While many firms are already investing in content marketing, the latest research continues to underscore the importance of strong thought leadership content as a B2B marketing and sales tool.

A recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn revealed that thought leadership content containing valuable insights plays an important role throughout the entire B2B buyer’s journey—from firm awareness to consideration and selection. More than 1,300 C-level executives and decision makers across a wide range of industries were surveyed for the study titled “How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation.” The findings contain many valuable nuggets of insights into how B2B executives value and use content throughout the buyer’s journey.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

Decision makers value thought leadership AND spend considerable time on it

An overwhelming majority (90%) of C-suite executives and decision makers surveyed find thought leadership content important. In fact, half of executives surveyed reported that they spend more than an hour per week on thought leadership, and 20% spend more than 4 hours per week on thought leadership, emphasizing the importance of educational content to business decision makers.

Strong thought leadership content is also great for a brand’s reputation

Not only do executives spend considerable time on thought leadership, they also use it to evaluate firms that are publishing content. 90% of C-Suite executives surveyed agreed that their respect and admiration for an organization increased after engaging with strong thought leadership. And more than 80% said that thought leadership has increased their trust in a vendor organization. As author and keynote speaker Andrew Davis has said, “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.”

Thought leadership content drives the middle of the marketing funnel

Despite the fact that only 33% of thought leaders surveyed thought that their content was generating contact from potential clients, the study found that in reality, 55% of C-suite executives had given an organization their contact information in exchange for content. And interestingly, 42% said that they’d actually reached out to an organization as a follow up to strong content.

Thought leadership content provides a window into a firm’s thinking

64% of executives agreed that reading thought leadership is one of the best ways to get a sense of the type and caliber of thinking an organization is likely to deliver. And in the process, 49% agreed that reading thought leadership is also an important way that they vet organizations.

Insightful content can earn new RFP opportunities

Content marketing can also help a firm earn new requests for proposal (RFP) opportunities. 41% of decision makers said that impressive thought leadership content led them to include a firm in an RFP opportunity, with 40% saying that good content directly contributed to their decision to trust a firm they were not previously familiar with.

It can also directly lead to new business and higher fees

When executives were surveyed about the impact of thought leadership on their buying decisions, 48% of C-level executives said that good content directly led them to award business to certain firms over others. And nearly half of decision makers reported that they are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that has publicly articulated a clear vision for the future, underscoring the importance of strong, public content for B2B firms. 

Content is incredibly undervalued in its ability to draw in new business

Despite the overwhelming evidence above that content plays a major role in business development, when asked if their content was driving business, only 17% of thought leaders believed that their content was generating RFP proposals. And only 20% attributed new business directly to their thought leadership efforts, indicative of a massive gap in attribution of content’s ability to generate business. Simply put, firms that aren’t offering valuable and insightful content are missing out on opportunities to generate new business.

Thought leadership is a double-edged sword

Strong thought leadership content impacts the entire marketing funnel, from firm awareness, to firm trust, and, eventually to revenue generation. However weak content—content that lacks value, relevancy, insight and differentiation—can be equally impactful for a firm’s reputation. The study found that more than 50% of C-level executives had lost respect for an organization because of poor thought leadership, and more than 30% had removed firms from their consideration set as a direct result of weak thought leadership.

The current content landscape is lacking

In spite of all the content marketing hype and all the content being created by B2B firms everywhere, executives reported that they do not gain valuable insights from more than 50% of the thought leadership they consume. And only 14% of executives believed that the majority of content they’ve consumed has been very good or excellent in quality.

Valuable, insightful content is what’s needed

While at first this may seem discouraging, the silver lining is that there is an enormous opportunity for firms to better showcase their knowledge and establish themselves as trusted resources in their fields. B2B buyers are looking for helpful content, that is relevant to their situation and will ultimately help to inform their selection process. The study provided some insights into what that looks like:

  • Succinctly conveyed insights — 70% of decision makers cited short-form 3-4 pages as important when considering thought leadership
  • Visualized data– More than 60% find charts or infographics useful
  • Trends and “next” practices — 80% cited identification of new and relevant trends as important
  • Industry issues and current events — More than 60% said that content that delivers underlying important current events and issues was useful to them

Great content is a win-win

Great content not only generates firm awareness, it also showcases a firm’s expertise and fosters trust, which in turn leads decision makers to invite companies to invite them to the table. These opportunities not only lead to new business, it also allows firms to demand a premium for their demonstrated and authoritative expertise. It’s a win-win for B2B service providers and the companies in need of their services.

More about the Edelman study—including a presentation, executive summary, infographics, and additional analysis—can be found here .