Write a book. When you an abundance of expertise, synthesizing it into a book is the ultimate way to get gain thought leadership on a subject. If you don’t have expertise at your organization, you can outsource the writing to an authority that does, but this approach is less effective. At my current company, Plannuh, we just wrote a book on operational marketing excellence that has over 4,000 copies in circulation in just over a month.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Todaro, CMO and co-founder of Plannuh and co-author of “The Next CMO.”
With a passion for marketing, Scott has devoted his 28-year professional career to perfecting the craft. As CMO and co-founder of Plannuh, Scott is committed to improving the marketing profession by creating a software platform to help marketers optimize their strategies, plans, and budgets. Scott has held marketing leadership positions with seven companies, four resulting in successful exits, and has managed hundreds of marketing professionals. In addition to his professional experience, Scott holds two business degrees with concentrations in marketing and was an adjunct professor for four years at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell teaching marketing strategy to MBA students.
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 am a lifelong marketer of 28 years (I know I am old), with two business degrees in marketing. Over those 28 years, seven times I have worked at start-ups (three of my own), so I guess you can call me a serial entrepreneur. I co-authored a book, The Next CMO, and also ventured into the world of academia as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Massachusetts teaching marketing to MBA students. I have been fortunate enough to hold marketing leadership positions at companies that have resulted in four successful exits (one IPO and three acquisitions). My professional career seems to be rolling along, but my golf game is embarrassing.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
For over 25 years, I have been running thought leadership campaigns at a variety of technology companies. I have implemented thought leadership strategies for the companies I have worked at and for others through consulting engagements. For organizations that are truly blazing trails, a thought leadership strategy is a critical part of a company’s messaging platform.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was a founding member of a start-up that built loyalty programs for professional sports leagues. We had a contract with Major League Baseball, but investors wanted us to diversify into another sports league before they would make another investment. The WWE was really interested in signing with us, which would have saved our company, but owner Vince McMahon body slammed the idea at the last minute, and we closed our doors.
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 started a beer company with a few friends back in the early 90’s before the microbrew revolution took off. The beer we brewed tasted bad, just terrible. Necessity is the mother of invention, so we came up with a cool slogan, “If you need a beer real bad, we have a real bad beer.” And we put the poison symbol, skull and crossbones, on the beer bottles and on tee-shirts. The result, we sold over 3,200 tee-shirts and no beer. What I learned is that failure can create new opportunities if you look at things differently.
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?
Three things come to mind when I think of thought leadership. One, you have to have something unique or innovative to say that is founded in fact. Two, you need to have the credibility to make your claims that are backed by experience or education. Three, the person or company needs to have a vehicle or platform for influencing people to adopt the idea or concept. The difference between a thought leader and a typical leader comes down to the type of power they have. A typical leader usually has legitimate power and a thought leader only has expert power. Thought leaders can actually be influencers by sharing their wisdom.
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?
This is the information age, and content is king. Innovation is happening at a torrid pace, and it is essential for individuals and companies to stay abreast of the latest trends to keep pace with the market. Thought leadership will give you or your company a voice to influence the market to thinking on your wavelength. This can be a very powerful messaging platform for an organization or individual and well with the time investment if executed properly.
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?
Shaping public opinion through thought leadership is a great way to get your perspective into the marketplace. Assuming you have a product or service that is different from others on the market, discussing the differentiators in a thoughtful way can influence public perception to your line of thinking. Once you have mindshare, you open up a wealth of opportunities to create awareness for your business. The key is to make sure the thought leadership ideas and content a closely aligned with your products or services so you are pulling in the right audiences.
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.
Before you implement any strategies, make sure you start with research or expertise (who in your organization can speak to the specific thought leadership premise). Next, create assumptions or find repeatable patterns that will lead to a set of conclusions that you can go to market with. Package it up and test your conclusions with other influencers to make sure they hold water. Create a content strategy, delivery calendar, and a large content asset that outlines your thesis such as a: book, ebook, white paper, report, article, infographic, etc. Finally, identify the channels you can use to get your thought leadership messages out into the public forum.
Below are 5 common go to market thought leadership strategies:
- Strategy #1 — Write a book. When you an abundance of expertise, synthesizing it into a book is the ultimate way to get gain thought leadership on a subject. If you don’t have expertise at your organization, you can outsource the writing to an authority that does, but this approach is less effective. At my current company, Plannuh, we just wrote a book on operational marketing excellence that has over 4,000 copies in circulation in just over a month.
- Strategy #2 — Start a blog or a podcast. Today people have limited time to read all the information that is thrown at them, so the next best thing to a book is a well-crafted blog or podcast. If you post excellent content and are known for a specific topic, then you can build a following. When I worked at Recorded Future, we started a podcast that had over 600,000 downloads in the first 2 years. That’s a lot of awareness. The good element with a blog or podcast is you can invite people outside your company to provide content, reducing the burden of creating new topics every day.
- Strategy #3 — Get on the speaking circuit. Today, this approach has lost a lot of its luster due to Covid-19 suppressing travel, but there are still virtual opportunities. If you have charismatic, well-spoken experts that enjoy public speaking, this can be an effective method for creating thought leadership. When I was at AisleBuyer we implemented this strategy rotating three experts speaking at events twice a month. We estimated in one year, we reached over 36,000 people that heard our message.
- Strategy #4 — Use the media as your thought leadership channel. This can be expensive, but if you really have a content machine going, especially one that is producing unique research results, the media can be a powerful 3rd party endorsement of your thought leadership content. There are a number of security companies such as Rapid7 that use this approach since cybercrime is so topical these days.
- Strategy #5 — build a community of people with common interests. For communication and member participation, run events, set-up email accounts, and open Slack channels. Inspire thoughtful communication by throwing out topics for the community to share their expertise. Drift is an example of a company that has done a great job of creating a community.
If you are bold enough, do all of the above for creating a thought leadership machine.
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.
This is a tough question because there have been so many thought leaders over the years — from Steve Jobs to Elon Musk to Seth Godin. I am a marketing guy, so David Meerman Scott is a thought leader that I follow pretty closely. His book, the New Rules of Marketing and PR, which I read back in 2007, helped me evolve as a marketer. I used his book in the marketing class I taught to MBA students. What I like about him is he constantly changes the book with new editions and is not afraid to modify his theories to fit the rapidly changing business landscape. The other person that I follow is David Kellogg. David has his Kellblog that spits out some forward-thinking business concepts. My favorite post is a 3+1 model that helps you unify a product message around a growing product portfolio.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
To these people I say great, then be a thought leader and come up with a different term for thought leadership. The one thing I have learned in business is that change is constant, so if someone has the authority and influence to change the term, it will happen. But no matter what new term we use, the concept and benefit of thought leadership will stay the same. We need thought leadership to help us move forward.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
What I have found best to avoid burnout is to do what you both enjoy and are good at. I find people that burn out, either hate what they do or they like what they do, but they are not good at it and are unsuccessful. It is hard to find a profession that you love and you are good at it. It is also difficult to change careers if you have built-up expertise and fear a loss of compensation. If you find yourself in this situation, the key is to bring other elements of your life you enjoy to your job. If you love being at home, ask if you can work from home more. If you like exercising, workout in the middle of the day. Burnout is usually caused by unstimulating routines, so break them.
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. 🙂
I am not sure about enormous influence. The movement I would champion is diversity in the workplace. When I say diversity, I mean race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic, geographic, life experience, and thought. All of these elements together bring a richness of ideas and help to solve problems in new ways. Although there has been great progress already toward this movement, there is still a long way to go. We are all guilty of letting the pressures of our jobs force us down the path of least resistance when hiring. My sincere hope is that something good comes from this pandemic and that people realize they can hire anyone, from anywhere to work at their organizations now. This will help us reach beyond the geographic constraints of coming into an office that has held back our recruiting efforts in the past and will now allow us to hire people from all walks of life. Our organizations will be better off for it, and so will we as individuals.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am a life lesson quote junkie, so it is difficult for me to narrow it down to just one. The poor people that work for me have heard me say them all. My two favorites are:
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford
“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” — Thomas Paine
What I take from these is believe in yourself and always move forward. Live your life like there is no tomorrow. I have never waited for permission to do things — I am not always right, but I am always sure. 😉
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. 🙂
Because I am not a morning person, I would like to have lunch with Seth Godin since I have enjoyed reading all 17 of his books. I would also like to ask him why he wrote a book calling all marketers liars to see if he would tell me the truth. 😉
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow me at:
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.