Thought leadership is the buzzword on marketers’ lips this year because it’s an effective way to gain credibility. But thought leadership content does more than raise your company’s status; it’s also essential in order to generate leads.
Thought leadership content differs from strictly promotional material, and it has far-reaching benefits for your brand. When you contribute articles to outlets such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Harvard Business Review, or niche industry publications targeted to your specific audience, you provide valuable insights for your peers and ideal customers.
And given that 80 percent of decision makers look to articles for guidance on business issues, you want people to find you through your thought leadership content – not advertisements. Guest-contributed thought leadership content is a solid vehicle for building trust and credibility by providing consistent value, and this will ultimately lead to more business.
Playing the Long Game
Great content fuels your marketing and sales engines. Even if readers aren’t in the market for your services right now, they’ll become familiar with your brand’s philosophies after repeatedly seeing your name and your expertise in their favorite publications. When they eventually do need a company like yours, your brand will be top of mind. The ROI on content marketing is a long-term game, but it will come – and it’s more than worth the wait.
Your marketing and sales teams can also repurpose thought leadership content to power other initiatives. Contributed content is especially effective here because you already have that third-party stamp of credibility. That legitimacy inspires people to read more of your materials, move further down your funnel, and inch closer to making a buying decision. To take a deeper look at how this strategy can achieve your marketing goals, our team at Influence & Co. used this exact strategy to increase qualified traffic by 151 percent quarter over quarter last year, which we broke down and analyzed in this blog post.
The 3-Layer Content Funnel
When developing a lead generation content strategy, divide your funnel into the following categories:
- Contributed content: These are the educational pieces you’ll pitch to publication editors. Move away from the promotional mindset here, and extrapolate your insights to the broader industry.
- Company blog posts: Use this forum to delve deeper into your company’s processes, share your brand’s successes and updates, and showcase how your product or service benefits your clients.
- Downloadable gated content: This is your “big rock” content, such as an in-depth e-book or whitepaper, that you offer readers in exchange for their contact information. You can use some of the concepts in these materials to develop the other two types of content.
Thought leadership articles serve as the gateway for readers to go deeper into your content. For example, our CEO, John Hall, wrote an article for his Forbes column about the top 10 content marketing trends to budget for in 2016. Within it, he provided links to valuable resources for a handful of the trends in the article.
One trend he discussed is the fact that content will no longer be a marketing-only initiative, and he presented “knowledge banks” as a solution to effectively create and leverage that content across departments. To supplement the guest content that John contributed to Forbes, our team wrote a post on our blog about the seven steps to using knowledge banks – which John linked to as a resource in his contributed content.
In the blog post, we invited readers to download a knowledge bank template so they could quickly and easily begin using knowledge banks to streamline content creation. By aligning these layers of content, we generated qualified leads who found every aspect of our message – from the content we contributed to Forbes to the gated content at the bottom of the funnel – useful in their own marketing strategies.
Pitching Your Tales From the Trenches
Once you’ve built out your content options and defined what your funnel will look like, it’s time to pitch your guest articles. Editors at some of the most influential publications in the world crave thought leadership content from industry experts.
Our team surveyed more than 150 editors, and 92 percent of them preferred guest content from niche experts over articles from journalists. They welcome cutting-edge takes from the people who are shaping the future of their industries.
What editors don’t want to see is promotional content. Your end goal may be to earn new business, but don’t just write and submit an 800-word advertisement for why your brand is awesome and expect an editor to publish it.
The best thought leadership content lives at the intersection of what your ideal customer finds valuable, where you have genuinely unique insights, and how you can perform for your clients. When you hit that sweet spot, editors receive great content, you solve a problem for your customers, and you position yourself as the expert in your market. And what prospective customer doesn’t want to work with the expert?
Contributed Content in Practice
Landing your first guest-contributed article can be a heady experience. Let that initial momentum fuel your content campaigns by using the following steps to build an influential – and lucrative – body of work.
1. Document your content strategy.
Nearly 70 percent of marketers overlook this step, but documentation is crucial to campaign success. Establish a workflow for not only tracking published articles, but also updating your company’s value proposition, brand voice, target audiences, competitive analyses, common pain points, goals and metrics. These elements will inform your content strategy so your team never feels out of the loop as to why you’re covering a particular topic.
2. Create a knowledge bank.
Share a Google spreadsheet or customized knowledge bank with the team members who interact with customers, and encourage them to document client and prospect conversations. Every sales objection, every recurring question, and every big industry article that might be worth a comment should be dumped into the knowledge bank. These nuggets of information often spark the most resonant article topics, and they give marketing a great jumping-off point for developing ideas. You’re crowdsourcing your team’s collective knowledge to create unique, high-value content.
3. Research your target publications.
The audience reading the article is as important as the message itself. Think about which sites your customers visit every day. What are the niche industry sites that they trust for key insights? Make sure you’re publishing in these as well as the big household names. The latter are great for general awareness and credibility, but the most qualified traffic comes from matching your message to the exact audience that’s searching for it.
When pitching editors, you have to demonstrate why your content is relevant to their readers. Sure, you might have cranked out 1,000 words of sparkling prose, but no editor will run a piece that won’t resonate with her audience. Find out who reads the site or magazine, and build your pitch around how your article will help those people.
And before firing off a pitch, look for similar articles that performed well for the publication in the past, and point to those to bolster your case. You’re making the editor’s job easier, and she’ll appreciate that you did your homework.
4. Tell your war stories.
Offer insights that are unique and true to your experiences. You work in the industry every day, so you have countless anecdotes and lessons that only you can share. Don’t worry about writing a top 10 hit list or a think piece that caters to the masses. Write with authenticity, and everyone from publication editors to your target audience will take notice.
5. Use credible data to support your arguments.
Back up your articles with relevant stats, and always double-check your sources. Evidence-based claims silence haters and insulate your brand against credibility-destroying takedowns. People may disagree with your perspective, and that’s fine. But you never want to be called out for making specious assertions or relying on half-baked sources. Data.gov, Pew Research Center, and trusted industry peers who conduct original research are all great resources for verifying your claims.
6. Edit, edit, and edit some more.
The surest way to sabotage your relationship with an editor (aside from blowing your deadline) is to turn in sloppy copy. Treat these articles the way you would your résumé. Grammar mistakes and misspelled words reflect poorly on your professional brand, and editors may decline future submissions because they don’t want to invest the extra time to wade through your messy drafts. If the piece ends up running with glaring mistakes, that damages both the publication’s credibility and your own – and you can consider that bridge burned. Always edit your articles thoroughly before submitting.
Contributing content to the publications your audience reads enables you to build brand awareness with the right people. If you can provide answers to their daily struggles, you will gain a reputation as a trusted expert. People want to do business with the best in their fields, and contributed content is a highly effective way to show that your company is the cream of the crop.