Four Counterintuitive Behaviors of the Most Successful Thought Leaders


Mark DiMassimo, Founder and Chief Creative for DiMassimo Goldstein (DiGo)

Successful thought leadership takes more than just thinking. It requires thinking differently.

If you’re thinking the same, you’re following. And, if you aren’t thinking differently, you are blending in. In other words, disappearing.

Invisible matter may dominate the universe, but the invisibles have played no role in the history of leadership. So, how do you stand up — and out — amid the current noise? We have studied the most influential thought leaders and, while you can read endless posts and listen to years of podcasts about what they do, what distinguishes the most successful thought leaders are the things they do not do.

Following are four principles to plot your own distinctive and leader-carved path:

Leaders don’t follow their customers.

Google wasn’t founded because people were dissatisfied with Yahoo and Netscape. Jeff Bezos didn’t launch Amazon because people were frustrated with bookstores and libraries, nor did he expand beyond books because customers were asking for it. If Amazon had asked customers what they wanted from Amazon, the company would still be a bookstore.

Similarly, understanding what your audience is searching for through a search-engine optimization (SEO) strategy is necessary, but not sufficient, in driving successful thought leadership. It can help you address your audience’s concepts and language, but it won’t make you captivating. And, it certainly won’t ensure you add value to the bottomless content that is already available online. To achieve this, you must develop a strong point-of-view, unique theme, beat, and messaging architecture; in short, your personal brand. Embrace the opportunity to challenge your audience instead of being popular, providing them with genuine and unparalleled value.

Leaders don’t follow their competitors. 

At the height of the PC boom, there were thousands of PC companies. If Apple had studied IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell for best practices, there would be no Apple. Instead, Apple pursued a vision that was at-odds with the overall industry’s most-tech-for-the-buck ethos. Instead, Apple set out to create stunning consumer products, and that difference made all the difference.

“Best practices” are a pitfall, not a cure-all. Again, the most valuable work in marketing — as well as thought leadership in marketing — is “different.” If you chase the competition, you will never catch them. You cannot be afraid to fall short on some measures in order to be thrillingly different. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which quickly became one of the most iconic children’s television series in history, was nothing like any previous TV entertainment for kids. What do people remember today? Be purposely different, and wear earned criticism as a badge of excellence.

Leaders aren’t different just for the sake of it.

To survive as your industry develops, focus on differences – as well as distinctiveness. Ben & Jerry’s in ice cream. Apple in technology. Zappos in e-commerce. Anything that is highly successful will be copied, so build something that cannot be easily replicated.

For a season, Seth Godin wrote beyond his marketing core. Soon enough, he came back with This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See, and Godin followed it up with other marketing books. His excellent writing, packaging, and publishing weren’t enough to ensure the same level of popularity beyond the subject he dominates. As a savvy marketer, he recognized that.

Leaders don’t follow technology.

Instead of following the latest tech, anticipate it. New business models are being created inside apps. People and companies are using app experiences to change industries and lives, enabling personalized experiences like never before. Wellness brands like WW (formerly Weight Watchers) deliver personalized, social, and inspiring experiences through innovative apps that offer meaningful and engaging experiences.

Most people want to keep getting better at the things they know. Innovators try the new thing, emerging technology, the platform that’s still in beta. What’s the chance you will create the most read blog in the world, or even in your own industry? You are more likely to win the lottery. On the other hand, what if you were one of the first in your industry on a new platform? New platforms make new stars. Experiment with new ways of getting your message across. Be the leader in “thought leadership” by betting on yourself.

About the Author: Mark DiMassimo is founder and Chief Creative for DiMassimo Goldstein (DiGo), the industry-leading brand, advertising, and design agency in positive behavior-change marketing. Brand clients include WW (formerly Weight Watchers), SodaStream, Samsung, Echelon, Pfizer, and CVS Health, among many others across various industries. DiGo drives growth for life-changing brands by helping consumers make inspiring decisions and form empowering habits.