B2B Growth: Your Daily B2B Marketing Podcast
B2B Growth: Your Daily B2B Marketing Podcast

Episode 2077 · 11 months ago

Using Thought Leadership to Change the World

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In this episode, Dan Sanchez talks with Grant Butler who is the founder and director of the Editor Group as well as the author of Think, Write, Grow: How to Become a thought leader and build your business by creating exceptional articles, blogs, speeches, books, and more.

They discuss Grant's broad definition of thought leadership, who can be a thought leader, and the qualities of effective thought leaders.

Yeah, welcome back to PDB Growth. I'm dan Sanchez with Sweet fish Media and today I'm here with Grant Butler, who is the director and founder of the editor group as well as the author of think, Right grow. Grant, welcome to the show. Thank you dan. Thank you for the invitation. It's always a pleasure to speak with authors, especially after I've been able to have the chance to read one of their books and I did have the chance to read grants book on thought leadership. And as part of this series we're doing on thought leadership. I love to be able to talk to people who have spent a lot of time thinking and wrestling and working with the subject matter themselves and even better if they've actually written a book on the topic because they've had to think and wrestle with it just that much more. And Grant wrote a wonderful book. In fact, it's probably one of the most concise and well written books on thought leadership that I've read so far, of course with being um founder of a company called The Editor Group, you can kind of tell what I like. He's a writer, a very wonderful writer. So Grant I wanted to kick off our interview with just your thoughts on how you define thought leadership. There's a lot of different definitions out there. There's a lot of people that would even say that thought leadership kind of cringe. E it's a buzz word, it's it's a passing fad. So how do you define thought leadership? And would you say it's more than just a passing fad? Or is it something that has more of a staying power? Well, thank you for the comment on the book to start with it. Um it's actually if you're trying to write a book about writing, you become acutely aware of the writing. So it took a lot longer than I thought it might thought leadership. I definitely don't think it's a fad. I think if you look at professional services and technology, they have always sold using thought leadership. I think where it's got a lot more interest in the last few years has been around content marketing and things like this. Tickles and advice articles and so forth, picking up on a lot of what law firms, engineering firms and big tech companies and finance groups have known for a long time. But in terms of a definition, uh it was originally used by a guy called Joel Kurtzman to describe the big management thinkers like Charles, handy and paul paul Romer and so forth. And he was just looking for a term that was kind of combined the idea of people who think and then also offer those ideas out to others in a way that has a leadership dimension. But in terms of the book and the definition I use, it's really about offering ideas that helps solve somebody else's problem or point out an opportunity. And when you look at it that way, it's not that far away from journalism, journalism, you know, pretty much every article pointing out a threat or an opportunity. Uh Thought leadership is much the same. So what separates thought leadership from journalism then, is that that it's more focused on a specific market, doesn't have a business interest behind it. You're typically looking to change the world in some way or ask or with, you know, the recipient, the reader to make a change. Journalism reports on the past, right? It's news, It's something that's happened. Thought leadership should be forward looking. Uh So their recommendations for things for other people to do, that's kind of a unique definition of thought leadership. And it really opens up the whole gamut there. And I'm trying to think through the implications of that. If journalism is reporting on the past and thought leadership is essentially it's not reporting on the future because that would be like prophecy, right? But it's essentially trying to write the future and persuade people love of a specific future that it has, it goes way beyond business. It's starting to come into the realm of like, I don't know, it kind of reminds me of like ted talks, right ideas on the future we're sharing. So I guess all all TX talks would essentially be thought leadership. Yeah. I mean if you think about the leadership as a genre, you've got ted...

...talks, you've got books, you've got political articles, all the big columnists and so forth. And if you think about something like Covid or climate change, you're seeing a lot of this discussion at the moment. I thought one good example we could talk about is thomas prio the guy who wrote The Hammer and The Dance and put it up on medium. So you had all these global medical experts talking about Covid and so forth. But he did a wonderful thing, which was published a lot of data in a very digestible way using fantastic diagrams and so forth, and then offer a kind of a path forward. So he, on the one hand looks backwards and he describes something and that's a bit like news. But then he says, well, you know, if we understand all of that, What's the strategy going forwards and any offers this the hammer, the hammer down on COVID and then the dance where you learn to live with it. Uh and that metaphor, you know, has probably had more impact from one guy who's just doing business development for online learning platform uh, than the World Health Organization and all these other groups. I mean it's been downloaded north millions of times translated into 37 languages and so forth. So it's that sort of idea to well educated guessing. So you had a unique idea. He put it out into the world and influenced millions of people through the written piece. I'm sure there was a number of people that were critiquing it or or taking an opposite stance from it. But still he had an idea and a view of the world and published it for published it to the kind of change uh how people are viewing Covid. Yeah. And I'm sure we'll get into talking about how organizations do this. But there was two other important ingredients or three really. One, he was brave enough to go out there too, he was articulate, but three that business he was working for, let him gave him permission to just publish something enormous on a topic that had nothing to do with them. But that's kind of that oblique nature of a lot of these, you know, uh effective Felicia campaigns is actually really key part of it. Get out there, say something interesting and then gradually bring the conversation back to something you're actually selling. So which leads me to ask like, can anybody become a thought later, anybody in a company, anybody on their own? Can anybody submit that leadership ideas and do so with I don't know, can anybody do it? Well, yeah, I think the question here is where you set the bar and so sure you've got these global thinkers, you know, your Nouriel Roubini knees and so forth, and your gates and Elon musk and so on. So Tony Robbins, right? You think there's this level of mega thought leader, they're a pretty unique package, you know, their charismatic, they're articulate, they're smart, they're well informed, you know, they've got a platform, but a lot of what we're talking about and B two B, you know, it's just about offering decent advice that demonstrates their expertise to your customers and lots of people can do that. And I guess the other thing is you have individual rock stars, these big thought leaders or even in a small organization and individual that's really a good thinker and speaker and so forth. But you also have organizations that publish thought leadership, so you can do this in teams, you know, you can do it at a small level. One of my favorite example is I was looking at whether to put in a fiberglass swimming pool or a concrete swimming pool and if you go on and google fiber glass versus concrete, the top hits and the content marketers will notice, but the top hits come up for the people that are published. The best advice about whether you put in a fiberglass, Circumpolar, Capri one and it is not fantastic writing, but the number one ranking story is, you know, some small business in Missouri kind of thing with a really awesome explanation...

...of this debate. So yeah, so anyone can do it and you know, people might do it at different levels, but if you're a small law firm you just want to win a few clients, you can put some basic thought leadership out there and it's gonna probably do more than not putting something out there. So it's interesting would you consider all content marketing to be thought leadership? Where do you draw the line there? Well, yeah, this is where you start to get into the intellectual snobbery. So really and I'm conscious this podcast is better be. So there's a lot of stuff getting turned out under the content marketing label that isn't really All that credible, isn't really terribly well researched uh and so on. So it might get somebody to buy a swimming pool, but it probably won't get them to put in a $50 million it system or switch their entire back end of their banking system to some new platform that they're going to stick with for 20 years. So I think the ideas are right, but a lot of the execution is pretty vague, pretty high p and wouldn't really cut it in the serious and to be to be. And because an agency that's where we tend to play, we tend to do 50 page research backed reports for before consulting firms, top tech firms, these sort of guys. So but it's all it's all in the genre. The main thing isn't advocating an idea, is offering somebody a solution to a problem. And is it soft sell? I mean that's the other big thing about for Leadership. It shouldn't be explicitly selling something because that's just marketing and that's, you know, brochures websites for that material, which is fine as well, but it's not what we might call for Leadership Market. Sure. Put a hypothetical and see if we can still call Thought leadership as a marketer for a Bdb podcasting agency. I could write a blog post about microphones, I think that's probably a little bit too broad for us, but I've had enough customers ask about what microphone they should use enough times that I'm like, I could probably, you know, by four or five mics. Popular mix kind of do a review of them, audit them. Maybe not a super in depth analysis. But then published a blog post about my thoughts, my top recommendation and like you have more budget by this one, but otherwise this one works well. That would still be a good piece of content. It's useful for customers. I might even be able to write it well enough that it gets ranked on google. Would that still be thought leadership content? So the thought leadership, if you put an opinion behind it, uh you look at all those microphones and then you've offered somebody your view of the best one. And whereas if you just wrote a dry piece about five microphones and their features, then it would sort of be used. You say that that's kind of the line. But it's a perfect example, you know, and it's a good all this the leadership so starts conversations, it captures attention by publishing on something that people care about. And then, you know, it gets them into your funnel, you might say, you know, and then you can sort of segue way across to well why are you looking for a microphone? You know, you want to do a podcast, we might go to help you. So it's for me, are you hearing you say it's it's bringing a point of view that's unique to you. Um and as well researched and well informed is thought leadership marketing essentially. Uh it's the leadership you can use in marketing. Yeah, like there's two concepts there, but a lot of what we write call points of view and a lot of detention inside organizations is there's a lot of experts, but not everyone wants to have a point of view, you know? And so because, like, say lawyers, they will be have a high level of expertise about a topic, but they won't tend to want to state a position that I sort of want to say. Well on the one hand, this and on the other hand, that and you know, whereas the thought leaders need to be a bit braver and pick a line like, you know, think about ai at the moment ai and ethics, you...

...know, is it solvable or is it inherently problematic? You know, And if I'm a thought leader out there on that topic, I've sort of got a positive or negative on it. Hey, everybody Logan with sweet fish here. If you've been listening to the show for a while, you know, we're big proponents of putting out original organic content on linkedin. But one thing that's always been a struggle for a team like ours is to easily track the reach of that linkedin content. That's why I was really excited when I heard about Shield the other day from a connection on you guessed it linked in since our team started using Shield, I've loved how it's led us easily track and analyze the performance of Arlington content without having to manually log it ourselves. It automatically creates reports and generate some dashboards that are incredibly useful to see things like what contents been performing the best and what days of the week are we getting the most engagement and our average views per post. I highly suggest you guys check out this tool. If you're putting out content on linked in and if you're not, you should be. It's been a game changer for us. If you go to shield app dot Ai and check out the 10 day free trial, you can even use our promo code B two B growth to get a 25% discount again, that's shield app dot Ai. And that promo code is B. The number to be growth. All one word. All right, let's get back to the show. I have heard David baker say that good, that leaders often bifurcating like they're going to go and pick a position on any number of topics are the topics that they're an expert in. So it certainly lines up with what I've heard others say about that before. What are some of the qualities that you think good thought leaders have? Like if somebody were aspiring to be a thought leader that they could kind of check themselves against or to become better at becoming a thought leader, what are those qualities that you think are most important? Yeah, I think I think for the individual, I think the first big one is just being wrapped up in the debate. You know, that you're interested that there's a topic you've got expertise on and that you're engaged with. So you are reading articles on it, you're going to conferences, you're listening to podcasts. So I think, you know, start with the idea is is there even a topic you would regard yourself as having an above average understanding of and an ability to move forward as a field? And so that's that's both interest in knowledge, but it's also passion, you know, uh before the topic. Uh and then I think the other side of it is this communication part, you know, are you somebody who's happy to get out there and communicating on the topic? And you know, can you write well, can you speak well? Uh, you know, or is there another forum? I mean, some people are just fantastic researchers, they put a lot of good material together and then other people, you know, kind of polish that up and take it out, but I think those are the sort of starting points, but um, and then in the book is, you know, you've noted there's these other characteristics, I mean, so some thought leaders will be a bit like your academic, you know, a bit like the university figure, you know, solitary, often a bit difficult, opinionated and so on. You don't, you don't sort of have to be, but it helps if you think about Malcolm Gladwell, you know, he's not selling anything of it in his books and talking most of the time, but here's a good example of a thought leader, You know, you don't think of Malcolm Gladwell and band right? And team. It's just Malcolm Gladwell and he's got these ideas he researches and he's most most in the debate and communication well. And he offers advice, right? You know what we call kind of actionable insights. But yeah, I think those are a lot of things. I'll let you ask another question necessarily. I guess it would depend highly on like what your market is right on what the good qualities would be. As you were talking, I was like, man, if it if you were in the academia...

...world then your credentials are probably gonna matter. But if you're in the business world they care a little bit less about credentials. And probably at least I've pulled my small following on linkedin and they've told me that experience probably matters more than anything. So I guess the qualities might shift around from time to time as you're working with customers and clients. Uh, do you find you might size up the quality is differently depending on what industry they're in? Yeah. And also what are they looking to comment on? So if you've got somebody who's, uh, I read a fantastic piece about by a family lawyer about the impact of Covid on families and the legal implications. You know, you can picture people can't swap the kids every week because the Covid and so on and so a family lawyer can do a, they can be a really low key person. Just published a really nice little blog about the issues and some solutions and so forth. So the bar is not super high there and they just need credibility in that area. At the other end of the spectrum, you get your Elon musk sort of figures and they they've got enormous credibility in one field, like electric cars, uh battery technology and so on. But now he's off being a crypto thought leader or a disaster depending how you, but people are only listening to him on crypto because of his credibility from Paypal and from Tesla. Okay. So he kind of Bill Gates is the same, right? Bill Gates is out there talking on climate change, but his credibility comes from I. T. And business success. So if you think about that you is a nice analogy in the book, but it talks about this kind of tea concept that the deeper your credibility in one field and it almost doesn't really matter what it is. The further the world will let you extend out along the branches of the T. Um, and listen to you and all sorts of other topics. A bit like the Kardashians offering advice on fashion, right? You know, it's sort of, you start somewhere when you extend out and the bigger that core credibility of the further you can extend out, there's certainly an impact of celebrity, right? If you're a celebrity of any kind with no expertise, like, like Shaquille O'neal could just say by these shoes, um, and maybe he's an expert in basketball, but if he sees drink, drink sprite or whatever, people are just going to go to it because they're a fan. Actually, no, Shaquille O'neal has been working hard on his owns lots of businesses, but he's not really known as a business thinkers still. And I think there's something to be said for people who have expertise and lots of fields, right? Like Ellen started with Paypal. So he got his, like Silicon Valley chip on his shoulder because he had to exit, right? But then started electric cars and then did one of the most successful consumer run space companies, right? And in the boring company and he just kept adding these really daring endeavors and they somehow were all successful, which is highly, highly was unlikely, right? I guess that's why they kind of listen to him on all these other subjects too. Yeah. But in terms of celebrity and businesses, I mean this is the kind of the running joke where actors are always solving world peace, right? You know, because they've Angeline Jolie or whatever, you know, uh they're out there but but businesses can leverage that celebrity unload those people up with their ideas. So you see that a lot so big business might have an idea about transforming to net zero and so forth and but they need a matt Damon or someone George Clooney or whatever to come and deliver that for them. So you kind of as a marketer, you sort of look at the idea and then you look at the channels and then you look at the presenter and in some cases you can find that internally, and in other cases you can develop the idea internally, but you kind of need somebody else to take it out and you're going to leverage their celebrity to uh to do that. So when we were working with customers and let's say it's a B2B company and they have like an internal subject matter expert, maybe multiple...

...subject matter experts. And they want to start walking down the path of helping the subject matter experts to develop thought leadership uh maybe even become in some ways the face of the company. What's a first couple of steps you would recommend B two B marketers to take to help them walk their smes through that process? I think the first thing is run around the building and if anyone's in buildings anymore and just do a bit of an audit, you know, who are are experts and not just experts, but people with these progressive sort of ideas, you know, and and look beyond the executive ranks. Big organizations tend to have these public spokespeople that they're not always the thought leaders, you know, they're often going to be the more solitary bookish figure you don't hear from much, but it actually got cause some ideas. So you sort of internally with what fly and then also have a look at your brand topics, you know, and then look at the real world what topics are under discussion. Uh So you might be an engineering firm, you work out which engineers know anything, you work out that the world wants to talk about climate change, and then you start trying to marry those two are, you know, so which of my experts, could actually comment on zero sort of topics, and then you'll be studying conversation with them, and you're probably doing a bit of a kind of literature review or market review, because this is a bit like journalism, where the story is always running, so you're always trying to work out where the story is up to. And so if we step into this debate, what are we going to add? You know, And the really biggest thing is what questions our audience asking, you know, what do people care about or what problems are they having? Or what opportunities? You know, might they have in front of them right now that we could answer. And if you start with those questions and then, you know, overlay it back against those other topics, it will hopefully come together pretty quickly because your sme will say yes, I can, I can offer you five fantastic answers to that question. And then it just becomes a question of how you publish those out. Yeah. So what I'm hearing you saying is that first you gotta find your experts, do the run around the building top, find your topics of expertise, find that, and then once you kind of have, like, a row of all the things you could speak to you from your subject matter experts or your executives from from within your company, finding correlation between what topics are trending out in your industry, going and listening to the conversations on twitter, the kinds of questions they're asking your pipeline, um and the kinds of questions are asking in general, um in the space and maybe they're asking them in conferences or whatever the trending topics are, and trying to find overlap between those two, right between the things you can speak to, the things that are out in the world and the last part is finding where you can play a part in the story, which was kind of interesting being able to project where the story is going and how you can insert yourself into it since it's running there. And that's kind of a unique idea most people are playing are retroactive, so trying to think ahead of where this is going to be going, knowing that, you know, it takes a little bit of time to get your opinion on an interview and publish it and actually take time for the, even after you publish it, you know, letting it matriculate out there for it to be time. Well, you do have to be thinking ahead. So I imagine that could be somewhat difficult to figure out where things are going to go. Um Is there anything you do to help people like identify where a story might trend? Do you have questions you ask them about how they can predict where an idea should go? Yeah, I think if you're dealing with those experts in a field, they can usually tell you pretty quickly where things are up to and from a business point of view, you don't have to be right at the bleeding edge. We worked on a decade ago, we worked on a report about digital transformation and I've...

...already been an internet reporter, you know, uh for five years and 5 10 years. And this large organization wanted to do a big report about this internet thing that's going to have a huge impact. and this is like about 2000 and 10 were like, yeah, people are pretty aware of that and they're like, well actually our client base isn't, You know, and so we put together this an enormous report that was, you know, I hate the Internet is going to change your business in 2010 and it got phenomenal pickup because they actually, even though the debate amongst the experts and so forth wasn't all that hot and it always been had in 1999. Business community was only really just kind of waking up And they put this report out, had a huge impact, started a whole pile of conversations and it's driven 10 years of work digital transformation projects in the big end of town ever since then. So, um, so anyway, there's a, there's a few kind of comments within that one. Talk to your experts. They'll know where the debate is, but think about where your markets up to two and how far ahead do you really need to be? You know, because it might be okay to sort of just putting out something decent on a topic people still care about. But there's a few other things to keep in mind. There is that idea of being timely. It works well if you're well informed on the topic all the time, and then you can pounce on those times when things come up. So, for instance, if you've got your smes, you've got your style of articles, you've got your messaging or sorted, and you're talking to big, big websites and media outlets and so forth. When something happens, You want them to get in touch and say, look, give me a 600 word column by tomorrow and we can use it, give it to me the day after and I can't use it. So if you're all locked and loaded in the background and ready to go, then you're, you can publish something really quickly and you can jump on those debates. So were a lot of big organizations fail is they work out their sweet spot, but they're just way too slow, you know, to be in the debate. And by the time the thing is published and signed off by six layers of corporate vice president, everyone's moved on really fast. So, but the other thing is to look at what I probably call differentiation and risk. So as you're doing an analysis where do we want to play and so forth? You know, is it going to lead to a differentiated or interesting position? You know, if you go out on a topic who's going to notice and will be picked up beyond your email list and then the other one is risk. So big organizations have got deep pockets and so forth and they don't always want to take too much risk. So they might know all about a topic because they're knee deep in it, but it's the last thing they want to talk about in public. And so sometimes they've got to find a thought leadership topic that's a bleak to their main concern. So they might day in day out there doing high technology over here. But what they talk about in public is corporate sustainability or, you know, gender equality in the workplace or you know, and you see that quite successfully because it doesn't risk the core business. So the thought leadership stuff can percolate away, start conversations, build the brand without touching the 3rd 3rd wire of the thing is that the core business cares about day in day out and we'll keep closing down. Makes a lot of sense. Is there anything else our audience should know about thought leadership that is around a question that maybe haven't asked before, but you have run into a lot of businesses as if you worked on this with them. I think one thing is to think about the path, right? So you want to go out on a topic that's of interest and you're going to get noticed on and then you've got the credibility or the talent to pursue. But from a marketing point of view, you're trying to start a conversation that goes somewhere towards a certain sales conversation. So I say if you take that example of talking a lot...

...about gender equality, does that ultimately feed into sales? You know, what can you kind of map that pathway? And I think it would be wonderful. There's lots of big organizations just published on stuff because they cared about it. But you know, from a commercial point of view, you should be able to track it through. So Atlassian is a big Australian technology companies, big in the US, they are talking a lot about working from home me and that this is permanent, and this is new world of work and so forth. And they are quite a radical organization. They are doing quite radical things, so they're interesting and they're not just thought leaders, their activity leaders, but it fits their core story to write their project management tools, their team coordination tools, all built for this new virtual world. Uh, so they've kind of got these thought leaders out there talking about the future of work and then it all dovetails nicely into sales conversations that get back to their core product. So if you look at some of those campaigns, you you sort of see the threads, it's so funny, you mentioned that last and I literally just interviewed the one of their senior content marketing experts that's dealing with a lot of their thought leadership probably a few hours before this one, I'm like, that makes sense. She was pretty sharp. I don't let her know that you mentioned the job they're doing over at Atlanta again. But Grant, thank you so much for joining me on GDP Growth for this interview on Thought Leadership. Where can people go to learn more from you online? Uh you said you look at editor group dot com, you'll find blogs and so forth. If you look at think right grow, that's the book. Thank you. And how you just find me on linkedin underground, but left fantastic again. Thank you so much for joining me on GDP growth. Thanks yeah. Is the decision maker for your product or service of Bdb marketer? Are you looking to reach those buyers through the medium of podcasting? Considered becoming a co host of GDP Growth. This show is consistently ranked as a top 100 podcast in the marketing category of apple podcasts, And the show gets more than 130,000 downloads each month. We've already done the work of building the audience so you can focus on delivering incredible content to our listeners if you're interested, email Logan at sweet Fish Media dot com.

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