Key Lessons from the Edelman-LinkedIn 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study

February 4, 2020

By Joe Kingsbury

Jiw Ingka/

Thought leadership marketing certainly isn’t new in B2B. In fact, its popularity seems to have only grown in recent times. If everyone seems to be doing it already, what’s there left to learn?

It turns out, the popularity of thought leadership may actually be making it harder to impress B2B buyers. As more brands adopt this style of communications and marketing, the tangible effects of strong and poor-quality content on decision-maker (e.g., buyer) behavior are now coming into sharper focus.

The 2020 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study is our third investigation into how thought leadership influences B2B purchasing behaviors throughout the customer journey.

This year’s study, now global, features insights from more than 3,200 business decision-makers (e.g., buyers) and thought leadership producers from a wide range of industries across APAC, EMEA and the U.S.

The findings underscore thought leadership’s impact on B2B demand generation and sales — for better and worse.

Here are 5 key takeaways from this year’s survey:

  • It is getting harder to impress B2B buyers. They’re disappointed in the content brands are serving them. Only 32 percent of decision-makers this year say that they reliably gained valuable insights from consuming thought leadership — down from 39 percent in 2018.
  • The risk in mediocrity is real. More decision-makers (29 percent) now believe that most of what they consume is “mediocre to very poor,” compared to 26 percent in 2018. The impact: 25 percent say reading poor quality thought leadership has directly led them to not award business to the organization producing it.
  • (Even more) marketers are now struggling to prove ROI. While the bar is getting higher to impress buyers, even fewer marketers (15 percent) have the ability to tie their thought leadership efforts to business wins (compared to 19 percent in 2018).
  • Thought leadership is more trustworthy than product marketing. Nearly 6 in 10 buyers agree: an organization's thought leadership is a more trustworthy basis for assessing its capabilities and competencies than its marketing materials and product sheets.
  • Who’s winning? B2B brands that produce effective content drive sales. Decision-makers affirmed that, when done well, thought leadership content positively influences their purchasing behaviors in terms of issuing RFP invitations (39 percent), awarding business (49 percent) and purchasing new products or services they hadn’t previously considered (51 percent).

Knowing what B2B decision-makers think about the current state of thought leadership content is great insight, however the people who make this content need to understand what to do in order to up their game and meet those needs.

Our report also includes information about how to create best-in-class thought leadership content, including these insights:

  • Look beyond the large numbers typically tied to outbound tactics such as impressions and anonymous clicks; dig deeper to verify the identity and quality of the audience, and what kinds of interactions thought leadership is driving.
  • Capitalize on white space by seeking out timely topics that pose particularly difficult challenges for your customers.
  • Be relevant by avoiding the “everything to everyone” trap by narrowing your target audience to a set of companies, a particular industry or key function within the buyer committee.
  • Set a vision by helping decision-makers understand where their industries are going, not just where they are right now.
  • Harness the power of your own subject matter experts to convey your thought leadership in a more authentic way.

If you’re a B2B marketer, communicator, or sales leader, I encourage you to check out the full research study for more data and insights, as well as thought leadership best practices in the Edelman Thought Leadership Flywheel. Join us tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. for our webinar outlining the results of the study and explore the strategies and tactics companies can implement to bolster their approach to thought leadership.

You can also subscribe to a series of exclusive content that will provide actionable insights for leveraging the study’s findings to your company’s best advantage.

Joe Kingsbury is Managing Director, U.S. at Edelman Business Marketing.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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