Who Are Your B2B Thought Leaders?

With the fourth quarter well underway, the holidays fast approaching, and the new year right around the corner, ’tis the season for all marketers to start planning 2022 strategies. If you’re anything like us at The MX Group, you’ve been drafting a content calendar searching for opportunities to humanize your brand. While the topic of humanization might appear to be a B2C notion, for B2B marketers it is becoming a necessary imperative for conducting business. To humanize a brand means to look beyond the advertisements, recognize the human beings who encounter your services and find the human truth in their purchasing decisions. As a B2B organization, you are not speaking to “a business.” You are introducing yourself to a person or a group of people. Who are they? What are their objectives? What is most important to them in their personal and professional lives? How can your brand help them achieve those goals?

Elevate Subject Matter Experts and Thought Leaders

One of the best ways to break the ice when making initial digital introductions is the creation of authentic content through subject matter experts and thought leaders. B2B buyers today are extremely comfortable with making large purchase decisions completely online. They form committees and research a brand’s available content well before making any kind of formal contact. B2B buyers want to get to know the brand first and establish some baseline of trust that is founded on your organization’s expertise and offerings. Elevating subject matter experts and developing a thought leadership strategy is a perfect path forward to building that trust. However, it is important to not get the two confused. Thought leaders and subject matter experts play two very distinct roles and have different responsibilities and objectives.

What Thought Leadership Is

Getting immediately to the core, the main difference between subject matter experts and thought leaders is professional aspirations. Subject matter experts can be anyone in your organization that is an expert on a particular topic or field of interest. They offer their experiences and lessons learned most often in the form of best practices, which, in turn, help buyers get to know the experts and their tactics within your organization.

A thought leader aspires to move beyond organizational influence. Thought leaders are professionals with opinions, expertise and knowledge who would share their thoughts on a topic or industry regardless of the organization they are associated with. Essentially, a thought leader is not interested in a sales pitch. They are an individual who is looking to influence the entire marketplace with their unique ideas.

Who Can Be a Thought Leader?

Truly, anyone can be a thought leader, but a thought leader needs a few key elements that differentiate them from subject matter experts. In a MarketingProfs article, Ashley Faus breaks down the three main characteristics.

  • Don’t focus on celebrity status — thought leaders are simply people who work in your industry.
  • Look for people with distinctive thoughts — thought leaders are people with new and original ideas on how to execute strategies and solve problems.
  • Identify people with influence (or those who want to build influence) — thought leaders are not just individuals with experience; they are people who want to share their influence with masses and grow their networks outside of your organization.

That last bullet is extremely important. While a subject matter expert might contribute to your content strategy a few times during the marketing year, thought leaders are eagerly searching for opportunities to share, write, speak and interview as often as they can. After every engagement, a thought leader shares their unique ideas (through social media or other channels) to grow their networks.

Thought leaders and subject matter experts play two very distinct roles and have different responsibilities and objectives.

OK, So All of This Is Just Content Marketing, Right?

It is also important to note that thought leadership exists a little outside the boundaries of traditional content marketing. Content marketing is a demand generation tactic meant to create leads through the availability of information. Usually, the content provided is directed toward a target audience and presents communications and data in the form of “how-tos” to help readers answer their questions.

Thought leadership looks beyond the transactional nature of providing solutions for potential business. Thought leaders are interested in expanding their networks and getting to know their target audience. Thought leaders have a novel idea that needs to be shared. This idea is unique to the thought leader and is shared with the intention to create interest, revolutionize a strategy and form a relationship.

A Perfect Pair

B2B marketers can absolutely pair thought leadership with their subject matter expert content. Tone, structure, frequency of posts and objectives for the pieces will obviously vary. But to get your 2022 strategy up and running, it is important to identify who is a thought leader and who is a subject matter expert. Play to their strengths by helping to grow the thought leader’s network and share the subject matter expert’s knowledge. The overall exposure of solutions and ideas will help carve a path for buyers to your business. After all, the trust your B2B buyers are searching for is something that is built over time through continued communication and valuable insights that will have a direct impact on their business goals. Put your best strategy forward starting with your experts and leaders.