The Pillars of Thought Leadership with Ken Lizotte

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Hi. I’m John McDougall and welcome to the Authority Marketing Roadmap. Today my guest is Ken Lizotte, Chief Imaginative Officer at Emerson Consulting Group, where he helps turn professionals into thought leaders. A thought leader in his own right, Ken is the author of The Expert’s Edge and his forthcoming book The Speaker’s Edge will be published in July. Welcome Ken.

Ken LizotteKen: Thank you sir, I’m glad to be here. And yes, I want you to know I’m the chief imaginative officer, or as we refer to it in my company, the C.I.O.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Nice, the creative type. Creative thought leader. So Ken, in your book The Experts Edge, you outline the five pillars of thought leading, what are these five pillars?

The 5 Pillars of Thought Leadership

Ken LizotteKen: The five pillars are broad categories I’ve created that I’ve attempted to use as umbrellas for all the various marketing and promotional publicity techniques that one can employ. I also think [that] of the five pillars, some [are] more important than others in the sense that if you use these five pillars effectively, you will really separate yourself from your competition.

So the five pillars are these; number one and by far the most important to my mind is publish your ideas. And what that means is maybe publish your book, maybe you publish more than one book, maybe you publish articles. We could include writing and publishing your blog and lots of different things, but the main thing is get our ideas out there.

The second is speaking to groups, and that’s the topic of my next book The Speaker’s Edge. It’s very important to also get your ideas out there so that you are right there right in front of people and they are really seeing you out there on a stage or a platform as the thought leader in the room.

The third I call fresh thinking. And all that means is, what kind of data do you have that might be new? What kind of insights do you have that might be new? This might occur because you have taken a survey or done a study or something like that, or it may just be pulled out of your day to day work your clients.

The fourth is creatively leveraging the internet and this is something I know is near and dear to your heart, John. Using the internet in such a way that it’s going to effectively get the word out about your ideas. So it could be actually publishing online or it could be engaging in LinkedIn or chat rooms or whatever it might be, but creatively leveraging the fact that the internet is extremely important these days.

And finally the fifth one is called vigorous use of the media and that’s your traditional PR, your traditional publicity, kind of the old age way of promoting yourself, maybe by getting yourself quoted in a newspaper or magazine article, maybe getting a guest spot on TV or radio or even a podcast like this. That is not necessarily the most important of the pillars and I say that because [if] any of you or your listeners have ever been quoted in the media for example, that cannot always be a happy occasion, sometimes they can misquote you, sometimes they can spell your name wrong or pronounce your name wrong or not mention your company or your book or whatever it is. So that one you have to be a little more careful with and so for that reason, I make that pillar number five as opposed to number one.

Why Publishing is the Pinnacle of Thought Leadership

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: And why is publishing number one?

Ken LizotteKen: Well, I think it establishes your credibility. If you have a business of any kind, if you look around at your competition, you probably don’t see your competitors publishing articles or publishing books. Now, anybody listening to me is saying they might have somebody as a competitor come to their minds [who] does that. And usually if somebody does come to your mind, that’s somebody that is going to be high up in your particular area.

So there’s something about publishing your ideas and establishing your credibility that rises you above the competitive pack and puts you forward as a guru, as an expert with an edge, or as an authority as you mentioned John. It’s authority marketing.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Absolutely. And I think we both we agree that publishing a book is one of, if not the best way to establish yourself as a guru, an authority, or a thought leader, but what about people who don’t have a book now or maybe they don’t even want to write one? Does this mean that they can never become a thought leader?

Ken LizotteKen: You and I were having this conversation earlier today. I believe that sometimes if you haven’t written a book yet, you may not yet be ready for it, because it is a formidable undertaking. But publishing article is a fantastic way to become a thought leader as well, because in order for you to publish an article, you have to have a publication, whether it’s online, or a traditional print publication.

You have to have them decide to invest in you and your ideas, to validate your ideas. They’re going to put aside some space for you, or they’re going to help [with the] graphics or layout that is going to put you in a great light. They’ve got resources and staff that goes about that sort of thing. So publishing articles, to me, are just as valid as publishing a book. Get your ideas out there. Don’t just keep them to yourself.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: And get in front of a large audience.

Ken LizotteKen: Yes, and get in front of a large audience. Exactly. What I found over the years is that a lot of time people come to me about getting themselves better known [and] they say, “I do a lot of great work with my clients, I know I do and they tell me that I do. But I’m kind of a best kept secret.” And so the idea, whether we call it thought leading strategy like I called it, or authority marketing strategy like you called it — what we’re talking about is getting that word out so that you’re not a best kept secret, anymore.

The Importance of Public Speaking in Thought Leadership

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: And pillar number two, you advocate public speaking and you’ve called one and two, “the one-two punch of thought leadership. How is that?

Ken LizotteKen: Well, again I feel like those are two of the most powerful techniques that one can utilize, and I think they’re also underutilized by most businesses and business experts. [It’s powerful to speak] to audiences with the additional credibility of having published an article, which you could pass out as a reprint to everyone, or having a book that you can hold up. Or even if you’re able to, [you could] arrange something nice, like each member of the audience [gets] a copy of your book. It really separates you from the typical speaker who has only PowerPoint slides.

That’s why I think those two are the most powerful techniques of all. But I have to say, I tend to speak this way but even as I’m saying this right now, I’ve got to skip over to number four, creatively leveraging the internet. It continues to grow and its impact, it’s power, and all of that stuff. So I’m going to say it’s a “one-two-three punch.”

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Nice.

Ken LizotteKen: I don’t think I’ve ever said that before this moment, but I think it’s making sense as I start talking out loud about this.

The Power of Fresh Thinking in Thought Leadership

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Yes, things evolved. And actually it’s a good lead to pillar number three, what you called “fresh thinking.” Tell us more about that.

Ken LizotteKen: Again as I said before, a couple of obvious ways to do that is to do a survey or some sort of research. One of my clients, which I consider one of the top thought leaders that I’ve frankly ever met, is based in the Netherlands and his name is Andre De Waal. He has actually published about 27 books. But the important thing about him is that [the books] aren’t just knocked out of his head, they’re the basis of research that he will study, literally hundreds of research studies in order to come to conclusion about his thoughts and his insights. You can do that kind of research, really hard core research, or you can just look at what is true about what you do day-to-day with your clients.

I would contend that all of us in business are thought leaders, just that again, it’s that “best kept secret” thing. So you could be doing what you think is just the same thing as your competitor. But most likely your company, whether it’s you as an individual or you’ve got a large company, you are customising your services to your clients. We’re all different people, it all comes out of us and it gets expressed in a different way.

We are all thought leaders. And for that reason, you can draw from your day-to-day work with your clients and it that sense, if you reflect on it a bit you think about it, maybe brainstorm with your staff and you can see what kind of work you do [that] could be fashioned into a book, into speaking, into something on the internet, et cetera. With this it’s just, how do you embody let’s say, fresh thinking?

How to Use the Internet for Creative Thought Leadership

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Yes. Pillar number four, back to creatively leveraging the internet.

Ken LizotteKen: That’s three of the one-two-three punch by the way. Remember that?

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Yes. Well, there are three W’s in internet.

Ken LizotteKen: Right.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: If I have my spelling right. Are you talking about blogging and social media? What creativity are you talking about?

Ken LizotteKen: Yes, I think all of that and it seems to me because of my own personal experience, that Twitter is becoming more and more used by people of all sorts, but businesses as well. I would say all of it; blogging, posting articles on LinkedIn, being involved with groups online and even Facebook to an extent, depending on your business. I [do] have to tell you this — beyond all of the social media that I’ve just mentioned and all the rest that are out there and that continues to develop and that didn’t even exist seven or eight years ago, [ask yourself] what did exist seven or eight years ago?

That’s email. And I have a very strong belief in the power of email marketing in addition to the others, or maybe the others are in addition to email marketing. I have been sending out what I call e-blasts based on the work I do for years and years, and I can tell you the power of that continues to be enormous for me. I always am getting referrals from people who are on my email list or past clients, or colleagues, or whatever it might be.

And as much as Twitter and LinkedIn and whatever has grown and grown, you can point to a lot of people [who] only occasionally go to those sites or maybe they go on them every day, but they go on them once or twice a day and they check in with the Tweets that they follow, but beyond that, we all check our email at least once a day. That almost makes me laugh because hardly any of us check it only once a day. Twice a day, three — I’m checking it personally all the time, I can’t even count how many times and I just think that’s still the most direct online vehicle that we all have. So I encourage everyone to build an email list and to use it and in addition, to use the social media as well.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: I couldn’t agree more. I just had a great chat with Danny Iny today of Miracee and I did a little consult with him, where he was giving me ideas on guest blogging which within digital marketing, you can always get better at. I’m working on improving that. And he was talking about the idea that when you get featured on other sites, you really need to think more about the amount of subscribers you get than the amount of traffic you get. So when you build your email list, you have control of that audience. We were joking earlier about MySpace.

Ken LizotteKen: Yes, exactly,

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Facebook is now 1.59 billion, I think it is, active monthly users so it’s not likely that Facebook’s just going to disappear. But if it did, wouldn’t you like to go to your hundred thousand email subscribers and keep getting those referrals that you talking about? So yes, I couldn’t agree more [that] the top experts out there are very passionate about that.,

Ken LizotteKen: Yes, your email subscribers, I think we should also say are not people on a list that you purchased, they are permission marketing generally and they are people that have gotten to know you in one way or the other. They become your greatest advocates, some greater than others, but nonetheless they are people that know you. So for example, when you publish a book, a lot of people forget about their email list or they don’t even have an email list and they go right to trying to get let’s say, radio interviews or trying to get a speaking engagement here and there.

And that’s all well and good, but what that does is bypass people who already know you and are natural advocates. So you should be getting the word out there if you don’t want to be a best kept secret. You should be getting the word out there to those people who know you, and those people who know you are the ones on your email list, if you have one. Not everybody has one. What I’m saying is, everybody listen to me, get one. That’s my big advice for the internet in terms of leveraging the internet.

How Publicity Augments Thought Leadership

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: And what about publicity and PR? Some people might view that as the most important but you’re saying, it’s not the first step.

Ken LizotteKen: It’s not the first step. If you got interviewed by, say the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, most likely you’ll get maybe one quote in there [and] maybe if you’re lucky, a couple of quotes in some article that’s about a larger topic and not just about you and your business. So it’s wonderful, it’s exciting and it does have a certain impact, but it’s not enough.

If you write a book, obviously that’s enough in the extent that you can really expand on who you are and as I said earlier, sometimes to get quoted. Sometimes you can only do like a five or a ten minute radio interview when you’re doing a radio interview and you just can’t really get it all out there. So to me that’s a supplement as opposed to a one- two-three. I wouldn’t call it a one-two-three-four punch.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Right. So those other activities are supporting and building your personal brand around your book and [then you can] do a top article [that will be] featured in larger places.

Ken LizotteKen: Exactly. That’s how I’d see it.

Believing In Your Ability to Be a Thought Leader

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Okay and what about people who feel they just do their jobs every day in the best way that they know how and they don’t interject anything original or new into the grand scheme of things. Does this mean that they have no shot at becoming a thought leader?

Ken LizotteKen: I’ll go back to what I was saying before. People tend to think that way, that we’re not really doing anything that special. We kind of get used to it. But that’s probably not true. Every individual expresses him or herself differently and every organization expresses itself differently.

So all you really need to do is record what it is you do with your clients or what your clients tell you you’re doing well for them and any kind of innovative thought you had here or there, like a client project or developing a product of yours or whatever. An exact replica of that is not happening elsewhere in your competitions’ headquarters. It’s happening with you. So give yourself some credit is what I’m saying. You are a thought leader; you’re just not believing it yet. You’re not getting the word up.

How Refining Your Niche Plays a Part in Thought Leadership

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: So with a little bit of discovery and maybe narrowing your niche so you can stand out, [you can position yourself as a thought leader]. I mean, you’ll stand out just by the fact that so few people, at least your competitors, have a book with this level of thought leadership building. But how would you say refining your niche plays a part in that?

Ken LizotteKen: Well you know, refining your niche sort of develops naturally if you get into this process. Your question is actually making me think about [something else]. Consider if you’re in sales, [maybe] you have an article idea about how to close the sale. Let me use as a premise for this that everything you say in that article has been said before.

There’s nothing new. You’re just saying the same thing [as others in your industry] and we do a scientific study and we find that’s true. There’s nothing original about your article, but it gets published anyway and here’s the thing. Many, many people who will read that article have never read an article on how to close a sale, no matter that there’s been hundred thousand of them written before.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: They might not think its original but you saying it, you’re probably going to add something.

Ken LizotteKen: Well you’re going to add something of your own, but even if I use the premise that you didn’t, there is still always going to be a market out there of readers who have not actually ever looked into this before.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Right. So you’re unique to them, right?

Ken LizotteKen: Yes, exactly. I like to say when I’m up on a stage talking to a group, you know I’m here to tell you about how to become a thought leader today and I bet you that nobody else has ever done this before. But even if they have, I’m the guy that’s doing it today, and so today in this room, I am your thought leader. That’s how it works.

Well Known Thought Leaders

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: And what are some examples of thought leaders? I know in your book you mentioned Henry David Thoreau and Emerson. Can you tell us a little bit, from Emerson to Trump?

Ken LizotteKen: Well, you know my book, The Expert’s Edges [that] you mentioned in the introduction, I wrote over seven years ago. I do mention some well-known thought leaders like Tom Peters, Susie Orman, Harvey Mackay, and people like that. Mr. Trump is in there too. Of course, I don’t know if he’d be in there now, if I was writing the book now. But he was in there then. Like it or not, he is a thought leader.

My company’s called Emerson Consulting Group, and I’m based in Concord, Massachusetts. Your listeners may know that in the mid-19th century, a lot of famous writers and thinkers came out of Concord or lived in Concord. People like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. Living in Concord, when I started my business 19 years ago, I thought about naming it after one of them. And I came to the conclusion that although all of them were successful and became famous, Ralph Waldo Emerson was the closest to being the model of a thought leader.

The reason is that, first of all, he was well known as a publisher of ideas. He was well known for fresh thinking. He would sit and reflect and he’d go to walk through the fields and the meadows and ponder, and he would be thinking about things. He liked to discuss things. This and that. And then, he would formulate his ideas and he would write essays or books.

The other thing that he did that a lot of people don’t know, is that he did a lot of public speaking. And the reason he did a lot of public speaking is that even as such a successful writer as him in his time, then as now, writers don’t make a lot of money. If you’ve ever been up to Concord, we have his house restored and you can take a tour and it’s a beautiful white colonial house. But to support all of that, he had to go out and speak in public.

So he would get on a stage coach or a railroad train or whatever in 1848, 1850, and he would be gone for months. Going to all these little towns in Illinois and Pennsylvania and whatever, and he would be speaking night after night. It wasn’t the competition of the Internet, TV, radio, [or] movies back then. So the whole town would turn out to hear him.

Believe it or not, they’d pass the hat, and he would collect all that money. So, anyway the point is, what’s the one-two punch? Publishing ideas and speaking to groups. He did that. And when I think about the internet, one-two-three punch, I like to say that the internet of his time was to write letters. And he did that. He did a lot of that. Writing back and forth, especially to other famous thought leaders of the time. So anyway, I chose Ralph Waldo Emerson for that reason.

Henry David Thoreau, as much as I am inspired by his writings and all, he was way too much of an independent soul to be considered a thought leader. He did speak, he did write, but he did it on his own terms, when he felt like it, and he much preferred to hunker down and walk and ponder, and watch ants — literally, this is true — watching what they did for hours at a time.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: So he was public speaking, but he was speaking to ants.

Ken LizotteKen: But that was his fresh thinking. He would write this down, and he’s considered one of the founders of the environmental movement. He’s got so much, in the end he became the most impactful thought leader of all, actually, when you really get down to it.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: But if you want to do it in this day and age, you need to be more social. You just can’t hide under a rock and write a book, like I did for three years, and come out and say, “Everyone’s just going to buy it on Amazon.” It doesn’t really work that way.

Ken LizotteKen: Unfortunately when you write, you need a platform. As you and I know, you do have to hunker down though and hide out a bit, but, I don’t know, it can happen in different ways. There’s not just one way to do it. But, again, when we go back to my five pillars, that’s what I was attempting to do. Categorize all the different things that you could do. And I don’t think you have to engage in all five pillars, but I really think number one is the most important one — publish your idea.

Basic Ways to Get Started With Thought Leadership 

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: What’s the first step to get started in a basic way?

Ken LizotteKen: I think the first step for some people is get past this idea that they don’t have anything original or special to say, and then the second step I would say is to think about publishing something, even if it was a blog, or if it was one article, or whatever. Get yourself onto that track so that you then are branching out over time to all of the pillars of thought leading.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Okay, thanks for speaking with us today Ken, that was really engaging. Tell us how people can get in touch with you. 

Ken LizotteKen: They could look up my website which is That’s thought leading as opposed to thought leadership. We found when we were looking for a domain name, thought leading, I-N-G, as opposed to thought leader; thought leader was the only thing that wasn’t taken. When I wrote The Expert’s Edge, I transformed thought leading into a verb or an adjective, and is my website, you can take a look there.

John McDougall founder of authoritymarketing.comJohn: Fantastic, I hope everyone enjoyed today’s discussion. Check out for more interviews and information on Authority Marketing, and subscribe and review our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m John McDougall, see you next time on Authority Marketing Roadmap.

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