The current model of the universe in modern physics requires something called dark matter. A lot of people write about dark matter, but has anyone been able to describe it’s properties in detail? Theories, yes. But you can’t put it in a test tube and do experiments on it. And yet it needs to exist. Why? Because while it is undetectable, it’s effects account for cosmic “discrepancies.” We accept it, but we can’t quantify it.
The recent focus in the Wild West that is social media has been on targeting the “influencers.” Sure there are individuals out there with a measure of clout as a result of expertise and public consensus. And, yes, they do exert a measure of influence. But where are the majority of thought leaders, the people who influence buying decisions for millions of people on a daily basis?
Basic Role of a Thought Leader
There are many definitions of thought leadership with regard to expertise, recognition and influence, but I want to focus on what I feel is one of the most important characteristics of a thought leader. Mainly, a thought leader is immune to marketing. A true thought leader comes by an opinion independent of the flood of marketing messages and rhetoric designed to turn people’s “needs” into “wants.”
Do you need a car that goes 0-60 in 5 seconds? Do you need the $20,000 Rolex when the $50 Timex will tell time just as well? I’m not saying there is never a reason to buy these things. It’s just that most people make these decisions to satisfy needs emotionally rather than practically.
Who’s really influencing purchasing decisions?
Among my friends and family, I am a thought leader when it comes to technology. I’m not trying to brag. It’s a reality of my social circle. I’m in technology, my friends and family know it. They come to me for advice on technology purchasing decisions. And I exert a great deal of influence.
A recent call from my friend, let’s call him Ned, went something like this:
NED: I’m at Best Buy. There are two computers here. One is $450 and the other is about $100 more.
ME: Buy the cheaper one.
NED: But the the more expensive one has [list of features]…
ME: That’s ok. Get the cheaper one. It will be just fine for you.
What happened here? Why didn’t all the features make a difference? He tried to give me lot’s of features of the more expensive computer that seemed attractive the way the sales clerk described them. But I know computers and I know Ned. Whatever new computer he buys will be much better than the 6-yr-old desktop he’s currently using and will have plenty of power, memory and disk space for what I know he needs. I know what he needs better than the vendor marketing folks or the sales clerk in the store. I cut through the rhetoric for him and helped him get what he needs. And he bought the one I suggested, not the one the sales clerk wanted him to buy.
Can you target what you can’t see?
I am visible. I blog, I tweet. I can be targeted, modeled, accounted for by businesses looking to market products to my friends, the people with whom I exert a measure of “influence.”
One of the partners here at Intelligst has the same level of knowledge as I do, but he’s invisible to the rest of the world. He’s never worked in technology. He doesn’t blog. He doesn’t tweet or comment. You can’t even Google him. He exerts tremendous influence over the purchasing decisions of his social circle, yet he is invisible to all the machinations of corporate marketing. He is an Invisible Thought Leader.
Characteristics of an Invisible Thought Leader
Invisible Thought Leaders (ITL) are not rare creatures. In fact, they are all too common, but they are difficult to find. Their expertise is known only to close friends and relatives. And they provide a valuable service.
An ITL strips back the marketing hype to the core need. He is a calming influence. Talking to an ITL is easy and comforting. Ever come out of a consumer electronics store with a shopping cart full of stuff, your wallet a little lighter, and a nagging anxiety about your purchase? You asked the sales clerk for some recommendations and he seemed like he knew what he was talking about, right?
Now take the same scenario but you walk into the store with advice from your buddy who is an electronics guru. He frequents Tom’s Hardware and can tell you things like how to safely overclock your CPU for the ultimate gaming PC. Armed with this knowledge, you confidently walk in, ignore the in-store marketing and uncertain quality of sales clerk advice. Now you walk out with a shopping cart full of stuff, your wallet maybe a bit heavier, and a confident smile.
What does it all mean?
How many of your purchasing decisions are directly influenced by Invisible Thought Leaders? You don’t know why you’re buying it but somebody you trust told you. In the case of my friend Ned, he didn’t even know the differentiating factors in the decision (32-bit vs. 64-bit CPU, 2Gb vs. 4Gb memory) or his own needs. And he still got what he needed.
Companies use marketing messages targeting consumers to manipulate needs into wants, but Invisible Thought Leaders are the dark matter of the marketing world. They are immune to marketing and main stream media and exert tremendous influence. They’re spread out among millions of people. We can watch the spread of trends but can’t quantify the social interaction. Their influence is felt. We know they’re there.
21st Century communication tools are throwing a wrench into the well-oiled machinery of traditional sales and marketing. Invisible Thought Leaders are out there and Intelligist Group has spent a great deal of time analyzing, identifying and quantifying this elusive creature. I bet you’ve already thought of a few…