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Jon Cook: “Thought leadership has a two-fold benefit”

Thought leadership has a two-fold benefit: first, as a brand, positioning the leader of your organization as an influential voice, as a true thought leader, it shows your audience the human side of your organization. People don’t buy from brands — they buy from the people associated with the brands who created a human connection. Thought leadership […]

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Thought leadership has a two-fold benefit: first, as a brand, positioning the leader of your organization as an influential voice, as a true thought leader, it shows your audience the human side of your organization. People don’t buy from brands — they buy from the people associated with the brands who created a human connection. Thought leadership replaces the cold corporate veneer with a living, breathing expression of that brand’s voice and values: a thought leader.

The second benefit of thought leadership is that it accelerates the speed of change and allows your business to leverage the latest trends. Brands without true thought leadership aren’t leading anyone’s thoughts because they’re moving too slowly to be at the forefront of change. If you’re in the financial space and the latest tax legislation passes, is your audience more likely to listen to a brand without an established name and face or a highly visible financial leader who does a livestream about the new changes within moments of the legislation passing?


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Cook. Jon is the founder of Keynote Content, creator of the M3 Clarity framework, and a bestselling author. He spent the past eight years writing over two million words helping rising thought leaders craft and share Messages that can change the world for good.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I started blogging on the side in college and graduated right when Facebook and Twitter started. It was an incredible time because I saw how social media was already impacting how anyone can influence people all over the world. All you needed was an account (free), time (for a recent college grad, that’s all I had), and an insatiable drive to tell amazing stories.

I wanted to pursue writing and realized that if I wanted to be a writer, I needed to actually write. A lot. Blogging turned into a full marketing exploration, teaching myself, website layout, UX, graphic design, marketing, paid to advertise, and most importantly, the art — and science — of storytelling.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I have personally crafted the messages of New York Times bestselling authors, Fortune 500 executives, world leaders, and coaches and consultants with instant name recognition. Since 2016 I’ve worked one-on-one with over 1,100 different business coaches and consultants and over 750 different speakers across over 40 industries.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

For me, the most interesting stories are all about our clients and their impact. Just this year we already helped develop messages for national and international influencers about anti-bullying, environmental change and legislation, reframing the future of U.S.-based education, mental health awareness in Silicon Valley and other tech startup centers, revitalizing marriages, leadership and legacy impact, suicide prevention and intervention for veterans and first responders, chiropractic care as a proactive financing in your whole-body health, more meaningful conversations between parents and their teens, helping aspiring talent in Hollywood and NYC make better connections, inspiring moms of all ages and stages to push back against ‘should-isms’, getting truly organic products to market with integrity and efficiency, breaking free from domestic violence and relational abuse for good, empowering nonprofits to secure the funding they need to change the world, and exchanging outdated financial beliefs with data-driven wise principles, to name a few. It’s been a full year.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I forgot that a group conference call was actually moved to an in-person meeting… and I didn’t realize it until 30 minutes before and I was wearing jeans and a polo shirt. That wouldn’t be bad in many industries except the meeting was with a wealth management firm. A quick stop for slacks and a button-down shirt meant I made it right on time and closed the sale. Lesson learned: check your schedule in the morning and an hour before the meeting/call.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader isn’t just someone who can snatch a crowd’s attention. A street magician can do that. The world doesn’t need just another performer amusing our attention on social media — that’s what a lot of influencers do: they amuse, but they don’t truly contribute to the world.

The world is looking for people who can make a meaningful, intellectual contribution to the world — that’s how I would define “thought leader”. Many leaders focus on their organization — day-to-day ops, business development, etc. — but a true thought leader pivots what they’re learning to share that wisdom outside their organization as well.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Being a thought leader means you have a meaningful opportunity to make an impact beyond your lifetime with your contributions. You have the power to share ideas, ask questions, and challenge the status quo of people in your audience in a way that impacts their life for good. I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than investing every fiber of your being towards helping as many people as possible have a better tomorrow because you shared life-changing insight today.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Thought leadership has a two-fold benefit: first, as a brand, positioning the leader of your organization as an influential voice, as a true thought leader, it shows your audience the human side of your organization. People don’t buy from brands — they buy from the people associated with the brands who created a human connection. Thought leadership replaces the cold corporate veneer with a living, breathing expression of that brand’s voice and values: a thought leader.

The second benefit of thought leadership is that it accelerates the speed of change and allows your business to leverage the latest trends. Brands without true thought leadership aren’t leading anyone’s thoughts because they’re moving too slowly to be at the forefront of change. If you’re in the financial space and the latest tax legislation passes, is your audience more likely to listen to a brand without an established name and face or a highly visible financial leader who does a livestream about the new changes within moments of the legislation passing?

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

The first strategy is unquestionably the most obvious statement that so many aspiring thought leaders aren’t actually putting into practice. Strategy #1: Actually share your thoughts. I can’t count how many aspiring thought leaders have told me they’re not getting the traction they want. So, I ask them, “When was the last time you posted? When was the last time you published a great piece of content? How often are you reaching out to your audience?” *crickets*

It’s impossible to become a thought leader if you’re not actively sharing your thoughts. Again, that seems so ‘facepalming-ly’ obvious, and yet, it’s the most overlooked part of becoming a true thought leader.

Another underused strategy is getting input from your audience before you just create a bunch of content. Content that your audience doesn’t want or need is as valuable as that draft sitting in your website folder. It doesn’t benefit anyone. Send out a survey, do a Facebook Live for Q&A, invite your subscriber list to do an Office Hours with you, and use incentives if you have to if it means getting great input. The more you can understand exactly what your audience wants — and deliver on that desire — the faster you’ll establish yourself as a thought leader in your space.

The third strategy is to repurpose your content. You don’t have to be constantly creating new content every day nearly as much as creating great content once a week and repurposing that content across multiple channels.

Create a great 10-minute video for Facebook, run the transcription through Rev.com, and then, upload that video to YouTube with the transcript, break the transcript into 20–30 social media posts, repurpose the content to other channels, and edit the transcript into a feature-length article on your website and Medium.com. This allows you to appear omnipresent across all your social media channels. It’s easier than it may seem, but you need a proven process like I use.

The fourth strategy is to leverage the power of stages: podcasts, live events, summits, webinars, flash briefings, any platform where multiple people get to hear from one person at the same time. It’s one of the fastest ways to catch attention, serve with great content, and turn interest into action. If you want to grow your reputation as a thought leader, find stages that allow you to magnify your message to as many people as possible all at once.

The fifth strategy is to be on the early adoption side of new content streams. I jumped into Alexa flash briefings last year and went all-in with helping our clients get their messages onto Alexa devices. I even bought alexaflashbriefings.com and built out a done-for-you service to make it a ‘so simple it’s stupid if you say no’ opportunity anyone to connect with their crowd on over 110 million devices around the world. Look for those types of content opportunities where the interest is building and it’s not overcrowded yet.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Where do I start… I’m constantly impressed with the brilliance of people like Amy Porterfield, Marie Forleo, Peng Joon, Nicholas Kusmich, Ann Handley, Michael Hyatt, Gary Vaynerchuk, Ryan Deiss, the list goes on and on. Multiplying their content, identifying their exact audiences, and showing up with the exact same consistency in their messaging again and again are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned from their examples.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I see “thought leader” as an ‘others’ term — like being a hero. If you call yourself a hero, it’s easy to come across as a self-serving narcissist. If others calls you a hero, then it allows you to humbly recognize your role in serving others for their benefit, not yours. That’s why I can’t recall a single time ever referring to myself as a thought leader. It’s an aspiration of mine to embody that label, and others have called me a thought leader several times, but it’s not my place to call myself one. Let it be your everyday destiny, not your self-proclaimed arrival.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Nothing is more exhausting as an aspiring thought leader than trying to be someone you’re not. The world doesn’t need the next Gary Vee or the next Amy Porterfield — it needs the first you. Wearing someone else’s persona is one of the heaviest burdens none of us were meant to carry. Be yourself and show up as your humble, vibrant, warts-and-all self in every conversation, on every stage, and in every interaction. Anything else will drain your energy and suffocate your drive to make a sustainable, meaningful impact.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Our planet is on fire! Any opportunity to make a difference in protecting our environment and God willing, reversing our climate catastrophe has my full attention. As a person of faith, I see our greatest responsibility as humans to protect and preserve our planet — and we are pedal-to-the-metal hurtling towards an irreversible future unless we do something yesterday.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“As much as possible whenever possible, do the right thing.” Integrity is my most important value — it’s what shows up as authenticity, honesty, and values. There are opportunities every day to compromise my integrity with clients, connections, and decisions. This advice has saved me from bringing on the wrong clients and protected my business from terrible decisions.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Neil deGrasse Tyson. There aren’t enough words in this space to share what that opportunity would mean to me.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Step 1: Pick a social media channel. Step 2: Search @keynotecontent. Step 3: Send me a note to say “Hi!”

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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