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Crucial Yet Burdened: Thought Leadership Marketing in the Pandemic

A study of 314 marketers in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific shows great changes afoot in how they develop, present and market their companies’ expertise.

HOPKINTON, Mass., and COLUMBUS, Ohio, December 18, 2020 – Executives who run B2B companies around the world see thought leadership marketing as crucial to growth in the pandemic. Nonetheless, two-thirds have frozen or reduced their spending on it.

Those were among the key findings of a survey conducted this fall with 314 thought leadership marketers by Profiting from Thought Leadership, the best practices education and research venture of Buday Thought Leadership Partners and Rattleback. The findings are being released in four reports, starting today and over the next three months. The January report (Part 2) will examine what the most effective thought leadership marketers do differently than the rest.

Here are the key findings of the Part 1 report:

  • In nine out of 10 companies, top managers view thought leadership as important to revenue growth, with 58% saying it is “very” or “extremely” important. What’s more, twice as many see thought leadership marketing as being even more important in the pandemic than see it as less important. Nonetheless, 43% have reduced and 25% have frozen their spending on thought leadership.
  • On average, B2B companies will spend 5.5% of revenue on thought leadership marketing this year. The average-size thought leadership staff was 55 people (the average revenue of companies surveyed was $1.1 billion).
  • Only about a quarter have a cohesive strategy for thought leadership – one that allocates spending in proportion to the revenue contribution and growth potential of practices and service lines; develops consistently effective marketing campaigns; and formulates other key elements of solid thought leadership planning.
  • Only 32% know thought leadership marketing’s impact on revenue, while 49% track how many requests for proposals it helps generate. Six out of 10 believe their firms get a price premium because they’re recognized as thought leaders.
  • Creating compelling content is very difficult. Only 26% are highly effective at developing high-quality content that provides new insights, even though 67% have explicit guidelines on what constitutes quality.
  • Data visualization has arrived in thought leadership marketing. While digital media such as The New York Times and Washington Post have been using these tools to present their content for several years, data visualization and interactive content are showing up on B2B company websites. Some 32% are using “scrolly-telling,” 46% are using interactive surveys, and 38% are using interactive charts.
  • Primary research is viewed as crucial to creating compelling content, but there’s little agreement on exactly what type of research (surveys, case studies, etc.) is more important than others. But most agree that thought leadership research should be designed to break new ground in the marketplace rather than confirm what their companies already believe today.

Download printable PDF of Part 1

“Our research tells us that thought leadership marketers no longer have to sell their value to their company’s leaders,” said Bob Buday, CEO of Buday Thought Leadership Partners, who co-authored the study with Jason Mlicki of Rattleback. “But marketers do need to help internal experts improve the insights they convey in articles, books, presentations and other thought leadership formats.”

“Compelling content, illuminating ways of presenting that content, and effective thought leadership marketing and selling all start with a cogent strategy,” Mlicki said. “Without it, it’s easy for a company to chase too many topics, bring superficial insights on them to market, and otherwise spread their thought leadership resources too thinly to have great impact.”

The survey was taken largely by thought leadership marketing professionals in North America (70% of the base), UK and European (19%) and Asia-Pacific (11%) companies. About 70% work in management consulting, IT services, tech, pharma and healthcare, and financial services and insurance companies. A fifth of the companies had revenue of at least $1 billion, while about half had revenue of at least $100 million. The majority of the research participants were driven by Phronesis Partners, a research firm.

  • Part 2 will be released in mid-January 2021 and will examine the strategy, content development, content presentation, and marketing/business development practices of the most effective thought leadership marketers.
  • Part 3 will examine thought leadership marketing practices in five sectors: management consulting, IT services, tech, financial services/insurance, and pharma/health care. That report will be issued in February 2021.
  • Part 4 will be issued in March and will compare the thought leadership strategies and practices of large, midsized and small companies.



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