What’s the path to becoming a retail industry thought leader?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/sanjeri
Apr 08, 2022

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Dave Wendland, VP, strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group and Forbes Council Member. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.

My journey to gaining recognition as a thought leader did not begin by accident, nor did it occur overnight. Thoughtfully crafting articles, speaking at industry conferences and sharing my opinion across various social media channels allowed me to reach a wide audience, which helped me become more known throughout the industry, and my reputation naturally began to build.

Not terribly long thereafter, various publications and associations were reaching out to our organization or to me personally for editorial input or opinions.

Becoming a thought leader is not a self-proclaimed title. An audience must “award” you that honor. Audience engagement can be the most effective indication of how useful your insights are and how others are responding to your thoughts and viewpoint.

Throughout my journey, I’ve recognized that great thought leaders surround themselves with other thought leaders. I’m humble enough to realize other viewpoints matter and other subject matter experts know far more than me.

A delicate balance must also be maintained to ensure that the reputation that is being fostered is not self-serving but focused on interesting ideas or concepts. I have seen countless instances where thought leaders create a personal brand without relevance to their company — this is a pathway to unwanted confusion, internally and externally.

Here are five suggestions to successfully utilize public relations efforts to establish a market position as a thought leader:

  1. Be authentic: It is impossible to fake expertise and convince others of its relevance without well-founded experience.
  2. Be provocative: True thought leaders drive conversations instead of being mere contributors to them.
  3. Be consistent. Make sure each piece you create remains true to your company values and aligns with the overall perception people have of your brand.
  4. Be collaborative: Remaining open to sharing content from other individuals in your industry enhances your reach, invites new readers and brings forward other points of view and experience.
  5. Be strategic: The views that you share should engage at a strategic level to help followers solve problems or broaden their perspectives.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you have for someone seeking to establish themselves as a thought leader within the retail industry? What suggestions would you emphasize from or add to the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Retail punditry should begin and end with real-life examples that support opinions. Without them, we wind up with theories like 'stores are dead' that confuse the narrative."
"Real world experience, either consulting deeply within a retailer or working for that retailer themselves, brings a level of credibility to thought leadership."
"Not sure there is a clear path to punditry — but one critical trait required is a passion for retail, the industry, and the desire to serve and help others."

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23 Comments on "What’s the path to becoming a retail industry thought leader?"


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Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I’ll add another qualification: be informed. Retail punditry should begin and end with real-life examples that support opinions. Without them, we wind up with theories like “stores are dead” that confuse the narrative.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

You are so right, Cathy. Genuine knowledge and firsthand experience adds power and relevance to the message. Unsubstantiated “theories” are a dime a dozen.

David Slavick
BrainTrust

Cathy, I absolutely agree. A thought leader must provide valid context and frame observations based on facts and indeed experiences and/or timely observations.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Well said, Dave! I would add do the work, make sure you have something to say, and experience to back it up. Comment on industry forums and social media, attend industry functions, connect genuinely (that’s important!), and offer your help. There will always be wunderkinds who come out of nowhere, but the rest of us got here through hard work, perseverance and, frankly, a little bit of fairy dust.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

As one of our industry’s foremost thought leaders, Georganne, your demonstrated hard work, persistence, and ever-presence is duly noted!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Thanks, Dave! I am going to frame that comment!

Brian Delp
BrainTrust
8 months 2 hours ago

I’d also add, be direct. There is a lot of fluff out there. Direct and actionable insights are key.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Absolutely, Brian Delp. I would concur that “being direct” should not be overlooked.

I often tell my children (and my team members) that when you speak with confidence your competence will shine.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Nice list, Dave! I would add: bring a point of view, not just an opinion, do your research, support media outlets’ and reporters’ expressed goals and content angles, respond to all inquiries promptly and, most of all, always focus on providing value first and the rest will follow!

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

This is great, Carol. Be original with your well-vetted point of view.

It’s easy to follow and parrot others, it’s far more valuable when you express your own opinion and can defend it with facts!

Dion Kenney
BrainTrust
8 months 2 hours ago

I’ve always heard that “genius” is the ability to look at the same data points as everyone else but to see insights missed by them. I don’t know how you train yourself to see things missed by everyone else. It certainly starts with curiosity, and a willingness to look deeper than surface issues might suggest. In Dave’s case, I would say that insight is only one aspect of what makes him a thought leader. Being able to frame insight in a relatable and actionable way is for some a superpower. Making the hard work of observation, analysis, and synthesis seem effortless is the modern world’s version of magic.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Thank you for the compliment, Dion. Framing insights to be relatable and actionable is exactly what I’m striving to do each day.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

The point of being a thought leader should never be to garner fame or riches. Your singular focus has to be on helping others with no expectation of payback. If you do manage to attract an audience it’s merely a happy accident resulting from doing something you love so much that you rarely think to charge for it.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Love this, DeAnn. Happy accidents are what keep me going and growing!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

I agree. Being “provocative” is a waste of everyone’s time. As Cathy said, it muddies the water.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

As most of us have experienced, becoming a retail thought leader was never in our plans and, in most cases, it happened quite organically as your career progressed. All of these points are spot on, Dave! I would add to this list that having an informed opinion is crucial to being authentic, collaborative, and unique. There has to be a mix of blending the analytics/trends with real-world industry experience to inform the opinions.

As the world and retail industry change by the day, it will also be crucial to be adaptive, flexible, and a lifelong learner to drive provocative conversations. What was trendy and emerging even six months ago is no longer the day’s hot topic. So every journey is different, and it’s up to the audience to decide if you are worth following,

Mark Price
BrainTrust

Real world experience, either consulting deeply within a retailer or working for that retailer themselves, brings a level of credibility to thought leadership. That time can be supplemented by interviews, market research and generally walking through multiple retail environments in multiple markets on low and high traffic days, and observing consumer and associate behavior. That real world focus often leads to insights that a more academic perspective might lack.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

First of all, I think it’s a bit odd to “design” your way to thought leadership. Most thought leaders emerge based on the strength of their thinking and a track record of being successful in the real world, not just on podiums – especially today when so many platforms are pay-to-play or speak for chump change. That said, if I asked what attributes thought leaders share they would be: they are well informed and well connected – so they know what they are talking about and are in a position to execute against it; they swim against the tide, never falling back on conventional wisdom or institutional truth; they aren’t afraid to speak truth to power; they pay very little attention to trends and never speak in buzzwords; they know multiple kinds of retail; they look beyond retailing and follow applicable developments from other industries; and, finally, they remember that individual people are the heart of retailing, so they don’t make sweeping generalization about employees or consumers.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

A profile in the NYT like I received 25+ years only happened because my client got results with my work. They were the hero that drew the LAT and others. Once you have hit it out of the park – you get the title. Everyone has opinions – people pay for results – and then you get the right to lead, not the other way around.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

One more thing: speak English. There is way too much buzzword bingo going around. It’s exhausting just keeping up with them — especially ones that already have names.

Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

Embracing data and analytics as the competitive differentiator — and not dumping it on the CIO to “solve the problem” — also, holding lines of business accountable to support the overall goal is the secret sauce.

Brian Kelly
Guest
7 months 29 days ago

Don’t make stuff up. There is plenty of hype. Seems to sell tickets to confabs. Show relevant experience that informs observations. Too many grand pronouncements with little humility. Everything must be connected to the consumer/shopper experience.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Not sure there is a clear path to punditry — but one critical trait required is a passion for retail, the industry, and the desire to serve and help others. Too often the spark isn’t there or the service interest is missing. Despite all the fanfare that comes with being an expert, being a responsible, caring thought leader outweighs strict knowledge of the space. The whole point is that people will want to follow your thinking and include it with other viewpoints they believe to be valuable. A book on the shelf is worth far less than a book that’s read.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Retail punditry should begin and end with real-life examples that support opinions. Without them, we wind up with theories like 'stores are dead' that confuse the narrative."
"Real world experience, either consulting deeply within a retailer or working for that retailer themselves, brings a level of credibility to thought leadership."
"Not sure there is a clear path to punditry — but one critical trait required is a passion for retail, the industry, and the desire to serve and help others."

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