In today’s episode, I set out to answer one of the hardest questions in marketing: how do you become a thought leader?
I pick the brain of Animalz’s strategist Katie Parrott, and we chat through:
- the defining traits of a true thought-leader (and why it requires more than adding the phrase to your LinkedIn bio)
- the idea of “earned secrets” as the fuel for thought leadership
- the 5 “sources” of thought leadership we use at Animalz
...and we wrap up by asking—is it really worth it?
- Everybody Wants Thought Leadership Content. But How Do You Do It, Exactly?
- a16z Podcast: Earned Secrets
- Follow Katie on Twitter
- Follow Ryan on Twitter
Listen to the episode above, or check it out in your favorite podcast app.
5:40 - Thought leadership is a positioning statement, not a single type of content
"When you say you want to do thought leadership, what you're saying is, 'I want me and my brands to be in this position of prominence where our target audience. . . .look at you and say, 'the people that represent this brand have interesting and insightful and useful things to say, and they're really pushing the industry forward.'"
"There is no form, it's not like, I don't know, a haiku where you say, 'This is thought leadership and this is the form that it should take.'
12:13 - There are five common sources of thought leadership
"As we've worked with a bunch of different companies across these different styles of thought leadership, we've noticed that the inputs that people have that tend to lend themselves well to good thought leadership come in these five different flavors: the counter narrative opinion, the personal narrative network, connections, industry analysis and data storytelling."
18:41 - Thought leadership comes from sincerity, conflict—and mistakes
"If you think about a story, it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and there has to be conflict in the world of business. The conflict is going to be a mistake. Conflict comes from things not going the way that they should.
"So the trick with personal narrative is that you have to be willing to go there, you have to be willing to raise your hand say, 'Hey, I want you to think of me as someone who you should listen to and take seriously, but I'm going to do that by telling you about this time that I messed up.'
"It's a little counterintuitive and it makes people nervous because the attitude, in tech in particular, is very much this posture of eternal competence and just crushing it all the time."
22:04 - You're more interesting than you think
"There's this concept that I really love called the curse of knowledge, which is just the idea that we don't know what we know that other people don't know.
"And a lot of the time, you really do need someone to point those insights out to you, to stop you and say like, 'Hey, that's a really interesting idea. I don't think a lot of people know that.'
"We take our own subjective experience as the default."
36:05 - Great thought leadership puts words to unspoken feelings
"Thought leadership can be a lot more hit and miss because it isn't indexed against any known factor because you're very often talking about new things.
"[But] that is true thought leadership, when you're putting words to a feeling that so many people in your space have.
"That is my favorite feeling when as a reader, when I read something and I'm like, 'Oh, that is the thing that I have nebulously felt, and here it is in words.'"
39:33 - Wait for the "natural upswell" that shows it's working
"The hallmarks we've noticed: our prospects repeatedly mentioning our ideas back to us on sales calls, or seeing ideas that we've come up with. . . .warranting responses or commentary.
"It's definitely slow to begin with, but you do notice this kind of natural upswell where the ideas you're shaping and giving life to, do get taken up by the broader community, which is pretty cool."
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Animalz Podcast. I am joined today by legendary Animalz strategist, thought leadership expert, always online person, Katie Parrott. And she's cringing with every descriptor I use to say how amazing she is. Hey, Katie, how's it going?
Hi. Well, because already off to a horrifying start with legendary, but yes, extremely online, I will accept that.
You can endorse that one?
I can endorse that label for myself, extremely online for sure. Hi.
Hi. It's so good to have you here, I've been wanting to get you on for ages. Today, I really want me to pick your brains a bit about a topic that you do know lots about, contrary to your downplaying, and that is thought leadership. That is a big part of what Animalz does as a company. That is probably one of our most important types of content that we produce, arguably give you one of the hardest types as well. And you have literally written, not quite the book, but the very long blog post that was almost book length with the first draft you turned in. And today, I wanted to just chat to you about that, about the concept of thought leadership, and hopefully give some helpful tips to people that want to embark on their own thought leadership journey.
One part I love about your blog post is something that I noticed and I was very guilty of when I started, was not actually knowing what that word thought leadership means. How would you use that? How would you describe it to people in a useful way?
See, that's the thing, I don't think anyone really knows what thought leadership means. I think of that GIF, that meme from the ice skating movie with Will Ferrell where he's on the treadmill and he says, "No one knows what it means, but it's provocative. It gets the people going." And that's very much what thought leadership is in the B2B, SaaS world, in the tech world more broadly, and just in general, it's this term that's out there, thought leadership, it's this thing that is so aspirational and everyone wants to do it and everyone wants to have done it, and no one really knows what it means. So when you told me, "Hey, Katie, do you want to write the canonical Animalz blog post about, here's what we think thought leadership is?"
It was very much a sense of like, how much time do you have, because I've spent so much time looking out at the world, at all these things that are self-proclaimed thought leadership. The most mortifying thing that you can see is someone tweeting out, "I wrote a thought leadership piece, here it is." And it's like, "Did you now? Did you?" And then you click through, and of course it's this basic five-paragraph essay with nothing really concrete to say and nothing really industry advancing about it, it's like, this is thought leadership in these brackets with nothing in the brackets that feels really meaty or substantial.
When I was writing the post, it's interesting because as we were working on the post, we were also solving a problem that we have internally at Animalz, in that there are a couple of different streams that we call thought leadership and that I genuinely think are thought leadership that are all very distinct from each other. We do a lot of founder ghost writing, where it's just this very personal talking about your experience, building your company, or the impetus behind why you started your company and what it means, or this mistake that you made as a leader in your business and how it taught you this bigger picture thing.
And then what I would argue is on the opposite side of the spectrum, if we're thinking about thought leadership as a spectrum is the really data driven, not intellectually rigorous, but like academically rigorous market analysis, looking at trends and data. And those are very different things, but they're both thought leadership. And so something that I was hoping to achieve in the post was articulating not just what thought leadership is, but where it comes from and what the inputs are that gets you to something that is more substantial and more genuinely industry advancing than that boiler plate five-paragraph essay where you're expounding on nothing.
So that boiler plate, that was where my brain used to go to when I thought of the term thought leadership. It would normally be on LinkedIn, it would be a LinkedIn post that somebody with thought leader in their LinkedIn bio had written that was essentially an opinion about something that was possibly not very good, not very well founded, didn't bring anything new to the table. Whereas one of the first points you make in your article, which I think is fantastic, is that thought leadership, thinking about it as a type of content is actually a little bit misleading, the best thing to do is think of it as an approach to content, this overarching philosophy.
Yeah. And it really is about, it's a positioning statement. To use the marketing term, like when you say you want to do thought leadership, what you're saying is, "I want to position myself as a thought leader. I want me and my brands to be in this position of prominence where our target audience, whether that's customers, it usually is, or peers, competitors, investors, what have you, they look at your brand they say, 'Oh yes and this brand the people that represent this brand have interesting and insightful and useful things to say, and they're really pushing the industry forward.'" And so it's very much a positioning statement. There is no form, it's not like, I don't know, a haiku where you say, "This is thought leadership and this is the form that it should take." It's just a feeling that you have.
My philosophy of thought leadership is very much in feelings. I believe the best thought leadership, it has to be movement first. We talk about movement first, where things start with a genuine conviction about something, a genuine looking out at your industry and saying, "Okay, something here isn't quite right. People aren't approaching this right. People aren't thinking about thought leadership correctly, or, the way people think about time management is completely stupid, or, the way that we're approaching B2B payments is completely backwards and we should be doing it this way."
The best thought leadership is grounded in authentic feelings. And the simplest way that I can put it is like, the things in your industry that drive you insane. One of the best ways that I can advise people on how to start producing genuine thought leadership that's really grounded in something is just pay attention to yourself when you go on like a 20-minute rant about that Tweet that drives you nuts because this person is saying something that you know is completely wrong because there's a thought leadership article in there, there's a thought leadership article buried in that feeling of, "God, this person is so wrong and I wish more people knew why they're wrong." That is where the best thought leadership comes from is, it comes from a genuine place of wanting to make the industry better, and it starts with feelings. I'm sorry. I know that alarms people sometimes, but.
I do totally agree. I think it's hard to create good thought leadership from a truly cynical place. There are definitely people out there who have refined those opinions or feelings to a fine science basically. But I do agree, anyone that approaches it from the perspective of sharing things that are engineered to perform as opposed to having something that they basically have no choice but to share, they care about it so much, they're going to be doomed to failure, they're the ones that are going to clutter up your LinkedIn feed with... You mentioned haikus. Do you remember that phase of broetry when people were... It was almost elegant in some cases
It's still happening where they're "Oh, the LinkedIn algorithm likes it when you break things up into these beat poetry style." Yeah. Oh, it was a simpler time.
So one concept I think you introduced me to actually that really helped us hit home for me, really helped me wrap my head around thought leadership was the idea of the earned secret. Obviously, if you look in your life or your backstory or your career, there are a million things you can share. Obviously, there needs to be some kind of a filter, some kind of a vetting process to work out what's actually interesting, what's the most relevant, what's going to be useful for people. How would you go about doing that? How does this idea of the earned secret fit into that?
So the thing about earned secrets, this way of thinking about thought leadership has comes pretty directly out of my background. So my first job way back in the dinosaur ages of 2013, 2014, I was writing pitch decks for funding profiles, which was this cross between a pitch deck and a business plan because we thought the jobs act was going to come through and everyone was going to be able to invest directly in privately held companies, and it's going to be this brave new world. And so it was Kickstarter, but for equity. And so I basically wrote pitch decks for somewhere between 300 and 400 different businesses.
And in doing that, I noticed that founders, when they're pitching investors, they have this incredibly refined, well articulated story about who they are, what problem they're solving, why that problem matters, what their product is, all of the thought and effort that has gone into designing their solution, the unique features that are building, the proprietary technology that they've developed, the high profile partners that they are working with, the amazing clients they already have, the evangelists that are out there supporting them. And now that I'm on the content side, I look back at that and I'm like, "Every single one of those is a launch point for thought leadership."
The term earned secret comes from Ben Horowitz, and he's talking about it in the business building context, what is your moat? What is the thing you know that nobody else out there knows that's going to allow you to build a business that's going to be able to sustain a competitive position in the marketplace. And if we think about content as a marketplace of ideas, then there's a pretty clear parallel between the earned secrets of your business and the earned secrets of your content. In a lot of cases, I really think they're the same thing, you just need to go back to that pitch deck where you told investors why you're special and then turn around and tell your audience the exact same thing.
There's a mantra that's gaining a bit of a foothold within Animalz, and that is that good content strategy is just good business strategy and a lot of senses, in the same way that any company that's going to succeed in the world has to have something unique, something it can bring to the table that other people don't do or do in a different way, content has to do exactly the same thing. There are so many businesses out there. Competition is so fierce, and that's exactly the same in content marketing as well. I love this idea of earned secrets.
And one of the things we've done is, because we're an agency, we create lots and lots of thought leadership, we work with lots and lots of different people is try and systematize this process a little bit, how can we work with a company founder or someone from the C suite or any kind of leader and actually turn their experiences and perspectives into content in a predictable, reliable way? Talk me through these five sources of thought leadership you came up with.
Yeah. So thinking about, again, thought leadership, it has to be grounded in something real and something, it has to be grounded, something that you have, if we think about that coming out of the earned secret thought leadership, isn't just a thing. It isn't just about saying a thing that you think the industry should know, it has to be backed up by something that you have. And so, as you say, as we've worked with a bunch of different companies across these different styles of thought leadership, we've noticed that these inputs that people have that tend to lend themselves well to good thought leadership come in these five different flavors, the counter narrative opinion, the personal narrative network, connections, industry analysis and data storytelling. So to just start to start at the top counter narrative opinion is the one I think most people tend to think of when they think of thought leadership.
It's just the contrarian that's out there saying, "No, that's not the thing. This is the thing." And the person that I always think of when I think of that, just, I'm going to say what I think and you're going to listen to me is definitely a David Heinemeier Hansson AKA DHH from Basecamp. He's built an entire personal brand and business brand around being perpetually unimpressed by the Silicon Valley consensus and this growth at all costs hustle culture mentality. And he talks about it all the time. That's his Twitter, that's the blog post that he writes, that's the book that he wrote with his co-founder, Jason Fried, as we said, writing an entire book about your philosophy as a business building is the final evolution of the thought leadership Pokemon, when you can say, "Hey, I wrote a book," and everybody goes to read your book because they're that interested in how you think business should be run.
That's the ballgame. That is victory. And so David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried, they're really are the embodiment of the idea of counter narrative thought leadership, just having a really strongly held opinion, and that it's not baseless, a lot of it is grounded in how they've run their company and how they've built their product. Basecamp is a productivity tool that is built to help businesses run in a less hustle culturally, less growth-at-all-costs kind of way. So it's grounded in their product, it's grounded in the way they run their business. They can say, "Hey, we've made millions of dollars running a business this way. So we have credibility to go out there and say, 'It doesn't have to be crazy at work. TM.'"
Reading your post, actually, I ended up triggering a whole new article that I wrote a few weeks later about the power of having a nemesis in marketing. The idea that it's not always enough to be the hero of a story, sometimes you do have to position yourself in opposition to a villain as well. So obviously, Basecamp very famously very recently went up against Apple, taking on the industry giant saying some pretty wild and vitriolic things about Apple. An example I'm really fond of is where I was at HubSpot conjuring up the boogeyman of outbound marketing. It's not really a thing in the way that like Apple is obviously a thing, or meetings are obviously a thing.
It was this term the company put around, something that was otherwise quite nebulous, a collection of marketing tactics, but in doing so, it gave them this whole vein of thought leadership they could write where they were commenting on how tired and old and unfruitful the old way of doing things was, is a hugely powerful approach.
Yeah, for sure. And I think that's the trick with the just purely op-ed style opinionated thought leadership is it's the most abstract and the hardest to... It doesn't come with a ready set of inputs, so you have to build the world that your argument is going to live in for yourself out of the pieces that you see out in the world. And I think setting up a nemesis that you can come back to again and again, and again is a really effective way to do that, particularly when it's a nemesis that isn't... Going after Apple is one thing, they are a giant trillion dollar company, they're going to be fine, but I know something that a lot of people are worried about when it comes to thought leadership and content in general is going negative. They don't want their brands to be seen as dumping on other businesses, other leaders.
And so when you can build up this idea of a bad concept and that sort of thing out in the world that is bad that you want to fix, I think that can be a nice way to like be real and be impactful without necessarily looking like you're the meanie on the playground that's beating up all the other kids.
I guess for any company that is totally averse to negativity, there are many brands out there, it's a very fair thing to do. I like this idea of personal narrative as another source of thought leadership as well. Talk me through that.
Yeah. So this one is, again, going back to thinking about how founders tell the story of their brands when they're pitching to investors. A lot of the time, there's this really personal story about their aha moment, the moment the light bulb went on when they realized like, "There's this problem out in the world and we can solve it." And they do such a good job talking about it in their pitches, and again, I'm like, Why isn't this a blog post? This is like your origin story, the origin story of your product and your brand," for my money, should be, everyone's first piece of thought leadership because it's just such a grounded, authentic way to say, "Here's who we are, here's what we believe in, and here's how we're building a better business making our industry and the thing that we care about better."
And the guy that we love to talk about on this front, nobody does this better as Chris Savage from Wistia. He's such a like naturally self-reflective dude. It seems like he's constantly thinking about his leadership and how things are going at Wistia and thinking about lessons that he's learned, experiments that they've tried that haven't worked out. He's written in the past and recently wrote again about realizing that this idea of the flat org structure that was supposed to be so cool, and there's no hierarchy, everybody's on the same level was a horrible mistake. And they've since built hierarchy back into Wistia's org structure and it's been so much better.
And then the big piece that he wrote with Brendan a few years back about their journey away from the growth-at-all-cost model and how they bought their investors out and took on debt. He's always very open about lessons that he's learned. And that's the thing about personal narrative thought leadership, is that, for my money, the best examples are when, if there's a mistake at the center. Because if you think about a story, it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end, and there has to be conflict in the world of business. The conflict is going to be a mistake. Conflict comes from things not going the way that they should.
So the trick with personal narrative is that you have to be willing to go there, you have to be willing to raise your hand say, "Hey, I'm a leader. I want you to think of me as a thought leader, ie, someone who you should listen to and take seriously, but I'm going to do that by telling you about this time that I messed up." It's a little counterintuitive and it makes people nervous because the attitude, in tech in particular, is very much this posture of eternal competence and just crushing it all the time, like "Oh my gosh, we just raised this round. We just hit this milestone for customers or revenue." And in so far that people are comfortable talking about failure, they always try to like nest it safely within like, "Oh, nobody talks about failure, so in talking about failure, I am great and successful."
And this is where me as like this cynical old lady in the corner, I'm just mumbling like, "If nobody talks about failure, then why is there an entire genre on Medium of startup postmortems that all start with everyone talking about how no one talks about failure, and then they're like, 'Here's my startup post-mortem." So there's a way that you can talk about failure and it can come off as like inauthentic, and it's clear that you're-
"Oh no, I only raised 10 million instead of the 12 million we could have raised. I'm such a failure. Oh no."
Yeah. And I think that rings hollow and that doesn't tend to connect with people, but when you're very real about "Hey, I made this mistake that like made my entire team mad at me and they took me out behind the shed and gave me a whooping on our all hands." That kind of genuine vulnerability connects with people. Everyone feels really unsure, especially when they're wading into new territory, which is the best thought leadership inherently is exploring new territory. And so when you can do it from a genuine position, sort of vulnerability and sharing, not just the things you've done that have been successful, but the things that have been less successful, it builds trust.
And that's what thought leadership is ultimately about doing, it's about not just building authority, but building trust in that authority, and being authentic about how you came about the lessons that you want to share with people is a great way to do that.
And as well, this is one type of thought leadership that is truly accessible to anyone, you don't build a business without having an interesting story. You don't spend 15 years working in a particular career without having a ton of sincerely interesting things happen to you. It might take a little prod or do a little bit of encouragement from a writer, for example, to help draw that out of you, but there is always something interesting, something worth sharing there.
Yeah. There's this concept that I really love called the curse of knowledge, which is just the idea that we don't know what we know that other people don't know. And a lot of the time, you really do need someone to point those insights out to you, to stop you and say like, "Hey, that's a really interesting idea. I don't think a lot of people know that." Because we are ourselves, we take for granted the things that... Everyone knows the things that we know, because that's just the way the human mind works. We take our own subjective experience as the default. And as you say, it can take some work discovering those insights and experiences that you have that no one else has.
And it also takes a little bit of just confidence to be like... I think a lot of people tend to think, "Oh, I'm not DHH, I'm not Chris Savage. I'm not in this position where I'm ready to do thought leadership because I'm just this little nobody." But your story is your story, and as you say, everybody has a story and it's not this exclusive club where everyone sits around in smoking jackets being like, "We have a story that's worth telling, and the peons do not." That's not a thing.
The next subset of thought leadership is one which I guess is a logical follow from what we were just talking about, and that is using the personal narratives of other people; people you know, your network, people that you work with or make friends with in some cases.
Yeah. I love this one. This one is my favorite because it plugs into another misconception that I think people have about thought leadership, which is just that it happens in this ivory tower where you go off and think these amazing thoughts, and then you have done thought leadership, but the best thought leadership is done in conversation. It's done either whether indirectly, just through like, oh, you saw this person tweet something and you disagree with it, so you go write about why you disagree with it, or a real conversation between you and somebody that you really respect.
And so thinking about going back to earn secrets and the assets that companies can have in their arsenal that can lead into thought leadership, if you just know a lot of interesting, amazing people, if you have amazing clients that you have really strong relationships with, if you have customers that have seen amazing successes using your product, just bringing them out to talk about what they know and share their knowledge, counterintuitively, can be thought leadership for you.
If you become the avenue through which your audience can get access to all these different people that have these amazing insights, then that becomes a way that you establish thought leadership. And the example that we pointed to in the post here is the first round review, one of the brands and publications that our clients come to us telling us, "We want this, how do we do this?" And we unfortunately have to ask them, "Do you have what first round capital has?" Which is this amazing network of businesses they've invested in that have these amazing practitioners that they can access.
That is first round reviews earned secret, is first round capital, all of the companies that they've invested in, all of the amazing talent that's within those companies that they can go to and say like, "Hey, we really appreciate your approach to product development, would you be interested in talking to us about how you approach this, and we'll write an amazing blog post and it'll go up on the strong capital blog?" And that becomes thought leadership both for that individual at that company, but then also for first round, because they have definitely become this go-to publication for really meaty in-depth thought leadership about business building that again, there are no little wimpy five paragraph essays on the first round review.
It's so substantive and it's so in-depth and that's entirely because they only feature people that are experts in their field that spent all day, every day nerding out about these things. And first round review is just able to tap those people because they have this network as a venture capital firm that will never run dry and will be this endless source of content for their brand.
A small scale version of that on our blog recently, I wanted to write a post about the power of competitor comparison, acknowledging that you have competitors, creating content about it. If I'd have written that, it would have been largely an intellectual curiosity, I've not done that myself in the same way that somebody Len Markidan, Podia has done. There are a company that I've long admired their competitor, alternative pages, they're smart, they're amazing. So I took the idea I wanted to write about, and I anchored it in the experience of Len. I interviewed him, I got his advice. And that's great for Len, he gets to share something he's really passionate about. It's great for us through associations because of that implicit endorsement as well, took a post that would have been trite, self-congratulating, really weak thought leadership and turned it into something that has genuine merit to it.
Yeah. And it takes a certain amount of humility to be like, "I don't know this thing."
Somebody's much better at this than me.
Exactly. "I'm going to go out and find the person who does know the thing and get them to talk to me." But again, just like you can lead through vulnerability, you can lead through not knowing, but being willing to be the person that goes and finds out, who does know.
We are up to number four now, this is industry analysis. This is a great example because when I joined Animalz, completely unbeknownst to me, I was in the midst of reading a great blog post by a guy called Hiten Shah, never heard of him before, about how Trello had failed to build a $4 billion business or something. It was great writing, it was kind of inflammatory, but in the best possible way. I really admired Hiten, he knew the industry, he knew stuff that I didn't know, I learned from him. And as that turned out, that was something we'd helped Hiten with.
And that is a great example of this industry analysis, using your experience in your industry to pass comment and highlight the things that, as you said earlier, other people just don't know.
Yeah. And I was in the exact same boat when I came aboard at Animalz, and I found out that we worked with Hiten, as I believe the Brits say, gobsmacked by that, I was like, "That is incredible." And nobody does product analysis like Hiten. He's so smart about what makes products successful, what makes them unsuccessful, but personal narrative thought leadership, what I love about this one is anyone can do this. Anyone can look out at their industry and formulate a hypothesis about what's going on.
Anyone can look at an epic fail with a product that clearly went wrong and do a little bit of armchair quarterbacking about where the disconnect was, what the cause was. It really just takes a smart brain that knows the industry and some good research. And you don't have to be this already established authority, the way that at this point in his career, Hiten is, in order to do that. You just have to be smart and a little clever in how you muscle your way into the conversation when you're a little less prominent and can't necessarily, send a tweet and everyone comes running because you're Hiten Shah, and they need to know what you think about Upwork or, I don't know if he's done Upwork, but Trello or Dropbox.
That segues nicely to our fifth and final source of thought leadership, which is data storytelling. This is something that I'm sure it's very close to your heart, Katie.
I love data. I started this podcast talking about feelings, and then we're going to now talk about data, which someone would think is the opposite of feelings, but let's not have those false dichotomies. So data storytelling, and this is one that we've developed something of a specialty in Animalz, I think because it's particularly effective for B2B contexts, just because business happens in numbers. We use numbers to measure everything, and everything has to come back into numbers in order for us to make sense of it and be able to make informed decisions.
And B2B decision makers, to use the marketing term, they are likewise, they really respond to data. It's a huge basis of credibility building, people want to see the numbers. And so if you want to be in a position of authority in business, in particular, you've really got to lead with the numbers. And so the brand that we love for this, that we help a little bit with, is as it's formerly known as ChubbyBrain, CB Insights.
When I learned that was their name, I was gobsmacked.
I Remember not to mention it any time the opportunity comes up because it's just so funny to me because CB Insights is this incredibly sophisticated, market intelligence data engine, and their name used to be ChubbyBrain. And I think that is delightful. So CB Insights data is the product. Their product is this incredible repository of business intelligence data that they've collected. They actually just acquired more data, which I didn't really think about data as a thing that you could acquire, but CB Insights went and did it, and now their data engine is even more impressive.
And because of that, they're able to just put out these incredibly authoritative and rigorous analyses on the market forces that are shaping anything from ed-tech to fintech, to telehealth, consumer products. They can slice and dice industries in so many different ways and just put out reports, but have a level of resolution on the market that nobody else can provide. And from there, CB Insights data is all over the place, every newsletter that Anand, their founder sends out ends with, "Here are five places that CB Insights data was decided this week."
And it's like people just, they know CB Insights data is good, journalists, market analysts, other bloggers. They come to CB Insights looking for data that can help them orient themselves in the market. So CB Insights is kind of, not everyone can be Hiten Shah in terms of prominence and impressiveness, CB insights is the Hiten Shah of market intelligence. You're not going to magically have your own proprietary set of all this market intelligence today, but you can start small, you can run and experiment with your product and then share the results of that experiment.
You can survey your customers and ask them for insights, ask their opinions on things that you know your audience will be interested in. The value of data storytelling is that it's this very scientific, rigorous, quantified approach to ideas, and you can run experiments, experiments don't have to be a million data points. You can start with just a few, as long as you have that scientific spirit of inquiry and discovery at the center of your feelings about it.
That's a key point as well because we talked earlier about the importance of actually filtering your opinions to look for value within them. The same is obviously true in data. I think it's very tempting to have a hypothesis, use the data to try and back it up and then find that it doesn't quite actually fit. And then because you've already sunk time into it and energy, and you want the story to be true, maybe you'll try and workshop the data. And I think that definitely results in the weakest, the least convincing type of data thought leadership, the stuff that is obviously cynically serving a narrative that came before the data.
So, a big part of that, again, is the humility aspect, be willing to be wrong with the hypothesis, be willing to start again. If you keep looking though, there will be something interesting in your data. In the same way that people have interesting experiences, your product is made up of hundreds, thousands of people using your product every day. There's going to be stuff in there somewhere if you look hard enough for it.
Cool. Well, maybe one good thing to wrap up onto close, to leave people with, we spent all this time thinking about how to actually do thought leadership, but once you're doing it, how do you measure the success of it? Is it something that leads to business? Does it convert? Or is there some more intangible success metric we should be thinking about?
It's funny that this is coming on the tail of data because the thing about thought leadership and the thing that we're very careful to tell our clients when they come to us wanting to do thought leadership, is that the way that you track success can be a bit more nebulous than your bread and butter SEO content, where you optimize for the keyword, and then you go back to Google Analytics, you track the keyword and you can see that progress over time. Thought leadership can be a lot more hit and miss because it isn't indexed against any known factor because you're very often talking about new things.
Like if you're talking about something new, it doesn't have a keyword, there isn't anything you can optimize it for. And so, the way that thought leadership gets out there tends to be a lot more experimental, it's throwing something out on Twitter, on LinkedIn, through forums that you're in. It's a lot more driven by word of mouth and really relying on the originality and authenticity and uniqueness of your perspective combined with being really plugged into a genuine need or a genuine feeling in your industry that people are going to respond to, that tends to create this really genuine, organic groundswell of support for your thought leadership, but it happens a lot less predictably than other forms of content, which is something that is very, very sad.
Although, the very thought leadership posts that brings us here today is causing me to rethink this because that piece, it is very much every unsolicited opinion about thought leadership that I had been waiting five years for someone to ask me about, it's very movement first, but it is also, there is a keyword there. And so I'm very much thinking, "Okay. It seems clear to me that we can have this thought leadership, let me storm the gates of conventional wisdom on this topic and have that be grounded in keywords. So I think that there is a really exciting opportunity to anchor thought leadership and keywords in a way that can give them more life and more discoverability.
And I'm really excited about that, but I also want to leave room for the experimental stuff and for the stuff that genuinely is something that nobody is searching for, because no one had the language to talk about it until you gave it to them. And that is true thought leadership, when you're putting words to a feeling that so many people in your space have, and they just haven't had the words, that to me is just amazing writing period. That is my favorite feeling when as a reader, when I read something and I'm like, "Oh, that is the thing that I have nebulously felt, and here it is in words."
And with thought leadership too, it's so exciting, but you're just not going to be able to optimize for it unless people are actually searching for you. And again, final evolution of the thought leadership Pokémon, when people associate a concept or an idea with you because you have been the one out there in the marketplace of ideas, really championing that idea, the way it doesn't have to be crazy at work, has become synonymous with base camp. When you can establish that kind of ownership of an idea, because it's your baby, it's your little thought baby, that's amazing.
And the way that that becomes to get to conversion and business building... Thought leadership, we can be idealistic and say, "It should be about leading the industry and making the industry better and an authentic desire to serve the audience." And that's true, but it's about the business. And it's okay to say, "I want to do thought leadership because I want to grow the credibility and authority and prominence of my brand. And I want to track new customers, I want to keep the customers that I have." And I believe really strongly that thought leadership does do all of that.
Again, it may not be as trackable as you get to the bottom of the search optimized piece, and there is a CTA to input your email, to get the ebook version of this article, it's not usually that direct, but it's qualitatively, do people trust you? Do they look to you for guidance on how to think about new things that are emerging in the space?
This has been a big learning for me through Animalz marketing as well because when I took over, I come very much from a world of SEO content where you measure things by compounding monthly growth rate, keyword rankings, so that is how you measure success. And seeing a blog like ours that was so successful and having none of those metrics to judge the efficacy of it by, it was just a total mindblower for me, but we are seeing compounding traffic every month. It's still predictable in the same way as organic traffic, but more people do find us and talk about us and share our content, or be it through different channels, newsletters, Slack groups, and close communities, and some quite sporadic keyword rankings like your wonderful thought leadership posts.
The other thing is in terms of that qualitative performance metrics, you do begin to notice when you reach a critical mass where people are actually thinking of you as a thought leader. So the hallmarks we've noticed our prospects repeatedly mentioning our ideas back to us on sales calls or seeing ideas that we've come up with, we've drawn discreet lines around users inspiration for other people's blog posts or warranting responses or commentary on things that we've done. It's definitely slow to begin with, but you do notice this kind of natural upswell where the ideas you're shaping and giving life to, do get taken up by the broader community, which is pretty cool.
Yeah. I've been tagged on Twitter more times in the last two months than in the previous seven years that I'd been on Twitter. It's been pretty wild. And the other thing that I want to say as relates to how thought leadership converts into customers, converts into loyalty, is just thinking about the information landscape that we live in, thinking about the business landscape that we live in, market research people are all talking about, "Oh, millennials and Gen Z are value-driven consumers, and they really care about the morality of the businesses that they frequent." And I have a very cynical view of market researchers in general because I don't know, I think they're trying to measure something that can't actually be quantified, but in this case they're not wrong.
People want to feel good about the brands that they support, especially when it's B2B and you're thinking about tools that are helping you do your work, you want to feel good about your work, and you want to feel good about the tools that are helping you do that work. And so thought leadership, again, when you're being authentic and real and credible and showing the work, showing how you came to your conclusions, whether it's with data or personal experience or through other smart people that you bounce your ideas off of, you're building credibility. You're planting your flag in a certain style of doing business that I feel really strongly.
And I think Animalz as a company feels really strongly, is just a good way of doing business, being real, being authentic, and being true to what you believe as a business.
That sounds like a suitably inspiring place for us to leave proceedings. I will link to your fantastic blog post in the show notes. It's seriously one of the best things I think we publish on the blog in a long time. It solves a big problem that lots of people have. And Katie, if you can tell, is overflowing with smart ideas about it. Thank you so much for chatting through it, Katie. I really appreciate it.
Yeah. Thanks for having me on, this was fun.