, by association, preferred suppliers in that space.  Retail banking services are, after all, one of the most commoditised markets around.

Investor relations are another key area where thought leadership has a powerful role to play.  By closely researching the opinions and intentions of consumers or customers in key operating countries, a business can showcase a very good grasp of trends in its markets and support share price even in difficult times.

While displaying expertise is clearly beneficial to any business, it is especially important in the acquisition of new clients and, as a study by MindMetre Research shows, in driving the sales process from prospecting to tender stage. Thought leadership exhibited on company websites and digital channels is the most immediately visible shop-window for expertise, but what is its influence over buying decisions?

In order to shed some light into the true value of thought leadership to sales and marketing and to define its commercial value, MindMetre Research canvassed over 2,000 UK businesses asking them how they felt thought leadership really affects their purchasing and tendering decisions. The research found that:

·         When compiling a tender list for technology and equipment, 61% of firms research possible candidate suppliers on the web;

·         When looking for a business services supplier, this reaches almost seven in ten companies (69.6%);

·         Fully 72% declare that thought leadership material from a potential supplier makes them much more likely to include that supplier in a tender list;

·         But, businesses warn, to be credible, thought leadership material must be based on hard research data, not simply an opinion, according to 80% of respondents.

This outcome clearly indicates that exhibiting thought leadership that is relevant to a buyer company’s recognisable business challenges on the company website or over the web has, in the majority of cases, a positive effect on whether a supplier is then selected to participate in the tendering process. 

However, there is one important caveat, as the majority of respondents highlight that thought leadership outputs that are merely opinion pieces are rarely of use or interest to the buyer community.  Four fifths of buyers clearly feel that only outputs backed up by hard statistical or research-based evidence are convincing.  This is a very important point as buyers will not be impressed by what amounts to little more than a loosely veiled sales pitch.

The process of gathering research statistics must therefore be conducted in the outmost professional manner and at arm’s length.  Professional research organisations know how to ensure balanced and representative survey sampling amongst consumer and B2B communities.  Furthermore, respondent quality – the seriousness and thought with which they give their responses – is reliant on experience and understanding of the research process.  Amateurism and commercial myopia are very real dangers when it comes to research, and have often been seen to lead to pseudo-statistics that seem suspiciously supportive of a company’s commercial interests and, when compared to more reliable statistical sources, are shown to be clearly false.  Publishing statistics that are wrong or exaggerated can lead to huge reputational damage.

While the study provides compelling evidence of the commercial value of thought leadership, it also raises some important warnings: compelling thought leadership must be based on third party research and it must not merely amount to a set of opinions or sales pitches. While the importance of product or service quality cannot be disputed, relevant, useful content is regarded by UK businesses as a positive indication of a company’s expertise and can provide the proverbial ‘foot-in-the-door’.

When my company is considering investing in new technology or other major equipment, the member of staff compiling a tender list will always use the Web to research key suppliers to put on the tender list, and will visit those companies websites to validate their expertise 61.00%
When my company is considering appointing a business service supplier (marketing, consultancy, outsourcing, financial services, etc), the member of staff compiling a tender list will always use the Web to research key suppliers to put on the tender list, and will visit those companies websites to validate their expertise 69.60%
We are much more likely to invite a supplier to tender if their website offers access to thought-leadership material that is genuinely informative and offers relevant insights, as well as hard-sell propositions 71.60%
We only find thought-leadership material compelling and credible if it is based on hard research, conducted at arms-length through a credible  third party organisation, and is not just the author's opinion 80.00%

Paul Lindsell has over 20 years experience in marketing and currently serves as managing director of MindMetre Research.

UK Agency Awards Winner 2016

About this blog

The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency  TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.


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