5 Trends B2B Writers Can Use to Secure Clients & Deliver Value
The base unit of a dusty Egyptian megalith is a pyramid inch.
The base unit of currency in America is the U.S. dollar.
And in B2B marketing, the base unit of content is the thought leadership article.
That’s not much of a definition. But it does provide a good way to think about thought leadership content. It’s a unit of content designed for a company’s blog or industry website, with the purpose of educating an audience, displaying authority, and influencing readers.
And it’s also a standout opportunity for B2B writers to break into B2B marketing and become an indispensable partner in the content development process.
But for all that thought leadership content is an integral part of a company’s connected marketing strategy, maintaining the workload of a consistent thought leadership editorial calendar is quite a burden to bear.
B2B writers who are interested in this kind of content have an important role to play in managing and executing on that workload.
In early 2020, Orbit Media, Mantis Research, and SurveyMonkey captured data from 481 marketers in The 2020 Thought Leadership Survey. They’ve generously granted permission for the B2B Writing Institute to investigate the data from the perspective of the B2B writers who are developing this skill.
Here’s a look at five ways this data can inform opportunities for work for B2B writers in ghostwriting thought leadership content:
Finding #1: Thought leadership is effective for marketing
The first question we need to ask is, “Why do marketers use thought leadership?” And the short answer is that it works.
Of the 66% of marketers surveyed who said thought leadership is a priority for their organization, 91% said their program is very or moderately successful. With this context, it makes sense why 94% of marketers plan to do more of it in the next 12 months.
Thought leadership “works” in that it delivers value to the marketers who deploy it. In this study, marketers surveyed have seen an improvement in several key performance indicators (KPIs) as a result of their thought leadership marketing efforts, including the following:
- Website Traffic (71%)
- Leads (62%)
- Media Mentions (56%)
- Email Subscribers (54%)
- Improved Customer Retention (53%)
Why is thought leadership so effective?
There’s no definitive answer. But from our perspective, it’s because thought leadership combines the power of expertise and relationship in one place.
Thought leadership content shows prospective customers how a company or a company’s leader thinks, a process that creates intimacy. Intimacy creates relationships, which are a foundational part of moving people through a sales funnel for high-value (and often expensive) products and services.
(Does that sound sleazy? It shouldn’t. It’s actually the opposite of sleazy. Sleazy is trying to push people to buy things they don’t need. Showing people how you think so they trust that you can help them is, if anything, one of the most clear and direct ways to sell that exists.)
B2B writers can put this data to work in developing consultative skills that help clients decide whether or not thought leadership is a good use of the marketing budget.
Does the client want to increase website traffic and media mentions? Thought leadership content might be a potent addition to their marketing mix.
This naturally begs the question, “Are there marketing goals that thought leadership content is not good for?” We put this question to Lee Price, thought leadership consultant, and here’s what she had to say:
“For many brands and leaders, thought leadership is the core way they show potential customers how they think. Especially for professional services firms, thought leadership is essential, since it’s a peek at the product, which is your ideas. For tech companies, thought leadership has more of an indirect impact. However, it can still be a powerful way to bring new people into your ecosystem if they’re interested in why you built your product or the ideas you’re guided by.”
Finding #2: B2B writing thought leadership comes in many forms
Does thought leadership have to be in the format of an article, or, at its longest, a white paper? No.
Thought leadership comes in many different formats, including social media posts, speaking engagements, webinars, and podcasts. Here’s a look at which formats marketers surveyed use to release thought leadership for their brands:
- Social media posts (79%)
- Speaking engagements (66%)
- Blog posts (65%)
- Original research (52%)
- Op-eds and other commentary (44%)
This one of the first signs that thought leadership can be an overwhelming undertaking for most marketing teams, especially without access to an in-house ghostwriter. Freelance B2B writers that can bring writing experience in multiple formats can bring a lot of value to this decision and execution process.
Currently, the B2B Writing Institute focuses on core B2B content marketing formats like blog articles, case studies, and white papers. For more information on enhancing your writing skills in these additional formats, we recommend the following resources:
- Social media: Social Media Explorer and Social Media Today
- Podcasts, webinars, any other storytelling format: Marketing Showrunners
- Original Research: Mantis Research and Content Marketing Institute
In addition to different formats of thought leadership, marketers also create thought leadership content with different styles or purposes. The following six styles or purposes stood out for marketers surveyed:
- Educational/how-to content (70%)
- Identification/evaluation (67%)
- Research reports (60%)
- Interviews (58%)
- Opinion/commentary (58%)
- Inspirational content (49%)
The theme of education came up throughout many of the questions. We surmise that this is because teaching is a fundamental expression of authority. So, it would make sense that someone looking to show their authority would seek to instruct others how to do what they’ve done.
Thought leadership at its best is thinking and teaching out loud. When developing this kind of content for a client or brand, B2B writers will be successful when they can provide some sort of practical value or takeaway that improves the readers’ lives.
Finding #3: A B2B writer can solve a lot of common thought leadership pain points
Marketers in this survey were asked to answer the question, “What do you think is most challenging about creating thought leadership content?” As it turns out, a lot of the challenges facing marketers can be solved by partnering with an efficient and reliable B2B writer:
Thought Leadership Challenge #1:
“It’s hard to be consistent. Creating thought leadership takes time away from billable client work to produce polished work.”
B2B Writer Solution:
One of the great economies of the seasoned B2B writer is that they can deliver better work, faster, and at a lower rate than a client trying to do it themselves. When a client commits to thought leadership on a regular basis, writers can help companies do this on a regular schedule.
Thought Leadership Challenge:#2
“I don’t always feel like I have original thoughts. Saying something meaningful feels like a big hurdle.”
B2B Writer Solution:
Executives and marketers are busy, often too busy to sit and think deep thoughts all day. But the truth is that anyone in the leadership of a company or the marketing team knows a lot more than they think they do. B2B writers step into the brainstorming process with creative, insightful questions that unearth that deep expertise.
Thought Leadership Challenge #3:
“I don’t always know how to balance expertise with practical guidance.”
B2B Writer Solution:
Executives and marketers have deep expertise in their subject matter areas, which can make it hard to identify topics that will appeal to those who are new to the topic. B2B writers come into the conversation as subject neophytes who can ask simple questions that inspire practical contributions from the thought leader.
Thought Leadership Challenge #4:
“I don’t understand how to grasp people’s attention so I can get picked up by the media and reach a lot of people.”
B2B Writer Solution:
While the best source of media and distribution is a PR professional, B2B writers that specialize in this format know how to market, distribute, and syndicate the content they develop. They can help their client choose the right angle and the right topic to resonate with the intended audience.
A B2B writer fits into the thought leadership process because they offer a way to outsource this body of work. There are two ways this typically happens within an organization:
- Ghostwriting, where a writer interviews the thought leader to record their ideas and then develops the content in the thought leader’s tone and style
- Interviewing, where a writer writes a piece of content that heavily features the quotes of a thought leader to support the material being presented
Engaging with a writer in one of these two ways is crucial. Otherwise marketers run into a very fundamental limitation: the marketer or the thought leader is either not a strong enough writer, or their time is far better spent on more high-ROI tasks.
Finding #4: Marketers are split 50-50 on ghostwriting – except marketers age 45-60
Ghostwriting is a popular way for a company or individual to develop thought leadership content. But not all ghostwriting relationships are the same, or set in stone. Here’s our take on the sliding scale of ghostwriting:
B2B writers must first consider where they prefer to land on this scale, as some writers are comfortable with a 100% ghostwriting relationship, and others do not want to use their writing talents in that way. It’s a highly personal decision that each B2B writer gets to make for themselves.
When it comes to working with ghostwriters, marketers in this survey were almost equally split on whether or not using a ghostwriter had a negative impact on the quality of the thought leadership content.
Because ghostwriting is such a fundamental consideration of thought leadership, we explored the concept in depth. We filtered the data to look at the concept of ghostwriting content through the lens of four different previous questions:
- Marketers in B2B versus B2C
- Marketers who identified themselves in different age ranges
- Marketers who identified their thought leadership program as a priority or not a priority
- Marketers who identified their thought leadership program as very or moderately successful or not successful
Here’s what we found:
B2B versus B2C
As it turns out, B2B marketers are slightly more likely to think thought leadership quality is negatively affected when it’s ghostwritten when compared to B2C writers. That is, B2C writers are more inclined to think they can work with a ghostwriter without affecting the quality of the content:
The data also shifted when we accounted for age. B2B marketers in the age range of 45-60 are much more likely to think thought leadership quality is negatively affected when it’s ghostwritten compared to writers age 18-29 or 30-44:
Is a Priority versus Is Not a Priority
Companies that say thought leadership is not a priority are more likely to think ghostwriting content negatively impacts thought leadership:
Very or Moderately Successful versus Not Successful
Companies that say their thought leadership is not successful are more likely to think ghostwriting content negatively impacts thought leadership:
Considering all of the data related to ghostwriting shared here, here are a few theories we’d like to suggest:
- Marketers who use ghostwriters are better able to overcome ghostwriting challenges, so they could be more likely to see success. Alternatively, marketers who do not use ghostwriters have to handle the entire development themselves, so they may not do it consistently, leading to poor results.
- Marketers who prioritize thought leadership content likely allocate more budget to it and may already be in the habit of hiring ghostwriters. They then may be more inclined to think ghostwriters have a positive effect on that kind of content.
- Marketers who do not think thought leadership is a priority may think that because they do not believe in ghostwriting. It may not seem worth it to them to overcome the challenges of getting their thought leaders to write.
- Marketers that report their thought leadership is not successful are more likely to think thought leadership is impacted when it’s ghostwritten. This could indicate that successful programs are more likely to utilize ghostwriters, especially since this gap closes when moving up the success ladder from not successful to moderately to very successful.
- Marketers in the age range of 45-60 are presumably more seasoned and have experienced the transition from more traditional marketing to modern marketing. They may require more evidence of a writer’s skills as a ghostwriter because these marketers take thought leadership content very seriously.
Finding #5: Thought leadership is here to stay
For all the challenges associated with thought leadership and the push-pull between ghostwriting and not ghostwriting, thought leadership content is a format of B2B writing that is here to say. The majority of marketers in this survey (94%) intend to continue to use thought leadership in the next 12 months.
This is good news for B2B writers in two ways: first, there will be plenty of examples of thought leadership to read, study, and absorb. Second, there will be plenty of opportunities to support B2B marketers, both at companies and agencies, in creating and distributing this kind of content.
Building Competency in B2B Content Marketing’s “Base Unit”
Writing thought leadership content is a great investment for a B2B writer because it’s a versatile skill. The ability to write strong B2B thought leadership means a writer can…
- Prepare questions for and interview a creative thinker
- Capture the expert’s voice, tone, and style
- Identify the most compelling and relevant story or idea to share
- Craft a compelling and easy-to-read essay out of the interview content
These are all skills and talents that can be applied to many other forms of B2B writing, such as white papers, case studies, webinars, and more. Writers that enjoy educating others through writing and helping strong thinkers expand their reach and influence will enjoy the process – and the result – of learning how to write thought leadership.
The Basics of Writing Thought Leadership (Enroll in the Free Foundations of B2B Writing Course)
The B2B Writing Institute’s free flagship course, Foundations of B2B Writing, shares the fundamentals of writing B2B thought leadership. If you’re curious about thought leadership articles, as well as other fundamental kinds of B2B marketing content like white papers and case studies, sign up here to get your invite for the full program!
About the B2B Writing Institute
The B2B Writing Institute is where B2B writers go to grow. We develop free and paid training to help new and established B2B writers build their skills and make a difference with the marketing content they write.
If you’ve always wondered if you could be a B2B writer, click here to enroll in the forever free B2B Writing Foundations course.
Keep Reading About B2B Thought Leadership and Ghostwriting
Explore this data from the marketer’s perspective by reading the research of the organizations that sponsored and collected this data:
- “What is Thought Leadership Marketing? A New Definition for Marketers Based on Research” By Andy Crestodina at Orbit Media
- “How Marketers Define Thought Leadership in 2020 [New Research],” By Michele Linn at Mantis Research
- “The 2020 thought leadership report: defining it, using it, and doing it yourself,” By Colette Des Georges at Survey Monkey
Learn About B2B Thought Leadership and Ghostwriting By Listening
Expand your understanding of thought leadership from the perspective of a writer with our 45-minute B2B Craftworks episode with thought leadership consultant Lee Price.
Share the Data About B2B Thought Leadership and Ghostwriting
Please feel free to share and credit the following Thought Leadership & Ghostwriting 2020 infographic inspired by this data:
Click here to download a PDF version of this infographic