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Ignite X is a recognized, integrated marketing agency in Silicon Valley that delivers content marketing, executive branding, and public relations services.  


Ignite X specializes in helping technology startups grow their market visibility and brand. We bring expertise, connections and tenacity to helping brands break through the noise. Here are some of the things we've learned along the way. 

Filtering by Category: Thought Leadership

How to build your personal brand like Elon Musk when you don’t know the first thing about rockets

Carmen Hughes

"Elon Musk"    by    JD Lasica    is licensed under    CC BY 2.0

"Elon Musk" by JD Lasica is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For multiple years running, startup founders rank Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk as their most admired tech leader. In fact, with 23% of the vote, he’s blows Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, with a distant 10%, right out of the water. These two admired leaders also have their fair share of critics, landing them in other executive rankings as overrated CEOs. Regardless, the truth about bold leadership is not being afraid to rock the boat with your opinions, actions and vision.

Musk is a wildly controversial guy who’s a huge risk-taker, looking to colonize Mars, send tourists around the moon, build a transportation fleet powered by solar energy, and dig a vast underground network to fight gridlock. He’s as audacious, ambitious and bold as they come, and his grandiose ideas regularly make headline news.

While most C-level execs are neither in the billionaire club nor looking to build Mars-bound rockets, they can learn something from Musk’s bravado. Namely, how to build a bold personal brand that elevates their reputation as an industry thought leader.

1. Go out on a limb

While thought leaders should be industry visionaries, there’s a tendency to “play it safe”. Everyone is saying artificial intelligence is the next big thing. If you are a player in this space, you need to do more than spout forecast numbers. What will AI do to the automotive, retail and restaurant industries? How will the technology’s advancement impact safety and jobs? According to Musk, the advance of AI will be to the detriment of the U.S. workforce: “What to do about mass unemployment? This is going to be a massive social challenge. There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot cannot do better [than a human].”

This kind of statement is not sensationalism. It’s opinion grounded in reality and industry knowledge. Don’t be afraid to make bold predictions. Remember, you are an expert in your space, and your opinion makes you interesting and a great resource for viewpoints that go well beyond the “bits and bytes” stories.

2. Take a seat at the table

If you want to be heard, you need to take a seat at the table. It’s not always your ideal company, but – like voting –.if you don’t cast your ballot, you don’t have a voice. Lots of CEOs would prefer to keep their heads down, work on making a great product or service, avoid distractions, and stay off the radar. Earlier this year, Uber’s CEO made this choice when he stepped down from Donald Trump’s Advisory Council following backlash from consumers who took his participation as tacit endorsement of the president’s immigrant ban. Musk, on the other hand, opted to have a seat at the table to engage and discuss business policy. In that seat, he hopes to influence the new secretary of state on the carbon tax, denounce the ban on immigration, and push forward more of his own agenda. “Attending does not mean I agree with actions by the administration,” said Musk. “I believe at this time that engaging on critical issues will on balance serve the greater good.”

3. Offer solutions

Bold thought leaders don’t just forecast the future, they offer possible solutions to real-world problems. What infrastructure improvements need to be made for fully self-driving cars to become a reality? How can we curb the downside of automation? How can we fight traffic? Musk is so sure that automation will displace millions of workers, he’s suggested a universal basic income, wherein everyone gets a certain amount of money annually. What about traffic congestion? He proposes a vast underground network containing as many as 30 levels of tunnels for cars and high-speed trains. Are these ideas far-fetched? You bet. But he’s willing to put himself out there to propose his viewpoint and ideas to solve real problems.

4. Don’t be afraid to be a nay-sayer

In the process of building their personal brand, many executives don’t want to criticize existing ideas, for fear of coming off as negative. There’s nothing wrong with having an intelligent discussion that disagrees with other ways of solving a problem. Musk’s proposal to dig thousands of miles of tunnels sounds preposterous to most, but he points out that other ideas, like Silicon Valley’s go-to traffic solution of flying cars, are equally outlandish. “Obviously I like flying things,” he says, “but it’s difficult to imagine the flying car becoming a scalable solution.”

5. Share your vision

Oftentimes companies are very “stealthy” about their product plans and roadmap, afraid to give anything away to the competition. That’s valid, but what a CEO can do is skip the near-term and intermediate details, and go straight to the company’s master plan. A CEO should be willing to spell out his vision for the company, and what success looks like. Musk has famously told his employees he plans to “die on Mars” after he helps a million people move there on his rockets at $500,000 per ticket. Leaders make bold predictions, and that’s something that Musk excels at.  

In our next blog post, we’ll apply these tips and show you five key ways you can use content marketing to build your personal brand.

How to build your executive brand like Jeff Bezos

Carmen Hughes

$71 billion dollars!!

Even though this sounds like a quote from Dr. Evil of Austin Powers, it’s actually Jeff Bezos’ current net worth.

Before Bezos hit the Forbes Top 5 list of billionaires and Amazon became the $250 billion multi-industry powerhouse that it is today, he and the company had a multitude of naysayers.

Yet Jeff Bezos is the perfect example of a visionary thought leader. Since the early years of Amazon, he has confidently shared his opinions on ecommerce, retail, on-demand cloud computing and more, while boldly predicting what to expect in the future. Notably, Bezos is willing to discuss his forecasts and reasoning publicly, and provide context to help others connect the dots. Today, he trailblazes and actively drives the conversation about both traditional and emerging markets such as in-home smart devices, space exploration, drone delivery, news publishing and online music. Here’s a short video and great write up by Fortune’s managing editor and best-selling author Adam Lashinksy on Bezos that spotlights his [visionary leadership]1.

You’re no Jeff Bezos…

The good news is that you don’t have to be Jeff Bezos in order to begin building your personal brand! In fact, you don’t have to be a spectacular success like the founders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Tesla either. Does it help to have a proven track record? Absolutely. But there’s a lot you can do right now, whatever your market position, to start building your personal brand and become recognized, as an industry thought leader.

. . . but you’re already an industry expert

There’s an endless array of talented, proven entrepreneurs and executives with incredible insights into their respective business and industry segments. Because they live in the trenches, such industry players have deep experience and understand of what’s going on in their market better than anybody else. Their viewpoints aren’t being heard, however, because they don’t proactively talk to their market, customers, or stakeholders. We get it and know that you're swamped wearing a bunch of hats, closing big deals, working with customers, overseeing product development growing the company, etc. And while building your personal brand does take time, taking the first steps to get started doesn’t require having to move mountains either. Chances are that your competitors aren’t speaking to the market either. Herein lies a great opportunity for executives to embark on a content marketing strategy to start building their executive brand and sharing their point-of-view (POV) with their key stakeholders.

Find your voice and get started with your content marketing strategy

To begin your journey toward becoming a recognized visionary leader, take a look at what is happening in your industry from multiple perspectives. Ask yourself: what are the key market drivers that are changing or likely to affect the landscape over the next year? What about the next 5, or even 10, years out?
 Next, look at key aspects of your respective market and industry such as:

  • Regulations
  • Shifting customer patterns and preferences
  • Competition
  • Technology advancements
  • Product developments
  • Supply chain
  • Global factors
  • Pricing

Once you’ve identified key market drivers, identify your vision for how things will unfold. It’s critical to discuss how customers will be impacted. Try to come up plausible scenarios and provide more context for your viewpoint even if it might be anecdotal.

  • What are the opportunities?
  • What are the challenges?
  • How is your company addressing or planning to address these?
  • How will the shifting landscape impact the status quo, customers, entrenched competition, etc.?
  • What new technology advancements, regulations, or consumer habits, for example, are likely to emerge? Make sure to provide context around your viewpoint.
  • From a market standpoint, which companies are likely winners and losers of these shifts?
  • Why should customers care? How will these market forces and events impact your customers? Will it improve their lives, save them time and money, or have some other effect? What is keeping them up at night?

    “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Jack Welch

Too often, we hear from executives who float out a single idea that lacks substance. Merely saying, “yes, (fill in the blank) is going to change the world,” isn’t meaningful. A compelling point-of-view must have more meat on the bone in order to gain buy-in from key influencers, stakeholders and a general audience. A visionary thought leader looks at different data points, lends their own insights, inspires others with their POV, and is willing to put a stake in the ground and predict what they see up ahead.

A visionary leader must be willing to go out on a limb and make gutsy calls. While not necessary, it helps if you can back up your perspective by solid data, customer insights, market reports, or other supporting evidence. Just be sure that your efforts to prepare supporting evidence don’t interfere with the timeliness of sharing your perspective. With this in mind, plan ahead and pull any evidence together at the same time that you are putting together your key messages.

And remember, even if you get it wrong, you likely won’t be penalized for it. After all, you’re offering your opinion and no one is ever going to be right all the time. Also keep in mind that the market is especially forgiving of startups and small business owners. The only time when you might be called out on it is if your company is one of the big market gorillas and you’ve been particularly adamant about one of your predictions that goes against the odds and doesn’t come close to unfolding as you proclaimed.

Ways to share your perspective

To start talking to the market involves a solid content marketing strategy and roadmap for delivering your POV with consistency. You’ll want to consider the many options you can pursue to elevate your presence by talking to your stakeholders. This should include any number of the following:

  • Company blog
  • Panels / presentations
  • Social media marketing (Facebook page, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Video content marketing
  • Podcast participation or a regular podcast
  • Enewsletter to enhance inbound marketing
  • PR activity to secure media interviews
  • PR outreach to secure industry analyst interviews

Benefits of executive branding

Over time, there are great benefits to building your personal brand as a visionary leader:

  • The media views you as a knowledgeable go-to-source for insights.
  • You build credibility for both your executive and company brands.
  • You create momentum and build greater awareness of your company.
  • You receive more invitations for media interviews, panels, and presentations.
  • An excellent way for link building so your company gains more in-bound traffic to its website.
  • You successfully capture greater market mindshare.

Note, we mention ‘over time’. It’s important to note that becoming a recognized industry leader does take time and won’t happen overnight. 
 In the words of Jeff Bezos, “attention is the scarce commodity of the late 20th century.” So why not try to capture some of this mindshare for yourself? If you sit on the sidelines, there is always the possibility that your competitors might just step up and seize the opportunity.