Thought Leadership is a lot like Climbing Mountains

January 24, 2014

“What’s your mountain?”

You just never know where inspiration will come from. Those words struck me when I read the phrase on the back of a Grape-Nuts cereal box earlier this month as I was mindlessly crunching my morning breakfast. With that simple question, Grape-Nuts found a great PR avenue to engage with people’s passions.

I am not much of a resolution-maker but for some reason the challenge to answer the question, “What’s Your Mountain?” intrigued and stuck with me for these first weeks of 2014. Identifying what mountain I want to climb in 2014 seems way more exciting than making a resolution.

As a public relations professional, I take part in helping clients identify the “mountains” they want to climb and recommend tools to assist them in reaching their goals. Because of the caliber of clients we have the opportunity to work with in agriculture, and the wealth of knowledge they embody, our recommendations often include helping a client become a thought leader for their industry.

So how does one become a thought leader? Public relations and communication strategies play a primary role in establishing a company as the go-to source for information in their industry. For a company or organization, the basis of thought leadership is to position the brand as the expert in their field and it does this by building relationships and reputations through the information or content they provide.

Thought leadership paves the way for brands to connect with consumers. It is an influential way to humanize an impersonal company image or the products and services it provides.

A company can be successful, efficient, cutting edge or have the highest sales, but yet not be considered a thought leader. Thought leadership happens when a company is known to have the inside track of knowledge and is willing to share with and educate the general public.

There’s a difference between an expert and a thought leader. Thought leaders make an investment in their industry to make it better — without expecting that investment to produce sales. The sales happen naturally when consumers want to be part of your momentum and have access to your expertise.

The following are a few challenges and questions to think about to leverage your company’s expertise in a way that eventually leads to thought leadership:

  1. Get published: When journalists need a quote for an article related to your industry, whom are they sourcing now? Building media relationships and establishing your company as the best source of information is key.
  2. Content creation: Do you provide the type of content to your consumers that they aren’t getting elsewhere? Are you delivering consistent, consumable, useful information through blogs, social media, e-newsletters, podcasts or slideshare?
  3. Social media: How are you engaging with your consumers on social media? Do you have a strong online presence? Are your thoughts and ideas viral?
  4. Speaking engagements: Do you actively seek opportunities to speak publicly whether its by hosting your own events or at other conferences, industry or community functions? Has your company identified and trained a spokesperson(s) to deliver messages?

Thought leadership is not necessarily about having the most innovative product or service in the marketplace. It is about leading the conversation and challenging others to think about changes and trends occurring in their industry, and then providing the knowledge they need to be competitive.

Mountains are paradoxical in that they can both inspire and challenge us at the same time and thought leaders do the same. Thought leaders have climbed to the top of their industry mountain by being authoritative, authentic, accessible and astute to industry trends.

So what’s your mountain for 2014 – and how can Paulsen help you start your climb?

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