November 12, 2020

Breaking Down the Thought Leadership Trends We Saw In 2020

By Kuljeet Briah
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Breaking Down the Thought Leadership Trends We Saw In 2020

Top financial analysts will tell you that past trends are not an indication of the market's future. You will also see them go back to those trends for informed decisions on where the markets will go next.

That shows you that these past trends weigh a lot in the market direction too. The same is true in thought leadership.

To know where we are going is to understand where we are coming from. To that effect, we are digging deep into the core trends that have shaped the thought leadership space for the current year and how they could set the pace for what’s to come.

Trend #1 – Pressure on Thought Leaders

Right now, the entire world of marketing is under immense pressure.

The economy is not what it used to be, no thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Brands are not spending unless they have to, and marketing is under the microscope too.

Above all that, thought leaders need to show that what they are doing is impactful if they don’t want to get the ax.

Of course, effective thought leadership takes time: time to create and time to generate results. We are at the point where things need to be expedited so that the results start trooping in faster. Both long- and short-term goals will be crucial to keeping thought leaders on the table.

This is the test of fire. If they can get things done now, their place in the brand will have been cemented for sure. Otherwise, there is little to no reason to keep trusting them.

Don’t let this pressure crush you. Key into some of our insightful resources on how to get your thought leadership converting – and fast:

Trend #2 – The Reliance on Technology

Technology has slowly become a mainstay in marketing, converting what we used to perceive as an art into the science that it is today. With the current technology and development landscape, we are happy to see how vast an option the thought leader has when leveraging tech for better success.

Our first focus here is on the deployment of an outside-in approach. The thought leader does not rely on what they think the audience will like to create content anymore. Access to better social listening tools, better AI, and analytics software, for example, means that the minds of the consumers can be better mapped.

Thus, more targeted content rather than messaging which is all over the place.

Many companies and brands will also start using new tools to analyze their audience engagement while tracking which kinds of content do best – and where. All of that comes together to better the delivery of content to the audience and the generation of better ROI on the part of the brand.

The unique part of AI and the insights to be generated from it is that it does not end when knowing what content to create for the audience. After the content creation, AI also tracks the engagement to establish relevant follow-up questions that allow the thought leader to go deeper.

Trend #3 – Less is More

Content marketing is not thought leadership. Thought leadership is not content marketing, either.

We saw those lines blurred a lot at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost instantly, brands were left without all their other forms of physical engagement and had to move all of their processes online. This saw a spike in content creation for the thought leadership scene.

Most of the content in that era was centered around how to get X done, achieve Y, or attain Z in the middle of the pandemic. Since there was almost no other outlet to promote, all of that seemingly thought leadership content became the new outlet for promotions.

This hurts many brands more than they know.

For one, you are no longer nurturing your audience to the authority and trust that you should be after. Instead, you are now showing them your hand that you are just about getting them to bring out their wallets.

Thought leaders need to understand that they are in for the long haul. This is not one of those get-paid-fast schemes. Thought leadership pays its dues in the long run, so why not just sit tight and let the campaign run its course?

Approaching the new year, you need to step back and evaluate where your thought leadership is blurring the line with content marketing and mere promotions.

You don't always have to be in the audience's face, especially when you are doing it wrong. Less can indeed be more – and more can equally be perceived as less.

Trend #4 – Design on the Rise

Content is king.

But, did you know that your content is not just the message? How the message is packaged is also a part of your content.

This is where design comes in.

More often than not, the entire focus is on the content (traditional definition). When it is time to publish, the design is treated as a last-ditch attempt at getting some graphics in there.

We are sorry to tell you, but your boring PDF designs, ugly charts, and non-fascinating images will start hurting your thought leadership.

Don’t get us wrong. We are not asking you to put less effort into churning out great content and more effort into making it beautiful. We are saying that one does not have to suffer on account of the other.

Visual cues, when used right, will give your thought leadership more eyes and reading time. Design is also essential in telling the entire story you have set out to share with the audience. Consider that yet another stage of shaping the consumer journey. Now, you can make their move from the top to the base of your content as seamless as possible.

Fixing this means getting the design team on board from the start. It is no longer the time to spend days on content creation only to give the design team hours to work their magic. Let them know where you are coming from, walking hand in hand until you get to the product (content) creation process.

Trend #5 – New Approach to Content

We have already touched upon how technology will weigh on content creation, but that is not where it all ends. We are about to see a whole new wave of content creation processes, unlike before.

The first wave of change will be driven by the need to gain the trust of the audience. After all, trust can be cashed in to buy some authority in the market.

Asides from the outside-in approach, brands will also take an inside-out model to show what happens behind the scenes. This will trickle down to sharing influential decision-makers' flaws, putting fears and personal challenges out there too. That shows the human side of the brand and depicts how they are doing all they can to overcome these setbacks.

Addressing such fears, failures, and aspirations separates your brand from the competition. But it doesn’t end there.

Thought leadership would no longer be that bait to bring in the leads. We know that this content works for the top of the funnel already, given that 47% of executives will share their contact details with a brand after treading thought leadership. The handoff to content marketing at this stage can dilute the quality which these leads came in for.

Thus, marketers will dedicate more funnels to thought leadership. There will be a sprinkle of content marketing to keep things light at points but thought leadership would be aptly represented at every other stage.

Taking Advantage of The New Trends

These trends are the most prominent ones in the broader thought leadership market at large. Applying them to better your thought leadership campaigns needs one more element – internal trends.

Look at your thought leadership so far for the standouts. These will define what your audience wants and where your brand can run a tighter ship. Tying these industry-wide trends to personalized insights will make for an explosive thought leadership campaign in the years to come.

Do any of these trends jump out? Get in touch with a thought leadership expert to find out more

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