What is Thought Leadership

Episode 4: What is Thought Leadership, with Susan Baier

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What is thought leadership? Agencies use research to position themselves as thought leaders. Learn what is thought leadership here.

What is thought leadership, and why is it important for organizations?

A marketing strategist for over 30 years, Susan Baier founded Audience Audit in 2009 to help organizations understand their best audiences based on attitudes and needs rather than just demographics or purchase behavior. She develops custom segmentation research for marketers and agencies around the world, supporting their efforts to create marketing initiatives that are more relevant, more efficient, and more impactful.


What you will learn in this episode is about what is thought leadership:

  • How Susan helps agencies and organizations use research to position themselves as thought leaders for their audiences.
  • What is thought leadership — and how research builds a solid platform for it
  • Why getting results that surprise you or contradict what you previously thought is a GOOD thing, and why it’s important to be vulnerable with your followers
  • How thought leaders can be “relentlessly helpful” for their audiences, and what that means for your business
  • Why Susan always says that your research is “like a cupcake, but YOU are the icing”
  • How you can infuse your unique perspectives, insights, and expertise into your research — and why it’s so important to do so
  • Ways to turn your research into a helpful, engaging, and sustainable source for content



What is Thought Leadership: Full Episode Transcript


What is thought leadership? It offers unique insights and expertise to shape industry trends and influence others.


Welcome to the Sell with Authority podcast. I’m Stephen Woessner, CEO of Predictive ROI. And my team and I, we created this podcast specifically for you. So if you are an agency owner, a business coach, or a strategic consultant, and you’re looking to grow a thriving, profitable business that can weather the constant change that seems to be our world’s reality, you’re in the right place.


You want proven strategies for attracting a steady stream of well-prepared, right fit prospects in your sales pipeline. Sure, we’ve got you covered. You want to learn how to step away from the sea of competitors to stand out and own the ground you’re standing on. We’re going to cover that, too. You want to future-proof your business so that you can navigate the next challenges that come your way.


Yep. We’re going to talk about that, too, in our episodes. I promise each episode of this podcast will contain valuable insights and tangible examples of best practices, not theory. From thought leaders, experts, owners who have done exactly what you’re working hard to do. So I want you to think practical and tactical. No fluff. Each of our guests has built a position of authority and then monetized that position by claiming their ground, by growing their audience, by nurturing leads, and of course, converting sales, all the while doing it by being helpful.


So every time someone from their audience turned around there, they were given a helpful answer to an important question. So their prospects never, ever felt like a prospect. I also promise that every strategy we discuss, every tool we recommend will be shared in complete transparency in each episode so that you can double down and roar into 2022.


Read this blog about what is thought leadership and how it can unleash your agency’s potential


What is Thought Leadership: Susan Baier’s Introduction


Okay, so I am over the moon, excited for you to meet our guest expert for today’s episode. Her name is Susan Baier. She is the founder and CEO of Audience Audit. So I asked Susan to join me for this episode so we could get her perspective and her point of view around what is thought leadership and how research can absolutely fill all the requirements of being cornerstone content.


I’ll also ask Susan for her insights and recommendations around now that you have the research, assuming that maybe you’ve done research as your cornerstone, now that you have the research, how should you then slice and dice that in a smaller cobblestone so you can get 12 months or more of great mileage out of that and really make it helpful for your audience?


And there’s also going to be a bit of a reveal in this discussion with Susan. So here’s what I mean by that. As you know, Susan and her team are also trusted partners of ours, your predictive ROI. Okay. So what does that mean? Well, every year we go into the field alongside Susan to collect research and findings that we think are going to be helpful to you.


And Susan’s team literally just completed the data collection in the analysis. So I asked her if she would be game to share maybe three or four of the Golden Nugget takeaways during this conversation. Honest. These research findings are literally, you want to say, so hot off the press, so to speak. I’m literally going to be learning them at the same time that you are, too.


Right. So I’m not seeing the data set. I mean, that’s kind of cool, right? We’re going to be learning about that from Susan at the exact same time. And then in the coming weeks, Susan and I will certainly schedule a deep dive Q&A where we share all of the results. But, you know, we still have quite a bit of prep in order to be able to do that first.


So without further ado, welcome to the Sell with Authority podcast, my dear friend Susan. Thank you, Stephen, and I am so excited to be here, and I’m so excited about the new podcast. I can’t tell you it’s great. I can’t wait to listen. Well, we are certainly excited about it too. Like we were talking about in the Green room before we hit record because it’s a fantastic opportunity for our audience, many of whom are coming over from Onward Nation.


Be thrilled to learn from you in an even more profound way, which is super exciting. Many of them know you already, but in case they’re meeting you for the first time, actually take us behind the curtain and just give us a little bit of your background and then and then we’ll dive into some of the big media things that we’re going to talk about.


Sure. You bet. So, fundamentally, I’m a marketing strategist. That’s what I’ve been doing for over 30 years. And agencies and in large organizations. 13 years ago, almost to the day, actually, from when we’re recording this. I left my last agency job and started audience Audit. And our goal is to help organizations better understand their audiences so that they can do a better job with a couple of things.


First of all, you know, if you’re an agency and you have clients that need help, sort of figuring out how to do their marketing, we can help you with that from a research standpoint. The other thing we’re doing and what we’re going to talk about today is really helping organizations establish their thought leadership because you have to know what’s going on with the people you’re trying to reach and the people you’re trying to help in order to help them.


And, you know, research is sort of uniquely suited, in my opinion, any way to do that. So that’s what we do. Our clients are agencies and their clients. You’re one of our clients, as we mentioned, and you know I’m one of yours. So we’ve been working together for a while and it’s been fun and productive.


I would say amen. And it’s been fun and productive because so as you’re listening to this in your hearing, Susan, you can hear the helpfulness just ooze in her voice. And, you know, so if you attend our Wednesday Q&A, the how to fill your sales pipeline Q&A, you’ll oftentimes see Susan there along with others. We’re like frequenting the Q&A.


And here’s what’s amazing, Eric is teaching something or sharing something or pulling something out of the lab and sharing a point. And then there’s questions and Susan is in there answering questions and all of that. Why? Because she wants to be helpful and showcase her expertise in what is thought leadership. So this conversation is a great way to take that piece even deeper. So, Susan, thanks for being such an active and extremely helpful member of our community.


We are grateful for that. you’re welcome. I love the dynamic in that community and in the Q&A, so I learn something every time. So I’m not just putting stuff out. I’m taking it into a manner that, well, lets you have this really cool analogy and I don’t want to mess it up. I’m just going to tee it up because you will obviously do a much better job of explaining it.


But I’ve heard you explain it a couple of different times where you talk about research, thought, leadership, and then you use this like a diving board sort of analogy. Can you take us through that? And that’s going to help to start to set some context for this reveal that you’re going to share with us here in a few minutes?


What is thought leadership? Join our next open-mic Q&A to learn more insights


What is Thought Leadership: Invest Your Time in Research


Sure. I mean, you know, we talk about what is thought leadership research, but my belief really is that the research in itself isn’t really thought leadership. There are some elements of it that can qualify as that. But the thought leadership comes from you. You know, you are the expert in this niche, whether you’re talking about marketing or whether you’re talking about operations or, you know, whatever your organization’s expertise is, that’s thought leadership research, I think, can serve thought leadership uniquely well for a few reasons.


And I think it’s interesting because people don’t really think of doing research as part of their thought leadership. I think research is intimidating to people. I think it’s scary. It sounds expensive. People are afraid. They’re going to ask dumb questions in front of, you know, somebody who’s a researcher or just, you know, I think people don’t, it just doesn’t come front of mind.


But I argue that research really serves some unique opportunities here with respect to thought leadership. The first is that even the fact that you’re doing it demonstrates a commitment to an audience that you are working hard to help. And this is where the diving board concept comes in, right? We’ve all been to the Olympics or watched the Olympic diving competitions and you see those incredibly high platforms these crazy people jump off of into what is essentially a baby pool of water from that distance.


Right. And we’ve all watched that. And I’m sure that your listeners will agree with me that most of the time just the fact that people are up there suggests that they know what they’re doing because nobody is going to get up there if they don’t know how to get down. You know, that’s so, you know, in a way, doing research, investing the time, the resources to understand an audience, regardless of what before you even get it to what it’s found, the fact that you’ve done it shows your commitment to an audience to understanding them and to working hard to get information so that you can be helpful. And that’s where the essence of ‘what is thought leadership’ shines through.


Okay. So that’s important because then when you’re standing up there on top of that board, you have people’s attention because nobody else has a board like that. Nobody else has a platform like that. Okay. So in and of itself, that looks unique, but truly your dive is the thought leadership. Your dive off that platform is what really matters.


Read this blog about what is thought leadership and how it can unleash your agency’s potential


What is Thought Leadership: Building Your Platform to Share Your Expertise


So the trick to doing this well is building a good, solid platform for your thought leadership, which is why you have to plan going in to do research well for thought leadership. You know, there’s a lot of folks out there who are trying to sort of curate or borrow things from other studies that they’ve seen here and there and create thought leadership. What is thought leadership, it helps guide this process effectively.


And from my standpoint, that’s really thought of as regurgitation. Everybody has access to that same information. I understand the impulse to do it, but the problem is that it’s really not unique. And we know from our research last year, Steve, and together that what thought leadership followers really want is something new. They want something they want to see, something that they haven’t heard before.


And doing your own research gives you a platform that looks different than anybody else’s platform. You’ve really got new information to talk about, but you have to build that platform knowing that you’re going to use it for thought leadership. The research will give you proof about what you’re saying, right? The research gives you something besides just standing up on stage someplace and sharing your opinion about things.


Right? You can share real information about what’s happening, but then what your followers really want is to hear your expertise about that, your point of view, your advice, your experience. You know, that’s where we get into, well, what does that mean for me? And that’s the second thing that thought leadership followers want. As we learned from our research last year, they want something helpful. And by providing that, you’re showcasing what thought leadership is.


They want something that is both strategically and tactically helpful. So if you’re building research for thought leadership, you have to go in and develop the project from that standpoint. So we need to make sure that we’re assessing elements of your point of view to see if you’re right, because either way, you’re going to have something to talk about.


With respect to that, we need to assess the kinds of assumptions and objections that are out there with respect to what you’re talking about so that you have something to talk about, including exploring what is thought leadership in your industry or field. We need to assess the hot topics of the day, what are the big things people are discussing, whether it’s a need for building content, whether it’s, you know, all of these things are swirling.


Well, let’s get you some data on how people are thinking about those things and approaching those opportunities so that you have a platform to talk about. And that’s really where we get to this concept that you mentioned in the intro of having enough content, enough topics to carry you through a year, right? And that’s not the research being the content, that’s your expertise being the content.


What is thought leadership? Join our next open-mic Q&A to learn more insights


What is Thought Leadership: Using Information to Move Forward with Your Business


I sort of talk about the cupcake and the icing right? Cupcake? It’s great. Okay, But you are the icing. That’s really where thought leadership comes from. It’s not just from spitting out research results. What Is Thought Leadership? It’s from sharing your expertise to help your audience with a dose of, Hey, we know statistically this is what’s happening out there. This is what we’re seeing among your colleagues, among your prospects, however you decide to do your research.


And that’s really where I think research has sort of a unique opportunity with thought leadership to give you that really good, substantive proof that you’ve invested in learning about an agency. You have real information about an audience, you have real data, and now you’re going to tell us what you think about that and you’re going to give us advice that’s going to help us in our own businesses.


And I remember when we did last year’s study, which was our first study together, and now we’re about ready to release our second. But what struck me was receiving this really cool executive summary from you and you asking, ‘What do you think about that?’ Initially, I wasn’t thinking at the right level of what your question was in asking me to think. This experience highlights the essence of What Is Thought Leadership, where insights and questions prompt deeper reflection and strategic thinking.


I’m like, you know, and I probably answered it sort of in a surface way and it’s like, no, what do you think about that? Like, what are the implications? How could this impact your audience? And you mentored me through that process and I’m like, so then on the other side of that, after having gone through that exercise, I’m like, That’s really smart.


And now I totally then got the analogy of, okay, yes, it’s, you know, 87% said this thing, but why does that matter to your audience? Right, Right. And how does that impact their business and how can they take these research findings and not just be better because they know some statistics, but because then you then share with them how it’s meaningful to their business, how they can take it and apply it, how they can be better for it, right?


Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it’s funny, I think it provides some really nice opportunities for vulnerability on the part of organizations. Right. I know so well. We know that people appreciate thought leaders, somebody who’s like them, right? Not in an ivory tower. Right. And so we’re, you know, we do your research. We put all this stuff in front of people to sort of assess your point of view about things. And this aligns perfectly with the concept of “What Is Thought Leadership,” where being relatable and accessible to your audience is key.


And maybe you see something that surprises you. Maybe you see something that you didn’t expect that conflicts with sort of what you were thinking about the situation. Right. That’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing that says while we have more to learn, okay, And instead of hiding that and not talking about it, it’s been so lovely to see our clients in the past couple of years sort of embrace that and say, Wow, you know, we like a lot of the people we know, we’re thinking this, that’s not what’s happening and here’s what we can take away from that.


Here’s how we at Predictive are re assessing, here’s how we are refocusing risk, shifting our perspective on that particular thing. And that’s what we’re going to do with that information in our business. What could you do with that information in your business? So what implications, if you have the same assumption we had and you are now looking at data that says that’s not universally true or that’s not true at all, what are the implications for your business of having that information and what are you going to do with that?


Read this blog about what is thought leadership and how it can unleash your agency’s potential


What is Thought Leadership: Sharing Valuable Insights to Your Audience


What Is Thought Leadership? We’re curious because we’re dealing with the same thing, and I love that vulnerability. I love that proof to people that being a thought leader isn’t just about ego and being right all the time. It’s about truly wanting to learn every day about the audience you’re trying to serve. And B, you know, you and I talk about this term, we laugh, but relentlessly helpful, like relentlessly helpful. So, It’s about embodying vulnerability, demonstrating relatability, and continuously assessing viewpoints through diligent research.


And part of being relentlessly helpful is learning more about how you can help. So I love those times when my client sees something that they didn’t expect and maybe flies in the face of assumptions that they have because it gives them an opportunity to say, Hey, we’re just like everybody else. We’re learning every day. Here’s what we’ve learned and here’s what we’re going to do with that information to improve the support we are providing to the audience that we care about.


It’s smart. And it’s not only relentlessly helpful, but there’s humility in that. You mentioned vulnerability, visibility in that. And also then being able to go to your audience and say it may have been that way five years ago, but this is now what’s new. I love that as a gift. And it also syncs up with one of the findings that you helped us discover in last year’s research, that your audience wants you to share with them things that are new, things that can help them be better every single day. Thought leadership plays a crucial role in this dynamic of providing valuable and up-to-date insights to your audience.


So that doesn’t mean sharing them with some, you know, some trend that was ten years old, right? Yep. Something new. It’s important. It’s amazing. Look, I love the cupcake and frosting analogy. Probably. Probably because I’m really hungry. We like food analogies. I do like food finance audits and predictions. Don’t like I was quoting you this morning in a conversation that I had with someone, you know, Lindsay Hotwire and and we were talking and I said I said, I love what Susan says.


And so maybe your ears are burning this morning. But I said, I love her. How she is so focused on being relentlessly helpful, like, I love this term, love it. Yeah, I do too. If there’s something in it that’s just a reminder that you just can’t stop, you know? And that’s what we see with I think, the thought leaders.


I appreciate and I follow and I vowed, you never stop, never stop trying to be helpful. You know, Jay Baer, who’s a friend of mine and is going to be a guest on your podcast, I know you know him as well. One of the things I so honor about him is over a very long career, he just continues to pump out new ideas, helpful advice, just I mean, relentlessly is the right word for him.


He just never, ever stops and book after book after book. And none of them are retreads. He’s just got new stuff coming out all the time. And I think that’s a good reminder that it’s not you know, you do a lot of work with your clients. I know, because I’m one of them that really pivots on this idea that thought leadership isn’t something you do one time.


It’s not even something you do one time a year, right? It’s not enough to do research one time a year and say, That’s it and wait till next year. You’ve got to be relentlessly helpful. You have to suck every opportunity out of these ideas to share something helpful with your audience that they may not be seeing. They may not know, they may not be recognizing, because you have the expertise to do that.


That’s what they want from you. They want to learn from you. So this relentlessly helpful concept really for me reminds me that every week I need to be saying something helpful. Every post needs to not be a retread. It really needs to be, you know, my assessment of something I talked about two years ago, but I feel differently about right now or we have more information about right now or, you know, whatever.


I’ve had a new idea about how organizations can react to that. So I like that term a lot. It’s a good reminder for me, too. And because it also it just puts the emphasis on the audience where it should be and not the Look at me. I’m Susan and how amazing I am because it’s not about us, right?


What is thought leadership? Join our next open-mic Q&A to learn more insights


What is Thought Leadership: Guide Your Audience into Making Strategic Decisions 


Understanding thought leadership is about being relentlessly helpful to someone else, to your audience. And so let’s think about that. You just mentioned sucking every opportunity out of the research to be helpful for your audience. I kind of think that’s kind of a nice segway into the whole slice and dice. So if somebody is listening to you right now thinking, okay, I did some research, but I didn’t get maximum value out of it because I didn’t share it properly, I didn’t slice and dice it properly, you know, using our words slice and dice. And that’s where the concept of ‘What Is Thought Leadership’ comes in, emphasizing the importance of sharing insights effectively to maximize their impact.


So what would you recommend or like, how would you suggest that they get every ounce of juice out of that to be relentlessly helpful with their audience? Well, if they have the opportunity, they build their research knowing that that’s what they want to do with it, right? I mean, you’ve got to really get some stuff out of your research to have it sustain a content program for a year.


Our studies, our surveys are about 15 minutes long. They cover a lot of ground. And that’s because I want my clients to have something to talk about week after week, month after month. So if you have that opportunity, that’s really important. Sometimes you don’t have that opportunity. Sometimes you did some research for another reason and you’ve got some stuff in there that you think would be valuable from a thought leadership standpoint, which is great, right? Thought leadership adds depth and authority to our insights, making them valuable for guiding strategic discussions and thought-provoking content creation.


But maybe, you know, maybe it’s not as much as if you’ve done a standalone thought leadership research. You can still build thought leadership research off of what you have thought, leadership content. And one of the things that I get asked a lot is how long is research? Good for thought leadership. Okay. And this is really important for you to hear.


It’s good for a long time. It’s good for a long time. And one of the reasons is because of the icing book. Your point of view, your expertise, your advice and your perspective is evolving every day as you work in your business, as you have more experiences with your clients or your prospects. It’s evolving every day. So even research that was done a couple of years ago or three years ago that talks about something interesting, you can still scrape off the old icing and put on the new icing and use the existing cupcake.


Okay. It doesn’t it doesn’t mean that you’re saying what we found three years ago is exactly what we would find if we did this today. But for thought leadership content, that doesn’t matter as much because you can legitimately say, hey, we did this about three years ago and things may be a little different now. And here’s why I say that and here’s what I think about that.


You know, Drew McClellan, who’s a dear friend of ours and a colleague and was on the first episode of this new podcast, he and I have been doing research for agencies together since 2014. Every year, for a long time. Yes. And we still have people downloading studies from back then. We still have people asking us about things from back then.


And so it’s okay. You don’t have to be dealing with research that’s three months old or six months old. There’s probably a lot that you’ve got if you’ve done any kind of research with clients or customers over time. Let’s say you have satisfaction research. You could be like, Whoa, we’ve really seen something change here. We’ve really seen clients talking more about this or wanting more about this from us.


Why is that? What’s happening in the industry that’s creating a demand that we weren’t seeing two years ago when we were doing things like that, And that’s so powerful to share that insight and give your expertise on it. So I think you really do have to suck every bit that you can out of. And you may, you know, if you if you’ve got a cobbled together piece of something that was a shorter survey, maybe you don’t have a year of research, but maybe you have six months of free of content, maybe you’ve got nine months of content, like it’s okay, like take what you have from it.


But remember, some people like a little bit of a cupcake and a lot of icing and that’s okay. Yeah, you’re one of those people. Yeah. Especially if it’s like chocolate peanut butter. man. Yeah. I’m sort of an oven frosted case. And I’ll take a little icing. I will. And I’m with you. But leadership, I like plenty of icing from the people that I follow, so.


Well, we’re going to take a quick break now, and we’re going to come back then and get even more tactical on things like build it, set it up. So we’re going to take a quick break and then we’re going to come back and get a little bit more tactical and slice and dice and then do your reveal.


So we’ll be right back, everybody. Okay, everybody. So now that we’ve let’s just kind of regroup here real quick. Let’s assume that the study was set up so there’s a big enough, meaty enough, comprehensive enough to be able then to get all of this mileage out of it that Susan was talking about. So, Susan, let’s assume that that study kind of fits that bill.


Read this blog about what is thought leadership and how it can unleash your agency’s potential


What is Thought Leadership: Show Your Research Results Through a Presentation


Thought leadership is about infusing your expertise, perspective, and insights into the research to create impactful and valuable content for your audience. Cornerstone content. What are some of the things that you would like to then see somebody do, like as far as slicing and dicing that into the smaller cobblestones or the smaller pieces to make that dense, super helpful way to get all of that juice? What are some of the things you’d like to see them do? Well, the first thing I’d like to correct you on is that the research is the cornerstone concept, because the research doesn’t have any of your point of view in it. 


The research is the basis for your cornerstone content. What you need now is an executive summary, a white paper, something that allows you to add your perspective to that research. Love that. Okay, So that can be a written document, that could be a webinar or a pro, a course or a book or whatever, right? But you need something meaty that says, I did this research, This is what it said.


This is what I think and this is what it means for you. So you’re saying that sort of presentation of. Yeah, that’s the cornerstone of content. Got it. Because that has your point of view in it, your expertise in it. Okay. So you know, for our clients it’s usually the executive summary and an interactive visualization of the research results that have some perspective of in there from us like, this means this or this, we found this interesting or whatever the combination of those two sort of together so that you’ve got something really nice and meaty that you can say, We’ve got all this stuff and this is what we think and these are the implications for you. But that’s only the beginning. The cornerstone content is really important, but that white paper in itself is going to die on the vine if you just stick it up on your Web site and don’t do anything with it. I know I’ve done that. We’ve all done that. Like everybody has some great thing and they throw it up there and then we just sort of dust off our hands and go have a glass of wine and we feel great.


Okay, that’s not enough. But what is thought leadership, and what you have to then do is break that down into pieces so that you can do whatever your ongoing content program is. It might be a podcast, it might be blog posts, it might be ongoing webinars, it might be quarterly events that address a particular topic. But whatever that is, you really need to break that content down into smaller digestible pieces that allow you to sort of let people consume what you know, what you learned and what you know right bit by bit as they go through their day.


Okay. So let me give that back to you and see if I am tracking with you. I think I am. So now we’ve got this 2021 research, right, that you’re going to share a couple of things here in a few minutes. So like, it sounds like it would be smart for me to, to when, when we go through all of that, we add our frosting to it and then it becomes the cornerstone.


And then I should take that in and slice it apart and think, okay, who are some additional guest experts that I can invite onto the show? They can talk about this finding. And so now the research is driving podcast episode topics. Yep. And then Erik and I, you know, our chief strategy officer here.


I know, I know you know Erik Jensen very well, but so then Erik and I need to think and say, okay, we need to take this research and have it help guide our ACM, teach and do sessions or new modules, Insight assignment and be teaching insight. As in guided by the research too, which then offers us lots of slicing and dicing as well.


Am I tracking with you? Yeah, absolutely. And you might say, you know, we have a client who had this particular challenge that we’re sort of focusing on and just killed. It just did a great job addressing it. Maybe we should get them to talk about that from a case study standpoint or do an interview with them or something like that.


What is thought leadership? Join our next open-mic Q&A to learn more insights


What is Thought Leadership: Understand The Difference in Viewpoints of Several Audience Groups


Or maybe we have a community of people working to develop their own thought leadership. This came up in the research. Why don’t we ask them to share their experience with this and their perspective on that? And then and then let’s share what they said, tapping into their insights on “What Is Thought Leadership,” and let’s, you know, like there’s so much you could do when you sort of get into your mindset, Look, I’m going to try to make what I did as helpful as I can possibly make it.


What would be helpful to somebody? Well, hearing somebody else’s experience was dealing with that particular challenge or having somebody talk about why they did something and it didn’t work for them or, you know, whatever, like all these little opportunities. And that’s where you really bulk out for a year of content. It’s not just a blog post every month, right?


It’s all of the ways in which you can take what you learned and use it to springboard something that’s going to be really helpful to the audience that you’re trying to serve. I love this because as you’re saying that I thought of, again, vulnerability, humility. I thought it was relentlessly helpful. I thought of like, maybe you’ll agree or disagree with this analogy in no way trying to diminish the research.


But when I think about the white paper, I’m like, The white paper is obviously important. The executive summary is obviously important, but it’s really like the anti to get into the game. Yeah. And now you obviously need to create that course. Don’t buy that that’s like the thing and now you need to do all of this squeezing the juice out of it like you talked about.


Okay so I’m excited but yeah, maybe a little bit nervous to ask you about the reveal of the things that, I’m so excited. And, you know, we’ll have lots more. As you know, we’ll have a year of stuff coming out on the study. But the first look is really fascinating. So as you remember, last year, we surveyed thought leadership followers, business thought, leadership followers to ask about what they thought was important, what mattered, what they were looking for, those kinds of things.


And everybody can access that research. On your website this year, we decided to sort of turn our view on organizations that are working to build their thought leadership with content. Okay, So this we talked to a whole bunch of organizations that are actively working on thought leadership content. That’s what we did just like last year. A lot of our focus is on how they are thinking about this, right?


What are those attitudinal differences that we’re seeing between groups in this audience? And we had organizations from big, small, all sorts of industries, whatever, all sort of trying to accomplish the same type of thing, but they think really differently about it. So I’m going to tell you what those three groups are. And I want to know the extent to which you see these groups in your work at Predictive, because I definitely see them in our work at Audience Audit. This exploration of attitudinal differences and organizational perspectives highlights the importance of understanding ‘What Is Thought Leadership’ and its impact on shaping diverse viewpoints within an audience.


Okay. So the first group I call Confident. Okay, this is 32% of the audience that we surveyed. These folks feel really good about their thought leadership activity. Okay? They’re pumping out content. They feel like prospects are coming to them. You know, all of them were considered thought leaders. They really are feeling really good about things. However, these folks are not tightly niched.


These folks say they try to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. They think the best thought leaders are followed by lots of people. So for them, they’re confidence is really rooted in the fact that they’re doing a lot and it appears to be working for them from their perspective because they have a lot of prospects coming their way.


Right. And the exciting thing to me about this group, though, is, you know, the first sort of spoke on your well of growth for folks is about planning that flag of authority. It’s about having that niche. You and I both believe strongly in that. And this is a group that’s feeling pretty good about things but are clearly not niched in the way you and I would think of being niche and having that play through their thought leadership activities in our content.


Okay. Second group, I call this selective 24%. These have a very tight niche and they are committed to it. They are willing to walk away from the wrong prospects. They say their prospects want specialists and what they do and that is really their focus. And so these folks aren’t necessarily where the concern is and are saying, yeah, we’re there, we’re doing a killer job.


But they have a very clear idea of what being a thought leader is. And it is all about a niche. Okay. Okay. Last group, 43%. Stephen is uncertain. So, these folks say their organization has difficulty committing to a niche. They sound just like their competitors. They’re more likely to think that thought leadership is really just about ego and quantity is more important than quality.


They are really not on the thought leadership bandwagon in any I mean, they’re producing content, but they themselves admit they’re not exactly sure what their niche is. They don’t exactly know what they should be talking about. So they’re sort of pumping stuff out, but it’s not really producing for them in the same way. And it’s not Duncan assistant and they’re just sort of not in the game and not 43% of the audience.


So tell me in your work, do you see all three of those groups? 100%. In fact, I see Predictive in all three of these indicators. If you don’t, is it okay if I use ourselves as the tangible example? Yes, absolutely. Of course. Okay. Because I see this almost as a path. So, for example, when we launched Onward Nation in May of 2015, I would have definitely put us in the uncertain category.


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What is Thought Leadership: The Right Fit Clients Will Grow Your Business


And here’s what I mean by what is thought leadership. I think we had a decent business, but we were adrift and we needed some form of thought leadership or content in order to turn the business around. And for the first several years onward, it was definitely in the category of was it good content with smart people? Sure, but sort of aimlessly wandering through the wilderness.


We were pumping out stuff just to pump out stuff. Was it driving biz? Dev? Yes. Because of the Trojan horse, the content itself was not driving this stuff. Okay. So I would put us in that uncertain category, not sure what was working or what wasn’t and all of that. Yeah. Then we started getting a little bit more confident.


So then we started moving into the confidence piece of the Hey, we think that thought leadership is driving all of that, but still sort of a little bit generalist. Kind of dabbling into a niche. Could we be helpful to agency owners, business coaches and consultants? Yeah, but you know what? We can also be helpful to recruiters and software people and all of that, right?


Even though we’re gaining traction, confidence is going up. Still a generalist then when Drew and I wrote the book. So I was already like a lightning rod of getting really clear and becoming selective. Interesting. Yeah. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I would say the Audience Audit has done something similar, although our time at Confident was very brief because very quickly I was like, Yeah, I don’t want that.


I don’t want that prospect. You know, one of my favorite things to say is, yeah, we don’t do that right? We are relentlessly helpful with a couple of answers. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We don’t do that. We don’t. And you know, sometimes I think that happens when there are so many capabilities that you have. Right. So many potential industries that you could serve or whatever.


And it’s so exciting to be like, yeah, we really finally know what we’re doing and we can do it for just about everybody. Well, but let’s be candid, too, from the standpoint and I’m not saying this is always the case and the data say something completely different to what I’m just going to say. Right. New businesses, you’re in the uncertain category.


If you’re just getting started, you might be in the uncertain category. When you feel the pressure of payroll, you might be in the uncertain category when you know when that wrong fit client comes walking in with the bag money, you know that you should say no to that person, but you can’t because you got taxes and payroll and other things that you need to pay.


And that’s just it. Now, obviously, that’s a blanket statement. And I know that that’s not accurate for everybody. And I get it. But as your business grows and matures and becomes more successful and more profitable, all of that, you can get more precise and then have more confidence to say, yeah, we don’t do that. Would you agree or disagree?


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What is Thought Leadership: Being Selective Is the Most Sophisticated Level


Right. All right. So, okay, you know, these segments are not about the age or gender of the respondent, but we see all of the segments that all organization sizes. Okay. Early analysis suggests that the folks with smaller organizations like under 25 people are actually the ones more likely to be selective. I love this, and the bigger ones are more likely to be confident.


And then where does uncertain fit across the board? And there are all of these segments in every organization size that we surveyed. So it’s not like it’s a defining thing. I think that a lot of people and you and I have had this discussion before, people are really afraid of niching. People are really afraid that it limits opportunities and it takes a while to come around to the understanding, but it actually deepens your opportunities.


It makes them more broad, but it makes them deeper. Okay. Yes, you may lose visibility in outlying industries, right? But what you lose, you gain two or three fold in the industry that you’re niching in. If it is an industry it doesn’t have to be an industry, it could be geography or it could be a type of problem that you solve.


But the more you show your prospects that you are part and parcel for them, thinking about them all the time, trying to help them all the time, and not everybody just, you know, your problem, your specific circumstances, whatever that is, is really, really powerful. So I actually think that becoming more selective is the most sophisticated level.


Nice. Okay. I really do. And I think that aligns with what you said happened with Predictive. But I think it’s very easy when you can do a lot to get into a rut of just being confident where things seem fine. You got a lot of prospects coming in and things look good. You’re comfortable, right? But how do you get to that next level that is truly a specialist, truly selective, truly niched, truly comfortable saying, yeah, we’re not just going to turn a we’re not just going to take every prospect and assess them and maybe say, some of you are right for us.


We’re actually going to try to get those people to reject us before they even reach out to us. We’re actually going to be that visible with who our niche is. A niche doesn’t help you if you’re the only one who knows it or if you’re all it does is waste your time because you keep getting referrals and you keep getting prospects for stuff you don’t really want to do, and you spend time dealing with that right?


When you really commit to a niche, you put it out there for everybody to see. And you and you, you know, you can get a little heartburn knowing that that’s out there and somebody is going to come to your website and be like, Yeah, this is not for me. And they’re going to go someplace else that can be hard.


But wow. Okay. Well, off of that is when somebody comes to your website and goes, my gosh, this person is entirely this organization that has completely committed themselves to people like me. They must know what they’re doing. I value that. They just put that out there and that they see my problem enough to focus their whole business on solving it 100%.


Yeah. So I think those segments are interesting. I see those in our work and I think that, you know, for your listeners there will be more coming out in the research about that. But I think it’s worthwhile to think about where your organization is because I think any organization in any of these segments can do a better job.


You know, we talk about even when you have a niche, getting it narrower and narrower and narrower and narrower and narrower. Right. This is not a box that you check and say, yeah, we’re here, we’re done. I think that it’s it’s it’s a it’s a process that is ongoing. And regardless of where your organization is, it can improve.


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What is Thought Leadership: Focusing On Your Niche Can Be Rewarding


With regard to its thought leadership, their efficiency, their effectiveness. And your thought leadership reputation is based on what is really ongoing learning and understanding about an audience that you are trying to help and the problems that you can help them with. This is really cool. I love how you said that selective is probably the most sophisticated level or segment that is really cool.


This is going to be so much fun to like to share all of this stuff when we’re ready to do that and anything else in segments before we move to the next piece. Well, as you might expect, when you talk about the other two sort of elements of this thing, these segments are approaching the idea of cornerstone content differently, and they’re approaching the idea of Accelerate, which is taking that piece of Cornerstone content and pushing it through everything you do to help your audience ongoing, right?


That relentlessly helpful thing. So you know the content, confident people know how to atomize from a main piece of content. They’re focused on lots of content, so they’re doing a lot of that. But as we know, it’s not as tightly niched as you or I might recommend. The selections are really focused on high quality content. They know that weight having a combination of weighty elements and bite sized elements you know big pieces and little pieces is really important.


The uncertainty, they say they have trouble developing content in part because they don’t even know what their content should be. Yeah, right. And again, it goes back to that sort of lack of a niche, lack of an understandable point of differentiation and maybe lack of thinking that this is important. If you think that thought is all about people spouting garbage to serve their own ego, why would you want to pursue something like that?


It’s understandable. Exactly. Yeah. So the cornerstone content thing, some are doing it better than others. And when you talk about accelerants, the interesting thing about the confidence they have is an engaged community, right? They work a lot on this. They push out a lot of content. Okay. And it’s obviously serving them prospects content that contact them but they see every potential prospect is equally valuable.


So from an accelerant standpoint, their work is, I would argue, probably too broad because they’re still getting a lot of people who probably are ideal for them and they’re sussing that out once contact has been made, which is not a particularly efficient thing for either you or the prospect. Right. The selective really are focused on this reputation as a thought leader.


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What is Thought Leadership: Understanding The Importance Between Quantity vs. Quality Content


They have the biggest goals, the broadest goals for their thought leadership content. So, for example, they’re focused on a better quality of prospects, competitive advantage, and attracting higher quality employees. wow. Because they’re thought leaders. Okay. Which we’ve talked about before. I know you talked about increasing their fees. Okay. So they have a lot bigger goals for their thought leadership and they’re doing more types of content.


Okay. So remember, they focus on high quality content, but they are also more likely to be doing things like webinars live or recorded speaking engagements Q&A sessions. These folks are going past because I’m going to pump out a blog post once a month, so not one trick pony. No, they’re really spreading quality content across range of things, and they say that that’s important, that one of their attitudes is they know that it’s important to distribute content in a lot of different ways to reach their audience, but but not haphazardly with a strategy very focused, very, very focused, but using a lot of different tools to get that content out.


And then the uncertain, you know, inconsistent business development efforts focused on quantity versus quality. So they’re hit and miss. They’re doing what you were doing in the early days of Predictive. You know, you’d put something out and maybe you felt pretty good about it, but it just wasn’t terribly focused, It wasn’t terribly consistent. It just sort of like you said, it was just, you know, drifting around there.


So I think these different attitudes have implications for how organizations are pursuing their thought leadership efforts. And all of these organizations are right. But I hate to see organizations. We know how much time and effort and resources this takes to do this well. And I hate to see organizations devoting that and not probably getting the most out of it from the standpoint of efficacy, from the standpoint of impact, from the standpoint of reputation as they could be.


So it all flows, you know, it all flows through. And here’s the last thing I’ll share with you on this, because I love this nugget, okay? This is why this is so important, because 71% of the people in our study are business decision makers. Those organizations are building their own thought leadership. Okay? 71% of these folks have purchased products or services based on recommendations from a thought leader.


Yep. This mirrors what we saw in last year’s study on the impact of a thought leadership reputation on interest in a service provider, hiring a service provider, recommending a service provider to somebody else, and staying with a service provider longer. So we see again how important and how impactful for your organization being a thought leader can be. So these folks know this because they’ve experienced this themselves.


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What is Thought Leadership: A Focused Research Will Resonate with The Right People


What is thought leadership and why do they buy stuff the thought leaders are telling them about? They are themselves thought leadership followers. They are engaging with. They’re looking for resources from thought leaders themselves. So it is worth doing. It’s a lot of work. And I will tell you, as you know from our own experience, that it really started doing this a couple of years ago, two or three years ago, very sort of in a focused way and it’s had a huge impact on us.


So I think that there’s no argument after a year or two of our research that this has an impact on the people that we are trying to serve and on our business, our return on investment, on our visibility. You know, it has an impact. It’s worth doing. But I think you got it. I think you really have to think about how you do it, because haphazard is a pretty wasteful and less effective way to go about this, that is so amazing.


I can’t wait to spend more time with you slicing this apart and learning more about the data. I’m just absolutely just abuzz with the three segments that are in there and think what is so cool. Like you mentioned the 71%, but then you hooked it back into last year’s study, which is cool. And those numbers are almost identical.


And we talked about the role of thought leadership last time and I’m like, wow, So this is really amazing. I know that we’re getting short on time and I’m so grateful for your generosity. And I know we covered a lot. But before we go, before we close out and say goodbye, any final insights, anything you think we might have missed that you want to share?


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What is Thought Leadership: How To Connect with Susan


And then please tell our listeners the best way to connect with you. Susan. Okay. No, I mean, there’s going to be a lot. We looked, we asked people about what they think about the ideal amount of content, the frequency. I’m so anxious to hear a predictive perspective on what we learn in the research from all that thought leadership communities and how valuable they are.


Tons and tons of stuff in here. So lots to come. And again, I’m excited about the icing that Predictive is going to provide on this. I really am. As as a learner from you myself, I guess what I really like to leave people with, as most of your listeners have probably attended a workshop or a conference and you know you have that experience right where your mind just explodes and you’re taking notes like crazy and you’re like, this is so much I can do in my business.


And then you leave the workshop and you never don’t even remember any of that stuff, much less act on it. Right? Because so much comes. That’s the analogy you need to think about. If you’re just throwing a piece of thought leadership out there and not doing this, atomizing this slice and dice thing, that’s what you’re doing. Imagine if all of that stuff that you learned in your conference was coming at you, coming up in your social media feed, in your email newsletters, in your opportunities to engage with those thought leaders on a weekly basis or in a monthly webinar or whatever.


Imagine how much more powerful that would be for your business. Imagine how much further along you would be in accomplishing those things and that’s the analogy I think about when I think about thought leadership. Don’t make it a conference that somebody takes a bunch of notes that end up in a drawer somewhere, make it an on make that the introduction, and then just keep providing helpful stuff and.


I will tell you your audience will appreciate it. This is why you have the community you have predicted. That’s why people go to those Q&A so consistently and engage in the Facebook group because they’re continuing to learn and those people are implementing the stuff in their business that has not ended up in a drawer. So that’s been valuable for me as I think about our thought leadership efforts, that Audience Audit.


And I think it’s an excellent way to think about this. If you’re the producer of that thought leadership, if you are that thought leadership, the best way to reach me is the website AudienceAudit.com or you can email me [email protected]. I hate Twitter so don’t try me there but like it or Facebook I’m on to so and as you said more often than not I’m in your Q&A so if I can be helpful to anybody with what you guys are teaching as you go through those conversations.


As you said, I love to do that. So I learn. I learn along the way with everyone. If you happen to be inside our Facebook group, which is also called How to Fill Your Sales Pipeline, Susan is a very active member inside our group, so feel free to connect with her that way too. And in. Okay, so as we come in for a landing here, I think it’s pretty obvious to see that.


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What is Thought Leadership: Closing Remarks


Absolutely, without a doubt believes in being relentlessly helpful. So no matter how many notes you took or how often you go back and listen to Susan’s words of wisdom, which of course I sure hope that you do, the key is don’t let those notes be something you stick in a shelf. Let that be your active plan, take that, apply it, and you’ll be much better for it because you did.


And Susan, I am grateful that you took some of your valuable 86400 seconds that you have today and shared it with us and shared your smarts, your insight, your wisdom and all of that so we can make our businesses better. Thank you so much, my friend. you’re very welcome. It’s always such a joy to talk with you about all of this.


And I’m excited that we have some new research to share with the community along with your frosting.


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