Forbes describes a “thought leader” as “An individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries, and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise."
And not only are thought leaders the experts on where their industry is today, they are the people and the companies that chart the course for where an industry will be tomorrow. And that, my friend, is a powerful position to be in.
What does “thought leadership” look like in the real world? Well, let’s say you and a competitor both make widgets. They are stylish, long-lasting widgets that do exactly what a widget should, and are well-reviewed by widget users and the widget media alike. If that were the end of the story, both you and your competitor could expect to do roughly the same amount of sales and experience the same amount of growth (or decline, should widgets go out of favor), assuming your marketing efforts are similar.
But it’s not the end of the story. While your competitor is quite happy with the current state of widgets, you have a burning desire to improve them. In fact, you’ve begun talking with your engineers about how to make them bigger, stronger, and faster. You’ve written a series of white papers arguing for fundamental changes to widgets that will see them evolve into something much different, much better. You are speaking at conferences, being quoted in articles, and appearing on late night talk shows. You... are a widget visionary. You… are a thought leader. And your company is cleaning up.
“OK, I’m widget-obsessed. So what?” you ask. “All I’m doing is talking about Widget 2.0. How does that translate into more business?”
There are a number of reasons that thought leaders attract huge followings and that companies displaying thought leadership are always more successful than their stagnant competitors, including:
- What’s next?! What’s new?! What now?! — For better or worse, consumers these days simply do not stay satisfied for long. If they don’t get the sense that your company is doing all it can to remain on the cutting edge of its industry, they are likely already eyeing your competition.
- The lure of the great unknown — We all love an adventure, even if we’re participating vicariously. Tagging along as a company we do business with moves into unexplored territory is exciting.
- Expanding ecosystem — Often, a company’s thought leadership results in innovation that produces new products and services that are different than, but related to and tightly integrated with, their current offerings. And this benefits their existing customer base.
- The cream of the crop — Not only do thought leaders excel at getting people to buy from them, they also entice the best in the business to work for them, adding to their competitive advantage. If you can join a company that puts out the same old dependable widgets decade after decade OR the company that’s pushing the boundaries of widget technology, which would you choose?
So… If you want your company to grow and thrive, taking the necessary steps to push it to the forefront of your industry is worth the effort. We’ve helped many of our clients do it, and in a future post, I’ll provide an action plan for helping you achieve recognition as a thought leader.