When you think about “thought leadership,” you ideally think of the valuable, high-level insights you’re getting on an issue or topic that you likely can’t get anywhere else—and some genuine tips and takeaways that you can put into practice for your brand or business. But according to new research from tech, travel and consumer goods PR firm Diffusion, B2B brand leaders are starting to roll their eyes when they see COVID-related thought leadership content.
It’s not because there’s nothing left to say on the subject, or any business tips left to learn. It’s because COVID is the latest bandwagon for poorly created content piggybacking on a hot-button topic under the guise of insight—in other words, thought leadership created for thought leadership’s sake, all fluff and no substance.
“COVID-19 quickly led to a massive content stream with experts in every industry predicting what the new normal would look like and how to adjust to it—seeking to use it as an opportunity for thought leadership and to differentiate from competitors,” the report reads.“The data shows there’s growing fatigue with this content and skepticism is on the rise, highlighting the need for new COVID-related content to bring more value to the table.”
Bad thought leadership is “content made for content’s sake, with no real strategic thought put into its strategic use. Channel fodder,” says Ivan Ristic, Diffusion US president, in the firm’s new study, 2020 Strategic Thought Leadership Guidebook. “Great thought leadership, however, is powerful.”
But the fact is, whether it’s done well or done poorly, thought leadership is highly impactful. “A whopping 43 percent of business decision makers who consume poor thought leadership content said they were more likely to perceive the company as less capable in their field,” the firm wrote in a blog post discussing the findings. “They also reported a higher likelihood to mark that company’s emails as spam, avoid meetings with them and even disqualify them for consideration in future RFPs. The takeaway? If you’re going to do thought leadership, do it right or not at all.”
The cornerstone of great thought leadership
The most important quality is being someone with something worthwhile to say. “It matters whether your peers perceive you as a leader within your industry,” says Ristic in the report. “Leaders win contracts, attract investment, retain top-tier talent and keep team morale high. And as COVID-19 has decimated one of the core avenues of marketing and deal making for business-to-business brands—the industry conference—many are doubling down on their content efforts to chase that elusive title of ‘thought leader.’”
The research ultimately finds that 42 percent of business decision makers saying they are more likely to remember a company after consuming a good thought leadership content—so the pressure is on for content to be top notch. “The data shows that for some, the quality of a company’s thought leadership content can be a make or break it factor,” says the report. “Skepticism is even higher around COVID-related content, so brands need to pay extra attention to ensure they’re developing content that resonates with their audience.”
Many business decision makers said that they want to work with companies producing smart and relevant COVID-related thought leadership content, according to the blog post—proving there’s still space for valuable voices to enter the conversation.
“A need undoubtedly remains for high quality content addressing this continuing event and its substantial aftermath,” the report offers. “The level of disruption caused by COVID leaves a lot of room for insightful, original perspectives and business leaders are still interested in hearing them, as long as they offer new ideas and valuable insights.”
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 503 US senior decision makers with in small to medium sized companies (2-500 employees). Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th – 10th August 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of the target population.