What is the psychological impact of thought leadership and how might I use this to deliver better content experiences to my target audience?
Thought leadership is used by 43% of B2B marketers as a goal priority for their content marketing, according to our recent survey.
This shows the growing adoption of thought leadership content marketing, as more business recognize it as an influence mechanism for winning the trust and attention of their target audiences.
This article takes a deep dive into the psychology of thought leadership, along with some actionable tips for applying this knowledge to drive brand cut-through.
Reading time: 4 minutes
We know we have to reach and engage our target audiences much further up the funnel in order to compete for attention. Unlike sales collateral, thought leadership content is strategically matched for this level of engagement because it dials down the self-promotion and ramps up the unconscious signifiers for trust and authority.
The more we can understand the science behind this strategy, the better we can craft our content strategies to deliver impressive ROIs.
Uncovering the unconscious social conditioning we all succumb to
That’s right, there are many factors at play that most of us aren’t even aware of.
Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principle of Persuasion neatly outline 6 key influential mechanisms that shape behavior, 3 of which can be directly applied to B2B thought leadership. They are as follows:
The Principle of Authority
Let’s face it, there’s a lot of information out there. When making a purchasing decision, this makes the buying process lengthier and more complex for time poor decision makers.
Therefore, buyers look for short cuts to help them navigate their decision making. Identifying experts and leveraging their opinion to prefilter information and validate options is a common, time saving technique. This is Cialdini’s Third Principle of Persuasion.
Thought leadership plays on this principle through positioning your brand as that expert.
By creating and disseminating quality content that resonates with your target audience, you can nurture long-term relationships that drive revenue straight into your business. But there are a couple of key tactics you should note:
1. Build your expertise around a specific category or topic
To assert yourself as an authentic specialist you need to demonstrate depth and insight. Starting with a specific category is an effective way of kicking off your thought leadership. It means your content will be focused and you can dedicate more resource to building a rich body of relevant content that covers all the core pain points and challenges that exist within that topic area.
Aligning yourself with a specific category also has many SEO benefits, as it enables you to publish keyword rich content to help improve discoverability.
2. Provide unique insight
59% of our survey respondents say research is important to content marketing success.
Accurate and relevant research is at the heart of good thought leadership marketing. Your audiences are coming to you to discover credible information that will fast track their decision making.
Recent events have shown we can’t see into the future but with the right research we can better anticipate and forecast.
When planning your research, leveraging research tools such as a PESTLE audit could help you better understand the state-of-play and identify prevailing trends that could influence your target audience’s buying criteria.
This is the secret to conducting research that returns the most relevant and actionable insight to inform your thought leadership marketing strategy.
The Principle of Consensus
Aka Social proofing, proof of the crowd…etc
Social validation is something we all seek, even on just a subconscious level. And if you’re not convinced, just take a look at social media. This principle comes into play even stronger when we are unsure of what to do or how to behave. In these instances, we look to the crowd for reassurance and action – for in numbers, comes safety.
Incorporating this mechanism into your thought leadership strategy can help you build a stronger influence among your audience. For example, would you trust a self-appointed expert with a following of 20 over an expert with an established audience of over a million? Perhaps not.
While building a strong following doesn’t happen overnight, there are a couple of marketing hacks you can deploy:
1. Owned channel tactic
Identify who the key influencers are in your field of expertise and build strategic partnerships. This may take the shape of contributor articles on your owned channels or co-sponsorship of a prime asset such as a research report. Having your brand associated with a influencer that holds greater kudos within your target community, can significantly amp up your own credibility.
This content tactic also provides the opportunity to leverage link building to improve SEO.
2. Third party channel tactic
44% of our survey participants say third party publishers are an effective channel.
This can be particularly effective with thought leadership. Publishing your content where there is an established audience that meets your target audience criteria, enables you to increase your reach, while strengthening your authority.
Extending out your channel tactics also provides great opportunities to intercept and infiltrate your audiences digital eco system. This is crucial if you’re aiming to achieve multi touchpoint engagements.
The Principle of Reciprocity
This is the notion we feel obliged to replicate a favor. Content marketing relies heavily on this principle. Depending on the objective, content is used in exchange for attention, trust, action, contact details – and ultimately a sale!
Thought leadership operates this principle through offering insightful content in exchange for audience trust and marketplace authority. This mutually beneficially value exchange can be enhanced through the following tactics:
1. Carefully consider when to gate your content
As thought leadership starts as early as the very top of the funnel and aims at building long term relationships with your target buyers, it’s important not to ask too much, too soon. Content such as infographics and thought leadership articles should be effortlessly accessible and expect little in return. This is particularly important if you are not yet fully established as a thought leader in the minds of your buyers.
Remember, it’s the value of your content that drives the incentive to return to your brand, time and time again.
2. Take an insight led approach to maximize perceived value
Relevancy breeds value. The more insights you can gather on your buyer, and act upon, the more effectively you can sustain the value exchange that leads to a purchase, through delivering ‘useful’ content.
Intent data can help you continuously refine your content strategy, ensuring your content is on point and superiorly satisfying your buyers’ information needs.
Which metrics should I be using to track my strategic thought leadership performance?
The most popular metrics used by our B2B marketing survey panel as an indication of trust and authority, are as follows:
While these metrics give us an useful insight into how our peers are measuring success, it’s important they are matched to our content marketing goals and channel activity.
Being a reliable, trustworthy source of information is crucial if you wish to build long term engagements with your target audience. While we have explored some psychological hacks that can help fast track your thought leadership success, the fundamentals remain the same – producing quality content that reaches the right buyers at the right times via the right channel tactics.
For more information on how to plan and execute the best content marketing strategy that delivers a strong ROI, why not download our full report Dissecting the B2B Content Marketing Strategy.