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

Episode 2077 · 5 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 danSanchez with Sweet fish Media and today I'm here with Grant Butler, who is thedirector 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 theinvitation. It's always a pleasure to speak with authors, especially afterI've been able to have the chance to read one of their books and I did havethe chance to read grants book on thought leadership. And as part of thisseries we're doing on thought leadership. I love to be able to talkto people who have spent a lot of time thinking and wrestling and working withthe subject matter themselves and even better if they've actually written abook on the topic because they've had to think and wrestle with it just thatmuch more. And Grant wrote a wonderful book. In fact, it's probably one of themost concise and well written books on thought leadership that I've read sofar, of course with being um founder of a company called The Editor Group, youcan kind of tell what I like. He's a writer, a very wonderful writer. SoGrant I wanted to kick off our interview with just your thoughts onhow you define thought leadership. There's a lot of different definitionsout there. There's a lot of people that would even say that thought leadershipkind of cringe. E it's a buzz word, it's it's a passing fad. So how do youdefine thought leadership? And would you say it's more than just a passingfad? Or is it something that has more of a staying power? Well, thank you forthe comment on the book to start with it. Um it's actually if you're tryingto write a book about writing, you become acutely aware of the writing. Soit took a lot longer than I thought it might thought leadership. I definitelydon't think it's a fad. I think if you look at professional services andtechnology, they have always sold using thought leadership. I think where it'sgot a lot more interest in the last few years has been around content marketingand things like this. Tickles and advice articles and so forth, pickingup on a lot of what law firms, engineering firms and big techcompanies and finance groups have known for a long time. But in terms of adefinition, uh it was originally used by a guy called Joel Kurtzman todescribe the big management thinkers like Charles, handy and paul paul Romerand so forth. And he was just looking for a term that was kind of combinedthe idea of people who think and then also offer those ideas out to others ina way that has a leadership dimension. But in terms of the book and thedefinition I use, it's really about offering ideas that helps solvesomebody else's problem or point out an opportunity. And when you look at itthat way, it's not that far away from journalism, journalism, you know,pretty much every article pointing out a threat or an opportunity. Uh Thoughtleadership is much the same. So what separates thought leadership fromjournalism then, is that that it's more focused on a specific market, doesn'thave a business interest behind it. You're typically looking to change theworld in some way or ask or with, you know, the recipient, the reader to makea change. Journalism reports on the past, right? It's news, It's somethingthat's happened. Thought leadership should be forward looking. Uh So theirrecommendations for things for other people to do, that's kind of a uniquedefinition of thought leadership. And it really opens up the whole gamutthere. And I'm trying to think through the implications of that. If journalismis reporting on the past and thought leadership is essentially it's notreporting on the future because that would be like prophecy, right? But it'sessentially trying to write the future and persuade people love of a specificfuture that it has, it goes way beyond business. It's starting to come intothe 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 wouldessentially be thought leadership. Yeah. I mean if you think about theleadership as a genre, you've got ted...

...talks, you've got books, you've gotpolitical articles, all the big columnists and so forth. And if youthink about something like Covid or climate change, you're seeing a lot ofthis discussion at the moment. I thought one good example we could talkabout is thomas prio the guy who wrote The Hammer and The Dance and put it upon medium. So you had all these global medical experts talking about Covid andso forth. But he did a wonderful thing, which was published a lot of data in avery digestible way using fantastic diagrams and so forth, and then offer akind of a path forward. So he, on the one hand looks backwards and hedescribes something and that's a bit like news. But then he says, well, youknow, if we understand all of that, What's the strategy going forwards andany offers this the hammer, the hammer down on COVID and then the dance whereyou learn to live with it. Uh and that metaphor, you know, has probably hadmore impact from one guy who's just doing business development for onlinelearning platform uh, than the World Health Organization and all these othergroups. I mean it's been downloaded north millions of times translated into37 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 millionsof people through the written piece. I'm sure there was a number of peoplethat were critiquing it or or taking an opposite stance from it. But still hehad an idea and a view of the world and published it for published it to thekind of change uh how people are viewing Covid. Yeah. And I'm sure we'llget into talking about how organizations do this. But there wastwo other important ingredients or three really. One, he was brave enoughto go out there too, he was articulate, but three that business he was workingfor, let him gave him permission to just publish something enormous on atopic that had nothing to do with them. But that's kind of that oblique natureof a lot of these, you know, uh effective Felicia campaigns is actuallyreally key part of it. Get out there, say something interesting and thengradually bring the conversation back to something you're actually selling.So which leads me to ask like, can anybody become a thought later, anybodyin a company, anybody on their own? Can anybody submit that leadership ideasand do so with I don't know, can anybody do it? Well, yeah, I think thequestion here is where you set the bar and so sure you've got these globalthinkers, you know, your Nouriel Roubini knees and so forth, and yourgates and Elon musk and so on. So Tony Robbins, right? You think there's thislevel of mega thought leader, they're a pretty unique package, you know, theircharismatic, 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 Btwo B, you know, it's just about offering decent advice thatdemonstrates their expertise to your customers and lots of people can dothat. And I guess the other thing is you have individual rock stars, thesebig thought leaders or even in a small organization and individual that'sreally a good thinker and speaker and so forth. But you also haveorganizations 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 Iwas looking at whether to put in a fiberglass swimming pool or a concreteswimming pool and if you go on and google fiber glass versus concrete, thetop hits and the content marketers will notice, but the top hits come up forthe people that are published. The best advice about whether you put in afiberglass, Circumpolar, Capri one and it is not fantastic writing, but thenumber one ranking story is, you know, some small business in Missouri kind ofthing with a really awesome explanation...

...of this debate. So yeah, so anyone cando it and you know, people might do it at different levels, but if you're asmall law firm you just want to win a few clients, you can put some basicthought leadership out there and it's gonna probably do more than not puttingsomething out there. So it's interesting would you consider allcontent marketing to be thought leadership? Where do you draw the linethere? Well, yeah, this is where you start to get into the intellectualsnobbery. So really and I'm conscious this podcast is better be. So there's alot of stuff getting turned out under the content marketing label that isn'treally 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'tget them to put in a $50 million it system or switch their entire back endof their banking system to some new platform that they're going to stickwith for 20 years. So I think the ideas are right, but a lot of the executionis pretty vague, pretty high p and wouldn't really cut it in the seriousand to be to be. And because an agency that's where we tend to play, we tendto do 50 page research backed reports for before consulting firms, top techfirms, these sort of guys. So but it's all it's all in the genre. The mainthing isn't advocating an idea, is offering somebody a solution to aproblem. And is it soft sell? I mean that's the other big thing about forLeadership. It shouldn't be explicitly selling something because that's justmarketing and that's, you know, brochures websites for that material,which is fine as well, but it's not what we might call for LeadershipMarket. Sure. Put a hypothetical and see if we can still call Thoughtleadership as a marketer for a Bdb podcasting agency. I could write a blogpost 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 enoughtimes that I'm like, I could probably, you know, by four or five mics. Popularmix kind of do a review of them, audit them. Maybe not a super in depthanalysis. But then published a blog post about my thoughts, my toprecommendation and like you have more budget by this one, but otherwise thisone works well. That would still be a good piece of content. It's useful forcustomers. I might even be able to write it well enough that it getsranked on google. Would that still be thought leadership content? So thethought leadership, if you put an opinion behind it, uh you look at allthose microphones and then you've offered somebody your view of the bestone. And whereas if you just wrote a dry piece about five microphones andtheir features, then it would sort of be used. You say that that's kind ofthe line. But it's a perfect example, you know, and it's a good all this theleadership so starts conversations, it captures attention by publishing onsomething that people care about. And then, you know, it gets them into yourfunnel, you might say, you know, and then you can sort of segue way acrossto well why are you looking for a microphone? You know, you want to do apodcast, we might go to help you. So it's for me, are you hearing you sayit's it's bringing a point of view that's unique to you. Um and as wellresearched and well informed is thought leadership marketing essentially. Uhit's the leadership you can use in marketing. Yeah, like there's twoconcepts there, but a lot of what we write call points of view and a lot ofdetention inside organizations is there's a lot of experts, but noteveryone wants to have a point of view, you know? And so because, like, saylawyers, they will be have a high level of expertise about a topic, but theywon't tend to want to state a position that I sort of want to say. Well on theone hand, this and on the other hand, that and you know, whereas the thoughtleaders need to be a bit braver and pick a line like, you know, think aboutai at the moment ai and ethics, you...

...know, is it solvable or is itinherently problematic? You know, And if I'm a thought leader out there onthat topic, I've sort of got a positive or negative on it. Hey, everybody Loganwith sweet fish here. If you've been listening to the show for a while, youknow, we're big proponents of putting out original organic content onlinkedin. But one thing that's always been a struggle for a team like ours isto easily track the reach of that linkedin content. That's why I wasreally excited when I heard about Shield the other day from a connectionon you guessed it linked in since our team started using Shield, I've lovedhow it's led us easily track and analyze the performance of Arlingtoncontent without having to manually log it ourselves. It automatically createsreports and generate some dashboards that are incredibly useful to seethings like what contents been performing the best and what days ofthe week are we getting the most engagement and our average views perpost. I highly suggest you guys check out this tool. If you're putting outcontent on linked in and if you're not, you should be. It's been a game changerfor 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 begrowth. All one word. All right, let's get back to the show. I have heardDavid baker say that good, that leaders often bifurcating like they're going togo and pick a position on any number of topics are the topics that they're anexpert in. So it certainly lines up with what I've heard others say aboutthat before. What are some of the qualities that you think good thoughtleaders have? Like if somebody were aspiring to be a thought leader thatthey could kind of check themselves against or to become better at becominga thought leader, what are those qualities that you think are mostimportant? Yeah, I think I think for the individual, I think the first bigone is just being wrapped up in the debate. You know, that you'reinterested that there's a topic you've got expertise on and that you'reengaged with. So you are reading articles on it, you're going toconferences, you're listening to podcasts. So I think, you know, startwith the idea is is there even a topic you would regard yourself as having anabove average understanding of and an ability to move forward as a field? Andso that's that's both interest in knowledge, but it's also passion, youknow, uh before the topic. Uh and then I think the other side of it is thiscommunication part, you know, are you somebody who's happy to get out thereand communicating on the topic? And you know, can you write well, can you speakwell? Uh, you know, or is there another forum? I mean, some people are justfantastic researchers, they put a lot of good material together and thenother people, you know, kind of polish that up and take it out, but I thinkthose are the sort of starting points, but um, and then in the book is, youknow, you've noted there's these other characteristics, I mean, so somethought leaders will be a bit like your academic, you know, a bit like theuniversity figure, you know, solitary, often a bit difficult, opinionated andso on. You don't, you don't sort of have to be, but it helps if you thinkabout Malcolm Gladwell, you know, he's not selling anything of it in his booksand talking most of the time, but here's a good example of a thoughtleader, You know, you don't think of Malcolm Gladwell and band right? Andteam. It's just Malcolm Gladwell and he's got these ideas he researches andhe's most most in the debate and communication well. And he offersadvice, 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 questionnecessarily. I guess it would depend highly on like what your market isright 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 areprobably gonna matter. But if you're in the business world they care a littlebit less about credentials. And probably at least I've pulled my smallfollowing on linkedin and they've told me that experience probably mattersmore than anything. So I guess the qualities might shift around from timeto time as you're working with customers and clients. Uh, do you findyou might size up the quality is differently depending on what industrythey're in? Yeah. And also what are they looking to comment on? So ifyou've got somebody who's, uh, I read a fantastic piece about by a familylawyer 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 theCovid and so on and so a family lawyer can do a, they can be a really low keyperson. Just published a really nice little blog about the issues and somesolutions and so forth. So the bar is not super high there and they just needcredibility in that area. At the other end of the spectrum, you get your Elonmusk 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 offbeing a crypto thought leader or a disaster depending how you, but peopleare only listening to him on crypto because of his credibility from Paypaland from Tesla. Okay. So he kind of Bill Gates is the same, right? BillGates is out there talking on climate change, but his credibility comes fromI. T. And business success. So if you think about that you is a nice analogyin the book, but it talks about this kind of tea concept that the deeperyour 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 theKardashians offering advice on fashion, right? You know, it's sort of, youstart somewhere when you extend out and the bigger that core credibility of thefurther 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 ShaquilleO'neal could just say by these shoes, um, and maybe he's an expert inbasketball, but if he sees drink, drink sprite or whatever, people are justgoing to go to it because they're a fan. Actually, no, Shaquille O'neal has beenworking hard on his owns lots of businesses, but he's not really knownas a business thinkers still. And I think there's something to be said forpeople who have expertise and lots of fields, right? Like Ellen started withPaypal. So he got his, like Silicon Valley chip on his shoulder because hehad to exit, right? But then started electric cars and then did one of themost successful consumer run space companies, right? And in the boringcompany and he just kept adding these really daring endeavors and theysomehow were all successful, which is highly, highly was unlikely, right? Iguess 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 ofthe running joke where actors are always solving world peace, right? Youknow, because they've Angeline Jolie or whatever, you know, uh they're outthere but but businesses can leverage that celebrity unload those people upwith their ideas. So you see that a lot so big business might have an ideaabout transforming to net zero and so forth and but they need a matt Damon orsomeone George Clooney or whatever to come and deliver that for them. So youkind of as a marketer, you sort of look at the idea and then you look at thechannels and then you look at the presenter and in some cases you canfind that internally, and in other cases you can develop the ideainternally, but you kind of need somebody else to take it out and you'regoing to leverage their celebrity to uh to do that. So when we were workingwith customers and let's say it's a B2B company and they have like an internalsubject matter expert, maybe multiple...

...subject matter experts. And they wantto start walking down the path of helping the subject matter experts todevelop thought leadership uh maybe even become in some ways the face ofthe company. What's a first couple of steps you would recommend B two Bmarketers to take to help them walk their smes through that process? Ithink the first thing is run around the building and if anyone's in buildingsanymore and just do a bit of an audit, you know, who are are experts and notjust experts, but people with these progressive sort of ideas, you know,and and look beyond the executive ranks. Big organizations tend to have thesepublic 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 hearfrom much, but it actually got cause some ideas. So you sort of internallywith what fly and then also have a look at your brand topics, you know, andthen look at the real world what topics are under discussion. Uh So you mightbe an engineering firm, you work out which engineers know anything, you workout that the world wants to talk about climate change, and then you starttrying to marry those two are, you know, so which of my experts, could actuallycomment on zero sort of topics, and then you'll be studying conversationwith them, and you're probably doing a bit of a kind of literature review ormarket review, because this is a bit like journalism, where the story isalways 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, Andthe really biggest thing is what questions our audience asking, you know,what do people care about or what problems are they having? Or whatopportunities? You know, might they have in front of them right now that wecould answer. And if you start with those questions and then, you know,overlay it back against those other topics, it will hopefully come togetherpretty quickly because your sme will say yes, I can, I can offer you fivefantastic answers to that question. And then it just becomes a question of howyou publish those out. Yeah. So what I'm hearing you saying is that firstyou gotta find your experts, do the run around the building top, find yourtopics of expertise, find that, and then once you kind of have, like, a rowof all the things you could speak to you from your subject matter experts oryour executives from from within your company, finding correlation betweenwhat topics are trending out in your industry, going and listening to theconversations 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 andmaybe they're asking them in conferences or whatever the trendingtopics are, and trying to find overlap between those two, right between thethings you can speak to, the things that are out in the world and the lastpart is finding where you can play a part in the story, which was kind ofinteresting being able to project where the story is going and how you caninsert yourself into it since it's running there. And that's kind of aunique idea most people are playing are retroactive, so trying to think aheadof where this is going to be going, knowing that, you know, it takes alittle bit of time to get your opinion on an interview and publish it andactually take time for the, even after you publish it, you know, letting itmatriculate 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 thingsare going to go. Um Is there anything you do to help people like identifywhere a story might trend? Do you have questions you ask them about how theycan predict where an idea should go? Yeah, I think if you're dealing withthose experts in a field, they can usually tell you pretty quickly wherethings are up to and from a business point of view, you don't have to beright at the bleeding edge. We worked on a decade ago, we worked on a reportabout digital transformation and I've...

...already been an internet reporter, youknow, uh for five years and 5 10 years. And this large organization wanted todo a big report about this internet thing that's going to have a hugeimpact. and this is like about 2000 and 10 were like, yeah, people are prettyaware of that and they're like, well actually our client base isn't, Youknow, and so we put together this an enormous report that was, you know, Ihate the Internet is going to change your business in 2010 and it gotphenomenal pickup because they actually, even though the debate amongst theexperts 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 thisreport out, had a huge impact, started a whole pile of conversations and it'sdriven 10 years of work digital transformation projects in the big endof town ever since then. So, um, so anyway, there's a, there's a few kindof comments within that one. Talk to your experts. They'll know where thedebate is, but think about where your markets up to two and how far ahead doyou really need to be? You know, because it might be okay to sort ofjust putting out something decent on a topic people still care about. Butthere's a few other things to keep in mind. There is that idea of beingtimely. It works well if you're well informed on the topic all the time, andthen you can pounce on those times when things come up. So, for instance, ifyou've got your smes, you've got your style of articles, you've got yourmessaging or sorted, and you're talking to big, big websites and media outletsand 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 tome the day after and I can't use it. So if you're all locked and loaded in thebackground and ready to go, then you're, you can publish something reallyquickly and you can jump on those debates. So were a lot of bigorganizations fail is they work out their sweet spot, but they're just waytoo slow, you know, to be in the debate. And by the time the thing is publishedand signed off by six layers of corporate vice president, everyone'smoved on really fast. So, but the other thing is to look at what I probablycall differentiation and risk. So as you're doing an analysis where do wewant to play and so forth? You know, is it going to lead to a differentiated orinteresting position? You know, if you go out on a topic who's going to noticeand will be picked up beyond your email list and then the other one is risk. Sobig organizations have got deep pockets and so forth and they don't always wantto take too much risk. So they might know all about a topic because they'reknee 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 bleakto their main concern. So they might day in day out there doing hightechnology over here. But what they talk about in public is corporatesustainability or, you know, gender equality in the workplace or you know,and you see that quite successfully because it doesn't risk the corebusiness. So the thought leadership stuff can percolate away, startconversations, build the brand without touching the 3rd 3rd wire of the thingis that the core business cares about day in day out and we'll keep closingdown. Makes a lot of sense. Is there anything else our audience should knowabout thought leadership that is around a question that maybe haven't askedbefore, but you have run into a lot of businesses as if you worked on thiswith them. I think one thing is to think about the path, right? So youwant to go out on a topic that's of interest and you're going to getnoticed 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 conversationthat goes somewhere towards a certain sales conversation. So I say if youtake that example of talking a lot...

...about gender equality, does thatultimately 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 justpublished on stuff because they cared about it. But you know, from acommercial point of view, you should be able to track it through. So Atlassianis a big Australian technology companies, big in the US, they aretalking a lot about working from home me and that this is permanent, and thisis 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 notjust thought leaders, their activity leaders, but it fits their core storyto write their project management tools, their team coordination tools, allbuilt for this new virtual world. Uh, so they've kind of got these thoughtleaders out there talking about the future of work and then it alldovetails nicely into sales conversations that get back to theircore product. So if you look at some of those campaigns, you you sort of seethe threads, it's so funny, you mentioned that last and I literallyjust interviewed the one of their senior content marketing experts that'sdealing with a lot of their thought leadership probably a few hours beforethis one, I'm like, that makes sense. She was pretty sharp. I don't let herknow 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 ThoughtLeadership. Where can people go to learn more from you online? Uh you saidyou look at editor group dot com, you'll find blogs and so forth. If youlook at think right grow, that's the book. Thank you. And how you just findme on linkedin underground, but left fantastic again. Thank you so much forjoining me on GDP growth. Thanks yeah. Is the decision maker for your productor service of Bdb marketer? Are you looking to reach those buyers throughthe medium of podcasting? Considered becoming a co host of GDP Growth. Thisshow is consistently ranked as a top 100 podcast in the marketing categoryof 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 ondelivering incredible content to our listeners if you're interested, emailLogan at sweet Fish Media dot com.

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