The concept of thought leadership evolved from leadership in general, where those who led in an industry were—or felt—obligated to guide others within the field, share knowledge and prepare the way for industry growth, depth and maturation. What started as something distinguished, substantial and authoritative became a buzzword. Suddenly it seemed, public relations professionals and marketers pushed their clients and companies to become trailblazers and masterminds with the moniker of thought leader.
But if everyone is a thought leader, who’s a thought follower?
Let’s step back and examine what you’re trying to accomplish if you—or others around you—want you, or your company, to demonstrate thought leadership in the building industry. It is more than a catchphrase and, if you plan to embrace it, it deserves…thought.
Start with your understanding of what thought leadership means. If it means you’re the one always talking to the media about decarbonization in the buildings sector, you are either a thought leader in that specialty, or your calendar is more open than other leaders’ appointment books and journalists know you’re available to talk.
There are benefits to either, but thought leadership is more than availability. It’s offering insight and focus to others within a field or specialty area, often analyzing with precision what’s happening right now and predicting (with a proven track record of doing so) what will happen in the future of that industry or specialty. It’s more than cursorily talking or writing about the industry’s hot topics.
“Thought leaders are not just trendsetters and influencers, but trusted sources who can inspire their audience with their creative and thought-provoking ideas,”according to Forbes. “They are the ones who can turn ideas into reality and demonstrate their success to positively motivate others to follow in their footsteps.”
Multiple benefits emerge from thought leadership—for both you and your building business or company, including:
- additional awareness and acknowledgement of your brand, business or company.
- additional credibility for you and reliability assigned to you from those in your industry.
- additional opportunity within your specialty to provide direction or context.
Before you take specific steps to build thought leadership in your area of specialty, consider what might make it easier to initiate.
How comfortable are you—or your team members—embracing what’s next and what’s new? Would you describe yourself as more proactive, or more reactive?
How farseeing do you consider yourself? How likely are you to know industry trends? How comfortable are you with research? We’re not talking beakers in labs or academic jargon in journals here, but effective thought leaders are insatiable consumers of information—articles, podcasts, videos and books—all of which both Forbes and Harvard Business Review call “the most highly curated form of knowledge.”
The ability to identify when things are askew (before they go full off-road kaput) and the ability to rouse or rally others are two of the three characteristics identified in a recent Forbes article on thought leadership. The third? The ability to reframe.
“Bold thought leadership isn’t a web of rhetoric and vision—it’s about offering up real solutions and anticipating challenges others have not even considered,” according to the article.
Being inclusive, trustworthy (you gotta have cred) and aware of building industry trends and patterns also creates solid foundation for thought leadership in your arena. If you can’t unequivocally say you live these traits, or other characteristics of thought leaders, you might not have the greatest success as one. And, ironically, if you can’t critically analyze yourself for these traits, you’re probably not thought-leader material. Others must believe that you do the hard work of sifting out low quality and false ideas (the flotsam and jetsam always present in an industry) and provide the gems that remain. If people don’t trust you to analyze yourself, your team and the information you want to share, they won’t trust any ideas you put into the domain.
If you’re confident you have the underpinning to begin or further curate your thought leadership in the building materials industry, let’s talk steps.
1. Determine and define your audience
Your thoughts won’t be for everyone, so decide, based on research and your understanding of the industry, who might be interested—or eventually drawn—to your message. Who might benefit from what you say or write? Why should they care what you think?
In the construction and manufacturing fields, this might be a new CEO who needs a bit of extra guidance to learn how best to lead. Or it might be a company owner who is successful, but has reached a plateau he or she needs to overcome. Your audience members might not even be specific persons, although you’ll speak or write as if they are. Your audience could be those with a specific job title, or even your own employees or team members.
To further develop your target audience, identify pain points your audience members have, or could have over time. Pain points must somehow relate to the challenges of growing or managing a company in this sector, but evergreen pain points, such as successful leadership and management could also work. The topics you address with your thought leadership have to really matter to your target and your industry. When you show people how to solve a problem they have—or think they have—you increase your credibility and build trust.
2. Based on your expertise, find and define your authentic voice
Thought leaders must first determine the industry or area of specialization in which they have the Three Es: eperience, expertise and energy.
If you wouldn’t (yet) consider yourself a thought leader, but you have knowledge and understanding in an area that you know is important, that’s experience. What’s key is choosing a topic you care about and in which you can build your expertise. Expertise is a combo of experience and knowhow over time. You may have experience in building codes, but your expertise can carve another business from your experience, such as with The Hickman Group.
The energy element speaks to how much commitment and enthusiasm you must put toward your topic. Energy helps you to continue learning about a topic and addressing issues related to it. You’ll probably never be a thought leader around a topic, or specialty, to which you are indifferent.
Because most thought leaders are pacesetters who know what they’re talking about and what they’re doing, their experience, expertise and energy drives them to speak in a distinct and authentic voice.
What tone and voice suits you and your topic? Are you the friendly and casual person who does best when sitting down over a sandwich and a soda? That voice often connects with an audience more personally. Or are you more professional, official and authoritative in your tone and language choice (which leaves no doubt about your expertise)? To keep it genuine, don’t adopt a voice that’s not you—or your company.
Part of finding your voice is having a well-researched opinion. Thought leaders have thoughts and take stands.
“If there’s something you think is the opposite of what the crowd thinks to be, go ahead and voice your opinion. If you really want to stand apart, don’t be afraid of controversies,” according to Forbes. “But make sure your opinions are based on an informed understanding of the matter. When your opinions are backed by data, it becomes easier for you to discuss those opinions based on their merit in contrast with the opinions of others. This inspires people to trust and respect your opinion and follow you in the future too.”
3. Plan Your Thought-Leader Strategy
All effective thought leaders have a delivery strategy. Not only do they think out whom they’re trying to reach and why their messages are relevant and important, but they’ve also considered how to convey their messages. Don’t be afraid to get creative in how you deliver your message. The more inventive the delivery (while keeping with your voice and brand), the more you position yourself as a leader in your industry.
But first, plan to deliver value. Consistent and reliable value. Being a thought leader demands that you create appreciated and respected content for your audience. Getting your voice into your industry can be through a consistent and deep online presence that includes SEO-rich blog posts, social media and video content, podcasts, downloadable white papers, newsletters or anything that helps your audience learn about the topic to which you’ve committed your experience, expertise and energy.
In-person delivery of your knowledge can be another part of your delivery strategy. A speaking engagement where you discuss how you took your family’s lumber company from just a few thousand dollars per year to several million is an ideal opportunity for thought leadership. Consider hosting a seminar where you explain to sales reps how to become better at what they do, or sign up for trade show lectures offered for educational purposes to attendees.
In-person delivery also helps to establish you as a resource within your industry or field. Be sure to promote that you are available for questions or discussions. When others see you as a resource, they’re more likely to embrace you as a leader in your area of specialization.
Want more on this part of thought leadership? Consider these steps to thought leadership via content creation.
4. Measure Your Efforts
Also consider how you’ll measure your efforts at thought leadership. Before committing to becoming a thought leader in the building materials industry, it is important to decide how to measure what you consider success. Is it helping your company get more recognition as an industry leader, or reaching a specific number of people within your specialty in the construction world? Do you simply want to complete the process for personal fulfillment?
No matter which of these—or others—you choose, you’ll want to have a way to track your efforts. Maybe this is the number of people who read your blog each week or followers on social media accounts. Perhaps it is the size of the audience you’re speaking to at seminars or trade shows. Whatever that metric is, make sure you keep track of it along the way to document your progress. The data gathered may even provide another topic of thought leadership.
To wrap, consider these thoughts on thought leadership from Forbes.
Part of our advice on developing as a thought leader is to avoid talking about yourself too much. You’re not selling your building products or services, after all. But here’s where we don’t take our own advice: If you’re unsure where to start, or go deeper, on your thought leadership, ER Marketing can help. If you’re thinking about building your thought leadership portfolio, get in touch with us to start the conversation.
Thought leadership is the act of guiding others, sharing knowledge, and offering insights to advance an industry or specialty area.
Anyone with expertise, experience, and energy in a specific industry or area of specialization can become a thought leader.
Thought leadership can bring awareness and credibility to your brand or company, as well as provide additional opportunities to offer direction and context within your specialty.
Based on industry research, identify who might be interested in or benefit from your message, considering their roles, challenges, and pain points.
Choose a topic you care about and in which you can build expertise, then determine the tone and voice that best suits you and your audience.
Create a delivery strategy that includes online presence through blogs, social media, videos, podcasts, and downloadable resources, as well as in-person engagements such as speaking engagements, seminars, and trade show lectures.
Define your own metrics for success, such as increased recognition, reaching a specific audience size, or personal fulfillment, and track your progress using tools like blog readership, social media followers, or audience size at events.
Start by understanding the concept and defining your audience and authentic voice, then plan your content strategy and measure your progress along the way.
Thought leaders are trendsetters, influencers, and trusted sources who offer creative ideas, turn ideas into reality, and inspire others to follow their lead.