As an entrepreneur, a team manager or a community leader, your ability to influence matters. It matters to your bottom line as well as to your personal and brand reputation.
“It’s simple: If you are not influential, you are irrelevant,” said Kelly Rossman-McKinney, CEO of Truscott Rossman. “Every organization, business or individual should want – no, NEED – to be relevant. We should all strive to be influential in ways that are meaningful, responsible and respectful.”
To have influence is to have the ability to move people into meaningful action or to shape thought based on the integrity of your reputation, according to Rossman-McKinney. Tim Wondergem, founder and president of Wondergem Consulting, Inc., noted that influencers are people who have the ability and credibility to guide decision making and even change behavior. “It starts with transparency and doing the right thing for the right reasons,” he said.
Build Trust Over Time
The biggest mistake people make in trying to create influence is impatience, noted Jeff Lambert, president and managing partner at Lambert, Edwards & Associates.
“Influence is the product of relationships plus expertise and trust,” he said. “Building influence begins with creating affinity. Credibility, trust, and loyalty are all won over time.”
So where do you begin? Rossman-McKinney said it boils down to developing mutually beneficial relationships using your strategic communications and public relations along with strong brand marketing. “Today’s audiences have high expectations that you’ll understand them and their interests. They’re savvy and they see through self-interested or shallow promotion,” she said.
Research Your Audience
The first rule of marketing is know your audience. Lambert recommended defining and prioritizing various audiences by looking at current customers or the first-level of stakeholders you most often reach. Then narrow down to two or three “ideal personas.” From there, Rossman-McKinney suggested a process of refining demographics to target each audience more specifically.
“Every organization needs to devote serious time to defining two things: who matters most to them and to whom they matter most,” she said. “Trigger points are different for different audiences. Most mistakes I’ve seen have come from the failure to recognize the need for research.”
Craft a Custom Message
“Breaking through the communications clutter can be daunting,” noted Wondergem. “A strong brand communicates confidence and the ability to influence choice in a crowded and competitive market.”
That’s why PR/marketing experts strategize and customize their messages for each target audience—whether that’s customers or the public, employees or board of directors, or elected officials and community leaders. Rossman-McKinney advised thinking about how each audience is different: “What’s meaningful to one consumer group, media outlet, or governmental body may not be meaningful to another.”
“Customizing your marketing and messaging by audience is not only more effective,” added Lambert. “It’s also more cost-efficient. Avoid wasting your resources on those who are not interested.”
Build Your Connections
Joining organizations, boards, and committees that matter to you outside your business can help you share your skills and position yourself as an influential person whose ideas matter, noted Wondergem. And Lambert added that there still is value in the tried and true tact of networking and personal connections to create your own team of ambassadors.
“Business owners need to do more than just sell their product or service. They should be part of the community they serve,” said Rossman-McKinney.