2018: the year to put thought leadership into your marketing.

No B2B business can afford to neglect its content marketing. But in 2018, it’s got to be the right sort of content. In this two-part post, we look at the rising importance of thought leadership in marketing, and what it can do for your business.

Long live King Content

With the winter holidays behind us, B2B companies have returned to work with batteries recharged and raring to go — well, that’s the theory anyway! But amid the optimism of a new year, there’s always that lingering anxiety over the current marketing strategy. Marketing is changing at light-speed, and there’s always the worry of missing the hot new trends, of finding yourself behind the curve.

Against this backdrop, it’s reassuring that there are still some constants. One of them is that in 2018, content marketing will continue to be the cornerstone of B2B marketing. Research by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) showed that in 2017, 89% of B2B companies used content marketing to drive engagement (and ultimately, sales). Of the companies not currently using content marketing, half planned to put it in place during 2018.

Surveying over 2,500 companies worldwide, the same research revealed that companies continue to have faith in content marketing: in 2018, 84% plan to maintain or increase their content marketing budget. Only 2% plan to reduce it.

In short, content marketing isn’t likely to be disappearing any time soon. But that’s not the full story, because it’s also true to say that the content marketing landscape is shifting.

The devaluation of content

The fact that content marketing is here to stay will inevitably drive changes in the type of content that B2B companies use. Given the ever-increasing amount of content available to the audience, something has to change.

In an article for The Media Briefing, Kevin Anderson argued that the marketplace can’t sustain such an investment in content. Adding more only ensures its devaluation. The argument is applicable to any industry: on every topic imaginable, in any sector, executives and decision-makers would have to take a six-month sabbatical to digest all the free content available.

So, the marketplace for content is becoming increasingly crowded. And that means that marketing teams need to think really carefully about what sort of content they produce.

Too much of a mediocre thing?

At the moment, the evidence is that many B2B companies have been valuing quantity of content over quality. For example, one recent survey demonstrated that around 70% of company-produced content failed to reach basic standards of clarity and readability.

Furthermore, the actual material can be disappointing. Much of the content that companies produce falls into the category of ‘informing the audience about the company’s services’. As far as decision-makers are concerned, that’s not good content. Research by The Economist Group found that three-quarters were looking at business content for ideas and solutions. That explains why 71% were unimpressed by content that felt like a sales pitch.

More of what they want: thought leadership

The Economist Group’s survey also showed how this situation has arisen. There’s a mismatch between the goals of marketing teams and the needs of their audience. 93% of the marketers surveyed sought to connect their content directly to their company’s products or services, and 85% said that their primary goal was to create brand awareness. When these are the goals, it’s hard to produce content that genuinely puts the audience’s needs first.

Bearing all this in mind, many B2B companies reviewing their content marketing strategy might start by asking a basic question — how much of the content consists of overt or thinly-veiled fewer sales pitches? If the answer is, “most/all of it”, then it’s time to focus on what the bulk of your B2B audience are looking for: high-quality thought leadership pieces.

Thought leadership is one of those industry buzzwords with a zillion different definitions, but we like the one from Edelman Insight’s survey:

Free deliverables that organizations or individuals produce on a topic that they know a lot about, and they feel others can benefit from having their perspective on. Thought leadership, in this context, does not include content primarily focused on describing an organization’s products or services.

We’ll be returning to that survey in part two of this post, and looking at how you can implement more thought leadership in your content in 2018.

CEC Marketing specialise in marketing services for IT and tech sector companies. We offer a range of data services, lead generation, email marketing, telemarketing and strategy & campaign planning. For support with any aspect of your marketing work, get in touch.