Thought leadership: if you’re not already doing it, you’re thinking about doing it. Over the last few years, the business term-turned corporate buzzword has built a reputation as one of the top content marketing strategies across a wide range of industries. Why? Because it works. But don’t let the popularity of this strategy fool you, because producing high-quality thought leadership is no easy feat.
Decent Thought Leadership Isn’t Good Enough
When it’s done the right way, thought leadership has the potential to elevate your business and bring in leads. According to the 2020 Edelman-LinkedIn Thought Leadership Study, 88% of decision-makers say that thought leadership can be effective in enhancing their perception of an organization, and 48% of decision-makers say that thought leadership can influence their purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, putting out content just for the sake of it isn’t enough to reap these same benefits, as only 17% of respondents said that most of the thought leadership they read is very good or excellent, indicating that people crave more value from the material they’re consuming.
The apparent disparity between the impact and quality of available thought leadership reveals a massive window of opportunity for those who can execute this strategy at a high level. Situating yourself and your business as an industry expert, however, is not a walk in the park — it requires a serious investment of time and energy.
Why Conduct Your Own Research?
At Boston Digital, we elevate our thought leadership by conducting our own research to guide our insights. While carrying out your own research might seem time consuming, it has the power to transform your thought leadership in more ways than one, making it worth every bit of extra effort.
1. Differentiate Your Work
Nowadays, it seems like everyone is attempting to engage in some form of thought leadership, making for a noisy marketplace with stiff competition amongst similar organizations. With most decision-makers reading just a few hours of thought leadership material each week, it’s safe to assume that they aren’t spending time looking at every article they come across, which means that you need to find a way to differentiate your work. Doing your own research rather than relying on previously published data makes your thought leadership distinct, giving you a competitive edge that helps you stand out from the crowd. This is important because visibility is one of the key objectives for many who put out thought leadership content, and establishing a qualitative difference in your work will make it more salient, valuable, and visible, to prospective readers.
2. Build Trust and Credibility
Before all else, the most basic function of thought leadership is to provide others with information, support, and guidance by sharing your experience and knowledge. To be considered a thought leader, you must prove that you have the authority to educate others by demonstrating a level of expertise on a particular topic. Only then will readers place their trust in the integrity of your insights.
The easiest way to establish expertise and build trust in your users is by using data. In fact, 75% of US adults believe data-backed to be more trustworthy content without data. But not all data is created equal. People view an expert as someone who has in-depth knowledge about a specific subject, and what better way is there to communicate that you are knowledgeable about something than to do your own research on it? Doing your own research will take your analysis and insights from valid to exceptionally valid in the eyes of readers because nobody knows your findings better than you.
Our recent survey about current marketing trends in the tech industry helps us build credibility as a digital marketing agency by displaying our understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted common marketing tactics in a particular industry. Furthermore, it situates us as an industry thought leader because the results of our research help strengthen the abilities of other marketing professionals to incorporate evidence-based best practices into their work.
3. Provide Novel Insights
C-Suite executives want thought leadership that tells them something they don’t already know. In a survey of over 500 C-suite executives across the world, Grist found that aside from robust data, fresh thinking was the quality that business leaders found most valuable in thought leadership. Their top two turn-offs? Unsubstantial opinions and lack of original insight or ideas.
Developing an original point of view that is both valid and authentic is a real challenge that many people face when trying to produce thought leadership content because so many people are writing about the same industry trends and are informed by the same data that everyone else also has access to. The thing about conducting your own research is that it’s your own, which is huge because until you publish it yourself, nobody else has it. This provides you with an opportunity to look at questions that existing research doesn’t explore, yielding data that lends itself to a novel angle on hot topics.
At Boston Digital, we theorized that consumers of all ages display similar digital behaviors, therefore becoming one device-driven monolithic generation that we refer to as the Impulse Generation. We tested our theory by conducting a survey that compared the online behavior of different generations and found that we were correct in our observation, and online behaviors were very similar across these generations. Our insight into the Impulse Generation informs how we target audiences and showcases the type of thought leadership and research that sets us apart as an agency.
4. Appeal to Your Target Audience
Doing your own research can also help you shape your thought leadership to fit the specific wants and needs of your audience. When you want to write about a particular topic or trend, it is important to think about how that concept applies to your readers. If you can’t connect your thought leadership to your audience in a way that makes them care about what you’re saying, they won’t bother listening.
Oftentimes it can be hard to find statistics about your chosen subject that are unique to your target audience. When you conduct research on your own, you have total jurisdiction when deciding what and who to study. This allows you to focus your research in ways that make it particularly relevant to your readers.
5. Increase Your Content’s Longevity
Another common difficulty with thought leadership is that it’s not a one-and-done type of deal. If you want to stay at the top of your readers’ minds, you have to find a way to publish material on a consistent and frequent schedule. This can be tough because, to be effective, that material must also be innovative and fresh. When you already have a substantial amount of data from your own research, however, this becomes less of an issue. With an entire study that is uniquely yours, you possess a wealth of information that can be used piece by piece, contributing to a steady stream of thought leadership.
Not only does original research allow your thought leadership strategy to be self-sustaining, it can create a positive feedback loop of visibility for your work. Doing your own research makes your thought leadership innovative and valuable. When you publish your work, that data can be cited over and over again, making for increased awareness of that work. As more people become aware of your work, they will read more of it and spread it to others by word of mouth or through citations, and so the cycle continues.
Getting Started on Your Original Research
Thought leadership is just that, leadership. It is inherently impossible for everyone to be considered a leader in their industry, a fact that is becoming increasingly apparent as more and more businesses start incorporating thought leadership into their content marketing strategies. While the very nature of thought leadership implies excellence and innovation, today’s congested marketplace makes producing exemplary work more important than ever before. Unfortunately, it also makes doing so unprecedentedly difficult.
Doing your own research is certainly a big investment, but it can culminate in great rewards for you and your company. It’s no secret that high-quality thought leadership is far less common than attempted thought leadership. With this discrepancy comes an opportunity to distinguish yourself from others, and original research can help you do that by transforming your work into effective thought leadership and you, a thought leader.
For more examples of original research, take a look at any one of our 4 recent surveys: Tech and Digital: Industry Trends From the COVID-19 Pandemic, How Brand’s Social Media Impacts Consumers, The Pandemic’s Impact on Digital Usage in Healthcare, How Consumer Age Impacts Mobile Behavior .