What is a brand? Beyond the logos, slogans, storefronts and trademarks, branding is a means of establishing trust between seller and buyer. In the same way that traders have branded their products to denote ownership and provenance for millennia, so too do modern brands use their name as a mark of authority and authenticity. A brand, therefore, is a promise to a customer.

Advertising a brand is all about communicating that promise; making it more memorable, more valuable and articulating what it can deliver. In B2B particularly, thinking of it through this ‘promise-making’ lens can help connect the product for sale, the pledge it sets out, and the person it’s being sold to. The latest B2B Thought Leadership Impact Report from LinkedIn and Edelman highlights the increased importance of this act during times of economic uncertainty. Because, when individuals are inherently less likely to buy into a promise, memorability, trust, data and emotion all become more important too.

Building trust and authenticity through thought leadership

The first part of this calculation revolves around what a brand ultimately delivers. To make this more tangible, ask yourself: what does the product or service stand for? And what commitment is it making to the customer? This core deliverable might be related to a wider issue like sustainability or it could be more targeted, by providing a specific tool for a specific outcome. Either way, it holds important influence over the essentialness of the brand, which is especially vital in uncertain economic times.

Thought leadership addresses this issue: half of C-Suite executives say high-quality thought leadership has more impact on their purchase decision making during economic downturns than when times are good. Part of this involves engaging with other thinkers. By viewing thought leadership as a community rather than a competition – and then being authentic, active and accessible within that community – brands can earn the trust of peers and, in turn, followers. This can be achieved by building employee or executive presence into thought leadership strategy. Not only since it helps humanise a brand and strengthen consumer trust, but also because it can help spark conversation and provide a means of answering questions.

The other part is what happens after this trust is earned. Our research shows that just 40% of thought leadership producers measure its effectiveness by linking business wins back to specific pieces of content. Improving this practice can help brands position their products and services as vital to their customers’ success. Without this final step, the deliverable can get lost and the hard work put into making the content memorable or valuable can become wasted.

The importance of committing to memorability

But to deliver, you first need to stand out, which is why most successful advertising has one thing in common: it’s memorable. But if I were to ask you to name the adverts or campaigns that most stick in your own mind, I’m confident they would be from B2C brands. Why? Because, historically, B2B businesses have leaned towards more traditionally ‘safe’ schools of thought when it comes to advertising, with marketing spend focused nearer the bottom of the funnel, where results are more measurable. Which makes sense given the importance that business leaders place on return on investment.

However, 64% of B2B leaders globally say that brand building has now been elevated in importance by the C-Suite, with 60% of CFOs optimistic about marketing’s ability to drive revenue in the year ahead. With sentiment shifting internally, it’s now down to marketers to ensure the content they create is memorable enough to move the needle with external audiences as well. To achieve that through thought leadership, content must be able to make an instant impression. With 38% of final decision-makers bemoaning the oversaturation of thought leadership content, 55% of buyers suggest they will move on if it does not pique interest in the first minute.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. The same sentiments hold in the B2C space too, which begs the question: why can’t the same solutions work for B2B? Well…they can. Emotions like humour are a great example. After all, B2B purchase decision making isn’t a purely rational process; past research has shown that inspiring emotion in B2B is seven times more effective than communicating rational benefits alone. I’d argue that this approach could be even more effective in B2B, where there can be a sudden clamour for captivating content on a particular ‘trending’ topic, but often excessive noise to cut through. As has arguably been the case with AI-related posts recently, which have increased 142% in the last year alone.

Why content must be backed by data to deliver value

That said, it’s not enough to simply be remembered. No brand wants to be a one-hit wonder, after all. To help turn a moment into momentum, businesses should commit to long-term brand building – one of the biggest untapped opportunities for B2B organisations. The key here is to pair memorability with value. Brands need to think about how their content is delivering genuine value by solving the challenges faced by their customers.

For thought leaders, this all comes down to having a strong and evidence-based point of view. One thing that audiences come to rely on thought leaders for is to put forward credible and interesting viewpoints that challenge the conventional thinking of others. Ideas that are backed by data. When assessing thought leadership, almost half of our survey respondents said they wanted content to offer provocative ideas that challenge existing assumptions (48%), and will judge these ideas on the strength of the supporting research and data they’re built on (49%).

To get started, brands should first identify the white space that they can fill and – ideally – eventually own. Entering that space with interesting viewpoints can help a brand or executive gradually be seen as an indispensable source of trusted information. And, in a world where brands equal promises, trust is value. It’s an equation that takes on a new dimension during economic downturns too, with 55% of decision-makers saying spending reductions will come from products or services deemed ‘nice-to-have’, rather than ‘must-have’.

A brand is a promise to a customer

Between more marketing data and greater consumer awareness, there should be little mystery left in the world of brands, and agreeing on the language we use to describe them can help ensure this. So, the next time someone – perhaps a relative, still confused about what you do for a living – asks you to explain the industry to them, save yourself a headache by suggesting that a brand is simply a promise to a customer. And when your boss asks you why they should care, tell them that campaigns making a direct promise to the customer are 48% more likely to report brand health improvements and 60% more likely to report increased market share. Armed with this knowledge, plus the findings from our latest report, we hope marketers like yourself will find B2B brand building an easier sell. And we hope this will help you unlock the huge opportunity thought leadership presents – especially during uncertain times.

David Walsh is the Head of Customer Insights for EMEA & LATAM at LinkedIn