How To Be Seen as an Expert…Or Increase Your Influence If You Already Are One

There are two common challenges people claim when trying to build an expert, influential brand. Do either of these sound familiar?

People don’t listen to my ideas or see me an expert even though I know my stuff really well because I lack credentials/the right degree/level of experience.


Everyone says they’re “experts” these days, but I really am one! I’ve earned it. But I can’t break through with all these upstarts and savvy social media players out there claiming to be experts.

It can be hard to rise above the “expert pollution” out there. It seems like any young upstart with an Instagram account, an IPhone and YouTube can come along and claim their “expert status” in an instant, while your years of hard-won experience or valuable content fall on deaf ears.

Conversely, there are many people without fancy degrees, huge followings or gray hair who really know their stuff. They have valuable insights and advice to share but are dismissed because they are not “well known.”

In both cases, it’s just downright frustrating when your authentic expertise and true talents are not recognized by others. That’s why it’s so important to intentionally cultivate an “expert brand” in order to grow your business.

Branding expert and author Dorie Clark states:

“In a world where too many people claim to be experts, it becomes even more important to be one, and ensure the right people know it.” (TWEET THIS!)

She wrote two wonderful topics on this subject that I think you’ll enjoy:

As Dorie says, “When you’re just starting out in a field, or lack blue-chip affiliations, it may be hard to persuade others to listen to your ideas, even if they’re groundbreaking and valuable.” She offers four strategies to help you get people to listen and make an impact.

  • If you’re already an expert but want to expand your influence even further, please check out her article, “3 Rules for Experts Who Want More Influence.” Chris Brogan weighs in to this article on the vital importance of your email list in increasing your ”recognized expert” status!


Photo credit: Jason Rosewell, Unsplash

Do you face challenges in not having your expertise recognized by others, or do you have questions on how to cultivate your expertise to grow your business? Would love to hear what you think!

Balance Your Media Diet

In today’s digital world, here’s what works well for getting clicks:

  • Lists of quick-hit tips
  • Images
  • Shock value
  • Salacious gossip
  • Outlandish claims

It’s fun to click on “10 Celebs Who Have Not Aged Well” or skim shocking headlines to have something pithy to say at your next cocktail party. It feels sinfully delicious to escape reality by watching The Real Housewives of Whatever or skim sexy–but inaccurate– tabloid headlines while we get our nails done.

But all those tiny, harmless choices come at a cost. We’re losing out on a diet balanced with substance, truth and intellectual growth.  (TWEET THIS!)

Please take a moment to read Seth Godin’s recent and very important post. It’s all about the price society pays when we constantly sacrifice substance for style, in-depth analysis for a quick-read or hard word for ease.

Let’s get real: We can’t be academic, curious or “serious” all the time, I get it. Heck, I enjoy my crime dramas, game shows and renovation “reality” shows as much as the next gal.

But we do need to be clear that our choices have consequences on the culture as a whole. On our own mindset. On how we see “the truth” and on how our next generation learns how to fully contemplate, assess and explore.

Our tiny individual actions may not change things overnight…or ever. But every time you turn on that reality show where people are just awful to each other, or buy that clearly false tabloid, or even sign up for that expensive program that promises you a get-rich-quick success scheme, you vote with your time, energy, money and attention. You vote and support that behavior. This is why I absolutely refuse to watch any of the Real Housewives franchise or shows about toddler beauty pageants or whatever. They may be hilarious and entertaining to some people, to be sure, and those people may think I should lighten up, but I just don’t want to support the impact to our culture. That’s my own personal choice.

Am I reading War and Peace every night or diving into scientific journals? Hell no.  I’m not some sage or martyr about this issue. It’s simply a reminder to always be conscious of feeding our intellectual curiosity. A push to keep seeking out truthful stories, accurate claims–and to question all sources. How incredibly healthy your hearts and minds would be if we simply balanced the candied-apple guilty pleasure articles and wickedly clever Tweets with documentaries, nature programs, well-researched articles that are longer than 500 words and by listening to true leaders and great minds.

PS, for a nice mix of both cleverly entertaining and extremely factual reporting, follow Scott Bixby.

My pledge to you, dear reader. I will never offer you hype or sensationalism. Only practical and inspirational advice that educates you, helps you see things differently, or consider something you had not before, boosts your spirit or sparks your creativity. Will it make you a million dollars? Maybe, maybe not. That’s not for me to say….or claim. Yes, clients have taken their brands to the next level with my advice and teachings. And others have done nothing. It’s the way it goes. It doesn’t give me permission to make more outlandish claims to get attention or build my audience.

All I can do is offer you the very best knowledge and insights that I can and help you move forward. This should be your pledge as well: to create something of substance that matters. Something with integrity, honesty, and real value. Served with a side of splashy style, if you can, of course. I mean, we gotta have some fun, right?

Image via Flickr

3 Ways to Build Your Thought Leader Brand

9.30 building thought leadership brand (blog)

If you’re a consultant of any persuasion, you have probably heard this ad naseum:

You have to establish yourself as a thought leader.

Let’s break down what this really means, why thought leadership matters and how you can build a thought leader brand.

Thought Leadership Defined

Thought leadership is simply establishing yourself as the expert on your chosen profession, not just on the products or services you sell. It means people come to you for your thoughts or take on things that happen in your industry. If you’re a dog training expert, you might be asked to comment on a recent dog fighting bust and how those dogs will be rehabilitated. If you’re a health and wellness thought leader, reporters might seek you out for your opinion on the latest Hollywood fitness craze. If you’re a financial expert, people may clamor to hear how you interpret the proposed changes to international tax laws.

A brand built around thought leadership has lots of legs. (Tweet this!)

Why Does Thought Leadership Matter?

People want to hear from thought leaders. You can score lots of brand awareness by being quoted in the press, speaking at conferences or authoring a book. Maybe your particular service or product will grow stale or fall out of fashion: if you’re a thought leader in your overall area of expertise, you can constantly evolve, create ancillary products or services, and build longevity.

When brand news breaks, I am honored to be asked for my opinion. People have come to me and asked for my perspectives on news such as the Susan Komen debacle or the Lance Armstrong brand wreck. But things didn’t start out that way…

How to Build Your Thought Leadership Street Cred

If you want to be a thought leader, you first need to consider what you want to be known for – and if you truly have expertise in that arena. Hmmm..that sounds an awful lot like your brand strategy, doesn’t it?

(I’m going to assume here that you want to establish yourself as a thought leader in an area in which you truly have experience, wisdom and value to share. If you’re trying to establish thought leadership as a marketing gimmick to “get rich quick” – and believe me, there are many people out there who will try to take your money to show you how you can present yourself as an expert in ANY area you like – I think you might be reading the wrong blog.)
OK, so you can totally position yourself as a thought leader in customer service/innovation/money management/wellness. Fab. Now how do you go about building up that brand?

Here are 4 ways to brand yourself as a thought leader:

  1. Create Insightful Content, Not Just Sales Pages: Maintaining a valuable and consistent blog, starting a podcast interview series, creating sassy videos or even writing industry insight white papers on a regular basis allow you to present your point of view. It’s like being the editor of your own magazine or TV show without the pesky gatekeepers. Plus, creating all this useful content gives you something interesting to share in social media. PLUS, it provides constantly updated content on your site so you show up well in organic search. Meaning, when reporters are looking for people; to interview on your chosen topic or clients are looking for the best of the best in an area they need, your content will be fresh, timely and relevant. Thought leaders always have their finger on the pulse and if you are never putting new, rich content out into the world, no one will remember your name.
  2. Write Contributed Articles: Approach the online and offline publications in your space and offer to write a contributed article on a specific topic. Media outlets are starving for good, free content right now and as long as you don’t pitch but provide insightful content, they are happy to run expert work. Having press clips you can promote on your site – and media logos you can cite in an “As seen in…” section are vital for a thought leadership brand. Side benefit: If you do Tip #1, you can repurpose blog posts or other content to use as a media pitch. Time saver!
  3.  Book Speaking Engagements: I know, I know…”Easier said than done, Maria!” Well, we all gotta start somewhere. I started out offering to speak everywhere to everyone with no expectation of pay. While this is not something I particularly agree with on an ongoing basis (organizations making money off of events should pay the people providing the content and creating the draw for said events), you do have to build thought leadership slowly. Get people talking. Make connections. Weigh the benefits you’ll get. While I don’t often do free speaking engagements anymore, I do make exceptions if the exposure is huge or the potential for paid work is REAL and present. One free speaking engagement I did last year gave me amazing exposure AND led to someone in the audience hiring me to speak for my regular fee. Fine-tune your perspective and presentations during these “freebie” engagements. Once you establish the thought leadership, you will not only be able to command speaker fees, but you’ll have presentations already created that you can simply tweak and reuse.

TIP: You don’t have to advertise that you don’t charge a fee at first. Come up with a fair fee you would like to get paid, invoice the organization for that amount but zero it out so they understand the value of what they are getting for your brilliance. Then, if they recommend you elsewhere they can say, “Well, her fee is x but she’s willing to negotiate.” And pretty soon, organizations will expect to start paying that fee and you can begging charging for your time.

What is your area of thought leadership? What has worked for you in building that thought leadership? Please share in the Comments below.

Photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography on Flickr

5 clever ways to position yourself as a (real) expert

Guru. Master. Legend.

Wouldn’t those be nice words to hear after someone introduces you?

Maybe. Personal branding is all the rage these days. But most of us don’t have to be THE leading voice on a certain topic, but a unique, thoughtful and useful voice that is part of the conversation.

I say: Beware the lone guru.

There are so many “personal brands” out there, claiming to be expert in this, or someone who can teach you the secrets of that, or the end-all, be-all source for (INSERT TOPIC HERE).

How nice for them.

The ones who claim to be experts in helping you establish yourself as an expert make me giggle the most. I mean, you should at least have some experience or competency in your chosen field before you expect that article in Fast Company. Experts are not invented, they are cultivated. What are your special skills, talents, experiences that can form a solid, authentic foundation for you to then learn even more and become a valid expert?

My vocation of choice is as a storytelling expert: small business brand strategy, marketing, messaging. Do I know all there is to know about these topics? Hell to the no. I am one of MANY brand strategists and experts. And that’s totally cool with me.

It’s not about offering people one authoritative voice to follow, one cult to join, one Kool-Aid flavor to drink. (Tweet!) There are so many talented brand strategists out there – seeming competitors – whom I admire, follow, learn from and even cite.

No one built up their knowledge and competency on their own. They learned it from somewhere, from someone.

But if you want brand awareness for yourself or your company, if you want to get press + customers + love + speaking gigs + influence, it is a good idea to establish yourself as part of that expert tribe, as someone with a valuable perspective and keen insight into this area.  So instead of getting frustrated every time you see one of these vocal, self-promotional, personal brand “experts” instead of pouting, why not follow some simple tips to join the conversation?

Here are 5 tips on how to establish yourself as an expert

(and no, I’m not claiming to be an expert in expertise – these are just tips I’ve used that have opened up new opportunities for me to help brands + businesses). All of these assume you already have a true level of education, knowledge or experience in your chosen area:

Keep soaking up knowledge:

That’s right. Think you know all there is to know about your topic? You’re done before you even start. Read the best-selling authors out there, attend conferences, read blogs and newsletters. Find out how others are approaching this area, stay up-to-date on trends, and pick and choose which bits of wisdom resonate – or don’t (see Tip #2) – with how you view this topic area. Keep a list of 5-10 sources to follow regularly so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Present a point of view:

It’s not enough to go out there and agree with every expert you read or follow in your space. Often, if you can present a valid, contrarian point of view, people find that much more interesting – and the press may bite. I have often used contributed articles (see Tip #3) and blog posts to say why I thought a certain expert got it wrong, and put my own unique spin and experience on the situation. Being willing to challenge the status quo – for real reasons, not just to be a pain in the neck – displays confidence and authority that people will notice. For some great advice about presenting value-drive content that rabid fans will adore, check out this Jay Baer blog post.

Write & pitch contributed articles/stories:

Not every piece of content you write should be about selling your products or services. People don’t pay to subscribe to news feeds or publications to get commercials. But can you convince that you’re the perfect person to comment on 5 ways companies are actually making money from better SEO? Can you convince Katie Couric that 5 overlooked stressors are making women and mothers ill? Can you persuade TechCrunch to accept your premise that Big Data is changing the way companies roll out new products and features? Think about the macro trends and theories rather than just your own offerings and offer a thought leadership point of view that benefits everyone. Sidenote: Offering guest blog posts to robust online communities like Biznik or BizHive or influential blogs is also very effective.

Speak in public:

Nothing impacts your street cred more than presenting to group as the…you guessed it…guest expert! Have you contacted your local Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration or chapter of a national association? Pitch yourself as a speaker on your topic of interest (no sales pitches, please – except they may allow you to have one slide at the end to promote your book, service or special offer). Start building your buzz locally first and then you can start to point to those successes when applying to national event and conferences. Nervous about presenting? Hire a speaking coach, media + presentation coach, or other developmental coach to squash those fears and help you get your message out there. Some great resources for creating an online speaking profile and finding gigs are SpeakerMatch and eSpeakers.


Cue the groans. But I’m telling you, blogging is one of the single best – and free – ways to share your philosophy and highlight your expertise on an on-going basis. You don’t need permission or acceptance like you do for scoring a media article or on-camera interview. Think of your blog as YOUR media outlet where you can say whatever the heck you like, Wrote a contributed article about the new rules of workplace etiquette and no publications bit? Fine, post it on your blog. See a juicy new trend in your space that you’re dying to comment on? You can post it tomorrow. The other added benefit of blogging regularly is that you become search engine friendly around these topics, and the more content you have online, the better to establish your expertise when people are searching for info on those topics. Want proof of the power? I often receive both media and sales leads from blog posts that I’ve written 3 or 4 years ago. Need help on where to start and what to write about – or even just how to work with your blog? Take a session with this woman now or check out Problogger for fabulous tips.

What actions have worked for you in establishing your expert status? Which experts do you admire and follow? Share your thoughts and get some link love back to your (expert) site!

10 Signs Your Brand is Failing

Last week, I posted about 5 signs of a Power Brand. This week, I’d love to share this great list from Derek Daye and Brad Van Auken of, a super blog about all things branding. I’m adding their blog to my list of regular reading. With full credit to their powerful thinking, here are the 10 signs they say indicates a brand is failing. The list itself is to their credit; the “color” and examples are from Red Slice.


1. Your brand is mentioned to customers and potential customers, and there is strong negativity in their response: At workshops I give, people cringe when I ask them to tell me what words and attributes come to mind when I say “Walmart.” Usually it has to do with unfair labor practices and destruction of small local businesses.

2. Your brand’s external messages do not “ring true” with all employees: This is the most common one. A company says they are dedicated to friendly customer service, and you are met with a surly teen at the checkout counter who spends more time yakking to her co-worker than serving you.

3. Employees are not enthusiastic or consistent in recounting what makes their brand special: If you ask 5 employees what the company stand for and what benefits it offer and get 5 different elevator pitches, you have a brand consistency problem – and a confused workforce. Your employees are your #1 brand weapon. If they don’t live out the brand promise, you’re toast.

4. The brand’s market share is decreasing: Sales go down. Enough said. Doesn’t matter if you have the slickest ads or coolest viral marketing campaigns. Effective branding should lead to increased sales.

5. Competitors never mention your brand as a point of reference: If your brand is not stand-out enough for competitors to even be talking about why they are a better option than you are, that means you are not making a dent.

6. The press does not write about your brand: As mentioned in the Power Brand post, your brand should transcend what you sell and you should be seen as a thought leader in your category.

7. Your CEO does not have a strong vision for the organization and its brand. He or she talks more about financial targets than the vision: Vision matters. Mission matters. If your employees don’t know why they come to work every day, then that’s like a General failing to tell his troops the endgame of the mission. Everyone needs to be aligned around delivering the same value – and not dollar value, but customer value. I’ve seen start-ups fold because all they were about was chasing quarterly profits. They never stood for something bigger and more inspirational.

8. Your organization’s leaders never seem to “talk the brand” and “walk the brand talk.” Put your money where your mouth is. People are not stupid. Don’t write brand checks your company can’t cash. Everyone wants to be Apple, but if you deliver ugly, inferior, outdated products, then I’m sorry, you can’t claim to be like Apple. Walk. Your. Talk. Only promise what you are actually set up to deliver. Or, promise what you want, but then you’d better make sure you shift operations, policies and marketing to back it up.

9. Your organization fails to attract and retain high quality employees: When we talked about a Power Brand, we mentioned that customers and employees are proud to work with you. The opposite holds true as well. Good brand attract good talent. Failing brands do not.

10. Your brand fails to build customer loyalty: If your customers fall prey to discounted prices elsewhere or won’t drive the extra mile to your shop when there is a competitor closer, you have failed to build an emotional and connective brand. People go out of their way for brands they admire. Trying to rig the system with temporary discounts just to drive sales is a short-term solution that won’t have any lasting effects. That just means they are loyal to the price you are giving them at that time, not to you.


Any other signs you see when a brand is failing? Please share in the comments.

Five Signs of a Power Brand

Clients often ask us, “How will we know when we’ve got a winning brand?” Rather than telling them, “You’ll know it when you see it” there are some guideposts along the way to tell you your brand is moving in the right direction.

At first, it starts small: increased website hits, increased referrals, uptick in positive social media chatter – even anecdotal evidence like more positive comments from customers or partners. You can look at metrics like newsletter signups, store visits, or customer phone inquiries. Obviously, it all leads to “more sales” but, let’s get real: the sales cycle is like courtship. You don’t propose of the first date, but there are little steps along the way that you must take to get to marriage.

If you launch a new brand or rebrand an existing one, you can put feedback mechanisms in place to see if you’re going in the right direction: focus groups, email surveys, sales trends, even just good ole fashioned talking to your customers and partners. Seek out unbiased feedback but make sure it’s from people that matter to your sales. Asking your 15 year old nephew or your spouse what they think is fine – if they are your target audience. Believe me, more often than not, they are not the right people to be asking, no matter how much your respect their opinion.

Here are some signs of a power brand to which you can map your progress, at whatever scale your business operates:

  1. People are proud to say they work, partner or shop with your company: If customer, partners or employees find that they get greater cache when they sport your brand on their website, paycheck or shopping bag, you know you’ve got a winner. Your brand is transcending into a world where people want to identify themselves as part of your tribe and bask in your brand “halo effect” to make themselves or their business look good. Sort of like hanging out with the cool kids at school. Examples” Apple iPhone and iPad, Harley-Davidson
  2. Your customers are advocates, spreading your story: Word of mouth is key and if customers are going around – unpaid – doing your advertising for you, then that is the holy grail of marketing. Are they chatting you up on social media, sharing unprompted referrals with friends (“You have GOT to shop at Zappos! They have the best customer service.”) creating “spoof” videos on YouTube, or even inking themselves with your logo (hello, Harley)?  Then you’re doing everything right. Examples: Disney, JetBlue and Virgin Atlantic (ie customer-generated YouTube “ads” vs. other airlines)
  3. Some people (outside your target) don’t like you: When you are effectively creating a brand, you have a clear ideal customer target and you serve them. This naturally means there will be those who don’t “get” you. And that’s okay. The Justin Bieber craze annoys me to no end, but it doesn’t matter: I’m not the target audience. Having people who don’t like you means you are not trying to be all things to all people. Examples: Dunkin Donuts v. Starbucks; Hyundai “Beware of 16-year-olds” campaign.
  4. You can elegantly recover from occasional mistakes: If your brand has enough “brand good will” built up, it can withstand some gaffes and missteps along the way. It’s like a bank account: the more you put in, the more confortable you can be withdrawing every now and then. As long as you recover with dignity and transparency, a strong brand can withstand a lot. Examples: JetBlue during their infamous winter flight debacles, Apple’s recent flubs with the iPhone 4.
  5. Articles about your company talk about your impact on the industry and/or the world: Rather that just talking about what you sell, press and organizations seek you out as a thought leader and innovator. Examples: People quote Zappos when it comes to innovative online customer service, not just shoes and accessories. Having transformed the coffee category by emphasizing flavor and experience, Starbucks last year introduced value packs in the supermarkets, which allowed them to stay competitive during the recession.

What are some other signs you look for when it comes to a “power brand?”

2010 Advertising Trends

Guest blog by Red Slice intern, Suzi An

The advertising environment in 2009 was dark and gloomy due to the budget cuts, causing the industry to face a new reality and evolve. Mainly, businesses and brands hopped on the social network and consumer-generated media bandwagons to create more personal interactions with customers. Ultimately, this brought customers closer to a product or brand, just as marketers had hoped.

So how are businesses (and traditional marketing and ad agencies) expanding to reach all audiences and adapt to the changing world in which their customers live?

  1. Optimizing media convergence: As companies reduce their budgets in TV, radio and print, they will put more money and efforts into the online community where the metrics can be measured. To accurately measure activity and link online ads to offline purchasing is crucial in today’s marketplace. In addition, the increase in online shopping has many “old school” companies finally looking to advertise online. In order to deliver a better return on investment, companies will need to close the skill gap – or start hiring really smart people who get it – to more appropriately understand and harness the power of this media convergence.
  2. Adapting to smart phones: It seems that smart phones are slowly taking over the world. Almost everywhere we look, someone is jiggling around on his or her fancy sleek phone. So it’s more important than ever to understand in what direction media is headed and what customers are using in order to stay ahead of the game. If mobile media is where everything is occurring, then that’s where the industry needs to be. Meaning, advertising companies will customize campaigns to cater to smart phone media in a more innovative and creative way.
  3. Cross-media ad campaigns: In addition to mobile advertising, we see media shifting into new territories such as online and offline video games. In Grand Theft Auto, you may drive past a billboard for McDonalds or some other giant company brand. Because the video gaming community has seen rockstar growth, companies understand that this is a successful and innovative way to promote interactive branding campaigns across screens.
  4. Social media: Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t get away from social media. It’s taking over how we interact with anything and everything. This platform will provide a new sales channel for establishing brand and product awareness, taking campaigns further away from traditional advertising and text-based ads. Many of the rules are being made up as we go along, but tons has been written about the proper etiquette for “selling” in social media – and what communities will and will not accept.
  5. Valuable and innovative ads: Because this generation of consumers is always looking for something new and lives in a world of constant connection, companies are looking for more creative advertising and content for the online community. This is why we have seen an increase in viral ad campaigns.

What will the next year bring us in advertising? Please add your thoughts in the Comments.



Is the media or the message getting in your way?

The old adage, “Is it the medium or the message?” has never held more weight than it does in today’s marketing arena. You have a story to tell (your brand message) and you have a dizzying array of mechanisms through which to tell it (Twitter, website, blog, ad, events, signage, Facebook….) So when it comes to evaluating success, you have two factors to consider: the message and the medium itself.


Seth Godin’s blog talks about how organizations use PowerPoint appallingly these days. Never has a tool come along that seemed so easy to use, but people forgot about honing basic presentation skills before cutting loose on this software. It’s just like blogs or DIY websites – just because you “can” doesn’t mean you “should” or even that you are doing it “right.” You could be doing more harm than good in communicating your message simply because of using the vehicle incorrectly. You have to adapt your message to the medium you are using so you leverage it effectively.


In addition, a third layer to consider is choosing the right vehicle to reach your target audience in the first place. So let’s say you have a great message AND you are using the medium correctly – you still might be singing beautifully to an empty room, because no one that needs to hear your message is actually present. This is what happens when you get caught up in the next new shiny thing, and forget to evaluate if your target audience responds to it.


Messaging can be complicated. You can’t just assume messages “didn’t work” if they fail, simple because you got no response. Look at how you are using the media first: are you leveraging it fully, are you understanding how audiences are properly consuming the information, and did you design the message to fit the specific medium? Then look at the media itself and if it’s the right vehicle to reach the people you wanted to reach. Hopefully, you put all this thought into it before you embarked on the campaign, but if not, take a step back and look at these factors.