James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

Building B2B Thought Leadership: An 8-Step Playbook

light-bulb-on-sticky-note-B2B-thought-leadership

James Carbary

Founder at Sweet Fish Media

Full Profile »

All you need to become a B2B thought leader is luck… 

… said no one ever. 😉

If it were that simple, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this gosh darn blog!

In fact, becoming a B2B thought leader isn’t a quick or even easy journey. Fortunately for you, you have your own personal Sherpa to guide you to B2B thought leadership: this playbook!

light-bulb-on-sticky-note-B2B-thought-leadership

By being an industry expert and completing the steps in this playbook with some style and finesse, you’re on the surefire track to B2B thought leadership.

How do you become a B2B thought leader? To establish B2B thought leadership, follow these 8 steps:

  1. Plan out your content
  2. Batch your content production
  3. Produce a podcast centered around your industry
  4. Create videos focusing on your industry
  5. Publish blog posts discussing industry issues
  6. Produce graphics to establish your personal brand
  7. Get active on social media
  8. Use paid advertising to get your content in front of the right people

*Heart rate quickens*

sweating-nervous-GIF-thought-leadership-steps

Don’t. Panic. We’re going to explore each of these steps in crystal-clear detail.

This is the process the Sweet Fish Media team uses for all of our collective show customers (aka, podcast hosts). It’s worked for us and it can work for you, too.

In this post, we’re going to cover:

  • What it takes to become a successful B2B thought leader
  • The Sweet Fish content creation process for industry influence
  • How collective shows support multiple B2B thought leaders

Let’s do this thing!

The Step-by-Step B2B Thought Leadership Playbook

The following pieces are what the Sweet Fish team uses to help our customers become B2B thought leaders (we’ll elaborate on each piece further down in the article):

1. Content planning

This is where it all begins. 

Through our research, we pull topics that our co-hosts are likely to rank for on search engine result pages (SERPs) according to their expertise, industry, and audience. 

Our producers then map out the ways in which each topic is expounded upon (videos, podcasts, blogs, etc.).

2. Batching your content production

48 Hours to Industry Influence is what we call the 48-hour period in which our customers have the undivided attention of our video and sound production team. 

We meet in-person or through a series of remote sessions to interview them, letting them speak openly about topics they love, and get it all on camera. 

It’s from this trunk that all the other content branches.

3. Podcasts

Unless you’ve been living in a bunker for the last 10 years, podcasts are a thing and we make ‘em. 

podcast-GIF-B2B-thought-leadership

Podcast episodes are one of the results of our 48 Hours to Industry Influence and the reason we call our customers co-hosts. 

Traditional interview and solo episodes are a couple of the episode formats customers can pick from.

4. Videos

Videos — particularly micro-videos — work wonders on social media. 

They give a face to the voice and a voice to the name. People feel a lot more comfortable engaging with our customers’ content after they’ve seen and heard the real-life version.

5. Written content

The written content we create for our customers can be anything from blogs to podcast show notes to LinkedIn status updates to Instagram captions. 

There really is no limit to what our internal writing team can do (I mean look at this beautiful, extensive, SEO-loving blog post you’re reading right now).

writing-on-laptop-GIF-thought-leadership

6. Graphics

If written content is the bread, graphics are the butter. They just make everything butter, er, better. 

Our in-house design team works diligently to produce social media graphics, style guides, and funny GIFs to celebritize thought leaders in lots of different industries.

7. Social media

Throughout all of our processes up until the finished products (videos, graphics) are revealed, we’re documenting via our social media accounts. 

Followers of our channels are able to see content come to life while also getting to know the co-hosts.

8. Amplification

We’re big on organic content, but sometimes you have something *so* good you just gotta tell everybody. That’s when we turn it up to 11. 

We use paid advertising to share content with the exact people who will want to engage with it.

PHASE I: Content planning

When the Sweet Fish Media team saw the number of downloads for our flagship podcast — B2B Growth — rocket from 2,000 per episode to 3,000, we had to find out why.

why-liam-neeson-GIF-B2B-thought-leaderhsip

After some analysis, we found that listeners were loving our solo episodes. In fact, our audience resonated with our solo episodes so much so, we decided to add them to our other collective shows.

Solo episode: An episode consisting of only the host elaborating on a topic they’re an expert on.

As great as guest interviews can be (for listening to and for content-based networking), they can be inconsistent in terms of the value of the content. And, for the most part, it’s out of your control as a host. It’s tough to get your guest back on track if they aren’t offering actionable or tangible insights.

With solo episodes, you have total control of the quality of insights you’re providing the listener with.

Side note: If the thought of being the only voice on an episode freaks you out, we suggest bringing in another co-host or expert counterpart to enhance the dialogue. Think less interview, more conversation over coffee with a friend.

Now that you know the purpose behind solo episodes, let’s take a look at how we plan for them.

Planning solo episodes

1. One of our producers asks the co-host for five high-level topics they want to be known for in their space. These shouldn’t be long-tail keywords… yet. For now, the topics should be general categories, like blog tags.

Example: B2B thought leadership

2. The producer takes those five high-level topics and uses Google’s auto-suggestions to find more granular queries related to the core topic. We call this process Google Alphabet Soup.

Side note: Google Alphabet Soup is a simple process for aggregating long-tail keywords your target audience is likely searching for. To do this, type your high-level topic into the search bar, [space], “A.” Document the auto-suggested queries you find relevant. Delete “A” and add “B” to see what search suggestions pop up. 

Carry out this process for each letter of the alphabet. This should give you an expansive list of long-tail keywords to target with your content.

3. The producer completes the Google Alphabet Soup process for all five topics.

4. Now, there’s an extensive list of granular topics to inspire the solo episodes. Plus, each long-tail keyword is related to the higher-level subjects the customer wants to be known for.

Example: What is B2B thought leadership, How to become a B2B thought leader, Best B2B thought leaders, etc.

5. Before sending a gargantuan list of topics over to the co-host, our content planning team whittles it down to 20 home-run, heck-yes topics (based on how difficult we think it will be to actually rank for those keywords). Because, above all, we want to respect the time of our customers.

6. Out of the 20 hand-selected topics, we ask the customer to pick their favorite 12 to fill up their first six months of hosting the show. In other words, the 12 topics they pick will be the subject matter for 12 solo episodes.

7. After the 12 solo episodes are recorded, they’re repurposed into keyword-rich blog posts consisting of 2,000+ words. Because our team studies the posts currently ranking for the 12 long-tail keywords, we’re able to go above and beyond in value and word count for each article.

All of this content planning sets up the collective show’s blog posts to rank organically for the topics our customer is an industry expert on.

How’s that for a plan of action?!

action-GIF-thought-leadership-plan

Ready for the next phase?

PHASE II: Content batching

All the planning is done. You know what you’re going to talk about. It’s now time to actually produce your content (aka, 48 Hours to Industry Influence)!

As we mentioned before, these 48 hours make up the individual time our customers have with the Sweet Fish video and production team. If you remember, this is the trunk that all the content for the next six months branches out from.

(Of course, you don’t have to use the 48 Hours to Industry Influence framework. It’s just what works best for us.)

48 Hours to Industry Influence is two days of recording:

  • Solo episodes
  • Micro-videos
  • Pillar videos
  • Random banter
  • Bloopers
  • Social media content
  • Everything that was planned out in the first phase
  • Anything you want to add (as long as it makes for good viewing/listening)
kim-kardashian-are-we-filming-that-GIF

Once we collect all of the footage, our post-production gets to work making the content look and sound as beautiful as the lovechild of a Montana sunset and angels singing. (We just try to make it really, really good, okay?)

Next stop: podcasts!

PHASE III: Podcasts

Ah, yes. The humble podcast. The medium on which we built our media empire.

In today’s age, it seems like everyone’s brother, sister, car mechanic, and dog are launching podcasts. Plus, there are podcasts for literally any subject you can think of. 

Wanna catch up on the history of garden gnomes? Love listening to stories of ugly divorces? Intrigued by ultrarunning (ew, no)? There’s a podcast for that.

gnome-GIF-B2B-thought-leadership-podcasts

Why does SFM even bother producing podcasts if there are already so many?

There are a few BIG reasons (and statistics) for why we believe in the power of podcasting:

  1. From a consumption standpoint, there is virtually zero friction involved in consuming audio content. You can listen to a podcast whenever, wherever, while doing almost anything. Driving, jogging, cleaning, relaxing, flying, cooking, working, mowing the lawn. You get it.
  2. Over 50% of Americans 12 and older reported listening to at least one podcast for the first time in history in 2019. That means podcasts are officially mainstream! It also means podcast listenership is still on the up-and-up.
  3. 1/3 of the U.S. population reported listening to a podcast in the last month (2019). That’s 90 million people listening to podcasts on a monthly basis.
  4. It’s working for us. Sweet Fish’s flagship collective podcast — The B2B Growth Show — has been downloaded over 3.2 million times. That’s a lot of people who care about B2B growth! (Imagine how many people care about your thing. 😃)
  5. There are a lot of things competing for our time. The cool thing about podcasts, though, is people stay engaged for longer because it’s a passive form of content. 80% of listeners consume all or most of each podcast episode, while 90-second videos have a completion rate of 59%. Ouch.

Hosting a podcast can also support your… 

  • Thought leadership
  • Continuous content generation
  • Go-to-market messaging
  • SEO opportunities
  • Industry insights
  • Brand awareness

Pretty amazing, right? Talk about ROI.

anna-kendrick-mind-blown-GIF-podcast-statistics

Side note: Planning on doing a podcast on your own? Here’s a step-by-step process for producing a podcast, plus the recording equipment we recommend!

PHASE IV: Videos

🎵 Video killed supported the radio star 🎵

You can’t be an industry celebrity without video. It’s one of the major players in this content extravaganza. You also can’t have a holistic influence over your space with only video — if you’re going to do one, you gotta do ‘em all.

Why we love video:

  • 78% of people watch videos online every single week. 55% of those watch videos every day.
  • 72% of people would rather learn about a product or service via video.
  • 88% of marketers who use video are happy with their ROI.
  • People are twice as likely to share a video with friends compared to any other form of content.
  • Video does the best on social media — we’ve seen it!

Plus, video works way better than audio clips for promotional purposes. People just love seeing your face!

There are two types of video we produce with our co-hosts: pillar videos and micro-videos.

Pillar video content

A pillar video is how we refer to each 10-30 minute video we record during the 48 Hours to Industry Influence. They’re the original-length pieces of footage that result from the solo episodes. Think of them as live perspectives of the podcast.

We use the pillar videos as full-length YouTube videos for each episode. Yet, we primarily use pillar videos as the means for developing micro-videos.

Micro-videos

Miniature things are always better, right? Take this tiny bunny for example:

small-bunny-GIF-micro-videos-thought-leadership

How cute, how cuddly.

The same hypothesis can be applied to video: smaller (aka, shorter) tends to perform better. It’s easier and more entertaining for viewers to consume micro bunni, err, videos.

Even though we 💙 podcasts, we produce micro-videos because they do way better on social media compared to audio clips. When’s the last time you tapped on an audio clip on Instagram? Exactly.

The video-making process

Let’s quickly review what you already know about the Sweet Fish thought leadership process:

  1. The topics of your content are determined in the content planning phase (Phase I).
  2. You record all the needed material for six months of content during your batch content production time (Phase II).
  3. The edited pieces of audio are turned into episodes for your podcast. (Phase III).

Great! How do you make the videos?

The Sweet Fish video team works to edit the footage we capture. That includes

  • making the audio sound good
  • cutting out any bloopers (after viewing them on repeat an appropriate amount of times)
  • adding fancy subtitles
  • adding fun graphics to keep viewers engaged

Heck, why don’t we just show you an example:

Here’s our own Blake Bozarth discussing smart things.

Blake-Bozarth-Crafting-Culture-B2B-thought-leadership

Isn’t he lovely? Let’s move on to written content!

PHASE V: Written content

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” — William Shakespeare

There’s probably a simpler way to put that, Bill. But would it be as beautiful…?

When it comes to writing for our customers, brevity will always hold precedence over beauty. Sometimes, though, our team of writers likes to indulge. Believe it or not, readers also like to be interested in what they’re reading.

So, that’s our rationale.

Our written content strategy

For every blog we write for internal purposes or customers, our goal is to outrank what’s currently on the first page of Google (aka, the bane of a writer’s existence). No matter our animosity towards the search juggernaut, we really do strive to write articles that appeal to Google as well as humans.

Remember those topics we discussed in Phase I? Those now become the basis of our blog approach. The long-tail search terms are inserted into the blog’s title as craftily as possible.

Example: 10 of the Top B2B Thought Leaders of 1977

Our blog writing process

Once a writer receives an assignment for a blog post, the process looks a little something like this:

  1. The writer listens to the podcast episode and takes notes on main talking points.
  2. The headline is already basically written. From the topics chosen by the co-host, the key search term will be included towards the beginning of the title.
  3. The writer will then create an outline consisting of relevant H2 headers and direct quotes from the podcast.
  4. The writer waves their hands and does a little dance and a 2,000-word blog appears! ✨
wizard-cat-in-sink-GIF-thought-leadership

Well, it’s not quite that easy, but it is just as magical.

Other written content we create

In addition to blogs, Sweet Fish’s team of expert copywriters cook up

  • show notes for podcast episodes
  • LinkedIn statuses for co-hosts to promote their episodes on the platform
  • social media captions to accompany micro-videos and graphics
  • weekly emails to offer more value to our various audiences
  • nifty informational pieces like this one

In essence, our writing team can formulate anything that will

  1. offer value to industry professionals
  2. aid in the show’s SEO efforts

And that’s all she wrote! (For this phase, anyway.)

PHASE VI: Graphics

PROCEED WITH CAUTION: GRAPHIC(AL) CONTENT AHEAD

scared-dog-GIF-thought-leadership

To us, graphics are more than aesthetics.

The right images and/or designs can tell a whole story about a brand. Graphics are how people tell your brand apart from others.

Take these logos for instance:

nike-apple-twitter-target-logos

You probably know all or most of the brands. They’re just a handful of testimonies to how essential it is to bake professional graphic design into your branding process.

Our design process

The Sweet Fish design process looks simple from the outside, but actually runs as deep as a wormhole. That’s deep.

The process for graphic design — and really for any creative endeavor — can normally be described as a ratio of [80:20]. That’s 80% thinking, researching, conceptualizing and 20% doing.

Why do you spend so much time thinking about design as opposed to doing it?

Because it’s important to get it right. Like we saw earlier, design is how your brand is visually represented.

Besides, when a designer has all of the necessary skills and tools locked down, it shouldn’t take long to physically do. We’re not messing around on Microsoft Paint here. (No disrespect, MP.)

More reasons why design matters

There are a plethora of reasons why we care so much about effective graphic design, but here are just a few.

  1. First impressions are key. We want our co-hosts to appear fun and professional. Not lame and icky.
  2. Consistency and credibility go hand-in-hand. If the colors or standard font for your brand fluctuate too much, people won’t recognize you.
  3. Communicate more with less. You know what they say about pictures and words.
  4. Design differentiates you from your competitors. You don’t have to be everything to everybody but you have to be different.
  5. We’re a business after all! We know our co-hosts’ stories matter. Professional graphic design helps us convey those narratives.

Now, we’d be remiss if we didn’t show off some of our dope graphics and design examples. Take a look-see.

B2B-Sales-Show-design-examples-B2B-thought-leadership
Crafting-Culture-design-examples-thought-leadership

You can see from the examples we’ve been working on mastering our social media designs. Let’s go ahead and hit on a few more components of the Sweet Fish social media approach. 📱

PHASE VII: Social media

Let’s get social! (Said all the Moira Rose’s.)

Schitts-Creek-going-viral-GIF

Up until now, you’ve seen the ideation, production, and manifestation that goes into our B2B thought leadership playbook. Now, we’ll explore how the social media team documents and presents all of these elements to each collective show’s audience.

LinkedIn

Based on each co-host’s podcast episodes and desired topics, our writing team composes witty, informational, personable LinkedIn posts for them to publish on their personal pages.

What makes your LinkedIn posts different from others?

We recognize that conversions are probably not going to happen on LinkedIn. In other words, you’re not going to make a sale by posting a picture and description of your product on LI. 

We use the platform to promote creativity, innovation, and industry insights in order to start conversations. That’s how you move industries into the future: by igniting conversations.

In addition to unique insights, we offer the LinkedIn network a chance to hear more details via the corresponding podcast episode.

Instagram

Instagram is the tool our team uses to document the entire content creation process for each co-host. Instagram Stories are used for behind-the-scenes moments at the 48 Hours to Industry Influence.

The types of content we post on Instagram for each collective show includes

  • behind-the-scenes footage at the 48 Hours to Industry Influence
  • relevant industry tips
  • micro-videos!
  • smart things co-hosts say
  • industry-related memes
  • funny GIFs
  • pretty much anything that helps our co-hosts express their experience, fun-lovingness, humor, intelligence, savviness, and articulacy.

You do all of that work just to make your co-hosts look good?

Yes, because they are good. They also have the enthusiasm to help people get better at work. We want to share all of that positivity with the good people of the interwebs.

Whoopi-Goldberg-GIF-thought-leadership

Ladies and germs, that is the gist of our organic social media strategy.

Ready to make it rain? ☔

PHASE VIII: Amplification

Turn it up to 11! 🎸

Amplification is what we say when we’re talking about paid advertising. But really, it’s more than just advertising. It’s broadcasting a message that can change the way people work, eventually changing the way they live.

Our message isn’t one of materialism or superficial advice. It’s one of positivity, innovation, and progress. And if the best route to spread that message is digital advertising, so be it.

Most B2B marketers only pay to promote content that has a clear call-to-action (like an e-book download or a webinar registration). But we think that’s a big mistake (and so does Chris Walker from Refine Labs).

When you put advertising dollars behind micro-videos that share your expertise, it ends up coming back to you in the form of inbound opportunities. 

People see your videos over and over because you keep paying to put that content in their feed. Then, they start talking to their boss about what they’re learning from you. 

Next, their boss ends up going to your website to learn more about your product or service.

michael-scott-GIF-best-boss

Because you’re creating LOTS of micro-videos through the playbook we just walked you through, you don’t run into ad fatigue. You have plenty of creative assets (aka, micro-videos) to keep your targeted audience engaged over a long period of time.

Side note: If you’re curious about the details of how this type of paid advertising works, you can reach out to our Director of Audience Growth on LinkedIn or via email: [email protected]. He geeks out on this stuff all day, and he’d love to chat with you about it.

The B2B thought leader you always knew you could be

It takes dedication, yes. It takes knowledge, absolutely. It also takes a little bit of crazy to become a successful B2B thought leader. But, it’s worth it.

We hope this playbook has helped you better understand how to achieve B2B thought leadership in your industry. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it!

Wanna hear more about B2B thought leadership? Subscribe to B2B Growth on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. (You won’t regret it.)

WAS THIS ARTICLE USEFUL?