1.) Gary, over time you have built a position as a thought leader on marketing and creative thinking. What tips can you give to aspiring thought leaders out there?
My advice to aspiring thought leaders would be to develop your own content. Too many so called thought leaders are just parroting what they've read or heard, whereas a true thought leader espouses. To be a true thought leader you have to have original thoughts and this only comes from taking the time to be silent and to look, see, listen and really hear what's going on around you to be able to form an opinion that can truly help take people and organisations forward. Thought leaders aren't those who just repackage what everyone else has said. They must have an angle and a new approach, idea, concept or innovation, that can truly lead.
The piece of advice I would give to any thought leader is that they need to design or develop their own style. There's no point trying to be the next Matt Church or Craig Rispin. They need to be themselves and the essential part of being a thought leader is to decide who that really is. They may be mentored by others, benchmark others and even admire them. However they must be their own self. If appearing somewhere in order to sell their own ideas or thoughts and they leave the stage or board room, people must know that it was them and not just another person mimicking or parroting others. Most powerful thought leaders have their own style, their own thoughts, their own method of presentation and their own personality and drivers.
My last piece of advice is something that I have learnt in the last 5 years, particularly since I have done so much writing, is to disconnect. Thought leaders MUST disconnect from the real world, technology and noise, in order to fully observe and hear. Thought leaders aren't the guys rushing through an airport with a crackberry locked to their ear trying to push through crowds to dive into the back of a taxi. Thought leaders are the guys who have got their crackberry in their back pocket and are slowly meandering through the airport, listening, watching, thinking, pondering and dreaming about "what if"? Thought leaders take the time to disconnect and think to themselves "imagine if"!
2.) You have written five books, how have these helped position you as a thought leader in your field and what advice would you give to companies striving to become thought leaderswhere books may not necessarily be appropriate?
Having now written 5 books and in the process of mapping the 6th, I would say that books lend credibility to thought leaders. Once you publish your thoughts you're putting them into the marketplace for all to be reviewed. It's all very well saying it but when it's put in writing it's there for prosperity for evermore. Having your perspective in writing can lend an enormous amount of credibility to you as a leader, speaker, author or entrepreneur. For whatever reason, books seem to be business cards on steroids. However, from my experience it's the second and third book where you truly get credibility. The first book is nice, but you join the masses. Thought leaders for me are the people who over a period of time have amassed enough thoughts and their own point of view to be able to land that thinking to a number of publications.
In today's world books are not the only tool that business or leaders can use. Many thought leaders are using social media particularly well through blogs, tweets, podcasts and vidcasts. The book is purely the tool to help you get the word out. Organisations and business leaders can do just as good a job by truly investing in original thinking and using all the tools outlined above as the methods to share your thoughts as a leader. Blogs, tweets, Facebook, LinkedIn, DIGG, podcasts, vidcasts are all fine but if you're not sharing innovative thinking that helps me as the follower to think differently or be better at whatever it is that I do, then you fail to add value and all those things are a waste of space. Too many companies are loading up with podcasts and blogs, which have no value and are a waste of time.
3.) A lot of what you advocate centres around stimulating and sharing ideas but there are plenty of companies out there who don't share their knowledge or insights with their target publics.What advice would you give them?
In my last book The Vibe I outlined one of the greatest trends that's happening in the world right now and is becoming even more prevalent since the book was published. Today's brands need to be generous. Generosity is a key driver for any thought leader or organisation wanting to lead. You can't just sell a service or a product. You have to go above and beyond that and provide the extras. Provide the overs. The overs come in the form of information, advanced notice, freebies, alliances, promotion or insights. If you aren't sharing your knowledge or insights with your target audience then you run the risk of leaving yourself open to attack from a competitor who does. Today it's an expectation from your target audience. The buyer of any product or service expects the extras. One of the greatest exponents anywhere in the world right now is Apple. They have free tutorials, free advice, free public problem solving, free applications, free upgrades, free business shopping, specialists and so the list goes on. I only buy a computer once every 12 to 24 months, and in the meantime they super-serve me and make me the loyalist of Apple tribe members by constantly being generous with their information, time, insight and products. Which is why they have just been voted the most admired companies in the world yet again.
4.) In the preamble to your latest book "The Vibe" you mention that only a few brands make an authentic connection with their customers. What are the key things companies should bedoing in order to make that connection?
In order to make an authentic connection with your customers you must do two things. First thing is to create a true perception of what separates you from everybody else. Today it's not good enough for me to know you and your name or what you do or how you do it. I need to know why I should buy from you and not from somebody else. I must have a succinct perception in my mind that separates you from your competitors and makes me move from knowing you to wanting to do business with you. Do this well and once I've done business with you I will want to stay with you even if somebody does it quicker, faster or cheaper.
The second part of the question centres around the authenticity of the story. Today people aren't just buying products, they're buying into the story. They're buying into why you do what you do. Too many business websites have their first two pages outlining what they do and how they do it. Put your hand over their logo and it's no different to their competitors. The people who truly resonate, get the first call, build the perception and build true loyalty with their customers and clients, will be the ones who have told their story. Why the company was set up, why you do what you do, why you have the sorts of people around you, working for you, and why you think what you do can change, help or benefit the organisations you work with. Once you've worked out the why you exist then outline: 1. Why we should do business with you; 2. How you do what you do; 3. What you do. People are buying stories and too few people tell the story let alone even know what their story is.
5.) What will companies need to do from a marketing/communications perspective to differentiate themselves from the competition over the next decade?
In the next decade two things will need to happen for companies to truly take advantage of their marketing communication. Firstly you need to get the fundamentals right, by clarifying who you are targeting as a customer or client, and what you do (that is what category you occupy). This is very important. Next, what perception do you want to create? Concentrated into one single concept or word that summarises why you are different from your competitors. Then thirdly work how you will infiltrate my world in order to alert me to this information. Unfortunately too many organisations are skipping the fundamentals and get caught up in how to spend money and how to communicate the message without working out what their message is. They have no story, they have no fundamentals taken care of. All they have is a logo on an invoice so people know who to pay. This is not having a brand. A brand only happens when you have told your story and built your perception.
The second thing you need to happen is that as people's buying, lifestyle and communication habits change, brands will need to be on top of this. The old saying "if you always do what you've always done, you always get what you always got" summarises it well, but today what you've always done may not be good enough. Brands in every size, in every industry, in every category need to be aware of the changing face of brand where stories, authenticity, being generous, building a tribe and being more than a brand are currently influencing the way people make buying decisions. As a thought leader this is your bread and butter because you are the person who is slowing down, thinking, pondering and imagining "what if?" You are the person will observe these changes to bring them to the attention of your followers.
6.) Which individuals or companies do you look up to as thought leaders in their industry and why?
Unquestionably marketing and brand guru Seth Godin who wrote Purple Cow, All Marketers Are Liars, The Dip, Meatball Sundae and so on, is a thought leader.
In terms of companies, Apple are unquestionably a brilliant organisation with ticking all the boxes I've outlined so far. But that organisation is only as good as their leader and there is no question that Steve Jobs is a thought leader in not only in computers but also in the entertainment and animated film industry.
Another company that I greatly admire who I think are doing it very very well are the Nespresso Coffee people. They've quickly built a brand new category and established a foothold in an area that previously didn't exist, and they've built a very cool, very successful and very funky brand that has longevity.
These thought leaders are doing it in a way that makes it very difficult to penetrate their category. All things that I've talked about above have been done extraordinarily well by Apple and Nespresso.
And finally, I know it's a little out of left field but someone else I admire as a thought leader is Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld. He's been on the top of his game for many years now, having been the creative genius behind Chanel, Fendi, and now his own brand. He's just gone back to Chanel. He has amazing philosophies and is unquestionably a thought leader in his industry. He is admired by many of the most creative people in the world, and I truly think he is someone who blazes his own trail regardless of what anybody else thinks.