Do you know someone with a memorable story or online brand? That person could be a thought leader.
A thought leader is a topic or industry expert who shares his or her knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration to an eager audience hungry for information. These experts innovate. They recycle old ideas and stories, finding fresh ways and new mediums to share them. They create new frameworks for learning. They have researched history, are aware of today’s trends, but spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about where society is going. You could go so far as to say that thought leaders are basically the 21st-century philosophers of our time.
How do these thought leaders amass an audience? They share their content. Twenty years ago, that sharing happened almost exclusively from books, TV, and stages. One could gather their own network of people by calling them or perhaps sending them a postcard, but for the most part budding thought leaders had to pass a gatekeeper to get those platforms.
Think of the non-fiction author who had to satisfy an editor and publisher’s needs before getting the message printed and distributed.
Experts would have to slowly climb through the ranks of local news TV spots, create a respectable media reel, and network their butts off to find a show producer who could get them a two minute spot on The Today Show.
And to get on stage with a thousand attendees? Good luck.
We’re in a thought leader’s dream environment for message proliferation. Gatekeepers have been all but obliterated.
But, thankfully, technology has flipped the entire script. We’re in a thought leader’s dream environment for message proliferation. Gatekeepers have been all but obliterated. You have a story to tell? You push a red dot on your smart phone, press share, and POW-BANG-BOOM — you’ve just made your content available to 7.5 billion people.
As in: Your content is just as available as the trillion gigagbytes of cat videos, star wars kid iterations, and cute little Frozen snowball critters served up from YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, BitTorrent, Pandora, Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, Cable TV, Portland Trailblazers (Rip City), and… your name goes here?
Key word: available.
So, uh, how does a positive thought leader with a great message stand out?
Well, let’s do some good news / bad news…
If you’re just starting to get your message and expertise out there online, the good news is that you’re not the last to join the party. I think you know what the bad news is yeah? Yep, the Internet marketing Mayflower left back when this on the big screen:
But you have a secret weapon. It’s a weapon to which any Fortune 500 CMO would say, “well, duh.” It’s a weapon Madison Ave serves up to your brain 24/7/365 with the fervor of a weirdly compact mustache.
One word: BRANDING.
Guess what… most Internet marketing gurus will tell you that “you don’t need that expensive shit, just go slap some pages up on the web and make sure they use this color of headline and this color of call-to-action button and whammo you’re RICH dude!”
Bullshit. (If you’ve tried that approach, you’re probably nodding your head wishing you hadn’t spent so much money on that “wisdom”, right?)
As Seth Godin said very succinctly in his interview with Gary Vee: today, your currency is two things: Attention & Trust. That’s it. Attention & Trust.
Now let’s go back to that list of attention Wilburs. You know, the Netflix binge-athon, the Blazers winning the championship — Rip City, the … Prince shooting J’s over Lake Minnetonka — shoot it! Yeah, that list, where your name needs to be.
See what you’re competing against there? Not whom. It’s the What that you need to compete against. It ain’t Joe Schmo expert offering the same advice you want to give. (Well, yes technically it is partly whom because somewhere down the line your prospective customer is going to be choosing between the two hundred versions of you and Joe Schmo.) Rather, you’re competing against people’s attention spans. If and when they do finally find you online, you better give them a blast of “Wow, I know/like/trust this cat” feel good sauce on their brain’s caudate before their 3 seconds (if you’re lucky) of attention wanes.
That decision — your new visitor’s choice to stay longer and enjoy your useful content and poke around your provocative website is the direct result of Branding. Branding is how you make your people feel at home when they’re “with you” online (and offline, too).
Brand building isn’t easy and it usually costs a fortune. (Remember the fortunes you’re going up against.) That’s why we are dedicating this article to 12 Positive Thought Leaders who are beating the odds, rapidly gaining audience, hustling every day to share something beautiful, lift people up, and make a real impact in people’s lives.
Some of these folks are our clients (marked with an *), but most are not. We simply want to acknowledge people who are incredibly intentional about their online personas, design innovations, and branding. This is NOT an exhaustive list. These are just 12 brands we admire in this moment — more to come soon!
The Unofficial List: 12 Trendsetting Thought Leader Brands
Brendon Burchard *
#1 NY Times Bestselling Author, Founder of Experts Academy, High Performance Academy, World’s Greatest Speaker Training
Brendon is a masterful storyteller, high performance trainer, and marketing guru. With multiple bestselling books on all of the major lists (sometimes for multiple months at a time), he’s also demonstrated a critical yet sometimes overlooked knack for creative writing.
If you create incredible value and information for others that can change their lives – and you always stay focused on that service – the financial success will follow.
Brendon is wildly successful with his online business (4,328,983 fans on Facebook and counting), but the aspect we admire most is his ability and willingness to be a student of the craft. Respected for having launched a multi-million dollar empire on his own, he learned how to code, write, design, and launch products without any assistance. Sure, there were struggles, but his mission has always been bigger than the obstacles.
Brendon’s basically your favorite next door neighbor, and he has the #1 rated YouTube channel for personal development. He’s created a cohesive design across all of his YouTube images, and you can’t help but feel ready to live your best life after binging on his inspirational videos.
Creator of The Fire Starter Sessions, The Desire Map, #Truthbombs
Danielle is not afraid to stand out from the crowd and stir up some thought leader controversy. This passionate diva is full of poetry, curse words, #Truthbombs, and conversation starters leading women (and men) to follow their desires.
The essence of all of my work can be distilled into… Encouraging someone to be…courageous. Which usually just means being themselves, which ironically is the hardest thing ever.
Along with the next woman in our list, Danielle is one of the queens of personal name branding. What makes her different than everyone else in the thought leadership space? Extreme intimacy. Do a Danielle LaPorte photo search and you’ll find some relatively racy, but professional photography.
Take a 10 second tour of her amazing, custom website and you’ll quickly recognize her “up close and personal, here I am as I am” approach to everything. This approach isn’t appealing to everyone in the world, but of course that’s not the point of branding anyway. Her tribe is loyal because she’s fearlessly loyal to being authentic always.
Her website’s script typography appears to be Danielle’s own handwriting, including headlines, the brand logo, and her Truth Bomb quote cards. We especially love her approach to the ubiquitous and (often) annoying pop-up call-to-action:
We didn’t create Danielle’s brand, but our creative director Rae Senarighi would be doing backflips and somersaults down each and every grassy hill in Portland if we were given the opportunity to work with Ms. LaPorte.
Prolific Blogger, Producer of World Domination Summit, and Author of Bestselling Books “The Art of Non-Conformity” and “The $100 Startup”
Chris is the prince of travel hacking, long-term goal setting, and inspiring millions of millennials to live unconventional lives in a conventional world. Want to start a business with only $100 or see every country in the world within 10 years? Chris will show you how.
I wasn’t super strategic. I did work with heart and with passion.
Chris is an incredible writer and speaker who’s taken his New York Times Best Selling books across the United States and crowd sourced stories from “everyday”, inspirational people. When you meet him at one of his events, he is as accessible, authentic, and friendly as he is successful — a testament to his inner-work and personal development.
Chris segments his blog into 5 different categories, including: Life, Work, Travel, Profiles, and Et Cetera. Through savvy design and intention, he provides easy, quicky navigation to core areas of the website. Check it out here:
Thinking of writing a book yourself? Start blogging. That’s what Chris did. Then you’ll actually have an audience ready to buy it.
Already have a book? Check out Chris’s super-clean, well-designed quiz landing page for his most recent book, Born For This:
Having met Chris in person and seeing his non-conformity in action, we can assure you that the world could benefit from more Thought Leaders like him. Humble, introverted, yet strong, ambitious, and passionate. Go Chris go!
Host of Marie TV, Creator of B-School, Hip Hop Mogul In The Making
Marie Forelo will show you how to build a business and life that you love. This New Jersey native is downright real, humble, and honest. Not only is she wildly successful with her flagship course, B-School, but she’s also dedicated to promoting change in the world through high-quality (and FREE!) coaching on MarieTV and a remarkable commitment to give back to causes that matter to her and her team:
Never start a business just to ‘make money’. Start a business to make a difference.
From day one of her Thought Leader brand building, this online popstar knew how to stand out in a crowded marketplace. She’s allowed her multi-passion interests (dance, choreography, marketing, spirituality, design, finance, entrepreneurship, fashion, etc) to be a brand and look and style that can’t be compared to anyone else online.
And her website? O M G. She has always set the bar the highest for modern website design. Before we launched Brendon Burchard’s and Jeff Walker’s websites, 95% of the folks who filled out our project inquiry form asked “how do I get a Marie Forleo web design?” We imagine that trend will continue for years to come.
But one of the things we admire most about Marie? She hustled. Today you see a polished TV star with millions of raving fans and tens of thousands of customers, but back in 2010? Marie was doing the work. Even if that meant plopping down on the couch with weird pillows, wearing a white ribbed tank top, and flipping on the laptop webcam to shoot her first episode of Marie TV.
The takeaway? Do what you can with what you have. Who knows? Three or four years (of disciplined practice) later you too might get that knock on the door from Oprah.
Founder of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Digital Educator, Bestselling Author
Ramit will teach you how to be rich. No joke, no scams, and no weirdos allowed. Seriously. This Stanford graduate started his blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, in his college dorm room more than 10 years ago. He takes his knowledge and expertise in psychology, finance, and business, to teach ambitious adults how to get out of credit card debt, make more money, and live a rich life, in his New York Times Bestselling book and online programs.
Ask people what they want. Don’t tell them what they need.
Ramit is the king of Lead Generation Magnets (we call them “LGMs” here at Peaceful). Since he covers a wide variety of topics on his blog, he strategically placed unique LGMs across his blog to funnel readers into specific email marketing campaigns and courses. How many LGMs can you spot on the blog post below?
(And that’s just the real estate “above the fold.”)
Ramit’s also one of the most prolific course creators. The screenshot below only shows 1.5 of his 5 course category options:
Quantity rarely equates to quality — anybody can slap a pile of crap in an online box and call it a “life changing course” — but Ramit’s courses are the real deal. I’ve been taking his “Zero To Launch” course, actually following his paint-by-numbers blueprint, and steadily building my list and even getting online product sales while I teach yoga and work at Peaceful Media. It’s exhilarating. It works!
Founder of Freedom Hackers, BADASS WITH BLUE HAIR
Kimra is the ultimate rags to riches story. Only a few years ago, her family was on welfare. One day she started to research how to make money online. Within a few years, she built one of the most popular Facebook groups on the Internet called “Freedom Hackers.” How’s “Freedom Hackers” for extraordinary copy that sells itself?
Kimra considers herself a personal branding and social media strategist with a punk-rock flair. She makes her audience swoon for more Kimra on her highly attended webinars where she inspires other online entrepreneurs to stop dreaming about creating a business and just do it.
Keeping your gifts to yourself is selfish. Share your unique abilities. That is how you change the world.
In an increasingly crowded field of online marketing Thought Leaders, Kimra stands out with her memorable fashion, hair, makeup, and a killer “if I can do it, you can do it, too” expert story. Plus… she gets three thumbs up for the animated “Rock-It” ships on her fully expressed website. 🙂
Jeff Shore *
Bestselling Author of Be Bold, Win the Sale, Closing 2.0; Creator of the Annual Sales Leadership Summit
If you have’t heard of Jeff, then you simply aren’t in the real estate or new home sales world. 18 out of the top 20 home builders in the US have received consulting and training from the Shore Consulting group. He is the de facto expert on sales and sales leadership, particularly in the high-dollar, emotionally charged buying experiences (like buying a home).
Your standards are not what you desire, they are what you accept.
What we love about Jeff and his approach to brand is that he feels like the antithesis of a sales trainer or sales guy. He offers humor, heart, and entertainment in all of his presentations, whether he’s doing a Facebook Live or a keynote speech. He demonstrates to his audience that selling is not sleazy, scammy, or slimy. Selling, when done the right way, is transformative and positive for both the customer and the salesperson.
He’s not being tricky or strategic about that — his essence simply comes through. When you trust yourself, people trust you.
Between leading seminars worldwide and sharing his masterful tips trade secrets in his exclusive Sales Leadership Roundtable mastermind, Jeff is a true family man and treats each of his readers like they are part of his family. Don’t believe us? Go sign up for one of his casual, but insightful webinars and just get a sense for how comfortable he makes you feel. He’s not being tricky or strategic about that — his essence simply comes through. When you trust yourself, people trust you.
Peaceful Media works with Jeff and his team on a daily/hourly basis (to the point where it feels like we’re part of the family) and one of the things we love most is their willingness to leap ahead of the curve with just about everything in their digital marketing and product offerings. Together we’re building a world-class enterprise-level, mobile-first learning management system (LMS) to serve both the corporate behemoth clientele and the “long tail” small business consumer who needs cutting edge sales education in the field on the device that’s already in their hands. It’s spendy to forge new paths in your industry, to be sure, but being able to serve people out on the far right of the curve is an incredibly powerful economic catalyst.
Mo Faul *
Career Coach, HayHouse Radio Show Host, Podcaster, Dynamite Human Being
Mo inspires people to find and elevate a career they’re passionate about. She brings kick-ass back into your career even when you think it’s doomed to dead end. Mo can relate because she spent 20+ in the healthcare industry, desperately trying to bring her passion for personal development and mindset training to a corporate environment that resisted (to put it nicely).
Courage first. Then confidence.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she realized that coaching and mentoring was her true calling. Since launching her own training company, Mo has helped thousands of people kick fear to the curb and resist the temptation to play it safe. She is a prolific content creator and a downright joy to be around. Her success is not by accident.
Remember at the beginning of this article how we talked about Attention & Trust? Ask yourself what you’re currently doing to systematically, automatically collect testimonials that are pre-approved, sorted, and filed for use in your social media and website. Reputation is everything in the thought leader’s world.
Consider that and start getting some nicely designed, crazy-positive testimonials planted on your website like we did when we designed Mo’s inspiring, bright, and fun website & brand.
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Jeff Walker *
Founder of Product Launch Formula; NY Times Bestselling Author of “Launch”
Jeff is the world’s preeminent leader in launching an online product. His famous formula has helped thought leaders generate over $500 million in product sales. Most of his students use the framework to sell online courses, everything from “How to Knit Slippers” to “High Performance Brain Training”. You’ve likely seen his influence in hundreds of launches from the world’s top online gurus, including Marie Forleo, Brendon Burchard, Frank Kern, and Tony Robbins.
The world has changed, and the only true security is your ability to create value and get paid for that value.
What makes Jeff especially unique is that he’s so humble and down to earth, especially when compared to the generation of Internet marketers that preceded him. Within seconds of meeting him or watching one of his free content videos, you get the sense that he’s the guy with whom you can sit down and have a Corona while you chat about sports, mountain biking adventures, and family.
We are incredibly honored that Jeff came to Peaceful Media (by referral from Brendon) to rebrand and rebuild his website from the ground up. Take a tour of the website and you’ll get the sense that you, too, can climb the most insurmountable mountain and claim your spot among the most successful online brands in the thought leadership world.
Spirit Junkie, NY Times Bestselling Author, Int’l Speaker, Spiritual Leader
“Gabby B” helps soulful women become the happiest person they know. This self-proclaimed spirit junkie knows a thing or two about meditation, yoga, self-help, and turning miracles into reality. Forbes noted her as one of the 20 Best-Branded Women. No surprise. Ask any women looking online to reach the next level of self-actualization, and within minutes they’ll tell you about Gabby B, “this woman who ____________.”
I learned that real happiness doesn’t come from getting but from giving.
Gabby crushes online branding because she is devoted to communicating truthfully, intimately throughout her blogs, YouTube videos, and online products. Most people run away when they hear the words “meditation” and “spirituality”, but she has the unique ability to invite newbies into this world without a flinch. She meets her audience at their level no matter where they’re at in their journey.
While we’ve never even met Gabby in person, we at Peaceful admire what she’s done with unconventional, resonant photography and some stellar design / copywriting on landing pages like this one.
Jean-Jacques Crèvecoeur *
Author, Speaker, Healer, Spiritual Leader, Quantum Physicist, Doer
Jean-Jacques hails from Quebec, Canada, and has reached audiences throughout the world with his world-class writing and thought leadership. Translate his French blog articles to whatever language suits you and get ready for an awakening — this crazy fun dude is the second coming of Carl Jung merged with Robin Williams, we swear.
His career started with self-healing. After witnessing the
possibility miracle medically inexplicable reality that he could eliminate a gigantic brain tumor by adapting his thought processes, he felt he had no choice but to share his methodology with as many people as possible. So, he left his doctorate in quantum physics (naturally) to pursue his dream of changing people’s lives. How’s that for a career change?
I didn’t make millions online by being strategic. I am successful only because I love my students deeply.
Jean-Jacques is living proof of… well, many remarkable things. Besides that whole “healing myself of a giant brain tumor through meditation, research, and an unflinching commitment to psychotherapy” thing he:
- is a role model for “successfully following the path set forth by your mentors.” When Brendon Burchard taught him that giving is today’s selling and showed his product launch methodologies, Jean-Jacques made a public announcement that he’d return with a case study. Two years and three launches later, Jean-Jacques had already generated over $3M in course sales.
- has proven that you can be wildly, nakedly YOU when you’re teaching an online course. You never know what props he’ll bring into the teaching, which wardrobe he’ll wear… or if he’ll be wearing wardrobe at all.
- and, best of all, he’s proven that LOVE sells.
Watch a few of Jean-Jacques’s video blogs and you’ll see that he knows how to welcome his audience with a good laugh. He never takes himself too seriously, especially since he’s become one of the highest paid consultants in France.
* Jean-Jacques launched his website at our Elevate Your Brand Implementation Week where Brendon Burchard and Peaceful Media helped folks build and manage their own Thought Leader websites and sales funnels!
Health & Wellness Expert, Speaker, Documentary Film Producer, Author of “Crazy Sexy” Book Series
Kris’s online brand splashed onto the Thought Leader scene with the zest and yumminess of a freshly squeezed green juice with lemon and lime.
It’s not about finding your voice, it’s about giving yourself permission to use your voice.
Like Kumra, Kris found her way into “Thought Leadership” and big public speaking stages by way of hardship. In Kris’ case, it was the most dramatic kind of hardship: stage 4 cancer and a diagnosis that she only had a few months to live. She documented her journey to detox her body/mind/spiritual and heal naturally. This was the birth of her “Crazy Sexy Cool” book, documentary film, and beautifully designed website and blog.
We haven’t had the opportunity to work with Kris (yet), but her spirit and brand inspire us to consider how our life’s craziest, unsexiest battles can be 180’d into a platform that literally saves people’s lives all over the globe. Pretty crazy sexy cool [as long as we just keep it on the downlow], right?
How Can You Elevate Your Expert Brand Onto This List?
- It starts with intention and desire. Money doesn’t cut it. Nor does anything you’ve crammed into your head from a $2,000 dollar course. Sorry. You’ve gotta be crazy hungry to make it. (Look at Kimra’s story again, for example.)
- Mix in daily action. We hope the thought leaders, brands, and stories you’ve seen here inspire you to do what you can with what you have and launch your own Thought Leader brand platform (even if it’s through our <$1000 thought leader website blueprint).
- Then be prepared to bring your “A” game in those ol’ school virtues of discipline and patience. Building an online business and brand doesn’t happen overnight. These 12 positive thought leaders you see crushing it online have spent years studying and honing their craft to create a brand that aligns with their mission and sustains itself financially.
- And always be a student AND practitioner. Study what the masters are doing but don’t forget that the best learning happens when you’re doing. Apply what you learn from these 12 gurus’ brand platforms to your business website, copy, photography, typography, and brand materials.
- Stay within your means and build a real business that adds value to your people. All brands start there. Little ol’ wise person hint: Please, please, please do not go into this brand building journey with the intention of matching the Rome that the Brendons, Maries, Ramits, Gabbys, and others have built. You’ll burn out of cash, energy, and hope real quick — and that’d suck monkey bananas. The world needs ya, playa.
What’s your biggest takeaway from this post? What resonated the most with you and what do you plan to implement in your brand? Is there a Thought Leader you’d recommend we highlight in our next Thought Leaders roundup?
Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to be super specific because you may even have the opportunity to inspire and support another reader. We look forward to hearing from you!