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Thought Leaders – modern day pioneers

The IMM Graduate School | Thought Leaders – modern day pioneersThe phrase ‘thought leader’ first appeared in 1887 in a description of Henry Ward Beecher, but its meaning has been redefined repeatedly over time.

Forbes defines a thought leader as “an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognise as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialisation, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organisation for said expertise”.

Well that’s a mouth full! In simpler terms, thought leaders are knowledgeable and highly respected individuals or organisations in an industry. They are often in high demand by co-workers, colleagues, clients, customers, competitors and even outside interests and are trusted sources. They inspire people with their innovative ideas and their ability to turn those ideas into a reality. Thought leaders aim to create value and use their authority to influence their area of expertise to generate an income for themselves and their organisation. They form their own ideas instead of using ideas they learned from other people – they are pioneers in their respective industries.

What attributes do thought leaders display?

Aside from being well known experts and influencers in their field, thought leaders are courageous visionaries that are passionate, attention-grabbing and action oriented. They also display expert communication skills. Unlike modern day influencers that are all about how many followers they have, thought leaders are all about knowledge and passion for their topic and area of expertise.

Can anyone become a thought leader?

Becoming a thought leader in any industry takes time, dedication and a lot of hard work. As experts in a field, thought leaders must become trustworthy and engaging resources for others in the field. By sharing their opinions, ideas and experiences through high quality content, they will be able to reach, educate and engage with their audience. As a thought leader you will need to care about your niche enough to invest time and money to become an expert. You would need to work in the industry, gain new knowledge all the time, and generate quality content – not for profit, but to educate others. Often, there is a profit opportunity later, but profit is certainly not the immediate or direct driver to begin with. Passion is!

While thought leaders can come from any background and can be any age, gender or ethnicity, they must have an advanced knowledge and understanding of a subject as well as a willingness to “think outside the box”. Some claim that the process of becoming a thought leader is easier if you have already built a great product, service, program, initiative or company because you will then have a natural community and something to talk about.

Thought leadership has a multitude of benefits

With time you will have the ability to charge more for your services because of your knowledge and skills. You will also be able to easily gain and maintain the trust of customers, co-workers and employees. Your confidence to try new things and create the next big thing will lead to a multitude of new opportunities, gaining you credibility and respect. People will look to you for advice and mentorship.

On the swing side however, constantly being in the spotlight may get you down. Of course, it depends on your personality – as an extrovert you would thrive on the attention while an introvert may prefer to avoid it.

Thought leaders in marketing

Thought leaders exist in every industry, but some of the most well-known individuals exist in the marketing industry. Here are 5 marketing thought leaders you might already know and follow:

Neil Patel

Neil is one of the top marketing and analytics thought leaders in the industry and the co-founder of Crazy Egg, KISSmetrics and Hello Bar.

Rand Fishkin

Rand is an SEO expert and the CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz.

Jeff Bullas

Jeff is the founder of Jeffbullas.com, a content Marketing and Social Media Marketing thought leader, Strategist and Speaker.

Seth Godin

Seth is an expert in marketing as well as a writer, teacher and keynote speaker; he also founded two companies Squidoo and Yoyodyne.

Brian Clark

Brian is a writer, serial entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Rainmaker Digital.

For more information on this topic of thought leadership, watch this video by Gabrielle Dolan.

The scope of a Digital Marketing Career

Marketing is an integral part of any business, so it makes sense that only the best of the best would be tasked with the responsibility of creating awareness and promoting a brand. It’s a highly lucrative career, but only if you have the right skills and training. Of course, there’s no shortage of guides and how-to’s online that promise to make you an expert in the marketing world – but these only scratch the surface. Industry experts like Neil Patel, Rand Fishkin and Jeff Bullas have all dished out a lot of articles explaining key marketing techniques and trends, but we wanted to find out why digital marketing specifically is a good career path. Sruthi Veeraraghavan addresses the question

“Why Choose a Career in Digital Marketing?” – we have summarised it here for you: 

The digital marketing industry is always advancing

The marketing industry frequently adapts to new strategies and best practices which means that marketers need to stay up to date with the latest trends. Because digital marketing has so many moving parts that are always changing along with technological developments and changes in consumer needs and demands, it’s hard to list every aspect of the industry. Some of the key components of digital marketing include:

  • Email marketing
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Design
  • Apps
  • Mobile marketing, including SMS
  • Content marketing
  • Web analytics
  • Growth hacking

Each of these can become a specialist area for a digital marketer to branch off into. However, a common trait of good digital marketers is the ability to communicate with people and get their online audiences to listen.

Digital Marketing Is the Future…

Digital marketing is here to stay, it’s the way things will be done from now on. One of the reasons for this is that digital marketing is more affordable than traditional marketing techniques. Another is that, instead of doing customer surveys and or research, marketers can track user response rates and measure campaign success in real time. This will ensure that your next campaign is planned effectively. Businesses that cannot adapt to the new marketing climate won’t make the cut. This highlights a need for digital marketers that have a feel for numbers and statistics. An essential requirement in any digital marketing role.

 Digital marketers are in high demand

With both large and small industries moving away from traditional marketing methods alone, digital marketers are becoming highly sought after. Digital marketers should find it easy to get employment and/or freelancing positions in their area of specialisation.

According to a report by Burning Glass Technologies (2017), four out of 10 jobs listed in marketing now call for digital marketing skills. In addition, the report states:

  • The demand for digital marketing skills almost doubled between 2011 and 2016.
  • Demand for content marketers rose 450 per cent during that time, while demand for digital analytics skills increased by 152 per cent.
  • Forrester Research predicts digital marketing will account for 35 per cent of all marketing spending by the end of 2019.
  • Digital marketing positions take 16 per cent longer to fill.

Digital marketing branches out into various categories, so take your pick – there is something for everyone.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is a push messaging and outbound marketing tactic that consists of sending emails to customers as well as prospective customers (leads). The goal of these emails is to interact with the recipient of the email and advertise a product or service. Campaigns constantly need to be planned, conceptualised, developed, implemented and measured.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the practice of optimizing web pages to rank well on search engines. SEO professionals analyse, review, and implement changes to a website and its content so they are optimised for search engines. SEO specialists are tasked with generating traffic and increasing the number of organic visitors to a website.


A Copywriter writes promotional text with the purpose of advertising a product or service as well as other forms of marketing. Their responsibilities include writing advertising and marketing copy, public relations copy as well occasionally editing and ghost writing. Sometimes they also write taglines, direct mail pieces, web content, online ads and email and consider the use of keywords and keyphrases so as to improve SEO.

Content writing

Copywriting and content writing are two different things. Content writers are tasked with producing interesting, engaging content with the purpose of drawing readers to a website, turning them into loyal followers and keeping it that way. Professional content writers have extensive knowledge of the internet as well as different writing techniques and are well versed in writing various forms of web content.

These are just a few of the fields you can pursue with a marketing qualification from the IMM Graduate School or by upskilling yourself with an online short course. At the moment the IMM Graduate School offers five Digital Marketing specialisation courses online. In just 12 weeks you could be steering your marketing career in a whole new direction. Find out more information here: https://www.immsc.co.za/online_courses/marketing-advertising-short-courses/