Retail Today Thought Leadership Road Map by Pam Abrahamsson PRA PR PR Thought Leadership Communications

The number of changes hitting the retail industry are piling up like mohair sweaters on a sales rack in July. For the retail executive, just keeping up with the latest technology shakeout or millennial shopping shift can make the usual challenges of logistics, buying strategies and mobile sales promotion seem like a proverbial walk in the park.

So, why work to stay ahead of the trends as a thought leader when just keeping up in the retail world is a task of daunting proportions.

Two key reasons: One, you’re already a thought leader, you just may not know it. Two, your brand, company and career will benefit in ways you may not realize.

Why You’re a Retail Thought Leader
In my 16-plus years of working with some of the world’s smartest executives and entrepreneurs, I’m here to tell you: You have thought leadership capabilities within you that you haven’t even guessed at. Do you have a strong understanding of the issues and opportunities in the retail world? Do you have expertise that your colleagues and co-workers readily acknowledge? Then, with a little research and rethinking of your “career conversation,” you have it in you to engage in thought leadership.

So, What’s a Thought Leader?
A thought leader is someone with subject expertise, who is generous in applying their knowledge to educate, engage, inspire and explore.

Don’t sell — inform, engage, question. Maybe even inspire if you’re truly passionate about your subject. You don’t necessarily have to have all the answers, but knowing the questions to ask, and being able to offer a reasoned look, is key. Do you have an opinion about retail’s rush to mobile and its impact on brick and mortar? Share it. Do you know a better way to do something thanks to your expertise? Offer it up as advice and how-to. Thought leadership is equal parts generosity in sharing your knowledge, and courage to open up and lead with an opinion.

Why it Matters
In an industry — literally and figuratively — driven by moment-to-moment trends, changes in consumer behavior and technology, it’s not enough to simply offer products. A brand and its executives need to thrive as both knowledge centers and innovators. Your positioning as an industry expert will help drive visibility for your brand. It will also keep you and your enterprise top-of-mind for partnerships, sales channels, vendors and other opportunities. Finally, thought leadership is something well-suited to media coverage, blogs and more (we’ll cover this in more detail), and that sort of “digital ink” drives long-term search engine optimization and web visibility that the ephemeral and expensive benefits of purchased social media cannot.

Where’s Your Stage?
The opportunities and channels for sharing with colleagues and customers are myriad. The social world of owned media under your control is great: blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook are all good. Speaking engagements and whitepapers? Absolutely.

Whatever you do, don’t overlook the one awareness — and credibility builder — that’s transformed the careers of CEOs and actual rock stars alike: the press, or earned media, as we call it these days.

3 Reasons to Engage With the Media: Thought Leadership

1. The credible third party: It’s fine to paint yourself as a thought leader. However, when a respected journalist decides your thinking is valuable enough to include in his or her story, then your bona fides as a retail thought leader just took on some extra gravitas. Having a trusted third party validate your insight and thinking delivers credibility in a way patting your own back never could.

2. Wider community: Sharing your knowledge through media channels means opening up your community to a larger world than your immediate contacts. Educating your immediate network is good, helping the industry at large to learn more or be challenged by new ideas is a welcome opportunity, indeed.

3. Search, SEO, the web: As much as digital trends have impacted retail, the world of the web has shaped thought leadership even more. Google puts a great deal of stock in earned media. From better search rankings to SEO-worthy backlinks, publication of your insight and expertise yields dividends that will keep paying you in thought leadership interest for literally years to come.

Use your brains, industry knowledge and fresh point of view to interact with journalists, connect with your retail world and educate as the retail thought leader you know you are.

Pam Abrahamsson, an award-winning public relations professional, is founder & director of PRA Public Relations, a B-to-B national agency.