Can high-quality thought leadership push up fee rates?

It’s no secret that justifying your investment in thought leadership with some clear, quantifiable financial evidence can be a tricky thing to do. Few firms have completely nailed the whole approach to KPIs—and it’s easy to see why. Take, for example, the (entirely hypothetical) story of Charlotte. In 2019, Charlotte worked as a senior manager for a manufacturing company and came across a well-researched article by Firm A about innovation that stayed in her mind. She started to read more of Firm A’s content and found it to be of consistently high quality. Now, recently recruited to a role leading a business unit at a different company, Charlotte decides to give Firm A a call to see how they could help her meet a new set of challenges. Will Firm A be able to link this meeting to the material they published in 2019? It’s doubtful. Yet there’s no question that thought leadership does deliver real, bottom-line value to the firm that publishes it, but it might be in ways you hadn’t quite accounted for.

That’s because thought leadership bridges two important stages in a clients’ buying process: the prioritisation stage and the choice stage. Thought leadership has become one of the most important inputs in the prioritisation stage, helping clients to decide which business issues they should focus on, which allows firms unprecedented influence over clients early on in the buying cycle. What’s more, thought leadership also forges an association between a client’s strategic priorities and specific firms, which can pay dividends when it comes to the bidding process.

Indeed, we conducted a survey in January 2022 of 100 senior executives and 50 category managers responsible for buying consulting services in the US and asked them about the impact thought leadership had on the price they paid for a consulting project. Respondents were very clear: They were prepared to pay more for consulting work as a result of the thought leadership produced by that firm.

To what extent, if any, do you think that the thought leadership produced by a consulting firm you have worked with recently increased the price you were prepared to pay?

It is important to remember that it’s not that a specific publication can bump up the price of a project in any straightforward way, rather that high-quality thought leadership has the potential to create a halo effect—one which legitimises spending on a particular area, or with a certain firm. We already know from other research we’ve carried out that good thought leadership can encourage clients to take action, but knowing that your thought leadership could well influence the price of a project is further evidence of the tangible value thought leadership can deliver. And what marketer doesn’t want that?