By: Daniel Rosehill, Founder, DSR Ghostwriting
Last update: 28/06/20
International cybersecurity PR network Code Red recently commissioned a study into how well-received thought leadership is being received among roughly 200 UK-based executives in senior cybersecurity and IT roles at large organizations.
Relative to the longer-running Edelman/LinkedIn’s B2B Thought Leadership Impact study, which I analyzed in the podcast/blog here, Code Red’s survey was smaller in scale. Clearly, it was also focused on a niche/industry and so its findings —although interesting— should be tempered with the caveat that they might not translate to other industries and geographies.
While I found some (rough) overlap between what Code Red and Edelman/LinkedIn found, this study brought to light a few interesting dynamics which I explored, at length, in the podcast (below).
My 🔑 Key Takeaways
- Thought leadership is widely consumed, even at the executive level where recipients have many competing demands on their time: Code Red were able to peg an exact figure on how long, on average, senior executives in the UK IT industry spend consuming thought leadership per week. That number, in the podcast, might surprise you.
- Thought leadership increases the probability of winning business. And of landing better paid business too.
- Podcasts and video are rapidly displacing more traditional formats, like trade media publications, as the preferred means of consuming thought leadership — while (in this particular industry and geography) case studies are the most favored of all the formats. This rebuts the notion that more traditional audiences — like CISOs at large enterprises — have more traditional preferences for consuming this kind of information than their more junior cohorts. I suggest that this finding should be leveraged regardless of which format producers are writing for in the podcast.
- There’s real opportunity for small business and startups to gain executive attention from enterprise technology leaders if they can pull off thought leadership well. Quantitatively, SMBs and startups have the ear of decision makers at large organizations — if they can drum up the resources to produce compelling enough insights, package them correctly, and market them through the right channels. Executing thought leadership well is easier said than done. But the potential upsides, especially for smaller organizations, are certainly there.
- Thought leadership can confer easy competitive advantage for those that are willing and able to do it well.
- Relationships are pivotal to thought leadership’s reception. This is a factor that I didn’t see Edelman/LinkedIn hit on in their report — and the effect is exaggerated when the readers are C-level executives who report, in large majority, that their relationship with the thought leadership author is very important to whether they afford it attention or not. This represents an opportunity for sales and marketing resources producing thought leadership to work in closer alignment to ensure that high value leads are properly primed to receive the thought leadership an organization is investing resources in producing. As I pointed out in the previous episode of the podcast thought leadership and content marketing are not synonymous and both require different approaches to be effective.
There were other findings too, although I think that these are less interesting and widely applicable:
- Thought leadership in the study’s area of focus (the UK IT and cybersecurity industry) seemed to be performing well above the rather dismal average satisfaction figures that Edelman has repeatedly reported.
- As Edelman found, thought leadership, done well, can help realize both soft wins (enhanced ‘reputation’) and tangible business gains (premium on services bought).
- Within the technology industry, those reading the thought leadership seemed more interested in thought leadership that focused on preventative themes (how to secure the cloud) rather than outlines of problems (e.g. data breach summaries, for instance). This is unsurprising given that the Edelman study made clear that thought leadership needs to contain some original insight — and so outlining a problem that the reader already knows about, or has read about in the news, doesn’t suffice. As Edelman underscored, poor thought “leadership” — that neither contains much original thinking nor demonstrates much leadership — could even harm the producer’s reputation.
Code Red’s inaugural look at thought leadership’s reception among a UK-based senior-level cybersecurity audience is a welcome contribution to the growing body of empirical evidence about what makes thought leadership tick — which is important given that Edelman’s study showed that those in the producing seat of thought leadership often struggle to articulate and quantity its value to prospects. Being able to point to what works, from multiple perspectives, is advantageous to producers for that reason and can also clearly enhance their efforts on behalf of their clients.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that this was a relatively small scale look at how thought leadership is performing amidst a relatively narrow sample size — both geographically (the UK) and by industry. The enormous gulf in how respondents rated the quality of thought leadership they read vis-a-vis the Edelman/LinkedIn study is intriguing. Perhaps closer relationships between producers and consumers in a relatively small industry is an explanatory factor.
Without wishing to extrapolate the findings too broadly beyond their original context it would seem as if startups and smaller organizations should be doing more to publish and disseminate their thought leadership. The finding about how important relationships are is interesting and should underscore the importance of sales and marketing teams working in concert to open up conversations with B2B leads in protracted sales processes. Effective thought leadership can steer both hard and soft metrics in a favorable direction — and the snowball effect of enhanced reputation should also not be discounted.