Top thought leadership trends to watch in 2019

Rob Mitchell

It’s that time of the year again when we dust off our crystal ball and gaze into the future to predict which developments in thought leadership will gain momentum in the year ahead. As brands look to improve their thought leadership game to keep up with ever-higher expectations of sophisticated campaign delivery and returns on investment, we forecast the top trends to take note of. From courting controversy in global politics to movement marketing and measuring metrics, Longitude outlines 12 key ways for marketers to enrich their thought leadership in 2019.

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1. Politics will enter the thought leadership mainstream

Brexit, trade wars and the rise of populism are just a few of the momentous political events taking place around the world. B2B marketers have traditionally shied away from bringing politics into thought leadership but, given the potentially seismic impact of these events on business, they can no longer be ignored. Marketers will need to think carefully about how they tackle these topics and the emphasis needs to be on the business implications of these issues, rather than toeing a particular party line. But they shouldn’t be afraid of controversy – even if it means some of their audience disagree with them. If you expect everyone to agree with everything you say, then you’re probably playing it too safe anyway!

2. There will be a shift to agile thought leadership

This is as much a hope as a prediction. Although good thought leadership takes time to produce, it no longer makes sense to spend almost a year conducting research and creating content, before even thinking about activation. The business and economic environment is just too fast-moving and volatile. Instead, companies need to adopt a more agile approach that harnesses quicker ways of conducting research and a more topical, news-driven mindset. A more up-to-date point of view will stand out from competitors and will also be more likely to resonate with an audience that is hungry for analysis of the current business and economic agenda.

3. Brands will listen before they speak

Poor thought leadership pushes its story and its message with scant regard for what audiences want to hear. But to engage an audience of executives, brands need to invest time understanding what interests them. In 2019, smart brands will take an audience-first approach: identifying the hot issues and concerns that preoccupy their customers. From social listening to polls and roundtables to advisory panels, a variety of tools and techniques are available to help brands tune into the topics and challenges that resonate most with the corporate agenda.

4. The best thought leadership will move from broadcast to engagement

Taking the idea a step further, most companies currently apply a broadcast approach to developing thought leadership. They conduct research, create content and then push it out to the audience, which receives it passively. But the very best thought leadership engages its audience and makes it feel part of a movement. So-called “movement marketing” is as rare as hen’s teeth in B2B marketing, but it will need to become more widely used to ensure that companies can cut through the avalanche of content that currently crashes down onto time-poor C-suite audiences. In B2C, movement marketing is a more common tactic: think Dove’s Real Beauty campaign or the Livestrong brand. As is so often the case, B2B needs to harness these powerful B2C tactics in order to create stronger engagement with audiences.

5. Social media will grow as a source for research

Over the past decade, marketers have sharpened and perfected their social media skills, using these platforms to turn their companies into major global content publishers. But in the coming year, there will be growing interest in exploring how these channels can be exploited for new kinds of research inputs, helping to create original content that bypasses traditional surveys and secondary data searches. One example of this is the rise of social media “sentiment analysis”: a way to take the pulse of the people in real-time around themes such as Brexit and global trade agreements. We expect to see social media working smarter for brands in 2019.

6. Data science will start to get noticed

Although very much at the margins of research today, over the next 12 months we anticipate growing interest in what data science has to offer, as a new means of research input. From “web scraping” (extracting data from websites and copying to a central database) in order to identify new and innovative sources of data, to advanced analytical techniques that can help find patterns and stories in much bigger data sets, we predict the principles of data science will start to enter the thought leadership landscape in the year ahead.

7. Making content contagious

When planning the activation of thought leadership campaigns, typically almost all the effort goes into driving content to the target audience through owned, earned and paid channels. Undoubtedly, this is important, but in our view, not enough thought goes into how the audience might share this content and make it “contagious”. If you can get influential people to share your content and build word-of-mouth influence, it will have much greater impact and reach, which in turn creates a powerful multiplier effect. Making sure your content is simple, practical, and has emotional resonance, as well as telling stories that are memorable, will all help to accomplish this.

8. The beginning of the end of the PowerPoint deck

32 years after it was first introduced as an application, might it be too risky to suggest that corporate appetite for Microsoft’s ubiquitous PowerPoint could somehow be on the wane? We’ll stick our necks out and speculate that at least some firms will start to ditch the deck and embrace new methods of distribution, including a crop of new data-visualisation platforms now emerging. For those that do retain it, however, we expect automation as a way to speed up deck development will be the order of the day.

9. Short will not mean shallow

Over the past few years, practitioners of thought leadership have moved away from producing weighty reports to more “snackable” media, such as blogs, videos and infographics. This shift to short-form content is good within reason, but many brands now find themselves churning out an endless stream of blogs, articles and opinion pieces, many of which sink without trace. Expect to see brands evolve the recipe in 2019. Corporate blogging programmes will be matched up against bigger showpiece stories and campaigns, all with the goal of creating a deeper impression on customers and audiences.

10. Audiences will seek out insights based on real-world experience

Longitude’s own research into what senior decision-makers value from thought leadership shows that, above all, they are hungry for insightful case studies based on practical business experience. And, by case study, we don’t mean self-serving testimonials and sales collateral. Business audiences have a huge appetite for concrete, in-depth examples of how organisations have adapted to new trends, solved common business challenges or innovated in a particular space. The more you can capture and curate these real-world stories, the more likely that your brand will be perceived as a true thought leader.

11. The focus on data and consent will shift from GDPR to ePrivacy

Post-GDPR, marketers are breathing a huge collective sigh of relief. But now isn’t the time to rest on one’s laurels. In 2019, attention will turn to the new ePrivacy Regulation, the latest EU law on data privacy, which states that no contact can be made without prior permission. Smart marketers, who recognise this as an opportunity to let their insight-led content drive the strategy, will plan consent campaigns throughout the early part of next year to ensure their databases are fully optimised for when the next EU regulation lands in late 2019.

12. Qualitative metrics will come to the fore

Recent years have seen a huge emphasis on quantitative metrics in B2B marketing. While these are certainly important, there can sometimes be too great a focus on them. Companies often end up tracking vanity metrics, where greater emphasis is placed on quantifying what can be easily measured, rather than what really matters. In thought leadership, when a focus on account-based marketing and a very targeted senior audience are key, quantitative metrics are simply not enough. Anecdotal evidence, feedback and, ultimately, stories are what truly matter. We predict that next year, we’ll see greater effort to collect qualitative metrics in a more systematic way to determine the success of thought leadership campaigns.

We think we do a pretty good job of recognising new and emerging trends. We also know how to sort the exciting game-changers from the gimmicks and the fads. If any of these opportunities stand out to you and resonate with your business, speak to one of our team to learn how you can apply these smart strategies and tactics to your marketing in 2019. In the meantime, what would you like to see discussed at our next event?

Our latest thought leadership research study is coming soon! Register now to receive your copy of the research findings and gain access to our interactive data tool once published.

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About the author: Rob Mitchell

Rob leads Longitude’s strategic planning and sets the overall vision and priorities for the business. He manages the board-level relationship with Longitude’s parent company, the Financial Times group, and also oversees Longitude’s finances, people management and administration.

Prior to co-founding Longitude in 2011, Rob was an independent writer and editor. Between 2007 and 2010, he was a managing editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit and prior to that he was an editor at the Financial Times, where he was responsible for the newspaper’s sponsored reports, including the Mastering Management series.

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