In any given market or on any specific topic there are persons or firms recognized as authorities. They are the thought leaders. With assistance from the Internet, thought leaders can easily share information and shape perceptions in a positive way. This is often done through blogs, whitepapers, research, video interviews, and public relations. For those companies who sell services and expertise, rather than products, thought leadership is especially powerful.
Many clients come to us asking for help in identifying subjects or ideas that will help position them as thought leaders. For some firms thought leadership comes naturally. They are innovative, ahead of the pack. As content writers, we respect forward thinking ideas and present them in a creative way. Other firms are more challenged. They haven’t been as innovative, and don’t really know what it takes to stand out.
Here’s some advice on how to be a thought leader.
Know your customer well, or be willing to find out.
Knowledge learned in the trenches is valuable, but it often stays in the trenches. As content writers, we like to interview those in the know – salespeople who work closely with customers every day. They hear the questions customers ask. If you don’t know your customer’s problems you need to be committed to finding out. Use phone interviews, surveys, feedback forms or other types of research. You cannot be a thought leader if you don’t know your customer’s pain points.
Be willing to educate.
You may know all there is to know about your subject, but if you can’t teach what you know to someone else, you won’t be a thought leader. Some companies are afraid of giving away all their trade secrets and are not willing to share their knowledge. You have to believe that the knowledge you give away will be far less than what you receive in return.
I think many heavy equipment dealers fall into this category. They could provide a lot more information about fixing machines, but perhaps they are worried that people might stop going to them for service, and do the repairs themselves. That might be true but I think this perspective is short sighted. Most dealers are only getting a fraction of the service business now. The same person you are helping has choices on where they want to buy parts and new machines. Why not endear them to you?
Keep an ear to the ground.
Technology can supplement the market intelligence you garner from conversations by capturing relevant comments posted on social media and news releases from across the web. Use Google alerts to get daily or weekly alerts based on your interests. Use Google Trends to see if interest is growing in a particular topic. An equipment manufacturer or dealer could track searches for specific machine types to see what’s gaining interest. Look outside your industry for trends that may impact your business in the future. Use social media tools to listen in on relevant conversations. Join social media groups and take notice of what topics solicit comments and response.
Do it better than anyone else.
If you cover well worn topics, jumpstart new ideas and present them better than anyone ever has. Add graphics, organization or functionality to make the information more accessible and more useful. There is always a way to be different. Thought leaders are not satisfied with what they did in the past.
Have an opinion.
Passion ignites discussion. Are you willing to take a stand on social and political issuesthat are important to your business or your community? People want to know who they are doing business with. Share what you believe. A thought leader has strong values, is well respected in their field and is a person or entity that people admire. Are you supporting efforts to improve your industry? Tackling relevant issues? As Don Draper from the AMC television series Mad Men says, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
Markets are in constant flux, yesterday’s data and perceptions won’t due. Thought leaders embrace change in their markets and their products. They are always looking for what’s next. Research, both quantitative and qualitative is one way to stay on top of change. Identifying trends and creating news helps establish authority. Ask customers, suppliers and partners for input on threats and opportunities for your business. A customer advisory board is a valuable tool among thought-leading organizations.
Recognize that you don’t have all the answers.
You don’t need to know-it-all to be a thought leader. In fact, exposing your weaknesses or mistakes can make you more likeable. Noted leadership author John C. Maxwell once said, “A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.” Companies are really no different.
Thought leadership is not part of every company’s DNA, but there is always room for better ideas and ways to present them. Get your message out to audiences on a regular basis. Become a thought leader.
Who is a thought leader in your industry and why?