Be a Thought Leader, Not a Follower

Columns - PPMA Pulse

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February 10, 2016

In a world saturated with competing information and an ever-proliferating news cycle, it can be difficult for your business — and even the industry as a whole — to be heard. Let’s face it, it can be challenging to differentiate yourself from the competition and to stand out in today’s constant chatter. But as protectors of the public’s health and property, and providers of a service that consumers not only want but also truly need, it’s vital for your voice to be audible and amplified.

One of the most effective methods that is becoming increasingly important is thought leadership. My favorite definition explains thought leadership as “a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience and passion inside your business, or from your community, to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience, on a particular topic,” as defined by Marketing Insider Group.

Research says consumers are not just looking for a product or service to buy; rather, they are hungry for information about their areas of interest. According to Forbes Insights, “an analysis of business buying behavior shows that high-value customers such as business customers, wealthy individuals or chief financial officers are increasingly demanding education and advice as part of the sales experience.”

This customer demand is a natural progression, it seems. If consumers, for example, are in need of a licensed pest control professional to rid their homes of an infestation, might they also be interested to know how they can take preventive measures to avoid future issues? The mere act of solving their initial problem is only the tip of the iceberg of their consumer experience — for now they are eager to learn: How can they protect their home? What are the warning signs of a pest issue on the rise? Can these pests damage their property value — or worse, can they affect their health?

The consumers’ quest for knowledge serves as a vehicle of opportunity to step in as helpful experts, ultimately allowing you to convey your messages about professional pest control in a credible, impactful way. As such, it’s essential for your company to create its own platform and stand out as a thought leader within your respected community. To be a successful thought leader, though, you must first find your voice and understand how to effectively disseminate your messages.

DISTINGUISH YOUR VOICE.

Before you can become a thought leader, you must establish where to focus your expertise. Consider taking a step back from your business and trying to understand the bigger picture of your customers’ needs and interests. As a thought leader, it is imperative to not appear to be self-serving. Instead, you should be a trusted adviser who customers can look to for information.

According to an in-depth study on thought leadership in the management consulting and IT services industries, “clients are most interested in thought leadership that is highly relevant to their situation (65 percent), that shows evidence of deep knowledge on a problem and its solution (60 percent), and that reveals specific case studies showing the solution successfully applied by named clients (59 percent).” (See author’s note at end.)

Pertinent, helpful and evidence-based content is important to be an effective thought leader. There are various ways you can discover what is most relevant to your consumers to help shape your voice.

One easy way to do this is to tune in to what your customers and potential clients are saying on social media. The questions they pose, the frustrations they express, and the interests they share help demonstrate how you can best serve their needs. Likewise, follow what is happening in the news in your industry, local community, larger region and even nationally. Trending conversations indicate what your customers’ top priorities are, which can further develop your voice.

In our industry, consider topics on home improvement or public health and safety. Remember that you know the consumers in your community the best — the environment, housing structures, weather and pest problems they experience daily vary from those of a neighboring city or far away state.

SHARE YOUR INSIGHT. Thought leadership can take many forms. For example, speaking at a home show or interviewing with the media, publishing original content, and posting on social media are all valid ways to share expertise.

It’s important to understand the different benefits that each channel for messaging offers and how to use them to your advantage. For example, publishing content online frequently with relevant keywords can increase your brand’s search engine optimization (SEO), meaning that your company will appear higher on a list of search results than others, which will drive more visitors to your site.

Some means for thought leadership will be more useful to you in the pest management industry than others depending on your target audience. Therefore, it’s necessary for you to know which methods are most appropriate to implement to succeed in your community.

To do so, it’s important to understand how your target audiences consume information, which may require some preliminary research on your customers’ behaviors. If you fail to provide your target audience with useful, credible information, then your content will have little value, even if there is much of it.

DON’T GET LOST. As consumer behaviors continue to shift from buying products or one-off services to purchasing meaningful, ongoing experiences, the role of thought leadership will become more essential for marketing success.

Establishing yourself and your business as a credible and knowledgeable resource will increase your public profile in your community and further support your desire to drive home the value of partnering with pest control professionals to current and potential clients.

Finally, if we don’t develop voices as thought leaders for the pest management industry, then we are settling to be followers and risking to not be heard at all. We have the foundation for a strong voice with great stories to share. Collectively, we have the capabilities to ensure we are heard.

Author’s note: Research conducted by Association of Management Consulting Firms, Bloom Group, Rattleback and Research Now.

Cindy Mannes is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. For more about PPMA, email her at cmannes@pestworld.org.