While AI-related buzzwords are now more common than morning coffee, differentiating B2B brands through authentic thought leadership has never been more important.
At Content Marketing World in Washington D.C., Richard Murphy, Editor in Chief and Director as well as the mind behind thought leadership at ServiceNow, presented some compelling insights on cutting through the clutter with thought leadership content that differentiates your brand and builds trust with your audience in a market saturated with AI hype.
Here is an overview of his presentation.
AI: The Double-Edged Sword:
Just as seagulls in “Finding Nemo” endlessly cry “mine, mine, mine,” an increasing number of B2B tech brands are incessantly touting AI as their game-changing solution. Of course the tech industry isn’t a stranger to such hype cycles.
While AI promises some significant advancements from revolutionizing creativity to optimizing workflows, it’s important to remember the foundational rule: garbage in, garbage out.
This sentiment is very much in line with what I’ve shared in my own presentations on AI and B2B content marketing. Gen AI simply makes you more of what you are — a broke jerk only becomes a rich jerk with more money. If you’re lacking imagination and you put “crap” in to the prompt of a GenAI system, you’ll simply get “crappy” content out.
But back to Richard’s presentation. Interestingly, a lot of AI-generated content might feel familiar (and mediocre) to us because in many ways it’s recycling what the internet already knows. However, the silver lining is that brands focused on communicating with authentic narratives can pierce through the mediocrity of GenAI content.
“Tell stories that make the company look smart, build trust in the brand and encourage sales without ‘selling’.” Richard Murphy, Director, Editor in Chief at ServiceNow
Three Pillars of Authentic Thought Leadership:
1. Elevate Your Brand Without Overt Selling:
ServiceNow, despite its exponential growth from 1bn to 8bn in revenue from 2017 to 2023, understands that their target audience — senior leaders — aren’t looking for granular product details. They’re after the broader picture: customer experience, profitability, and overarching strategies. As a result, they’ve learned that it’s essential for them to create stories that amplify brand trust and implicitly drive sales, without overtly pushing products.
2. Advance the Narrative:
To transcend the typical tech sales conversation, ServiceNow introduced ‘Workflow‘, a platform tailored for senior leaders and the general business audience. Think of it as a niche business publication, populated with original research, trend analyses, and special reports. It’s not about reactive news but proactive insights. They’ve consistently been ahead of the curve, covering pressing topics like hybrid work, environmental social governance (ESG), and AI’s future impacts.
3. Building the Insight Engine:
Original research forms the core of ServiceNow’s content strategy with Workflow. They embrace a hub-and-spoke model, with original studies at the center, branching out into thought leadership articles, social media, region-specific content, PR pitches, and more. While their primary content seldom drills down into their products, a strategic linkage guides readers towards commercial content, subtly attracting them into the sales funnel. Their LinkedIn newsletter further demonstrates the power of delivering value to readers.
Thought Leadership: The Brand Elevation Tool:
True thought leadership doesn’t merely generate brand visibility; it cultivates trust and propels businesses forward. Senior leaders are more inclined to delve deeper into a brand’s offerings after consuming genuine, value-driven thought leadership content. Richard Murphy’s presentation about the approach ServiceNow is taking underscores a important lesson for brands: by providing immediate value and showcasing expertise, they’re more likely to transform readers into potential customers. This is the DNA of content marketing that I think my pal Joe Pulizzi would agree with.
In a business and marketing landscape where every brand now seems to be armed with an AI wand, emphasizing authenticity with thought leadership is the real magic. By focusing on genuine insights, brands can navigate the AI hype maze and create meaningful, trust-driven connections with their audience and creates the business impact we’re all looking for.
To dig deeper into B2B thought leadership and executive influence, check out some of these posts:
Learn more about TopRank Marketing’s Influencer Marketing and Content Marketing solutions for building B2B brand thought leadership.
Lee Odden has been recognized as a top B2B Marketing professional by Forbes, The Economist and the Wall Street Journal. For over 20 years he’s worked with his team at TopRank Marketing to help elevate the B2B marketing industry through creative marketing programs that deliver more authentic, experiential and inclusive content for brands like LinkedIn, Dell and Adobe. Lee is the author of Optimize and has published over 1.4 million words on his agency’s B2B marketing blog. As a trusted marketing thought leader, he has given nearly 300 presentations in 20 different countries on B2B content, search and influencer marketing. When not marketing, Lee is probably running, cooking or traveling.