You’ve been assigned the task of turning your CEO into a thought leader.
Where do you begin?
First, let me tell you the short version of my story:
- I started a marketing agency in 1999.
- In 2013 we almost went out of business.
- That same year I began writing for Forbes, publishing a few articles per month.
- Writing for Forbes opened doors to writing for over two dozen publications.
- That led to a TEDx talk and speaking engagements around the world.
- It also led to a book deal.
- That book resulted in an invitation to hang out with Richard Branson on his island for a week.
- Most importantly, engaging in thought leadership saved my business and generated $10M in revenue.
Maybe that’s not the exact path you want to chart for your CEO, but regardless there are principles, or systems, I discovered through my experiences and subsequent research you can use to turn your CEO into a recognized thought leader.
Step 1: Vision
What do you want? Or rather, why do you need to turn your CEO into a thought leader? What is driving this initiative?
Maybe you want to:
- Generate leads and sales to grow revenue
- Protect or grow the brand
- Attract top talent
Thought leadership is a means to an end, not an end itself. What’s the real end result you’re looking for?
Step 2: Genius Zone
What makes your CEO special? What makes your company special?
“Well, she’s really nice and knows her stuff…”
Nope, that’s not what I’m looking for.
Once upon a time when I was based in China I went with our team to meet with a potential client. The client told us “We need a digital marketing agency that has offices in Shenzhen as well as the U.S., and has Americans working in their Shenzhen office.”
I immediately knew how to close the deal by tapping into our genius zone.
“Have you found any other agencies besides ours that match those criteria?” I asked.
“Well, um, actually…no,” they responded.
We signed a contract two days later. That’s the power of knowing your genius zone. It’s your “unfair advantage,” it’s the thing that makes it easy for you to do what your competitors could never do.
To find your genius zone, list out your “expert zones,” anything your company does that’s even halfway relevant to your vision.
In my agency’s case, some of our expert zones were:
- Digital marketing
- Office in Shenzhen
- Office in US
- Founder based in Shenzhen
- Speak English
- Speak Chinese
- Case studies
A genius zone is created when you overlap expert zones to find a unique “superpower.”
What knowledge, skills, and experience does your CEO have? What products, services, and differentiating factors does your company have?
Step 3: Audience
If you could push a button and get 1,000 new customers, what would they be like and what would you want them to do?
If I asked you who is the ideal audience for a particular McDonalds restaurant you might say “Anyone who wants a hamburger.”
Where is this McDonalds located? The ideal audience for a McDonalds in Blanding, Utah is not someone in Paris, France.
Also, someone may want a hamburger, but do they have the money to buy one? Are they a recent vegan so they aren’t about to eat a hamburger even though they desperately want one? Would a McDonalds’ ideal audience be someone who wants a hamburger, someone who is going to buy a hamburger?
To find your ideal audience get detailed and dream big.
A client of mine who I’ll call Sally has a firm that specializes in agile marketing consulting. When I first asked her who her ideal audience was she said it’s whoever runs marketing operations.
“How much is an ideal engagement for you?” I asked.
“So your ideal audience is not whoever runs marketing operations, it’s whoever runs marketing operations at a company that will gladly spend $250K for your services.”
We kept digging this way, getting more and more specific, until we came to this: Sally’s ideal audience is a newly hired, female CMO at a US based company who has already worked with an agile marketing team at a previous employer, now is going to turn her traditional marketing team at the new company into an agile marketing team, is going to hire an outside company to help, and can easily get a $250K budget.
By focusing on this audience Sally doesn’t have to ignore other secondary audiences, but by knowing her ideal audience she can use her limited time to focus on who is most likely to respond to her content rather than spend a lot of time to create content that educates her secondary audiences and tries to move them to become an ideal client.
Your ideal audience will:
- Be like you
- Need (not want) what you have
- Have the money to pay for it
- Excite you (or your CEO)
To find your CEO’s ideal audience, make a list of all the potential factors that might be part of what make an audience ideal. Then start to overlap or combine those characteristics until you can look at that audience and say “Wow, if we could have as many customers as we wanted who were like this, that would be incredible!”
Make sure to include what you want the audience to do.
Step 4: Content
Content is two things:
That is, what are you going to say and how will you deliver what you say?
When I began writing for Forbes I suddenly had access to a powerful channel, but I had the wrong message. I wrote primarily about entrepreneurship. After a little while I realized that while writing about entrepreneurship for Forbes was fun, it wasn’t doing anything for my marketing agency. So I changed my message and wrote about marketing with my ideal audience in mind–businesses that were gathering information in order to hire a marketing agency. In the 12 months after I changed my message my agency’s revenues leaped by 1,400%.
But the story doesn’t end there. After I found success with this message on Forbes, I decided to try it out on Entrepreneur Magazine, where I had also secured a writing slot. I wrote similar articles for Entrepreneur but when I published them…nothing happened.
The message that worked for me on Forbes didn’t work on Entrepreneur because my ideal audience was hanging out at Forbes but not at Entrepreneur.
Where is your CEO’s ideal audience, or your company’s ideal audience, hanging out? That’s where to put your thought leadership content.
Step 5: Action
If you’re clear about your vision, genius zone, audience, and content, now the primary question is what are you going to do about it? What content are you going to create? Where are you going to put it? When? How?
This reminds me of two of my favorite quotes. First, this one:
Whatever your plan is, it’s going to change. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan, because there also this:
Create a plan, because even if you have to scrap it you’ll be better off than if you don’t plan at all.
As they say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
You might think we’re done turning your CEO into a thought leader at this point, but there are two more parts to long-term thought leadership success.
Step 6: Collaboration
If you put your CEO out there by herself that’s great, but you could get 1,000x the results if you collaborate with others.
- Who shares your CEO’s or company’s genius zone?
- Who shares your expert zones?
- Who targets the same audience?
The answers to these questions will give you ideas of who you might collaborate with in win-win partnerships so you can spread your content far and wide.
For example, I have a book coming out soon about how to engage in thought leadership on LinkedIn. A friend of mine has a B2B marketing podcast with 100,000 downloads per month.
B2B marketers are my ideal audience.
B2B marketers are also my friend’s ideal audience.
I can create LinkedIn-related content B2B marketers love.
My friend has a channel B2B marketers already love, but he needs more content.
Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?
Who can you collaborate with to help your CEO’s thought leadership content spread further, faster?
Step 7: Love
When it comes to thought leadership love is passion, empathy, and good will.
Is your CEO excited about engaging in thought leadership and putting out content? If not, that lack of enthusiasm will show through and your ideal audience won’t engage.
Does your CEO fundamentally understand your ideal audience? Steve Jobs famously said “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Does your CEO have so much empathy for your ideal audience that she knows what they want better than they do?
Good will is more than the cherry on top, it’s the foundation to all successful relationships. If your CEO does everything else wrong, but has good will, your ideal audience will say “Hey, at least she means well,” and sometimes that’s enough to make all the difference. On the other hand, if she does everything else right but doesn’t really care about the audience, the audience will pick up on that lack of good will and then they won’t care what else the CEO has to say.
You need to turn your CEO into a thought leader. If you can do it, you’ll be a hero. I want to help you on your journey.
What I shared above are The 7 Systems of Influence, a framework I created to help individuals understand the laws that govern influence and how to use them. What I shared is only a brief overview, but if you want to dive in and network with a community of executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals who are working on thought leadership (some on their own behalf, some on behalf of others), then join my 7 Systems Thought Leadership Mastermind.Liked it? Share it!