Edelman, the renowned PR agency and advisors to firms like Samsung, Microsoft Xbox, Unilever, HP, Shell, Johnson & Johnson, eBay, Starbucks, and Adobe have released their annual report into thought leadership practices.

Each year the firm publishes this research alongside LinkedIn, it’s the perfect starting point for adding some strong data and research into your planning process for thought leadership.

You can read the full report here, below are my highlights.

Buyers favor thought leaders

Nearly 90% of decision-makers confirmed that their perception of a firm is enhanced by consuming its thought leadership content. Trust, respect, and perception of capability were all improved by thought leadership.

  • 59% of decision-makers look to thought leadership as a more trustworthy basis for assessing the capability of the firm than the firm’s marketing material
  • 61% of decision-makers indicated a willingness to pay a premium to work alongside thought leaders

It’s clear from these numbers that Thought Leadership is a key part of the buyer journey. Not only does thought leadership influence the logical assessment of capability but also elements like trust and respect which are equally as important.

Be timely, be brief and actively distribute your content

Adding a new perspective, being timely and distributing effectively are the key features of "compelling" thought leadership according to the research. 

This isn’t far off what we’ve seen before in the report but it does reinforce previous reports calling for digestible content pieces relevant to what clients and prospects are doing at that moment.

  • Timely, current content was rated by 87% of thought leaders as “compelling”
  • 75% of buyers said that being easily digestible made content compelling

Distribution is becoming more important to content being effective. Nearly half the respondents to the survey noted content reaching them through paid promotion or from a colleague or connection.

Be thoughtful and substantive

The vast majority of buyers surveyed valued deep thinking and intellectual rigor. While that may sound complicated, it breaks down into four obvious categories (listed in order of importance to buyers).

  1. Content on new and emerging topics
  2. Content based on high-quality research
  3. Adding something substantive to the conversation
  4. Content that lays out a clear set of actions or adviceThis is a great checklist for your content. If you are hitting any of these marks chances are that you have a good piece of content on your hands.

Support your authors & distribute content effectively

From an author's perspective, organisational support came in as one of the most important drivers of exceptional thought leadership. 65% of authors felt that the support they got from their firm directly contributed to the success of their content.

This support was at the firm level. So it isn’t just their team, supporting thought leadership should happen as a firm-wide initiative. Senior members of staff, colleagues in other functions and all forms of employee amplification were actually seen as more important than paid promotion.

Having a BD team that understands the content and can deliver it to clients was also seen as more important than paid amplification.

Getting thought leadership right sets you apart

There is a clear separation between firms producing effective thought leadership and those that do not. Rather than being a separation in one particular part of the buying journey, this effect can be seen throughout. 

Firms that produce quality thought leadership have:

  • Better recognised brands that people trust more
  • Better brand reputations and percieved capabilitiesBut those firms also:
  • Generate more requests for proposal
  • Win more business
  • Cross-sell and upsell to their existing clients

Every year we look out for the Edelman & LinkedIn content report. It is the gold standard in data-driven insights for thought leadership. When planning your approach to thought leadership in 2020 I strongly recommend you review the full report.