In the constantly evolving—and admittedly, sometimes fickle— world of digital marketing, few buzzwords are quite as buzzy, but yet quite as authentically important, as “thought leadership.”
As a savvy marketer, you know that helping establish clients as thought leaders requires creating a great reputation for them by helping them be seen as a trusted and go-to source of knowledge, and the “last word” in their respective industries.
But whether your client is the next Elon Musk of electric vehicles (or futuristic space exploration) or the best plumber in Pittsburgh, true reputations can’t be faked, and real thought leaders can’t be manufactured by marketing strategists.
As HubSpot puts it: “You build a reputation for reliability by being reliable. You build a reputation for excellence by being excellent. What we can do as marketers is simply make it easier for that reputation to spread. Our job is to facilitate, not to create; it’s to smooth the path, not design the map.”
But where do you, as a marketer, turn when you need thought leadership? When you want to stay current on marketing best practices, innovative concepts, new tools, and the future of your field? Or ironically, when you need to know the best and newest approaches to help establish your clients as thought leaders?
With thousands upon thousands of marketers self-appointing themselves “thought leaders” in their blog bios, Instagram descriptions, and LinkedIn profiles, it’s hard to cut through the noise and know who is actually worth listening to.
That’s why we’ve done the work for you. Here are the 11 digital marketing thought leaders considered the true gurus of content creation, social media, SEO, and marketing, at large, which every self-respecting marketer – yourself, included —should be following.
Ryan Deiss is the Founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer.com (the leading provider of digital marketing training and certifications), Founder and Managing Partner of NativeCommerce.com, a vast digital media and e-commerce group, and founder and host of the Traffic & Conversion Summit, the largest digital marketing conversion conference in North America. He is one of the most dynamic voices on marketing in the U.S. today, having created the “Customer Value Optimization” methodology and having introduced and popularized many of the key digital selling strategies in practice today. But don’t just take our word for it – he’s been called one of the world’s leading digital marketers by Shark Tank star, Daymond John.
Russel Brunson is the founder of ClickFunnels, an innovative startup which has been revolutionizing the online marketing industry since its inception in 2014. In fact, his sales funnel creation SAAS business, which was entirely self-funded, is now, only a few years later, worth over $360 million dollars. Yet despite his astronomical success, Brunson is a perpetual favorite amongst marketers and entrepreneurs because he is so accessible and eager to help. Having started his business from nearly nothing and gained capital via the sale of a guide on how to build a potato gun (yes, you read that correctly), he both understands the needs of entrepreneurs and is incredibly aware of the power of digital marketing and online earning. As quoted in Forbes: “He lives, breathes and feeds off of analytics, able to meticulously scrutinize sales copy, tightly twist and concoct high-converting offers, and pick apart the resultant traffic until he's created a proverbial cash machine.”
Marcus Sheridan didn’t start out a marketer. In fact, he started out as the owner of a pool company along with two of his college friends. But as the recession hit in 2008 and his company was verging on bankruptcy, he set out on a mission to save it. He found HubSpot and started learning about inbound marketing and content creation, building out pages upon pages of industry knowledge share. Soon, his website started drawing huge traffic and he and his partners became the gurus of the fiberglass pool industry, not only saving their pool business, but setting Sheridan on a path to becoming a global inbound and content marketing leader. In 2009, he founded “The Sales Lion” (which recently merged with IMPACT in 2018) which is now one of the most successful digital sales and marketing agencies in the country. He has since been called a “Web Marketing Guru” by the New York Times, and his book They Ask, You Answer, was named the “#1 Marketing Book” to read in 2017 by Mashable, and one of Forbes’ “11 Marketing Books Every CMO Should Read.” He is trusted because he is both incredibly knowledgeable and unapologetically relatable.
Mari Smith is one of the world’s leading social media thought leaders and her list of accolades in her field are about as impressive as it gets. Known as “The Queen of Facebook,” Facebook calls her a “Small Business and Facebook Marketing Expert,” Forbes has listed her as the #4 “Top Social Media Power Influencer” for three years in a row, Dun & Bradstreet’s Credibility lists her as one of the “Top Ten Most Influential Small Business People on Twitter,” and Fast Company described Mari as, “A veritable engine of personal branding, a relationship marketing whiz, and the Pied Piper of the Online World.” She is the author of The New Relationship Marketing and co-author of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day. Through her consulting and training agency, she teaches and consults with businesses and brands on how to become a true social business, and tens of thousands have gone through her intense social media training. None of this came over night, though. She has been a social media leader since 2007, focused in the fields of relationships, marketing, and Internet technology. Today, she travels around the world as a keynote speaker and trainer and has shared the stage with everyone from Sir Richard Branson and Tony Robbins to Guy Kawasaki and even the Dalai Lama.
Frank Cowell is President and CEO of Elevator, a digital brand strategy agency based in the San Diego, California area. He works regularly with CEOs, CMOs, and VPs of Marketing who are looking to create amazing brand experiences while driving inbound leads. A self-taught programmer with a deep understanding of technology, he has a unique blend of brand development and marketing savvy that enables him to offer fresh perspectives on often-complex marketing concepts that he distills into actionable, easy-to-understand language, helping clients grow their businesses by guiding them through the process of optimizing their brand experiences through human engagement and connectedness. With Elevator, his efforts have resulted in numerous nominations for awards and recognition, including being named 2012’s “American Marketer of the Year” by the San Diego Chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA). He is the author of The Actionable Brand, which details a concept he pioneered to make brands more accessible to internal stakeholders and external audiences, and is also the creator of The Gold Miner Method, a method of applying the stages of gold mining to the concept of lead generation in order to systematically and profitably generate leads for organizations. An energetic and entertaining speaker, Frank presents regularly to regional and national organizations on topics related to branding and digital marketing. As if all that weren’t impressive enough, he is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and regularly volunteers his talents to the San Diego AMA and Jr. Achievement, while mentoring young people in the areas of branding and digital marketing.
Neil Patel’s clients read like a who’s who list of successful large business. As co-founder of Neil Patel Digital, he’s helped Amazon, Microsoft, Airbnb, Google, Thomson Reuters, Viacom, NBC, Intuit, Zappos, American Greetings, General Motors, and Salesforce— amongst countless others— grow through marketing. He is so popular in the industry, in fact, that his marketing blog generates 2 million visitors per month, his Marketing School podcast generates 650,000 listens per month, his YouTube channel on marketing has over 3 million views, and he has over 900,000 Facebook fans and 200,000 Twitter followers. He is also a New York Times bestselling author. As such, it should come as no surprise that The Wall Street Journal named him a top web influencer, Forbes called him one of the top 10 marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine called his company one of the 100 most brilliant. As if all that weren’t enough to get you to start following him, his marketing prowess has even been recognized by world leaders, having made former President Obama’s top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 list, and the United Nations' top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 list.
As one of the early adopters of online marketing, Frank Kern has been immersed in the industry for nearly 20 years. In 1999 at the age of 27, Kern was a door-to-door credit card machine salesman when he ran across an ad for an “Internet Marketing” course. He was hooked, and after six years of trial and error and self-education in online marketing, direct mail, copywriting, and marketing in general, he started achieving real financial success. It was then that he decided he could help others, and today, he has customers and clients in nearly every country on earth, including over 100,000 small business, as well as numerous celebrities such as famed speaker and life coach, Tony Robbins. As creator of Behavioral Dynamic Response, an automated marketing method that speeds up the sales cycle by customizing marketing messages based on prospect's behavior, he is one of the most sought after Direct Response internet marketing consultants. And yet he keeps it incredibly real. In fact, his website promises two things, in writing: actionable strategies and tactics you can use in your marketing right now, for free… followed by blatant sales pitches. He is an unapologetically shrewd businessman first and foremost and a self-taught marketer with a wealth of knowledge that only come from decades in the industry.
Amy Porterfield is considered one of Forbes’ Top 50 Social Media Power Influencers, has a top-ranked podcast, is the author of a popular “Facebook for Dummies” book and a series of best-selling marketing courses, and has worked with hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, educators, and marketers, including famed coach and speaker Tony Robbins … but don’t let the impressive resume fool you into thinking she doesn’t authentically “get the little guy.” A self-proclaimed “overworked, ‘yes’ girl who was eager to please and desperate for approval,” she left a high-powered corporate role launching major campaigns for Harley Davidson to start her own marketing business. But her venture into entrepreneurship was anything but high powered and was instead riddled with self-doubt, a lack of cash flow, botched webinars, unfinished projects, a tiny mailing list, and guilt over missing her son’s football games. Instead of throwing in the towel, she learned from her mistakes and failures, and today “teaches what she knows” instead of what she’s passively learned about, having since helped over 250k online entrepreneurs gain confidence and success through her “action-by-action” methodology in lieu of the standard “step-by-step.” Before the multiple 7-figure online business, Porterfield was just a relatable, corporate-employee-turned-struggling-entrepreneur, and that’s what makes her work and knowledge-share so genuine and authentically helpful.
Gary Vaynerchuk is the CEO and Co-Founder of VaynerMedia, a full-service digital agency, providing social media and strategy services to Fortune 500 clients including General Electric, Anheuser-Busch, Mondelez, and PepsiCo, amongst a score of other renowned businesses. He joined his family’s retail-wine business as a teenager and rose to prominence in the late 90’s after establishing one of the first ecommerce wine sites, WineLibrary, through which he helped grow the family business from 4 million to 60 million in sales. Today he is also the Chairman of VaynerX, a modern day communications parent company, and Co-Founder of VaynerSports, a full service athlete representation agency. A serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and early investor in groundbreaking companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Tumblr, and Venmo, as well as a 4-time New York Times bestselling author, he is one of the most sought out public speakers worldwide and hosts a top 10 business podcast. He is considered a near-deity amongst both marketers and entrepreneurs.
Dennis Yu is impressive not only because of the wealth of social media marketing knowledge he possesses, but because of what he does with it. As Chief Technology Officer of BlitzMetrics, a digital marketing company which partners with schools to train young adults, his program focuses on mentorship, helping students grow their expertise. In fact, his students help manage social campaigns for top-tier enterprise clients, including Nike, Rosetta Stone, and the Golden State Warriors. He also co-authored Facebook Nation, a textbook taught in over 700 colleges and universities. His deep understanding of social media is so impressive that, to date, he has been a lecturer and keynote speaker on Facebook marketing in 17 countries over 5 continents and has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, multiple major newspapers, NPR, TechCrunch, CBS Evening News, amongst numerous others, and is a regular contributor to Adweek’s SocialTimes column and is published in multiple social media "must follow" sites, including the Social Media Examiner, Social Media Club, SocialFresh, and Heyo.
Molly Pittman’s warp-speed rise to the top is a testament to her marketing capabilities and the trust she creates in others. She started as an intern at DigitalMarketer.com in 2012, advancing to VP of Marketing by 2014, a position she held until 2017 when she left to start her own consulting agency. In the five years she was with DigitalMarketer.com, she personally spent over $8,000,000 on paid traffic channels like Facebook, Google, and Twitter; generated over 600,000+ leads and tens of thousands of customers; consulted and advised over 150 online and offline brands; and certified thousands of marketers in paid traffic and customer acquisition. Today, she is the co-host of the Perpetual Traffic podcast, which has grown to over three million downloads in two years and often ranks #1 in Business & Marketing. Amy is also the Co-Founder of DigitalStrategyBootCamps.com, which provides one-on-one coaching and consulting to help businesses grow through digital channels. Having learned the ins and outs of Facebook ads and social media ads, in general, from the ground up, she currently manages millions of dollars in budget for dozens of clients. She is a digital marketing expert and educator who innately understands social media advertising and can help you understand it too.