The Importance of Being a Thought Leader

Posted on: January 14th, 2015 by: trefoil

Strengthening Relationships by Becoming a Trusted Resource

“57 Channels and Nothin’ On” … Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics from more than two decades ago ring truer than ever with the barrage of information confronting people today. We can reach audiences as often as we’d like via a list of digital platforms that keeps getting longer. Everybody’s talking – whether they have something meaningful to say or not.

tg-plastics-today-thought-leader-article-thGiven all this competition for attention, the question for your business is: Are the people you’re trying to reach turning to you as a trusted source of information? Or are they tuning you out?

The answer may lie in how successful you are in positioning yourself and your firm as “thought leaders” – recognized authorities whose expertise is both sought after and rewarded by customers.

The origins of this term can be traced to the pages of Strategy + Business, a Booz & Company publication that simply referred to thought leaders as people worth talking to. It’s about much more than being in charge. It’s about inspiring people and instilling a sense of pride. And setting an example that good people choose to follow.

Rising above the noise of the marketplace

Thought leaders can’t be thought leaders, of course, unless their thoughts are heard.

At Donnelly Custom Manufacturing, for example, Ron Kirscht has worked hard to build Donnelly’s reputation as the go-to company in short-run injection molding through an integrated public relations program that includes bylines, email newsletters and frequent industry presentations. An online newsroom is the hub for these efforts, promoting a variety of knowledge-sharing stories ranging from “8 Essentials of Building a Strong Team,” to “Strengthening the Tooling/Molder Relationship,” to “A Sprinter Not a Marathoner.

What does Donnelly get out of its thought leadership efforts? “We have more than clarity. We have pride that comes from knowing what we’re pros at,” Kirscht said. “Our conversations with prospects are much more purposeful, and companies seek us out now for this expertise.”

The ground rules of effective thought leadership

If your intent is to be a thought leader, you must convince your audience that they need to listen to you. Here are some important guidelines to follow.

  • Share valuable ideas. Offer insights that will help people solve problems, capitalize on opportunities and advance their own causes. Be sincere in giving this expertise away. The world doesn’t need any more bad content, yet we see it every day – on our news outlets, in our emails, on our social media platforms – irrelevant information with no inherent purpose other than to create visibility for the author.
  • Get involved. If you care about it, commit to it. Go all in, whether it’s something important to your company, your industry or your community. Run workshops. Give presentations. Advocate real reform. Be about something more than the money.
  • Challenge your own assumptions. Bring thought leaders into your company to shape new dialogue and create an environment where new ideas and real innovation can take hold.
  • Don’t just be a thought leader. Be a thoughtful leader. I read this in Fast Company and was struck by the importance of these simple words. True thought leaders have a genuine humility. They know their own insufficiencies and are eager to acknowledge others’ contributions large and small.

Pursued consistently and confidently, the thought leadership approach not only raises awareness of your company in a crowded field. It can also help you strengthen existing relationships and establish new ones – not by asking for the sale, but by attracting people to your company based on your reputation as a trusted expert.

In our evolving global marketplace, I believe that thought leadership, as well as other marketing communications efforts we’ve discussed in this series – from digital programs to storytelling to recruiting – will prove essential to sustainable success.

Some will continue to rely on feet-on-the-street to reach customers. Some will choose to tout only the features and benefits of their products. Some will do great things but remain a well-kept secret. There will be winners. And there will be losers. Which one will you be?


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