Thought Leadership Marketing & Relationship Building with John W. Hayes

John McDougall discusses thought leadership marketing,  tips for relationship building, writing a book, and more, with John W. Hayes of email marketing company iContact.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Hi, I’m John McDougall and today we’re discussing thought leadership marketing and building your reputation with John W. Hayes. With more than 18 years experience in online marketing and e-commerce, John works with major technology brands, including iContact, and is the author of numerous books, including Becoming THE Expert. Welcome, John.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Hi, thank you very much for inviting me on the show today.



john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Absolutely. What’s the weather like there in England?



john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     You know what? It’s wet. It’s very, very wet.



john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Big surprise.



john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     We should be used to it, but we’ve had a downpour now for the past couple of weeks. But you don’t live in this part of the world if you like the sunshine.


john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Absolutely. So John, how did you get started with website marketing?



john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Well, you know, that happened a long, long time ago, probably in the mid-1990’s so certainly a long time ago in terms of technology. I was working in the newspaper industry at the time, I was selling travel advertising. One day, a client dialed me up and told me he just built a website and would I mind looking at it and giving him feedback and my thoughts about the website. I went to speak to my boss and we found the one computer in an office of about 600 people that had an internet connection, it was connected by a 14k modem. We waited about a half an hour for this page to download and essentially it was a blue screen with a little logo in the middle and a telephone number. It didn’t even have an email address, because nobody at the time had email addresses.

I went back to the client and said, “Yeah, wow, I’ve looked at it, it’s the future. It’s amazing the way things are going”, and then promptly forgot about the internet. I went away for two weeks and came back and my boss called me into her office and said, “John, you know about the internet don’t you?” I thought, well, I’ve used it once. She’s like, “Great. You’re our new media manager.” She gave me an HTML for Dummies book and I sat in the dark, holed up for about 2 weeks, and I start building one of the first newspaper websites in the UK. I built an editorial platform, a commercial platform, and it was a challenge because A) nobody wanted internet at the time and B) the editorial department didn’t want to cheapen their story by going online, C) because nobody was on the internet at the time for them to go online, so it was a real uphill struggle.

Myself and one other guy started building the editorial and commercial sections of this newspaper website and I actually started creating something from scratch. From there, I moved to a newspaper in Northeast Scotland. I moved out to Budapest in Hungary, where I worked for the Daily Mail and General Trust, a larger newspaper in the UK. I headed up their Central Eastern online operation. Again, more challenges. At the time in Hungary, very few people had the internet. It was very hard to get advertising and very hard to get good, decent content. Interestingly, I managed the English language newspaper called the Budapest Sun, which is no longer with us. It was a weekly newspaper, and one of my challenges was to get people to the website every single day. So I started creating new news content which was distributed every day via email. And after a couple of months of this email running, people started asking if they could advertise in this email, so it actually became a commercial platform. It started generating good revenue for the newspaper. So I’m pleased to say my initial steps into online marketing worked out really, really well. It started generating revenue — and bearing in mind, that was back in the 1990’s.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     That’s incredible to have instant ROI.



john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:    Yeah, it was instant ROI and again this was done with very small means. You have myself and one other person, we were taking content from the website, stealing content from other places, re-appropriating content. We were doing things that the Huffington Post does today maybe 20 years ago. From there, I came back to the UK and started working at a brand like Channel Advisor, based out of North Carolina in the U.S., heading up their marketing approach in the UK.

And I moved to another North Carolina based business, iContact email marketing, where I am today, again heading up their UK and european operation. It’s interesting because, when I was taken onboard with iContact I wasn’t given a job title, I was just told to go out there and make as much noise as possible about email marketing. So I had a very low budget to play around with. I just had to tell stories, so I took the knowledge that I’d gotten in the days of running the newspaper websites and I start telling stories. I start blogging, I start speaking at events, I started podcasting, speaking to people like yourself, and added a million dollars to the bottom line in the first year.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Wow! Yeah, that’s incredible. Nice. And your book, Becoming THE Expert, is a nice, succinct, extremely well put together guidebook. What prompted you to write it?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:    Well, thank you very much for your kind words. I’d like to say, it was a bit of a mid-life crisis actually. I’d put together a bucket list of things I’d wanted to do and one of them was to write a book before my 40th birthday. Problem was, I just didn’t know what I was going to write the book about. I was going out quite a lot with iContact, speaking to people about email marketing, about content marketing, about social media marketing. And one of the problems I kept coming up against was people saying “I don’t really have the confidence to position myself as an expert and deliver good thought leadership marketing or authority marketing, via my email marketing campaigns”.

One woman that I spoke to, she couldn’t be better positioned to do this kind of work. She’d worked in the industry for maybe like 20 years, she knew everybody who worked in the industry, she knew her products inside and out, she knew her competitors’ products inside and out. So I wrote a blog post, which I posted on the iContact site called “Believe in Yourself, You’re A Thought Leader”.

That blog post got such a good reaction from my colleagues and from shares on social media, I thought, “Okay, that’s what I’m going to start working on.” And I started the process of writing a book, which essentially means that I sat down and I wrote every day. I committed myself to write 250 words a day before I went to bed. Sometimes I wrote 500 words and they were great, sometimes I wrote 250 words and they were terrible and they were deleted the next day, but really committed myself to do it, and I was lucky enough to bump into a publisher at an event I was speaking at.

Initially I was going to self-publish on the Amazon Kindle platform and I landed myself a publishing deal. That really prompted me to finish the book and it’s been great — it’s opened up some many doors, both for myself and for the work I do with iContact. It enables me to speak to people like yourself. I’ve spoken all around the world as far as Istanbul and Turkey all the way to San Diego on the west coast of America. So it’s been a great thing for me, it’s been very good for me professionally to do that book.

Who Can Benefit From Thought Leadership Marketing?

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     That’s fantastic. That’s a great story of how your book and launching even deeper authority marketing really changed your life. That’s fantastic. What industries and/or people benefit the most from thought leadership marketing?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     I tell people this a lot. I believe thought leadership marketing, authority marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, one of the reasons why I love working in this industry is because there isn’t a single business that couldn’t benefit from it. I’ve personally used thought leadership marketing to sell everything from fresh fish off Grimsby docks in the northeast of England all the way through to high end computer software and everything in between. If you are an expert in something, great marketing is always about solving problems. So people have problems, you solve them by your blog, by your email, by your social media.

People will come back to you and they will buy your products or services. How do you sell fresh fish by thought leadership marketing? I worked for the company who sold, would you believe, live lobsters by mail order. They put a live lobsters in the box and posted it to somebody. And essentially, we spoke to journalists about how to cook a live lobster and they went from selling one or two lobsters a week to selling 50+ lobsters every single day from one article that appeared in one newspaper.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Wow. Yeah, that’s a great story. I saw that when I was reading your book, the note about live lobsters, and you’re not going to believe it, but we did the exact same thing. You had fantastic success, but we also did live lobsters, believe it or not. For four different companies. It seems a funny little niche analogy, but small world for sure. The funny thing is yesterday, the Fresh Lobster Company — I haven’t talked to this guy in almost 15 years. We built his live lobster shipped overnight website maybe around [the year] 2000. He rebuilt his site in December and has had some SEO issues. So I was just talking to him yesterday and we were just logging in to look at what is going on on his site. We also work with Woodman’s Restaurant – they invented the fried clam and they ship live lobsters as well. We worked with Constitution Seafood — they’re more on the commercial side. So we positioned them as experts with wholesale seafood. And also Turner’s Seafood. But it’s funny. It’s an odd little niche that we share. Live lobsters.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     The problem that the customers of this company had was, “How do you cook a live lobster?” If you can solve that problem, when the poor thing’s screaming when you throw it in the boiling water — it changed their business overnight.


john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     That’s awesome. That’s true inbound marketing. We made a linkbait, actually, for Woodman’s. It’s 101 Fun Facts About Lobsters and it’s pretty funny. It ended up becoming the second most visited page on their entire website. We did it as a linkbait, kind of an SEO tactic — creating a page that is kind of funny and/or deep and emailing other people that have linked to a similar page and trying to get some legitimate backlinks, or having the intention of doing that. The good news is we made it apparently a good enough page that it drives like 20,000 visitors a year. It’s just fun, you know? We wanted to do a live lobster cam, like how the lobsters go in the trap. But that might be a little out there.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     I’ve seen it done across many other industries and I remember speaking with a guy who ran a cleaning company. We were talking about blogging and we were talking about solving people’s problems and he said, “You know, I have an eBook — 365 tips for cleaning various stains with everyday household cleaning items.” It would have made a great eBook, but it also would have fueled a blogging strategy for an entire year.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Oh, yeah.



john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Those people have got so much content and they’ve got so much knowledge, it’s just a case of inspiring him to get out there and start solving people’s problems.


Biggest Mistakes When Building Thought Leadership and Reputation

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, absolutely. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making when building their thought leadership and reputation?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     The biggest mistake is that when people don’t have products, and I see this across the entire online landscape, people tell me, “Oh, yeah, I want to sell online.” Well, what are you going to sell? “Um, I don’t know yet.” If you’re going to position yourself as a thought leader, you really need to understand the business. You need to understand your client’s needs, you need to understand what the client’s problems are. You really need to develop your skills in that particular niche. And if you don’t do that, if you don’t have a product, you can’t be a thought leader.

A lot of online marketers will take on graduates or office juniors or interns with the idea of producing thought leadership content. And that just doesn’t work, because they may be great writers, they may be great at checking pages out and design, but they haven’t had the experience in working with products and working with customers yet. I would say get a couple of years of experience under your belt first before you can actually start talking about positioning yourself. Because the internet is full of snakeskin oil sellers, and they stand out like sore thumbs. If you want to position yourself as an expert and legitimately promote and sell your products or services, you can’t be one of those people.

Thought Leadership And Cold Calling

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Absolutely. Does authority and thought leadership marketing replace or tie into cold calling?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     People actually ask, “is cold calling dead?” And I say it’s not dead, because you still have to pick up the phone and speak to people occasionally, but I prefer to think of it as “warm calling” now. If you can write a blog post, if you get those emails out, if you can do the social media posts. I believe if you call someone up, they have a good chance of actually knowing who you are. It’s going to shorten the sales cycle, if you like. I’m in a lucky position here in the UK. When I go out to trade shows, people stop me and say, “Hey, we need to speak to you about email marketing?” or “We need to speak to you about social media marketing or content marketing” because they’ve been following one of my blog posts on my own blog or on the iContact blog or LinkedIn for weeks, months, or even years.

So I’m in a lucky position, that I don’t really have to go in cold anymore. You kind of shave off some of that rejection that you will always get from cold calling. Occasionally, you’ve got to pick up the phone to close those deals, and when I go around to client’s offices and I go into the sales environment, I’m always disappointed if I don’t hear people speaking on the phone, because people buy from people they like, and the only way to be liked is to actually make contact with them, and speak to them, and perhaps meet with them as well. So, it has a place, cold calling, but I soon turn it onto what call “warm calling”.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, absolutely. And using follow-ups with, if they don’t know your blog or know you through social yet, and you do call, certainly following up with and sharing your blog posts and things with them and offering to connect on social, that’s definitely a nice way to soften it, for sure.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Sure.



Example Of Thought Leaders

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     And who are some examples of thought-leaders you think stand out from the crowd?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Well, the big daddy of thought-leadership is obviously Seth Godin — he’s got 17 books on various topics — around there. In the UK, a couple of people that stand out to me — this gentleman called Martin Lewis, who ran a website called Money Saving Experts. Martin was essentially a consumer finance journalist, and he set up a blog to help people save money on their weekly shop or their credit card bills, or their mortgages. And, I guess it’s kind of ironic, he set up this website to help people save money, and it made him an absolute fortune. He sold out two years back to one of the financial services comparison engines.

And another guy I would mention, and a lot of people perhaps wouldn’t position him as a thought-leader, is Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef. The word “celebrity” is just another word for “business person”, and Jamie Oliver is in the UK, where I’m based, yet I think is the second most successful author in the country — only JK Rowling who’s done the Harry Potter books sell more. He’s also got numerous restaurants all around the world, and television shows that he’s commissioning. He produces a lot of content for the web — I believe he produces content primarily for the web now. So he’s very much a business person, and every time he goes in the papers, whether he’s talking about healthy eating, or whether he’s talking about Italian food, or whatever he’s talking about, he’s a thought-leader in the food industry, in the restaurant industry.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, absolutely, when you think of food, Jaime and some other people come right to your mind, and they’ve sort of dominated that niche.


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Yes. And essentially, every time they open their mouths, they’re selling more books, they’re getting more TV work commissioned, they’re putting bums on seats in restaurants, and I think he does a great job.


Can Anybody Learn To Become A Thought Leader?

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, absolutely, you’re making me hungry. Can anybody immediately learn how to become a thought-leader, or does it require a certain amount of experience and expertise?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Well, as I mentioned earlier, you really need to know your business. You need to know your products, you also need to know your customers. And that’s the art of helping your customers. It’s very easy. You can set up a blog in a matter of hours using WordPress or Blogger. I think most people, if they put some thought to it, could very easily write a short blog post, sent frequently — once or twice a week. If people are struggling with the concept of what they might write about, “how do I position myself?”, I suggest they pick up the phone and speak to a couple of clients — speak to the people who pay their wages, ultimately, and ask them what their problems are. Ask them what makes it difficult for them to get out of bed on a Monday morning. They’ll probably give you a list of 10 things. And if you can solve one of those problems, answer just one person, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to solve it for 10, 100, 1000, a million other people, depending on the size of the niche you’re serving. So, you need some experience in the product, you need some experience in the industry, you need to get to know your customers. If you have all that, yeah, I think it will be very easy to position yourself as a thought-leader.

I think the thing that holds a lot of people back is essentially fear. They’re worried about putting stuff out there, and perhaps being criticized by peers in the industry. Perhaps they’re scared of making a fool of themselves in public. But if you have the experience, if you have the knowledge, if you know your customers, that isn’t going to happen.

Selecting Your Company’s Thought Leaders

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah. And how does a company select who their thought leaders will be, and whether it is the founders or brand ambassadors?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Well, you know, in the perfect world, it’s always going to be a charismatic CEO or managing director, or founder, but when it’s not that case it’s a marketing manager or a product owner, but occasionally someone just rises up through the ranks, somebody that’s passionate about the product or service they sell, and they want to share information from that, so if they know the product, I would encourage companies to have multiple thought-leaders.

We have several in-house at iContact. Perhaps I write more about the business world. We have people who would write more about the technical side of it. We have people who write more about technology. And if you have two or three voices in there it gives your brand that kind of wider personality. Obviously, you don’t want just anybody creating your content for you. But you should go out there and look for the people with the passion and the drive to actually do it. So if you’ve only got one person in the business, and as we say in the UK I think they’re under a box, what will you do? So if you’ve got two or three thought leaders in-house you could focus on a particular area of expertise, that’s much better, you’ll get much more content on there as well, and the deeper the content on your site, the more traffic it will generate, and the more leads it will generate, and the more sales it will generate.

Is Blogging The Number One Authority Building Method?

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, I definitely agree with that, and blogs are often multiple authors, so as we’re looking to do more SEO for companies and they’re blogging, we find that it’s great if they can get multiple people doing it, and picking a little niche for each person. Do you think blogging is perhaps the number one method of building authority?

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Yeah, I love blogging, and I always tell people, before you do anything else, build a blog. When I speak at events, I often ask “who’s on social media?”, and everyone sticks their hand in the air, “and who’s blogging?”, and most of the hands come back down again. And that’s a real shame, because if you’re not blogging, if you’re not pushing your own content out there, what are you actually socializing? More often than not, you’ll see people socializing their competitor’s content, or content that links to their competitors. Essentially they’re relying on other people’s thought leadership. I always tell people if you start a thought leadership program, or a content marketing strategy, you start with blog, then you move into email and social media, in that order. Social media is a great tool for distributing and driving traffic — that’s not the foundation of a thought leadership program.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Those are great points. And I think that the email part of that — certainly by the author experts — is super hot, but I don’t think the average company — and I know that was a bit of a weakness of mine, not focusing enough on email — but your email list is just so critical to you, whether you are an author expert, or any company, iContact, etc.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Yeah, definitely. A lot of people with email struggle with the chicken and egg scenario — they think “well, I can’t start email marketing until I’ve got a substantial size list”. And having a blog is a great way to build that list. If you’re putting good content out there on a regular basis, and you encourage people to subscribe to your list, it can really kick-start your email marketing strategy. And obviously it kind of fuels itself as well, because it drives additional traffic back to your site again, or repeat traffic back to your site. So the blog, email, and social media — they all fuel each other, and it’s a never-ending circle.

Guest Posting

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     And how important is guest posting on the top sites in your industry, compared to the more technical search engine optimization, on-page optimization?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Well, I won’t profess to being a search engine optimization expert, but I am a great believer in guest posts. Purely for this reason, there’s a little story here. When I first joined iContact, as I said, I wasn’t really given a job title, I was just told to go out there and make as much noise as possible. And so I sat there in my new office, and I had the CRM system up, and I was going through all of the names of people that had recently signed up for our free trials, and I thought to myself, you know, I could start phoning these people, and try and pick them up for the paid products, but that’s a bit like what I used to do 16 years ago, when I worked for the newspaper industry.

So one of the first things I did was, I rang up a blogger friend of mine, and asked if they would be interested in an article that I was contemplating writing, and that article was about why I’d chosen to go and work for an email marketing company when, at the time, everybody was telling me that social media was going to completely destroy email. It didn’t turn out to be the case, social media has actually made email stronger, still the number one driver of revenue than any other form of online marketing. The editor of the blog said “yup, that’s a great idea”, snapped the story up, and two days later phoned back and said, “John, that article has 40,000 pageviews”, and X amount of clicks, and if you went into the CRM system you could see how many people had registered for the free trial or the software, and it became a no-brainer.

So, I said to myself, okay, I’m going to do this every day. I’m going to blog every single day. I’m going to speak to as many people as I possibly can. It would take me multiple lifetimes to phone 40,000 people, so the reach of a blog, particularly guest blogging on these top industry sites, is incredibly important, and I would personally like to do it more, and I believe everyone else should as well. And every industry you’re in has, no matter how niche that industry, there will be a trade blog or a trade magazine that runs a blog, and if you can get information over to them, you’ll do your credibility no harm at all. And the credibility, I guess, is the important factor there, because you still have to go through editorial control. Anybody can blog on their own site, but if you’re positioned on a well-respected trade publication, it can do nothing but improve your credibility.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     I agree with that, for sure. And, what I find interesting when I speak with authors and bloggers like yourself, and do these podcasts — I see a fairly common trend. Some of the absolute top bloggers, are not really super into the weeds with SEO. You know, Seth Godin, who you mentioned, is a really good example of that. He breaks all kinds of SEO rules, but he crushes it — he really one of the…I think he’s like the number two internet marketing blog, there’s Hubspot and QuickSprout, Neil Patel is awesome, but Seth Godin is always way up there. And he’s not as concerned with the finer details of SEO and overly focusing on it at times. I personally believe there are so many technical SEO things that people really do need to know, but I would say I love the stories where people like yourself aren’t as focused on that. You’re getting your message out on the top industry sites, and you get 40,000 pageviews, which a lot of SEO geeks would rule over, right?

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     And again, it comes down to two rules, which I’ll probably say far too much during the podcast. You’ve got to solve problems for people, and people ultimately buy from people they like. And Seth Godin ticks both of those boxes — he solves problems by talking about very real problems, and he’s incredibly likeable. And the other thing I love about Seth as well, is he doesn’t waste words. One of the problems I see when I go out and speak to people about blogging, is they waste words. You read the headline, and you read the first few paragraphs, and stop yourself and think, “What am I reading?”. You’ve just got to get to the point, and it’s the same with email marketing as well. The subject line has to tell the full story, your opening paragraph has to tell the full story. Get to the point. Don’t use 800 words when 300 words will do.

I was at en event once, and a gentleman mentioned that my book was quite thin, and I said, “Well, I don’t waste words”. I don’t want to waste people’s time. It’s not entertainment — I want to impart information, and I’m not going to waste words doing that.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, again, that’s one of the things that impressed me with your book. There’s a lot to the authority marketing roadmap, the list of things that it takes to become a thought-leader, but you didn’t add a lot of extra fluff, you really got to the point, and I think there are times for sort of the encyclopedia, out there in the college text book, and then there are times for a nice short book that you can read quickly and get more people to read it because they are less intimidated.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Sure. And I think small business people, where the book was aimed — aimed at small business people, marketers — if they can pick up the book and they can read it on a short flight, and come away with one or two pieces of information which ultimately improves their business, your job is done. And I always say the same when I go out and speak at events. I run regular boot camps, up and down the country and across Europe, and I always say to people when I’m setting expectations, “If you come away with one good idea from this event, or one good idea from reading my books, the investment will pay itself back a hundred times.”

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, small is the new big. Have you heard that?



john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Yes, one hundred percent. And I really believe that, because working with small/medium enterprises, they can turn on a dime. Whereas a larger company, they are taking a year, a year and half, before they can implement technology and make the changes, where if you speak to a small business, where the marketing manager makes all the decisions, they can implement that technology and they can be making money with it in less time.

Building Your Email List

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, and to your point about taking even one good takeaway, is so important. One that I recently heard from, I think it was Jeff Goins — when you’re building your email list and helping customers build email lists, start thinking about 1000 people, not 100,000 people. Because everyone would like to have 100,000 or 200,000 or a million people on their email list, but even getting 1000 people is an attainable, but good, small step. And if you think like that, and you think small, in a way, it actually makes you succeed better than just thinking “Oh, I have to have 100,000 people on my email list”, and kind of getting depressed and dropping the ball.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     And I think it’s what a lot of people do — they don’t start pushing those email newsletters out until they’ve reached that level, but there’s a couple of problems with that. The average age of an email address is about 18 months. People change jobs, people change service providers, sometimes people die, and you can’t sell to these people. So I would say you’ve got to hit emails while they’re fresh. If somebody’s given you their email, they’re trusting you, and they could be an existing client, they could be someone who’s very very interested in your services — hit them now, and try to sell to them now. Don’t wait 6 months, a year, 18 months down the line when they’ve either forgotten about you or they’ve bought from one of your competitors, or they’ve ceased to exist.

I was speaking to a friend of mine, and he’s email marketing about various products that he runs, and he’s got 10 people on the list, because he knows those 10 people will potentially buy from him. If you’re new to email marketing, you don’t want to grow up in public, you don’t want your first email to go out to 10,000 people and for it to have a really bad subject line, or a broken link. You want to make your mistakes in front of a smaller audience.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     That’s a really good point. What about getting business cards at conferences, and then coming back and putting them on your email list. Is there a problem with that, as long as you have an opt-in at the beginning of it, or what’s the best practice?

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     When you send emails out through any legitimate email marketing service like iContact, there will always be an Unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email. It’s called permission based marketing, because you seek permission from the person who gives you their contact info. And that permission can be granted any number of ways. It can be granted by a purchase, it can be granted by a registration on the site, or it could be granted by meeting somebody at a networking event or trade show. I would just say to people when you take their business card, “Can I add you to our newsletter?”. That’s good enough permission to join the mailing list, and as long as they’ve got some opt-out option at the bottom of the first and every subsequent email you send, which your email marketing service provider will add in, I don’t see a problem with that.

Some businesses prefer to do that double-opt-in, because they want their list to be more laser focused. Personally I’m happy with the single-opt-in, and letting the unsubscribe link remove people who perhaps aren’t as interested in your products or services as you initially believed. It really depends on the nature of your business, and how laser focused you want to be on your list.

Public Relations With Recognized Experts

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     I’m with you there, and certainly I think that’s what most people are doing. So, like you said, there are some people that are extra critical, but I think that’s a great point, as long as you’re letting people easily opt-out. But what about public relations? How it is made easier when your company has recognized experts?

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     One of the things that I do every year is I take a handful of journalists or bloggers, every January or February, and take them out for a beer or a pizza — I think I blogged about this a couple of days ago, actually, on the iContact site — and we go out and we put the world to rights, and we talk about everything else apart from work. We talk about football, we talk about holidays, we talk about family, and we get to know each other. And again, it comes back to people buy from people they like. And the journalist isn’t going to buy anything from you, but if they are working on an article, and they want an expert’s opinion, they will pick up the phone and speak to you first.

So, I think engaging with them and looking after your blogger contacts and your journalist contacts is incredibly important. Also, if you can build a solid relationship with these people as well, if you have a story, which perhaps isn’t necessarily your hard news, you’ve got a good chance of slipping it in under the editorial goal posts, if you like, because again, you’ve got that good relationship with those people. So, I think it’s very, very important. As somebody who comes from the newspaper background, I’ll tell you, journalists don’t want somebody to send them a press release once every three months. They’re more reactive if you’ve got a relationship with that person.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Yeah, I would agree with that, for sure. Is there such a thing as effective social media, if you don’t have the experts at your company, themselves, personally engaging with it?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Well, it’s called social media for a reason. There’s a lot of people who do broadcast-style social media, and that isn’t effective. It might drive some traffic to your website, but if your content’s not engaging, if it’s not being produced by somebody who understands your business and understands your customers, people are going to bounce off it straight away. So, yes, if you want to build a strategic social media platform, you really need to have an expert out there engaging with the people that are following you on social media, because people will be asking questions. If someone asks you a question on social media, that’s very much a buying signal. If you’re not able to answer that question legitimately, you will lose that sale to a competitor. People will go elsewhere. So, social media isn’t, again, something your office intern or office junior should do. It’s something that somebody with some degree of responsibility and expertise should really manage, I believe.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:  Yeah, that’s sort of in the mistake category that we see a fair amount, is companies saying, “Oh, that person’s young, great”, and they just rope them in and they’re going to do the social media. That can create problems.


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:  Yeah, I spoke at some event, I think last year or the year before, in Turkey — it was an event for call-center managers. And it strikes me that the call-center would be the ideal place to sit social media, because if people are working in the call center, they’re used to dealing with customers on a daily basis, they’re used to answering all sort of questions, and if they’re unable to answer the question that’s presented to them, they know absolutely everybody else in the organization, so they’d know who to field that question to. So, perhaps a senior person or an experienced person within a call-center or a contact center might be the best place for a large organization to sit social media. Smaller organizations, I believe it should be the product owners, the founders and CEOs, PR people, marketing managers — but certain people with real experience with products and services, and clients as well.

Writing A Book

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     And should every though leader write a book, or at least an e-book?



john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     I don’t know if every though leader would have it in them to write a book. It takes a lot of effort to product a book. But a short e-book, or perhaps a white paper…I believe you should be looking to produce detailed content which solves problems. A short e-book, or a white paper that solves problems is a fantastic lead generation tool, it’s a fantastic tool to share socially, it’s a fantastic tool to influence other people within your industry, it’s a fantastic took for generating public relations.

So, yes, I think while it might be hard for everybody to actually sit down and write a full-length book, a short e-book (which could be several thousand words long as opposed to 30-70 thousand words long), I think most marketers should have it in them to write this book. And I’m going to say something which will upset a lot of marketers, actually, now — when they ask me who should write that book, I say it should be them. You know, it shouldn’t be farmed out to a content producer, because that content producer doesn’t have the expertise. It’s the marketer that needs to write that content. Not to say that it shouldn’t be professionally edited, and you should always have several sets of eyes, and it should be professionally laid out as well. But content always needs to come from the source, and that’s the marketing team’s job to produce that content.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     And, in terms of either book or e-book with attracting public relations, attracting journalists, certainly a book is great, but an e-book can probably turn a journalist on about you — like you said, even if it’s a few thousand page e-book on a really specific topic is quite a small effort to get probably some pretty good results.


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Yeah, exactly, and so people — it’s a just a great way of putting yourself in front of somebody, and building credibility. Now, obviously, anybody can produce an e-book now, you can publish an e-book tomorrow, and publish it via Amazon or via the iBooks store on Apple, so you should never — quality will always rise to the top, so it’s not something that should be hurried. Writing it really needs to be legitimate.

I would say, however, people are still incredibly impressed if you can present a physical book, published by a legitimate publisher. That just adds so much more credibility to your story. Certainly in the past, when I’ve been presented books — for example, before I joined ChannelAdvisor, many years ago, I was presented by one of their sales people, with a book on ebay strategies, and as a person with a publishing background I know how hard it is to write a book, so when I saw a legitimate book from a legitimate publisher, and I read it and it was easy to read and it solved my problems, I grew to like this company more than their competitors. And it’s something I try to do as well; I want people to see the human side of iContact, I want people to see myself or the other people who blog for the site, or speak at events or on podcasts or webinars — I want people to see the layer of people on top of our technology because people don’t necessarily buy technology, people buy people.

Other Strategies For Building Thought Leadership

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     And, what about some of the other strategies — tactics like public speaking, hosting events, building community — what else should our listeners be aware of for building your thought leadership?


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     As I said, you start with you blog, and then email and social media — I’m a lover of speaking at events. I run events up and down the length of the UK, and take them out to Europe, and occasionally across the United States as well, because I like to be in front of people. I like to meet my clients, I like to hold conversations with them. And I’ve actually learned as much from my clients as they do from me. They inspire me with questions.

For example — I think I have this in the book — a few years ago now, I was speaking at an event in Liverpool, and a lady came up to me after I finished speaking, and she told me, “I really bought into everything that you said, and I believe any business can use email marketing and social media marketing to promote their business. My main problem is I sell frozen chicken nuggets to the catering industry. How do I sell frozen chicken nuggets to the catering industry via email?”. And to be honest, it completely stumped me. I didn’t know what to say, so I told her, “I’ll think about it, and I’ll drop you an email tomorrow.”

Well, on the train going back home, I thought, “John, you’re an idiot, you sell frozen chicken nuggets in exactly the same way as you sell double glazing, in exactly the same way you sell computer software, fresh fish — you solve people’s problems”. People will have a problem, and in her business, it may be “How does a fast food restaurant turn a low-cost food item into a healthy profit margin?”, it may be “How does a local organization like a school or a hospital or a prison — how do they provide nutritional meals for incredibly low budgets”. So you solve the problems with your blog posts, and your email campaigns, you segment your list into these various groups, and solve their problems.

And so, I came away from that with a relationship with a prospective client, but I also came away with a great blog post to share, and also something to share in my book and something to share with you on the phone today. If I sat in my office, and didn’t speak to anybody, I would have no ideas. So I’m a great believer in getting out there and speaking to people. Don’t wait for people at trade shows or events to ring you up and say, “Hey, would you like to speak at our event?”, because more often than not they won’t. And more often than not, if they do, they’ll also want money for the booths. I like to go out and make my own things happen, so I would add talking at events into the mix, and if you add that in, that helps you promote and ticket events, so if you have a mix of email and the blog, and social media, you can get bundles in front of you and you can start reaching people who are interested in your products and service.

Other than that, webinars. I love webinars — I think every time I’ve run a webinar, I’ve sold something off the back of it, whether it’s a subscription to software, or whether it’s a book, or whether it’s an event ticket. Podcasts like this as well — I would love to spend more time listening to podcasts, and it’s something I would like to get into myself. And also Periscope on Twitter — it’s a relatively new thing, people are just getting to grips with it, but I love the fact that it’s so instant. You can have an idea, you can pull your phone out of your pocket, and you can broadcast to the world within seconds. But before you get into any of that, get your blog sorted, get your email sorted, get your social media sorted, in that order.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Those are great tips, John. And I love the, “whether you’re selling chicken nuggets, or live lobsters, or software as a service, thought leadership marketing can help you.” It really is true. It may be more appropriate in some ways, you know, a law firm, an attorney, professional services — architects and engineers — there are certain people that, in some ways, it really naturally lends itself to, but I love your insights on how literally anybody can benefit.

john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Well, as I said, if you have customers, you have customers with problems, and if you can solve their problems, they will buy from you.


john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     Absolutely, and John, thanks for the great insights today. How can our listeners find out about what you’re up to lately, and get in touch with you.


john-w-hayesJohn W. Hayes:     Yeah, sure, so as I said, I blog most days on the iContact blog — that can be found at You can follow me on twitter — @john_w_hayes. If you’re interested in any of my books, you can find them on Amazon or the iBooks store — just search my name, John W. Hayes, or search “Becoming THE Expert”, and you should be able to find me. If anyone has any questions following this podcast, the best way to get in touch with me would be via Twitter, and I always try to answer questions that get sent to me.

john-mcdougallJohn McDougall:     That’s great. I definitely appreciate all the great info today, John. And again, the book that John just mentioned — Becoming THE Expert — is a fantastic book. And this has been John D. McDougall with John W. Hayes, on the Authority Marketing Roadmap podcast, and please review and subscribe to us on iTunes, as well as check us out on


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