Creating high-quality B2B thought leadership content is more important than ever during a tough economic period. Research shows that 50% of C-suite executives say high-quality thought leadership has more impact on their purchase decision-making during economic downturns than when times are good.
And with the massive amount of layoffs and economic uncertainty for 2023, tech companies are gearing up for a period of economic downturn. Throughout the remainder of the year, they will likely continue to grapple with issues around supply chains, workforce, and innovation because of macroeconomic and global uncertainties.
However, as a B2B marketer, a powerful opportunity lies ahead. 64% of buyers say that an organization’s thought leadership content is a more trustworthy basis for assessing its capabilities and competency than its marketing materials and product sheets.
That’s why organizations that develop thought leadership during these uncertain times are able to yield the biggest business benefits. But to reap those rewards, they first need to ensure that the content they are producing is engaging and effective. Below, we reveal our five tips for creating great thought leadership content during a downturn.
5 Ways to Produce Compelling B2B Thought Leadership in Challenging Times
44% of decision-makers say they will be personally less receptive to sales calls and marketing outreach if a downturn hits, meaning it will be harder than ever to break through and win business. So how do you ensure your B2B thought leadership content is good enough to break through the clutter and capture the attention of decision-makers?
We’ve read the latest LinkedIn-Edelman Thought Leadership Impact Report, and have listened to the immensely valuable Leadership Lab: The Craft of Writing Effectively. From these pieces, we compiled five key takeaways for how to write an attention-grabbing and effective thought leadership piece during challenging economic times.
1. Make it all About the Reader
Your thought leadership content should always be centered around the reader. What types of problems are they facing? What do they care about?
Readers don’t care about the knowledge you have regarding a particular subject. They don’t care about all the time you’ve spent researching and coming up with new insights. They care about what matters to them, and that’s what they want in their thought leadership content.
How to apply it
Before you can speak directly to the pain points, concerns, and issues that a reader cares about, you first need to deeply understand who your reader actually is and the community in which they belong. Larry McEnerney, the speaker of the Leadership Lab video, says every community has a specific code. If you aren’t speaking that code, your audience is going to quickly dismiss your writing. Because unless they are being paid to care, they won’t.
One way to figure out that code is to immerse yourself in the community and spend time learning about the topics, acronyms, and passions that center it. One way to do this is to leverage a platform like Substack. With Substack, you can read a variety of newsletters on a given topic and thereby gain a deeper understanding of what your target audience is already sharing and talking about. You can also use tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard to gain an understanding of common topics, themes, and concerns that your audience shares.
The key point is that you shouldn’t begin to write until you fully understand your audience, and that won’t happen overnight.
2. Start With a Problem
The way you introduce a topic can make or break a piece.
You may have been taught to start your content with background information or a definition. However, by doing so, you’re just showing your readers you have a solid foundation of knowledge on a particular subject, which isn’t valuable enough to them as a reader to continue engaging in the piece. To capture the attention of your readers from the get-go, try starting with a problem instead.
How to apply it
Begin your introduction with instability. Using words like ‘inconsistent’, ‘although’, and ‘but’ gives the reader a sense that there is an issue, that if solved, benefits them. A problem or instability at the beginning of a piece gives the reader a sense that maybe they’re wrong and that the piece may be valuable to them.
Unfortunately, too many authors of thought leadership content and content marketing in general tend to focus on “and” vs. “but.” This is a theme Larry also hits in his video. A focus on telling a group of people that you’ve heard what they have to say “and” you have something to say is simply never going to be as powerful as communicating, “I’ve heard everything you’ve shared with each other to date as a community, but, there is something you haven’t addressed yet that is very important.
In short, saying “but,” implies that the audience might be missing out on something critical, “and” by contrast sounds like a small adjustment or a trivial add to what the community already knows.
As you move through the format of your piece overall, be sure it’s set up in a way that functions to move the conversation forward. Avoid the standard “Martini Glass” writing strategy that starts with identifying the basic facts of a story before moving on to why it’s important. Instead, set up your piece with an attention-grabbing problem in a way that a reader can’t help but continue on reading to find out what the potential solutions might be.
3. Ensure Your Writing is Actually Providing Value
Value is the most important element of writing. While good writing will be organized, clear, and persuasive, the value should be placed above all these elements. McEnerney said, “More than anything else, your writing needs to be valuable. Because if it’s not that, nothing else matters. It makes zero difference. If your writing is clear and useless, it’s still useless. If it’s organized and useless, it’s useless. If it’s persuasive and useless, it’s useless.”
B2B decision-makers agree, with over half saying they spend more than one hour per week reading and reviewing thought leadership content. However, the majority of them say that less than half of the thought leadership content they consume gives them valuable insights.
How to apply it
Keep in mind your piece shouldn’t have the goal of creating new knowledge, but rather of creating new value. According to McEnerney, one way to help create value in the mind of your readers when writing a thought leadership piece that includes a research component is to use words such as ‘widely’, ‘accepted’, and ‘reported’.
Further, he recommends going through a piece of writing and highlighting ‘value’ words. The value words are those that make the piece important to your audience. You can then apply those value words to your own content.
4. Stay Relevant with Current Trends
62% of decision-makers say they are most interested in thought leadership content that focuses on analyzing current trends that are likely going to affect their business. Successful thought leadership pieces don’t just cover the same old topics that audiences can find elsewhere on the internet. They talk about current issues that are impacting businesses.
How to apply it
Consider the industry trends your field is currening experiencing. How will those trends affect the lives of your reader? What are the specific pain points and concerns that your reader may experience as a result of these trends? Are there any upcoming trends that they need to be aware of?
These are the topics that will resonate most deeply with decision-makers, because these are the issues that affect them most directly.
5. Storytelling Over Selling
46% of decision-makers say the thought leadership they consume is too focused on selling, 40% say it’s unoriginal or lacks new ideas, and 31% say it’s too corporate. Additionally, 64% say they’d rather have thought leadership that’s more human and less formal than thought leadership that has an intellectual voice.
B2B decision-makers are searching for real, human opinions that tell a story. They want content that focuses on the now and challenges them to think differently. This means as a B2B marketer, you must dig deep into your storytelling skills to reach people on a deeper level.
How to apply it
Resist the urge to simply regurgitate information from a research study. Don’t be afraid to have a personality and tell a story. Effective thought leadership should be compelling, engaging, and hold the reader’s attention throughout.
At the same time, watch out for being too salesy. If you begin a thought leadership piece with a sales pitch, you instantly risk killing all credibility you have as a B2B thought leader and will most likely lose the reader’s interest from the start. Let the audience decide your offerings’ value by telling a good story that positions you as a trusted provider.
B2B Thought Leadership: Trust in Times of Crisis
“Trust is currency that is never more important than in times of crisis.” – Steven Covey
During times of upheaval, challenges, and crises, there is no greater asset an organization can provide than its trustworthiness.
That’s why developing thought leadership should be a top priority for B2B marketers right now. More so than any other marketing asset, trust leadership boosts an organization’s credibility. But to fully leverage its power, marketers first must ensure the thought leadership they create is compelling, engaging, and resonates with what decision-makers care about most deeply right now.
That’s where we can help. We have the expertise to not only lay the foundation of a credible thought leadership piece with B2B research, but we can also turn those findings into ready-to-use content that builds trust and inspires action in your potential buyers.
Cascade Insights is a hybrid market research and marketing firm that specializes in the B2B tech sector. We conduct powerful research that can be used to develop compelling B2B thought leadership content. For more information on thought leadership, visit What Is Thought Leadership.
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