Each year, we make our thought leadership trends and predictions to help brand, marketing and content teams decide where to place their bets for the coming year.
In 2021, the world adjusted to new realities. Changes affecting how businesses operate are now well established, but there is still some uncertainty about how thought leadership and content strategies will be shaped in the months ahead.
Here, we hope to provide a bit more certainty by giving you our 10 thought leadership themes and trends to watch in 2022.
Sales collateral and marketing information are due for a revamp
It’s a B2B marketing truism that buyers can go through up to 70% of the purchasing journey without speaking to anyone from sales. It’s a statistic that predates the pandemic, and if the research were repeated today I suspect the percentage would be even higher.
Many economies are open and face-to-face meetings are possible, but B2B buyers and sellers have grown comfortable with a virtual model. Face-to-face sales meetings are now rare.
This means that marketers need to rethink the role played by content in sales. There could be:
- A shift to more digital, immersive and interactive content to increase engagement during virtual meetings
- More webinars to build connections with key people
- Content and thought leadership that supports the complete sales funnel – not just the awareness and brand-building part at the top.
Companies will start considering a more diverse group of buyers
Producers of thought leadership usually have a single buyer in mind when producing content, and lead generation campaigns tend to be about the individual rather than the group.
We recommend broadening this approach and making sure you understand who else is in your buyer group, which can often comprise 10 individuals – or more. B2B purchasing is rarely a solo activity.
Marketers will think more about sustainability
Marketing has traditionally been all about building brand and driving sales. But now, sustainability is adding a new dimension to the role and broadens the definition of reputation and brand.
This can take many marketers out of their comfort zone, because instead of ‘selling’ they are focusing on broader issues around the environment or social purpose. And the content that supports this shift could conflict with the traditional sales objective because it urges less consumption.
This focus on sustainability takes marketing into a new era. Can the profession balance the drive for profit with the need to protect the planet and its people?
Join us for our upcoming webinar where Rob Mitchell and Gareth Lofthouse discuss the thought leadership trends that are reshaping the B2B marketing landscape with Hannah Freegard, Longitude’s managing editor.
There will be a better balance between short-term benefits and long-term brand-building
B2C marketers are comfortable balancing short-term sales activation with long-term brand-building, but B2B has been a bit slower on the uptake.
That will change in the coming year. Campaigns designed to generate sales leads will still be important, but there will also be a focus on brand-building to drive long-term growth.
For B2B, marketing gurus Les Binet and Peter Field recommend a 46% budget allocation to brand-building and 54% to sales activation. This means you’re doing two things at once: you’re creating future demand with brand-building, and you’re capturing existing demand with shorter-term campaigns that are designed to get an immediate response.
Marketers will start to really understand their audiences
Social media sentiment tools have been around for several years, but marketers have typically had to sift through reams of unstructured data to extract any insight.
But a new generation of AI-enabled tools is changing this. With AI-enabled social listening tools, marketers can gain deeper insights into the reasons for customers’ opinions. This gives them a much richer picture of their target audience’s preferences and frustrations, and helps them to produce more targeted content.
Campaigns will start catering to a wider range of learning styles
We’re moving away from the long-form PDF report as our default format. Marketers recognise that audiences want diversity – in length, detail and formats.
The really savvy marketers will go a step further, and think about creating campaigns that satisfy the four VARK learning styles: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinaesthetic. Most people have a strong preference for one of these, so marketers should try to create content that works for all four.
This means supplementing the traditional text-based information that meets read/write preferences with infographics and data visualisation (visual), podcasts and audio interviews (audio) and case studies and interactive discussions (kinaesthetic).
‘Big bang’ thought leadership campaigns will shift to ‘always-on’
Many traditional thought leadership campaigns still operate on a big bang model: investment in research and content followed by a campaign launch and a short burst of intense PR and marketing activity. This approach can generate short-term impact, but that impact dissipates rapidly and the audience forgets the campaign and its messages.
That’s why marketers are recognising the value of drip-feeding content over time – the always-on model. This keeps the brand and its message front of mind for the audience and helps to make the company an option in future buying situations.
Marketers will focus more on content strategy
When there’s a lot of content around, marketers need clear objectives, a deep understanding of their audiences, a plan to create distinctive messages, and a clear way to measure success.
It’s not a good idea to dive straight into content production without stepping back to consider these questions and having a clear strategy. Marketers will increasingly recognise the value of strategy as a regular exercise to build support from stakeholders and create better campaigns.
Grabbing attention will become as important as sustaining it
In many campaigns, most of the effort goes into generating fresh ideas. Of course this is vital, but before you can wow the audience with your clever ideas you need to grab their attention.
- Simple (and let’s face it, a lot of thought leadership isn’t)
- Urgent (because people are short-termist and worry about their most immediate problems)
- Relevant (this means your audience must instantly recognise that a piece of content is aimed at people like them)
- Eye-opening (because content that surprises is more likely to get noticed and remembered).
Influence will become a more important way to evaluate success
There’s still no universal way to evaluate the success of a thought leadership campaign. Most marketers still cling to the metrics that are easy to measure, such as downloads, shares and bounce rates, without knowing the value of this traffic.
We expect a shift from the quantity of activity to quality. Influence matters, so there will be an increasing focus on getting thought leadership into the hands of the right people.
This means continued growth for influencer marketing (although many will continue to be sceptical about the paid versions of this) and a deeper understanding of what it means to really influence an audience.
Ready to get started on your 2022 thought leadership?
We think we do a pretty good job of recognising new and emerging thought leadership trends. We also know how to sort the exciting game-changers from the gimmicks. If any of our predictions resonate with your business, speak to one of our team to find out how to apply them to your marketing in 2022.