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Thought Leadership: Answering Your Customers’ Questions

By Mark Lee Thought leadership is one of the biggest buzz phrases in business today. It is defined as becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience. Forbes Columnist Michael Brenner says, while it can include your unique perspective on hot topics relevant for your customers, the key is that the agenda is set by your audience.  They determine what the questions are. To be a thought leader, you simply need to answer them. Your level of authority, Brenner asserts, is determined by how well you answer the most important questions. He offers the following advice for creating thought leadership that drives results: •  Identify the questions your customers are asking. Identify them all. Then prioritize them. •  Answer those questions across multiple formats and multiple channels in a way that adds value to your audience. Start with the most important and work your way down the list. All you have to do is have the right content to answer the basic questions. •  No Hurdles Allowed.  To get the most out of it, do not place promotion or registration hurdles in front of your thought leadership content. •  Make it Interesting. Your content must rise above the noise of all the boring, overly promotional, gated content that is bombarding your audience. Educate them? Yes. But try to entertain them in the process. Tell stories. Use examples. •  Invite Customers to Participate. I love the idea of interviewing customers to create content or curating content from other sources while adding your own perspective.

As aspiring thought leaders, my AlphaGraphics printing and marketing company continually sifts through the questions we are routinely asked to identify common themes and priority areas of interest. Currently, some of those questions are:

•  How can I use social media to help build my business? •  What are the best ways to optimize my website to make it easier for search engines to find? •  What does 3D printing mean for the future? •  How can I market my goods and services across channels?

In its purest form, thought leadership can help drive amazing innovation in industry and in life.  Daniel Rasmus, author of Listening to the Future, says “thought leadership should be about a big idea that changes how people perceive the world.”

In the printing industry, we are experiencing such a big idea in the emerging technology of 3D printing. This process makes three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file. 3D printing is a transformational technology, promising to change the nature of commerce by allowing end users to manufacture their own products rather than purchasing them from others.

A 3D printer is a kind of industrial robot capable of outputting functional products. It has broad applications in architecture, construction, industrial design, automotive, military, engineering, dental and medical, fashion and many other fields.

3D printers are truly revolutionary, using no ink but a variety of other materials like plastic, glass, metal and polymers.  Rather than covering flat paper with a single layer of dots as in traditional printing, 3D printing creates a three-dimensional object by building upon layers and layers of covered surface.  This “additive” process creates an object by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created.

A growing use for the 3D printer is in creating food.  Business Week reports that, because the health and happiness of astronauts is paramount, NASA awarded a $125,000 contract to Systems & Materials Research to develop a pizza printer. The prototype uses shelf-stable powdered food and oils, offering nutrition while minimizing garbage on board a space vehicle. It first prints a layer of dough onto a heated plate that bakes the dough and then lays down a tomato base that has been stored in powdered form and mixed with water and oil. Last comes a printed “protein layer.”

Who saw that coming?

There is little doubt that 3D printers will transform countless industries as did automobiles, electricity, the telephone and television – all because a few thought leaders looked deep and imagined it in the future.

What do you think?  We would like to know. Add your questions to our list, suggest topics you want to know more about or leave a comment about 3D printing and how it might affect your industry.

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