Thought leadership.  Everyone’s claiming it but, by very definition, only a handful ever delivers.  So how do you ensure that your content marketing strategy positions you as one of the few?

Follow the seven R’s of thought leadership – Resonant, Rare, Road Mapped, Robust, Rounded, Rooted and Re-used (see how we applied these principles for the Santa Fe Group in a case study short-listed for the 2012 B2B Marketing Award for Best Content Marketing here: B2B thought leadership research case study).

Five reasons to develop a thought leadership strategy

B2B marketing has always been better suited to engagement over broadcast.  Personal relationships and being part of the buyer’s eco-system are usually critical.  As part of this there’s an expectation that you’ll have something useful to say; an especially pertinent experience, fresh facts or unique insights to share.  Those consistently doing so and coupling it with solid advice or lateral thinking become known as thought leaders.

It’s a valuable moniker for many reasons:

  1. It sets you apart.  Today’s marketing communications environment is noisier than ever.  Offering your target market something of genuine benefit gives them a reason to sit up and listen.  Do it consistently well and ultimately the tables will turn.  Rather than slogging away trying to get the attention of potential buyers, they’ll start to proactively seek you out for your opinion
  2. It’s a showcase.  Demonstrating genuine, unparalleled expertise is especially critical in any sector where the product is, well, expertise.  In these circumstances good thought leadership gives potential buyers confidence that the quality of service received will live up to the promise
  3. It’s a conversation starter.  Time pressured buyers have become much more discerning in the engagements they have.  Why should they spend valuable time listening to your sales pitch?  After all, to them it probably sounds just like the dozens they receive every week.   Think how differently the conversation would start though if you could share something of value.  Not “I want to tell you about me…” but “I’d like to share something that could really help you…”
  4. It’s a conversation changer.  A content based marketing strategy means that rather than selling you’re sharing; showing empathy, understanding and a desire to build mutually beneficial partnerships.  These are all traits valued highly by buyers
  5. It’s social media ‘food’ and SEO ‘link bait’.  Social media channels, especially blogs and Twitter, have opened up new opportunities to connect but require a constant stream of quality content.  Thought leadership content gives you fuel for social media activity and helps form relationships early in the buying cycle.  It also encourages linking to your website and thus benefits SEO

The seven R’s of thought leadership

Unsurprisingly, many aspire to the accolade of ‘thought leader’.  But only a handful truly deserves the label.  What’s their secret?  They follow the seven R’s of thought leadership.

Resonant.  Rather than diving in and producing a piece on what seems to be the latest hot topic; pause.  Speak with as many people in your market as possible.  What are their pressures and priorities?  What interests them?  What information would they bite your hand off for?  This will ensure your chosen angle is valuable and in demand.

Rare.  Before committing to a particular route take each of the subject areas identified in your discussions with the market and identify competitors for similar mind space (remember, these are competitors for share of mind not necessarily direct competitors, e.g. trade bodies).  Then audit everything already published, map out the angles taken and identify areas of white space.  This will ensure that the thought leadership you produce is not only in demand, but unique.

Road mapped.  Unique and compelling angle in hand, a thought leadership strategy is needed.  At its core should be a theme which will guide all of your activity in a coherent manner and allow a series of complementary pieces to be created.  This gives focus, establishes you as an authority in the subject area and ensures marketing of each subsequent piece benefits from investment in the last.

Robust.  The temptation now is to leap in and publish a paper detailing ‘our view on…’.  But nowadays readers demand more.  They expect real substance.  Conducting an exclusive survey is a great tool in this respect, but remember that B2B audiences are likely to be research savvy so settle for nothing less than a reliable, representative and solidly executed piece of work.  Likewise, be careful not to turn the outputs into an explicit sales pitch that a smart audience will see straight through.

Rounded.  The best thought leadership goes the extra mile in delivery.  Each piece in the series contains not only exclusive survey findings, but other content which gives flavour and facilitates action.  Ask yourself if the reader would value best practice guides.  What about case studies?  Would video or interactive content add another dimension?

Rooted.  To become known as the ‘go to place’ on a subject, you need to give people somewhere to go.  Develop a separate brand for your thought leadership programme and a micro-site to call home.

Re-used.  You’ve invested a lot of effort in producing highly valuable content.  To ensure as high a return as possible it needs to be packaged in a way that appeals to diverse consumption preferences.  Publish reports, create video, produce infographics, develop sales tool-kits, run seminars…quite simply, milk the content dry.

So there we are; some thoughts on thought leadership.


Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) marcoms and advertising research.

Enjoyed this post?  Subscribe and receive new posts by email or RSS

Connect with Andrew on Twitter or Google+

7 thoughts on “The seven R’s of thought leadership

  1. Hazel says:

    Via Twitter:

    liked 7rs of TL – any view (or evidence) on “best” length?!

    1. mm Andrew Dalglish says:

      Thanks for the comment Hazel.

      I reckon the best approach is to let the content consumer decide.

      Some will have time to spare; others will be under pressure. Some will have a passing interest; others will want an in depth exploration. Some will find visual or audio content easier to digest; others might prefer to pore over text.

      These differences in time available, level of interest and thinking style mean that ideally content will be packaged up in many ways, some short and some longer.

      So, sadly no definitive answer! What’s your experience?

      1. Hazel (@Hazeljh75) says:

        I agree that, in the main, you need to let the consumer decide and some audiences (particularly academic) expect material of a ‘longer’ length than others. For me there are two challenges at the moment 1) Whilst letting the consumer decide is ‘ideal’ how to you then maintain brand consistency for the type and length of material that is being published across a client base who may recieve material from more than one source and 2) Increasingly our audiences are time poor and the more you focus on short pithy content whilst remaining insightful the better. However, the hurdle (with my stakeholders at least) is changing the author’s mindset to see that the consumers’s desire for content ‘consumption’ has evolved. Ultimately however I guess the proof is ‘in the impact’

  2. Relevantor says:

    We would add one more “R”- relevant. Know your audience, connect with their pains, and shape your content accordingly.

  3. Andrew Dalglish says:

    Oh, go on then :o)

    Let’s say 7 and a half R’s as ‘relevant’ is a sub-set of ‘resonant’ – to resonate, it must be relevant.



  4. Great article and lists!
    I would add another R for ‘Reference’, as in ensure you produce things that clients can refer back to again and again. We’re especially partial towards books, which we feel take a thought leader higher up the value chain faster.
    For the complete REAL Thought Leadership strategy (Reach, Engagement, Authority and Longevity), feel free to look at my book 24 Carat Bold.

  5. Andrew Dalglish says:

    Thanks Mindy.
    These R’s are really mounting up :o)
    Like your idea of reference-ability as it suggests the author has become THE authority on the topic and is a valuable resource.
    Guess there’s just one caveat – not everyone will have time to read in depth pieces so bite size chunks should probably accompany the main piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent posts

Inside-out brand research

How can we ensure actionable results?

The British Research Barometer: An insight into the insight industry


B2B marketing

Business trends

Employee research

Generate and test new B2B product and service concepts

Identify the optimum B2B brand positioning

Identify the optimum B2B pricing model and point

Improve customer satisfaction and loyalty

Map the B2B buying journey and drivers of supplier choice

Map the B2B market structure and profile competitors

Market research design and methods

News about Circle Research

Segment based on behaviours, needs and attitudes

Support B2B thought leadership & PR

Track and manage B2B brand perceptions


About Andrew

Andrew has specialised in B2B research for over a decade and co-founded Circle Research in 2006. He is a columnist for B2B Marketing Magazine, a regular contributor to Research Live and frequent speaker at leading events such as the B2B Leaders Forum, Customer Experience Live and the Social Media World Forum. Andrew is a Chartered Member of the MRS, teaches the MRS B2B research course and holds an MA in Psychology from Aberdeen University alongside an MSc in Marketing from Strathclyde University.

Follow us

© Circle Research 2018 | Registered in England: 5669149