Key Takeaways:

  • The C-suite makes time to read thought leadership
  • They prefer case studies and opinion pieces
  • They want guidance, not just reportage.

Spending on thought leadership content rose by 20 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to a report by FT-backed thought leadership agency Longitude Research.

Why are companies allocating more to thought leadership in their marketing budgets?

If you’re a chief marketing officer, senior content marketer, or head of content asking that question, my answer is this: thought leadership content can help you reach the executives who decide whether to do business with your company or not.

Why can it do that – and how? To answer these questions, it’s worth delving into the Longitude report because it reveals key C-suite perceptions that may help your company produce more impactful content.

Here’s what I see as four of its key takeaways for chief marketing officers, marketing directors, and content strategists in the B2B space.

Executives will make time for practical B2B thought leadership

The good news for CMOs – who face short tenures and recurring calls to prove marketing ROI – is that decision-makers value quality thought leadership content.

In Longitude’s report, 69 percent of executives said they seek out practical solutions to business challenges through thought leadership content.

In fact, C-suite executives spend an average of four hours a week consuming thought leadership content, despite being typically busy. As for where and when they do so, the research found:

  • 58 percent of decision-makers consume thought leadership content in the office
  • 20 percent engage with thought leadership content while traveling or commuting
  • 16 percent read, view or listen to thought leadership in their free time.

So it’s clear: executives will make the time for quality thought leadership content.

Your ideal buyers value these 5 B2B content formats most

You may think busy executives prefer bite-size formats of information. The Longitude research challenges this.

In fact, case studies that have clear narratives and examples of ROI from industry peers are widely sought. More than 46 percent of executives point to case studies as their preferred form of B2B content.

Yes, you read that right, the humble case study – so often branded boring and useless. Here’s the other most popular forms of thought leadership content:

  • shorter research-based case studies (37 percent)
  • interactive data tools (33 percent)
  • opinion pieces (35 percent)
  • and longer research-based reports (22 percent).

Give executives content with strategic business advice

So, which subjects do C-suite executives want to read about?

More than 40 percent of the executives highlighted business strategy, well ahead of those who want tech (20 percent) or operational (19 percent) content.

Within technology, the Internet of Things was the most sought out topic, with cyber risk, digital business, and artificial intelligence and machine learning all sources of less interest.

It’s worth spelling out that strategy trumps tech. If you want to provide value to C-suite decision-makers through your content, you need to make sure it’s addressing a strategic business challenge they’re seeking to solve.

In short: always bring it back to the specific business problem.

3 reasons why your B2B thought leadership content fails

But it goes without saying senior executives aren’t looking for more and more B2B content. They’re looking for valuable B2B content.

In fact, the Longitude research highlights several thought leadership no-nos that will damage your efforts to build respect and authority with C-suite audiences. Here they are:

  • Producing poor quality content. Almost 40 percent of executives said a lack of credible supporting research is the most common reason why thought leadership fails.
  • Being bland and boring. Thirty-six percent of executives highlighted bland content as the second main reason for thought leadership failure. This emphasizes the need for CMOs, content marketers and others driving company-wide content efforts to consistently test and apply visual storytelling techniques.
  • Failing to close the loop. The C-suite want actionable information. Thirty-four percent of executives said a lack of practical advice also dooms thought leadership to fail.

My takeaway on these red flags? At their core, they are all about quality. If you’re not committing to producing quality, credible content in the B2B space, you may be damaging your credibility instead of building it.