The following is the transcript from a recent interview with Robert Kravitz on how to become a thought leader and thought leadership marketing. The entire video can be found here.
Robert, so what exactly is a thought leader?
Jeff, first of all, thank you for allowing me to come on your show.
- A thought leader is an individual or organization.
- They specialize in a particular field or niche.
- As they promote themselves, in time, they reach a certain stature where what they say matters to others in their industry.
- Their comments, beliefs, and views, in time, become sought after by others.
You say, “in time.” So, does this mean thought leaders evolve?
Yes. Evolve is the perfect word for it.
- Let’s assume we are talking about an individual
- This individual has a specific passion or firm belief which leads them to work for companies and organizations that share those views.
- They may represent the organization at conventions, give presentations and seminars for the organization, all in attempt to share their views.
- They publish articles in trade publications and use a range of social media channels to get their views heard.
- However, working for an organization that shares their views is often just a stepping-stone. In time, true thought leaders take the giant leap and pursue their own goals.
The term “Thought leader” has become a bit of a buzzword in marketing. Have we always had thought leaders?
- Interestingly, the term was first introduced in the Oxford Dictionary in 1887. It was in reference to a clergyman and abolitionist, Ward Beecher.
- He was described, at the time, as “one of the great thought leaders in America.”
- However, after that, the term seemed to disappear. Its great resurrection, if you want to call it that, was in the mid-1970s when Silicon Valley was taking off.
- Two people who became the first thought leaders in Silicon Valley were Bill Hewlett and David Packard of HP.
It might interest your viewers to know that one day, a 12-year-old kid called up Bill Hewlett on the telephone. Apparently, Bill was listed in the Palo Alto phone book. Even though they did not know each other, they had a 20-minute conversation. The 12-year-old asked Hewlett where he could get the parts he needed for a project.
That young kid was Steve Jobs. Hewlett was so impressed with him that he offered him a job for the summer. A decade or two later, Steve Jobs would become the most prominent and most respected thought leader Silicon Valley has ever had.
Robert, how did you get involved with promoting thought leaders?
- It’s been the basis of what my PR firm has always been about.
- When I started more than twenty years ago we worked mostly with manufacturers
- Our goal was to present them as experts and, in time, thought leaders in the professional cleaning industry.
- As that was accomplished, we tactfully promoted the products and services they offered to address a variety of cleaning challenges.
- This was accomplished by writing educational articles in all types of trade publications.
- The client would byline the articles or be quoted throughout. Either way, they were the expert, and their products soon became the problem-solvers for the industry.
Have there been many thought leaders in the professional cleaning industry?
- Oh, of course. I think John Garfinkle, who was the director of ISSA when I worked there, was a thought leader. He really steered ISSA through some difficult times in the 1990s and the Association came out stronger than ever before.
- John Walker was one, Roger McFadden, Mike Sawchuk in Canada, and of course, Steve Ashkin. I’ve known Steve for 20 years, and he has always believed we need to find ways to clean effectively but with a reduced impact on the user and the environment.
- There have also been many companies. I helped Kaivac when it was little more than a struggling start-up. I’m also proud to say I worked with U.S. Products, making it a leader in the carpet cleaning industry.
- Many of the major brands in the industry today have become thought leaders in their own right.
So, what does it take to be a thought leader, whether an individual or an organization?
Here’s what you have to do.
- First, you have to passion, just like Ashkin. This is the number one requirement to be a thought leader.
- Next, realize it takes time. We mentioned tis already, but you have to stick with it for the long term.
- Next, you have to publish and get published. Publishing in major trade publications gives you credibility.
- They have to have a living breathing website. A living breathing website includes blogs, videos, and other forms of content, promoting their views.
- A solid social media presence is also a must. In the B2B field, this typically means being actively involved with LinkedIn, and maybe with Twitter. I have clients that are now venturing into B2C, and for them, we are adding Facebook and TikTok to the mix.
- Perseverance is also crucial. We mentioned time already, but time and perseverance are not the same. Perseverance is accepting the fact that you may, for instance, give presentations but only a few people show up. You just keep moving forward. Also, be prepared for the fact that others will oppose you and your views. This happened to me years ago when I wrote a couple of books on the cleaning industry. All you can do is believe in yourself and, once again, keep moving forward.
- Finally, you must keep in mind your goal. If your goal as a Thought Leader is just to make money, I have news for you. You probably will not make it. However, if your goal is to really help others, maybe help or change an entire industry, then you have a good chance of making a name for yourself and being very successful.