Innovation & data-driven digital marketing.

Thought leadership content allows businesses to highlight their senior leadership teams and position themselves as industry experts.  

But did you know that thought leadership can do more than that? According to Edelman’s 2020 Survey, thought leadership has the power to convert readers into customers/clients: 

  • 90 percent of C-suite executives consider thought leadership content essential;
  • 42 percent of thought leadership creators confirm that this type of content helps with lead generation;
  • 48 percent of executives and 45 percent of business decision-makers said that consuming thought leadership content has led to them doing business with an organization.

Sounds great, right? But how exactly does thought leadership create new customers, and how can you design this content with your sales funnel in mind? We break down the best thought leadership strategy below. 

Thought Leadership and the Sales Funnel

Thought leadership isn’t just an opportunity for someone in the C-suite to wax poetic about whatever’s on their mind—it’s a targeted, thoughtful (if you’ll pardon the pun) sales technique designed to capture prospects at any stage of the sales funnel. The standard sales funnel has four phases:

  • Awareness;
  • Interest;
  • Decision;
  • Action.

Depending on the topic and execution, effective thought leadership can truly target any stage, but the most common (and easiest to accomplish) is, of course, awareness. The key is developing a thought leadership strategy with your goals, funnel and target audience in mind. Let’s elaborate on that… 

Awareness: Know Your Audience

The sales funnel begins with awareness. How can you expect your audience to buy your product/service if they don’t know about it? Thought leadership is an excellent way to build that brand awareness. However, a considerable part of appealing to your target audience begins with research. There are two key elements of establishing awareness through thought leadership strategy: audience analysis and keyword research. 

Identify Target Audience and Personas

A target audience analysis explores your ideal consumer/client’s demographic, psychographic, behavioral patterns and physical location. By getting to know them, you can create content that will appeal to their interests, tackle relevant topics and introduce your brand.

Refer to our latest blog to learn how to complete a target audience analysis. 

Conduct Keyword Research

Researching your audience is the first step toward building awareness, but the next step should be keyword research. Thought leadership is just like any other piece of content, without a keyword, no one will find it. Even when publishing on social platforms like LinkedIn, a keyword-optimized piece is more likely to land in the right hands. 

Use this keyword guide for more pointers.

Interest: Create Value

Thought leadership content functions in two ways. First, it establishes you (and your business) as an industry expert, and second, it offers value to readers. 

Now that you understand your target audience, brainstorm their pain points. What are your prospects struggling with? How can your product, service or expertise help them? These are the questions you should ask yourself to create thought leadership content that targets the interest stage of the sales funnel.

There are also a few other areas to consider when creating and promoting content for this stage: 

  • Social media is critical: thought leadership isn’t a one-stop-shop. After reading an article or a social media post, most potential customers will head to your social media channels to see if you practice what you preach;  
  • Prioritize the three c’s: messages should be clear, concise and consistent. Trying to do too much is a common mistake that many businesses make. Instead, keep the messaging clear. Consider thought leadership like an elevator pitch; 
  • Make knowledge accessible: thought leadership is about added value. Do not put the most critical part of your article behind a paywall or required form. We know that your knowledge is invaluable, and we understand prioritizing that, but to attract prospects, you must provide real benefits. 

Decision: Research Competitors

Your audience is aware of your business and leaders because of all the great work you’ve done; they’ve seen that your expertise adds value. Now, how can you get them to choose your organization over the other companies available? 

The trick to converting your customers is competitor research, or more specifically, researching their thought leadership efforts. 

Dive into the thought leadership materials your competitors created over the past six months. What’s performing best? What’s being shared? Are there content gaps you can fill or elaborate upon? Consider breaking down a complex topic that no one’s talking about. 

When you take the already high-performing topics but offer unique new insights, that’s the type of thought leadership strategy that will push prospects to decision-making. 

Action: Cultivate Your Call to Action

Well, it’s happened, your prospect read a piece of thought leadership content that your business or leadership team wrote, and they’re ready to invest in your product/service. Great job, but the work isn’t over yet!

 It’s imperative to make it as easy as possible to take action with an effective call to action. The experts at Wordstream have shared their best tips for a call to action (CTA) that converts:

  • Use strong command verbs: phrases such as “download,” “sign up now,” “claim your spot,” all leave your reader with no ambiguity about what to do next, increasing the likelihood that they’ll convert; 
  • Sweeten the deal: the best CTAs tell the reader why they should get in touch. “Call today to schedule a free consultation” or “Get in touch for 10 percent off your first order” are both stronger than simple CTAs; 
  • Customize for devices: make sure CTAs are mobile optimized; 
  • Spice it up: feel free to get creative, or use a CTA unique to that piece of content. 

Develop Your Thought Leadership Strategy Today 

Thought leadership is a powerful tool that can accomplish many goals. But it takes time. You can’t create one LinkedIn article that caters to all of these stages of the sales funnel. You need to develop targeted pieces for your specific audience and to drive specific action. In addition, you need to establish your brand and their leadership team as experts within your space. Bottom line: it takes time, testing and the right skills. 

At 10x digital we work with both B2C and B2B C-suite teams, creating cohesive thought leadership strategies that drive results. Get in touch with our team today to start the conversation!