Building trust to drive demand: A snapshot of Edelman and LinkedIn’s thought leadership study

Thought leadership is a regularly used phrase but often misunderstood. A study from Edelman and LinkedIn explores how building trust drives demand, the importance of quality content and the impact thought leadership has on sales.  

“And I want to see results in the next two weeks.” Sound familiar?

Research from The B2B Institute has found that 95% of companies expect to see significant sales within the first two weeks of launching a new marketing campaign. The analysis goes on to explain that only 5% of potential business buyers are ‘in the market’ to buy at any given time, with 95% part way through a lengthy sales cycle and therefore not even evaluating the service in question at that point. 

Yet despite the constant drive to meet immediate quarterly targets, if you ask salespeople what matters most in their role, they will tell you it revolves around trust and relationships: trust in the people and team you are buying from; confidence in the company’s stability, reputation, and quality of services; agreement with their vision and values; and, finally, the ability to deliver on promises. Trust and relationships take time to build and require repeated positive experiences. It is clear that business marketing still needs to find the right balance and mix between short- and long-term goals.

Trust can also easily be lost. Edelman and LinkedIn have produced an annual study examining the impact of thought leadership on sales which helps to explain the risk. This year’s edition explores how the pandemic has created an overwhelming amount of new thought leadership content, with 38% of business decision makers saying the market is oversaturated and only 15% rating the quality of what they see as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. After reading the thought leadership study, 38% of decision makers have said that their respect for an organisation has decreased, while 27% have since decided not to award business to an organisation.

Quality is evidently an issue. In the race to hit short-term targets, organisations can end up compromising on audience insights, struggling to tell a clear and consistent story as a result or creating ‘flat’ content which then needs heavy paid investment to make the numbers. 

Despite these challenges, the current landscape also creates opportunities for smart businesses to stand out and deliver better value for their organisations:  

A desire for direction and vision

51% of c-suite executives are spending more time reading and watching thought leadership than before the pandemic began. After a period of uncertainty and significant change, leaders are clearly seeking fresh perspectives. The study finds that 81% of leaders want provocative ideas which challenge their assumptions on topics, while 80% are looking for third-party data from other trusted experts beyond proprietary insights from the company that published the content. An example is Cognizant’s whitepaper After the Virus, which invited a range of experts and opinion leaders to imagine it was May 2025 and to describe the lasting and positive changes that had emerged from the pandemic. 

Earning attention for a better ROI

Creative content that really earns the attention of decision makers, tells an engaging story and does so in a way that makes professionals genuinely want to share with their networks and colleagues ultimately enables a more targeted and effective media spend. Paid targeting and marketing tech are powerful tools, but they will be even more successful when powered by distinctive, quality content. Investing in this content helps to drive greater organic awareness and interest, meaning distribution and amplification can be more sharply focused on demand and conversion.  

Two of our clients have done this particularly well. Sinch, a cloud computing platform, ran the Text for Humanity campaign which challenged the negativity of social media and smartphone use by enabling people to send positive texts to strangers. Both accessible and shareable, the programme led to more than 50,000 shares, a reach of over 470 million and a 300% increase in enquiries to Sinch – enabling the company to invest more in nurturing and converting prospects. Similarly, by focusing on CX, consistent storytelling and quality content, Shell has been able to slash its cost-per-lead by 65%, boost ROI by 134% and triple conversion rates – proof that strategic content can have a direct and discernible impact on the bottom line.  

Covering the harder to reach topics 

Traditional media newsrooms have shrunk dramatically, and commercial pressures mean that publications are only able to cover a narrower range of issues. In B2B, there are often complex topics which are highly relevant for a particular industry. As a result, we’re seeing a rise in companies developing their own quality editorial content and using thought leadership to address specialist issues which may otherwise fall into media blind spots. GE Reports and Microsoft Story Labs are two high-profile examples, but Nissan has also taken a particularly journalistic approach to uncover real, fresh perspectives and interesting stories within its own business.  

Gaining recognition and changing perception

Quality thought leadership content is particularly powerful when establishing new brands, defining new categories or making customers aware of a wider range of services a business can offer. In fact, 47% of business buyers say thought leadership has led them to discover and ultimately purchase from a company that was not considered to be among the leaders in a particular category; and 54% have purchased a new product or service from an organisation which they hadn’t previously considered buying after engaging with their thought leadership.  

Now in its fourth year, the data from the Edelman and LinkedIn annual study demonstrates that thought leadership has a tangible impact on sales; not investing in this area carries a risk, but so does not investing enough

Thought leadership helps marketers reply when told that their boss “wants to see results in the next two weeks” as quality content can bring rapid improvements in engagement and performance, more effective media spend and a higher quality of leads and customer interactions. It also provides data which validates the need for longer-term thinking to help companies be considered for more tenders, close deals faster and earn the trust needed to charge a premium for their services.

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