It has always been hard to measure the impact of marketing. There is a distinct gap between marketing activity and physical purchase of products or services, and there are so many things that could have had an influence. Thought leadership is no exception. It involves the concept of influence, which is hard to pin down at the best of times. There are, however, ways that you can do it. Here are some ideas.

Measure your thought leadership programme against its goals

Before you invest in thought leadership, you need to be very clear what you hope to achieve from it. What, in other words, are your targets and goals? These must be specifically tied to your activity: you must be able to track the achievement of your goals directly back to what you have done. Goals also need to be clear. It then follows that your thought leadership programme should be measured in terms of its impact on those goals and targets, and not on other metrics. 

Remember that ‘more’ is not necessarily ‘better’ in B2B

In B2B, it is worth remembering that quality may be more important than quantity. Publishing a report or white paper may not set the world on fire. It might, however, start two or three good quality conversations with customers, and perhaps one of those might convert to a sale. This will justify the publication in terms of its return on investment. Volume is very much not everything. Number of downloads, for example, is a very simplistic metric to use. You would be well advised to think beyond the obvious when devising indicators for thought leadership.

Measure your impact on people who matter

Not all mentions, retweets and shares are created equal. Your friends and colleagues may be quite happy to retweet your every pronouncement, and also to comment on your blogs and posts. Unfortunately, however, they are not the people that you need to influence. Consider who really matters; in other words, identify your customers and the key influencers in your field, and then measure your impact on them. You can do this, for example, by monitoring mentions and quotes in particular publications, or by particular industry figures, and looking at whether your blogs are retweeted and shared by influencers. 

Consider measuring both outputs and outcomes

It is worth measuring both outputs—number of blog posts, videos, white papers and so on—as well as outcomes. Outcomes include more than simply sales: they also cover mentions, retweets and shares by your target audience and by influencers and media outlets in your field. It is also worth considering links from other websites and invitations to speak at events. All these are measures of your influence, and that is what matters in thought leadership. Measuring both outputs and outcomes means that you can see the balance of activity and return, and therefore assess return on investment.

Consider your thought leadership programme alongside other activity

As well as your thought leadership programme, you probably have a fair amount of other sales and marketing activity going on. It is easier to quantify the impact of one element—thought leadership—if you are also trying to quantify the effect of other parts of the system. Clear goals and targets for all activity means that each part can measured for what it was trying to achieve, with credit for the overall impact on sales being  shared appropriately.

Avoid metrics that create perverse incentives

There is an old saying: what counts is what’s measured. It means that people focus on what is being measured, often at the expense of what was actually desired. It is, therefore, worth considering what behaviour your possible metrics might drive. Measuring click-through rates, for example, drives selection of catchy headlines, but not the development of good, useful content. Measuring content consumption might lead marketers to share popular content that says nothing about your company’s vision and ability to address your customers’ problems. Avoid the measurable in favour of the meaningful, even if it is much harder to assess.

Make sure that everyone is clear about what is being measured

There are a number of people involved in a thought leadership programme. They could include internal experts, marketers, and senior managers who are sponsoring the programme. All these groups need to be clear about the objectives of the programme, and also what is being measured. It is worth taking time to get agreement among your stakeholders to avoid problems later.

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