Social media channels are a top priority. You can’t be a thought leader without a developed strategy on your social media channels. You need to invest time there to create content, make it interesting, communicate with people, show what is new and what mistakes people do. Interact with others and ensure to reply to questions when you have the correct answers.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fernando Angulo, who is the Head of Communications at SEMrush. He has been with SEMrush since the beginning of company’s marketing efforts and has built its all-star marketing team. Being one of the most recognised faces of the brand, Fernando is speaking at 50+ top conferences worldwide each year. Fernando specializes in B2B search marketing, e-commerce, influence marketing and trained marketing teams of companies such as Expedia, T-mobile, Prestashop and Bing.
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?
Approximately 12 years ago I worked as a travel specialist for an American company that took the sales of tourist product processes to the next level with the help of automatization tools. Most travel agencies at that time took a lot to create a workflow to make the entire sales process faster. Travel agents were responsible for finding customers, promoting tours, making offers to customers, creating the programs, negotiating prices with local services and many other tasks. This all made it very difficult to save some time for a single sale without working 12 to 14 hours a day. Without the help of a customer relationship management system such as email marketing tools, Google Analytics, travel agencies that continue to work manually are lost. We, however, dedicated ourselves to selling tourist products exclusively, and with the help of detailed online information about clients, we could create personalized offers for each visitor to our website and close between 30 to 50 deals per day. The implementation of technology, automation, and customization in classic business models was essential to position a new company of roughly eight people, to become leaders in an established industry and fill dozens of tourist charter planes per week. So I started in a very dynamic and competitive industry using the ultimate digital tools and workflows for that particular time period.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
It didn’t strike me that I was acting like a thought leader until a long time later when other people recognized me as one. I have gained a vast range of knowledge due to my experience working in various companies — each exceptionally different from the other. Despite these differences, I was able to face several challenges and solve each one of them using numerous skills I learned on the way.
Throughout the journey of my career, I developed my professional skill-set which led to sharing thoughts with others. This process helped answer millions of questions, which evidently led to overcoming major marketing challenges for people and companies. Finally, by being recognized as a thought leader, I am now invited to speak and share my expertise at numerous industry conferences and international events such as InOrbit, NextM, DigiMarCon, SMX, Brighton SEO, Prestashop Day, Milan Business Summit, EXMA, etc. I am well aware that a thought leader is meant to provide depth and answer to the customers’ biggest questions as well as help them perceive things in various ways, shape their vision of the business and guide them to grow as a professional. I can happily say that for the past five years — I have succeeded in this and continue to do so with joy, pride, and honor.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
It was the year 2012 and I was only one month into the digital marketing industry. At the time I was trying to understand ‘who was who’ in the digital world, I was contacting experts to get feedback and attempting to establish relationships — the usual ‘outreach’ kind of job. Suddenly I received an invitation to speak at one of the most prestigious conferences based entirely on the brand I was working for. As a junior, you could have imagined my surprise! After discussions with my team and founder about the opportunity, it was clear that this dream was quickly becoming a reality. I was so happy for the company — opportunities like this at startups are not so common; however, I had a major fear of presenting information about a topic/company that was fairly new to me, especially in front of a room filled with professionals and experts. Alas, the show must go on, so after weeks of preparation, I studied the information until I could remember it off the top of my head. Finally, when the day arrived, despite not sleeping a wink the entire night before due to an overdose of coffee which gave me so much stamina that I looked like a maniac — I presented an inspiring, informative and innovative speech. It was moving because not only did people nod, cheer and clap me on, but whilst I was on stage, I truly understood the value of the words coming out of my mouth. Like a fire in my belly, I felt an urge, in fact, a passion to get my point across and share the power of knowledge with the crowd before me. That was the first time I ever appeared on a big stage and eight years — I have never looked back.
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?
When people ask me where I am based, it’s easier to say in an airplane than an office…
Initially, after first starting at SEMrush I thought I wouldn’t last longer than a week because the jetlag almost killed me. The company kicked off with just an intimate group of 10 of us, then we grew to a team of 40 and before I could blink, the company became bigger, bigger and bigger. I remember the moment of a major mistake I made perfectly. I waited more than an hour for a potential marketing partner late one night because I had scheduled a meeting with him. Minutes and minutes went by but there was still no one on the call except me. I thought his tardiness to be bizarre, so I decided to look at the invite and it appeared that I totally mixed up the hours due to time zone differences and accidentally scheduled the call for 3 AM instead of 3 PM… You could imagine my embarrassment! Luckily we still have a great rapport with this partner, but the joke about 3 AM still happens to creep in every time we schedule a call with him…
That may sound funny, but I never expected to travel as much as I was during the previous year. In hindsight it has been positive, providing me with new skills such as being able to switch to different time zones. I also developed the skill of how to sleep in a plane from the moment of departure as well as being able to pass airport controls in less than a minute! Now after 10 years in the business, it is safe to say it is still important to check and in fact, double-check if you are trying to reach your business partner at 3 AM by accident, otherwise, it certainly works as an odd ice breaker for the next time you have a meeting.
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?
After running results for ‘thought leadership’ into SEMrush’s Keyword Research Tool, it is evident that the term is on the rise and spiking interest across the globe, especially in the United States. More than 27,000 people around the world per month search for the term “thought leadership”, depicting their interest in this topic which is 1.5 times higher than it was back in 2015. Despite the growing popularity, it is still unclear for some people what the definition actually entails, however after 10 years in the business, I am somewhat confident I have mastered the meaning of thought leader and the difference between typical leaders and influencers.
Thought leaders prioritize and offer specific knowledge and expertise in regards to a particular subject in order to meet the requirements of their audience’s desire. As mentioned before, the main goal of the thought leader is to provide the most accurate answer, relevant to the topic, theme and interest of the audience. In comparison to this, the role of the leader is usually more general such as inspiring others, offering life lessons and teaching those how to be successful on a more general level — not going deep into the subject matter of the audience. When it comes to influencers, I should point out the main difference — influencers are strictly connected with their followers, a community that they build, without which they would not be able to simply act as influencers. Basically, a thought leader can or cannot be an influencer, depending on the number of subscribers/followers of their (usually social media) channels dedicated to the area of expertise.
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?
First of all, in order to benefit from becoming a thought leader you should answer these questions: Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge with others? Are you satisfied seeing how it helped people grow after? If your answer is yes, then you probably have a vocation to thought leadership. The main benefit, better yet, I would even call it the main reward, is the gratitude of your audience. Nothing is more advantageous than providing people with the power of knowledge and thus, the gift of giving. If you feel like a person who is ready to shift in this direction then for sure it is worthwhile to invest your time, resources and energy into something that will soon blossom into your true passion.
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 is essential to brand awareness and brand visibility. It is if you like, the new playground for marketers fighting to differentiate their brand from their competitors. Most importantly, they shed light on timely issues, providing fresh perspectives on unchallenged issues.
Here at SEMrush, we pride our materials on their engagement and accessibility by interactive reports, data presented in infographics, video and bite-size content, rather than word saturated essays. In regard to our topic selection, we want to ensure they are newsworthy, topical and interesting for all types of viewers be it young and old — after all, if we wouldn’t want to read it then who would? Another crucial element we pride ourselves in is establishing solid reputations for credibility branding. We recognize that genuine thought leadership must challenge received wisdom and throw new light on pressing issues impacting clients, policymakers and the general public. Successful content is usually action-driven — giving tips, providing recommendations and successful proposals that make it easier for followers to share and utilize on their own.
You may be wondering: How does something like this benefit the company? Instrumental programs we offer are SEMrush tool masterclasses for companies, students and marketers all over the world. We have been supporting niche influencers and speaking at global conferences. We believe that thought leadership is simply the most effective way for marketers to drive commercial success through the power of insight. Offer a fresh perspective by creating long-term platforms for successful, innovative, original concepts and ideas then you are likely to develop a strong audience who tune into your channel first in order to receive fresh, relevant and trustworthy content.
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.
- Find people who are hunting for information and hungry for knowledge. Our own expertise showed there were a lot of people in Latin America who were desperate to meet our team and wanted to know everything about the company, updates, and trends. We spent 10 days on tour, visiting different companies, events, and classes around Latin America. You can’t imagine these people’s reactions and how they are willing to get information. After that, we received many new clients in our database, but the best thing about it all was that they were already customers that loved our brand.
- Provide information that is efficient and accessible to all. There is a lot of technical information we can provide the audience with, but when it comes to simplified and snackable bits of content — the impact and potential reach are unbelievably huge. A prime example of this was during a class I held in London, I needed to showcase a very technical side of digital advertising, but decided to start with exploring triggers in niche advertisements — the most popular words and phrases which arouse interest and make people click on the advertisement. Everyone was able to understand the discussion and people could recognize themselves in the situations I provided as an example. Thus a very simple, and accessible example allowed to perceive technical aspects easier.
- Work with media outlets to help identify you as a leading expert in your field/ industry. Be prepared to be ahead of the game and on top of your brand. In this day an age, information is at the click of everyone’s fingers. If they search for you and you’re seen commenting about a particular situation in your market or giving an interview about specific topics — then you are already a thought leader in the public eye.
- Monitor the market. Thought leadership is not only about you, it’s also about what you can give the audience and what insights you can offer. For me, it’s essential to dissect things nobody else understands or can discuss with others. Focussing on niche topics and issues that only you know the answer to, are important and instantly make you a leading expert in your field.
- Social media channels are a top priority. You can’t be a thought leader without a developed strategy on your social media channels. You need to invest time there to create content, make it interesting, communicate with people, show what is new and what mistakes people do. Interact with others and ensure to reply to questions when you have the correct answers.
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?
I am intrigued by US Professor Stew Friedman’s approach where his main message resonates soundly with the strong belief of work-life balance. After creating the concept of harmony between all parts of life: work, family, private self and your community, he claims there should not be a balance among all mentioned above. Therefore resulting in the belief there should be harmony which leads to better performance, and in turn, will make you successful in all these spheres. This topic is very close to me because I always try to do my best to be a good husband, father, friend and professional — which trust me, is really not as simple as it sounds — but is worth the challenge!
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
Of course, there is the overuse of this word and some people have probably even formed their own allergy to it. People are eager to name themselves as thought leaders when in reality they aren’t offering the real deal. The same thing happens with “bloggers” in almost every social media profile we can see this label but in reality — if the content does not correspond to what it should be then you are far from a real blogger. I do not think that the word “thought leader” should be avoided, instead, the better route to take is to educate people about what is the initial and the most accurate meaning of a thought leader.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
This is a very important question nowadays, so I thank you for bringing it up and recognizing the term burnout. A recent SEMrush study showed that people have become more curious about the occupational phenomenon: the amount of searches for this term has increased by 28%, with a 117% increase in searches for ‘burnout treatment’ in the last 4 years. But burnout is not something that happens suddenly — it’s cumulative of previous situations that had an effect on your emotional and physical well being. That’s why you must listen to your gut feeling and be attentive to your physical and emotional state at all times. I can advise the following: If you’ve noticed signs of exhaustion, loss of appetite or loss of desire to do what you used to like, and the best way is to find something you can switch off to. Take a pause, switch to another task or try something new — be it food, sport, a hobby, a new travel destination — something which will bring positive energy and good vibes. Sometimes even going to an amusement park with your family or friends and reversing back into a childlike state can provide you with nostalgic memories and offer you energy for your new achievements.
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 haven’t thought about it… maybe only about being a leader of a movement for pure-SEO-performing companies where I will help them move from HTTP to HTTPS 🙂 That’ll be the best movement to make our digital lives safer.
On a more serious note, it could also be about the “six-working-hours” movement. I encourage people to work only six hours per day in the office but ensure those are six really productive hours. We all know that a working day normally consists of more than eight hours, but to be honest, you have one hour for lunch and one hour you use for networking, chatting, personal admin, bathroom breaks and much more. A real benefit from taking those hours from your schedule is to focus on other things you are working on, such as projects, campaigns, and strategies. Time is the most important asset for people, and everybody wants to have more, but nobody knows how. It is about time we start utilizing our efforts in more productive ways, which means other time is saved spent on education, family, personal issues and most importantly avoids suffering from burnout.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”
I love this quote and always try to follow it. if something unplanned happens and there’s no way to change it, remember that worrying will not make life easier. Instead of panic and fear, it’s better to funnel this energy toward a new approach. I remember this one time, we planned to make video clips with our customers but once we arrived at the city, we realised the luggage had been lost, meaning our film crew was equipment-less… Soon after we put our thinking caps on and instead decided to shoot a selfie video on a basic Iphone camera. By being proactive and original, we actually created an engaging design that appeared to be one of the most streamed and interactive clips we had ever produced!
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 lunch or breakfast? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would be very keen to meet Seth Godin @ThisIsSethsBlog and discuss the future of marketing with him. He is the author of one of my favorite books titled: “This is Marketing”. That book helped me to watch and learn first and then plan and take action. Now I apply that simple but powerful strategy to every campaign I start.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Via LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/fernandoangulo/
Or Twitter @Fernando1Angulo
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.
Thank you for your time, efforts and really interesting questions!