A major part of any industry trade association is maintaining a relationship with vendors and suppliers. As thought leaders, trade associations are looked to for solutions when it comes to changes within an industry. Displaying industry knowledge is part of the value trade associations create, but their connections with vendors can make this even more effective. Both the vendor and organization are looking to impress members through value propositions. Transitioning these vendors into additional sources of thought leadership elevates both parties in the eyes of members, both old and new.

Transitioning to a Thought Leader

Helping your vendors become thought leaders doesn't mean passing off any authority. What it does is give you an additional way to perform pulse checks on various pockets within the industry. Thought leadership itself is all about leveraging industry experience and knowledge to provide unique insights that are backed by tenure within the industry. A thought leader could be seen as the professional version of an influencer.

Influencers gain an audience and then market to that audience based on advertisement and brand deal offers, even if it's unrelated to their regular content. Thought leadership means sharing valuable content within an industry and giving an educated explanation or perspective on it. Both are fueled by an active following, but thought leaders keep their content within the areas they're qualified to speak to. Changing vendors into these trusted sources of information adds another layer of thought leadership to your association.

When members feel like the vendors their organization has partnered with are also aligned with their mission, genuine rapport is built. Engaging members with thought leadership often doesn't come with a call to action at the end. It's about building trust through reliable industry information and updates, no strings attached.

Thought Leadership Is More Than a Title

Labeling something as a thought leadership piece isn't enough to attract and retain an audience. Many companies struggle to separate their marketing from their thought leadership programs which takes away from the legitimacy of the latter. It's crucial to follow through with the commitment to thought leadership and avoid sales within the content. This approach gives members unique experiences with your brand. Thought leadership pieces position you as an authority while separate marketing material can be used to drive sales with an audience that better trusts the association.

Thought leaders are also more than people who simply have years of industry experience. These leaders are trusted experts in their field and are often responsible for handling tasks your organization may not be as familiar with. Turning this into a network of contacts lets you break down knowledge silos and find solutions thanks to new perspectives.

Knowing a little more of what it takes to be a thought leader, you may already have some vendors in mind for the job. These should be trusted partners that share a desire to improve industry practices and standards through fresh ideas and unique solutions.

A Win-Win for Professional Associations

It's easy to lose sight of the scope of an industry. The sheer reach and impact an industry has is often in the millions of people, but every product and service provided is done at a meticulous level. When this happens, vendors and suppliers become critical sources of vital industry information. What may seem like a small change, such as shipping costs going up, could be the result of an industry event that has impacted logistics across the board.

As you get these industry insights, your vendors also get to learn more about your association and its members. Productive conversations are easier to organically create when everyone involved is educated and passionate about the subject matter. With many industries having more association options than ever, creating a sense of comradery is a large part of the value-proposition that draws new members in and retains old ones.

Setting Vendor Best Practices

Association vendors are in a similar situation when working an event. Members are excited to network with other industry experts but will shut down quickly when they feel they're being sold to. Vendors then have to weigh the cost of losing out on marketing with providing their service. If you transition them to thought leaders, they can create value for their own brand while doing the same for your association. Depending on the following the vendor has, this could lead to a sharp increase in views and engagement for your org.

If your industry is one that uses certifications for professional qualification, ensure your potential thought leaders have what's needed to discuss the industry without liability. Even the most thought-provoking and engaging vendor could cause trouble for your association should they provide false information that leads to damages. Create simple training material or invite vendors to observe ideal examples of thought leaders to align your goals.

In the End, It's All About Value

Having a vendor double as a thought leader obviously generates more value from a monetary perspective, but it's the value your members enjoy that matters most. Both you and your thought leaders work together to bolster trust within the industry as your networks continue to grow. Organic interactions with industry authorities is an extremely effective approach to member engagement for industry trade associations nationwide.