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Thought Leadership Marketing for B2B Manufacturers | Joe Sullivan

Thought Leadership Marketing for B2B Manufactures | Joe Sullivan

Creating and analyzing the results of thought leadership for marketing.

 An interview with Joe Sullivan about narrowcasting your thought leadership to create trust.

If one voice can reach a wide audience, what about a hundred voices in unison? Think that would get some attention? You’d be right!

Our guest on today’s episode is Joe Sullivan, the co-founder of Gorilla 76: a firm that specializes in helping mid-sized B2B manufacturers modernize their marketing programs. Joe is also is also the host of The Manufacturing Executive Podcast, celebrating a year’s worth of content helping manufacturing leaders find the right growth strategy for their organizations..

In our conversation, Joe shares how Gorilla 76 helps their clients find the right audience. He discusses having a focus on clients that can be helped efficiently, profitably, and with expertise in their challenges. By developing a deep understanding of the decisions involved in purchasing, manufacturers can create and capitalize on the strongest opportunities for growth.

Amazingly, Joe isn’t the only thought leader at Gorilla 76. Along with his partner, Jon Franko, Gorilla 76 is striking out in a new direction – encouraging and supporting thought leadership created by everyone in the company! Joe details how the skills and experience of many like-minded voices help them create content that proves the company has varied, deep expertise in many subjects – and they’re eager to share that knowledge in order to help others!

Measuring the success of thought leadership in marketing and sales is a difficult task, even with great analytical tools. Joe helps leaders avoid getting caught up in the routine of “counting likes and shares” without stopping to fully understand what the data is saying. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by statistics, and great leaders need to focus on the most important information, and weed out the rest. Thought Leadership is a long game that feeds your sales pipeline, but first, a leader needs to build trust and become established as an expert in their domain.

If you want to add thought leadership to your B2B company, or grow innovation across your entire organization, this episode is full of great advice for you.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Be sure that your thought leadership is tailored to your audience, and addresses their specific challenges and needs.
  • Don’t allow metrics and stats to rule your actions. Thought Leadership that connects with a narrow, but well-researched focus will have a higher return than broadcasting to a wide, but uninterested, audience.
  • Podcasts and blogs are a perfect way to give your thought leadership a voice and build community. Just remember, these methods require focus, time, and commitment. They are not a magic wand to bring short-term sales.

Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.

And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!


Bill Sherman How do you reach an audience so that they feel that you’re in the room talking to them one to one to achieve that goal? You need to master the concept of narrowcasting. And today we’re focusing on narrowcasting and thought leadership. With me is Joe Sullivan. He’s co-founder of Gorilla 76, a firm that specializes in helping mid-sized B2B manufacturers modernize their marketing programs. I’m Bill Sherman, and this is Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Joe.

Joe Sullivan Thanks for having me, Bill.

Bill Sherman Absolutely. So I want to dive in today on the concept of narrowcasting with you, and I know that’s something that you do at your firm and you encourage your clients to really understand whether it’s ideal customer profile or target audience, whatever language you use to know who you’re trying to reach through thought leadership. Can you give me an example of some of what you’re doing at Gorilla 76?

Joe Sullivan Yes, certainly. So, you know, we’re an agency, first of all, and we’ve got our audience and then we help our audience reach their audience and regardless, what we’re really big on is not just not being not try to be everything to everybody, not being a generalist, but really dialing in on, you know, who is who is the best type of customer for you. Where you know, who’s most profitable? Who are you good at serving? Because everybody we talk to, all the men we work with manufacturers, right? And every manufacturer we talk to. You know, they say, Well, you know, there’s 12 different industry verticals we serve and we have big products and small products and these solutions and you know, where we always start is. OK, I understand that and I’m not saying you shouldn’t operationally, you know, not serve any of those given people, but from a marketing perspective and you think about, you know, where, how you’re going to go to market, how you’re going to get in front of people and how you’re going to deliver a message. We’re just big advocates of dialing in on somebody or somebody where there is opportunity for growth and saying, OK, this is the type of organization we’re trying to reach. And then these are the buying process. Influencers are the people inside of those organizations who are going to play a role somewhere in that buying process and deeply understanding what things those people care about and crafting your strategy from that.

Bill Sherman And being willing to let go of almost everything else. I think that’s the important part to go. Yeah, there are a number of other people we could talk to, but we’re not talking to them now. And that takes sort of like discipline, maybe a moment of Zen every now and then. Like, you name the podcast and you’re celebrating your one year anniversary right about now, the manufacturing executive right, which dials in and says, Hey, this isn’t for everybody. If you’re not a manufacturing executive, probably not when you’re listening to.

Joe Sullivan Yeah, that’s exactly right, and that’s a good example, right? The manufacturing executive is named after the person that we are trying to reach CEOs, presidents, VP’s manufacturing organizations and. And I would much rather have 50 people who are fit that description and listen to that show and share it with their peers. Then a thousand people who are, you know, just kind of, you know, other business people or, you know, from other industries or in other roles. And so I really cater that particular show to that person and build the content around that what things that person would care about.

Bill Sherman Well, it’s really easy to get sucked into what I would describe as either vanity metrics or the ones which are most visible, how many downloads that you get, how many likes, how many retweets, all of those things, which can feel like a pat on the back, sort of like when you’re doing marketing and traditional publications reach and that sort of thing, but reaches it could be anybody you’ve got to know, did I reach the people that I’m trying to talk to? And that’s why, for me, narrowcasting is you’re trying to create the impression of you’re in the room talking to someone about the pain points and problems they most care about. And when you try to go to Broad, you reach sort of lowest common denominator and you’re relevant to no one.

Joe Sullivan That’s exactly right. There’s a example, a little sort of a short story I told a few times on LinkedIn recently and in a few different formats, but this had to go back. I don’t know, seven, eight years ago or so we were a younger agency, less experience, much less wisdom and you know, we were hanging our hat on things like traffic and rankings and things like that. And there was a client of ours that was, we’re in St. Louis. They were close by in Alton, Illinois, which is kind of just right outside St. Louis. They’re a scrap metal company, and these guys served a radius of probably 50 miles from the from where they were. And we wrote a blog post for them about the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals. And that post just exploded. Like the traffic at that post drew was. It was kind of crazy. We didn’t really expect that we targeted that keyword and saw there is opportunity. But like, you know, it didn’t matter. That’s the thing, like their audience was within 50 miles of that location.

Bill Sherman Congratulations your top rank in Sweden. Don’t care.

Joe Sullivan Exactly. And the other thing is that the type of buyer persona that they were targeting is not going to be Google searching the difference between Paris, and it’s not as they know what that is. And so we were celebrating this huge SEO, you know, victory and I can guarantee you, you know, we had much less sophisticated marketing attribution back then, but I can almost guarantee you that not a single positive thing came from that particular piece for their business. And so we look back on that and sort of tell that that story as an example of why you need to focus on. If we had really dialed in on who at that company, who are they targeting, what is the role of that particular person they’re targeting, who they need to reach, who is a buying process influencer? What are those people care about? Let’s uncover those things, and let’s craft our marketing strategy, whether it needs content or something else to speak to them. And if 10 good buyers show up, it will pay for their marketing initiative many times over, rather than reaching 10000 people through a blog post. That doesn’t really mean anything to the people that they actually do business with.

Bill Sherman Well, and I think there’s not only that trap within marketing itself of you’re looking for some sort of metric or when you’ve made a marketing spend being able to justify it and say, Hey, look, we had these many views or impressions or whatever, and that becomes a trap. You’ve done a lot of work on exploring what thought leadership means in the manufacturing space. And one of the things that I’ve enjoyed, and I know that I’m not a target audience for the podcast or for who you’re trying to reach on social is you’ve dialed in so well on those ideal customers. One of the things I remember is a conversation about thought leadership can be something like a cad file. You want to tell that story because I think it’s absolutely fascinating and it shows how you’ve got to understand your world very carefully.

Joe Sullivan Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good example, actually. So that whole idea of a CAD file, which is essentially a downloadable file that would be used for an engineered part of something someone’s building. This whole idea of a CAD file as a piece of of thought leadership content or, you know, content in general for use for marketing purposes. You know, the first person who sort of brought that idea to my attention. There are two, actually. One was Nick Goldner from a company called Amy, that manufacturer based in Rockford, Illinois. And he’s one of the hosts of Making Chips, which is a really popular podcast in the manufacturing world. And then the other one was Adam Beck from a company called Cadenas PARTsolutions, who actually makes a CAD software that a manufacturer can tack onto their website and its ads. All this content to their site. But the idea here is, you know, a piece of content that got people who are listening here and thinking about content. You probably in general, you’re your head goes to log content, video podcast content like this, maybe webinars, you know, things that are a little more common. While all these guys knowing their audience really well, what they realize is that people need, they need these downloadable files that can help them, you know, plan a part for a piece of machinery that they’re building or selling to a customer. Having that stuff readily available on their website for download by their audience could probably be the most, you know, the most value they could create for them as those people sort of, you know, try to figure out what it is that they need to buy. And so I had sort of an eye opener to me. I said, OK, well, that’s really interesting because that’s an example of somebody really understanding their audience and really understanding what they care about. A written blog post for that particular audience wouldn’t be nearly as valuable as the bill, as that person to be able to hop on and look at a physical model of a part and download it and be able to play with it and apply it to their design. So it’s all about creating understanding that understanding what your customer cares about and creating value for them during their buying process.

Bill Sherman So. That ability to think broadly and to experiment to begin with, but to keep coming back to your audience and say almost with a passion. What is it that will help them be more successful at the problems that they’re trying to solve, rather than the ideas that I love and I’m excited to talk about, right? So how do you? And this is a place I know within organizations, many of my listeners are trying to convince other parts of the organization. The thought leadership works that thought leadership could be used to fill the sales pipeline to influence how people think and act to deepen relationships. They know it, but they’re trying to convince others you’re working within the B2B manufacturing space. What advice are you giving your clients to get that buy in from the rest of the organization? How are you getting the organization to make the most of narrowcasting there?

Joe Sullivan Well, I think you have to just sort of reframe your mindset and stop thinking about the fact that this is for marketing purposes for a second, because I think for a lot of traditional organizations, which is largely what you’re dealing with in the manufacturing sector, they’re their perspective of what marketing is, is, you know, marketing is there to make the trade show booth and to create brochures and to provide materials that can support sales and maybe do a little pay per click, make the website look pretty, et cetera, et cetera. It’s very tactical, you know, executional stuff that’s looked at as an expense rather than a piece of the revenue engine for the company. And so I think that if you could just sort of take this idea of thought leadership out of the context of marketing for a second and just say, I mean, look at sales, right? Just about any organization that is out there selling like some of the most successful salespeople in those organizations are the ones who can ask the right questions of prospects and customers they can look at. They can look at the things that those people are saying, the problems that they’re having, the questions are asking and they can do pattern matching with know situations they’ve seen in the past and other customers. So it becomes a very consultative sales process inside a lot of these organizations. But yet on the marketing front, it’s all tactical and like me, me, me and about us. But they need these organizations to take the same approach they do inside of sales. Where you are consulting, you’re creating value, you’re trying to deeply understand what the prospect or customer cares about, and then you’re going to be a resource to them during that buying process. Marketing and thought leadership inside of marketing is should be the exact same thing, but it should be on the front end of that. It should be the thing that is earning you attention and trust so that you can then have that sales conversation where that ability to continue to position yourself as a deep expert and thought leader will continue.

Bill Sherman Well, and it’s giving without hesitation before you’re asking for anything in return. Right? And it requires discipline to do that because the first time that you put whether a podcast episode or a post or something out there into the world or cad file, right? People aren’t going to notice. It’s the repetition and the commitment to doing it. If you are enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about the podcast, please leave a five-star review and share it with your friends. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major platforms, as well as at Leveraging Thought Leadership dot com.

Bill Sherman So I want to talk to you about your journey with girls. 76. Not only your personal journey, but I’ve noticed you’ve been pulling in more of your team into the messaging. Talk about that journey from Hey, let’s try using thought leadership to now let’s involve more.

Joe Sullivan Yeah, that’s a really good question. So, you know, I love writing, I love creating content. There was an hour. If you go back to our blog, I think I think you’ll find posts that are horrendously written, I should say. But 10 years old in there, right? Right, right? Yeah. But there’s.

Bill Sherman And the internet never forgets.

Joe Sullivan Of course, of course. And so the. But the point is like, I’ve been creating content and pretty consistently it’s gone in waves over the years, the last few years, especially very consistently. I think in 2018 or 2019, where those two years I wrote over 50000 words of. The unique content. It was a big part of just my daily job and at the company. And then we start kind of what happens then is people start to see me as the company or my business partner, John, as the company. And here we are today, a 21 person company where frankly, every person we have hired along the way is better than me and John at something. And that’s why we hired the goal, right? Exactly right. And so for I mean, I think the owners of the business should absolutely be the face of the company in a lot of ways, and they should be out there and creating confidence that the people running this organization know what the heck they’re talking about and they are experts. But the deep expertise in very specific strategic and tactical things like, for example, demand generation and running paid campaigns, you know, being a true journalist and understanding how to interview people and take insights out of the brains of engineers and turn it into written content, you know, design development. Like all these special niches that are a part of our business, there are people in my organization who are much better at all of those things than I am. And so what we’re trying to do at this point is to say, OK, you know, not the not that we’ve that’s enough content from Joe and John as the leaders in the company. We’re going to keep doing it, but we need to go inside of the minds and frankly dig into the experience and expertise of different people with different skills that all matter to our customers and be able to pull that stuff out and put them out there online and let their expertise shine through as well. Because now what we’re doing is we are demonstrating that this company’s this is a well-rounded company with a lot of super smart people, which is what we are. And frankly, what a lot of you listening, what your companies are probably like, but nobody gets to see that unless you figure out how to, you know, how to, first of all, sort of harness all that and then be able to turn it into something that you can publish and sort of share with your audience.

Bill Sherman And that’s the curation function of thought leadership where you look and you say where their good ideas within the organization that we can elevate them, shine the spotlight on them both the person who’s got the idea and the idea itself. And as you said, the more you do that, the more well-rounded the organization becomes because I think a lot of organizations default to the usual suspects. We’ll put this one idea or this person on stage. And then you become one note, right? You want to show that to that person that you’re trying to reach. You have more than just one thing to say.

Joe Sullivan Yep, I agree. Well said.

Bill Sherman I want to talk to you a little bit about conversations with your clients. OK? And drawing them into the world of thought leadership and getting them to think in a new way. First off, do you call it thought leadership with them?

Joe Sullivan We do use that term. I know you’ve built your company around the words, yes, leadership, which is great. I love that, that you just kind of owning.

Bill Sherman But I could see pushback from manufacturing firms going on. We don’t do thought leadership. We make widgets, right? Sure. So do you encounter that?

Joe Sullivan I think I did encounter it much more 5+ years ago than I do now. I think there’s been more acceptance of just the notion that we need to put our experts out there in the world and let people see their expertise. You know, I remember writing a blog post a few years ago that was something like, you know, but I’m afraid my competitors will see it, and I used to hear that one all the time. I don’t hear that. I don’t really hear that much anymore, which is a sign to me that it’s being accepted, that you’re going to have to give away some of your thinking to in order to earn trust and attention, especially in the, you know, the digital world these days. But I think that I’ve seen the manufacturing sector start to come around on it. I, you know, I see them like with our clients where, you know, not it’s not just the leaders of the companies who might be willing to come on a podcast like the manufacturing executive. But we’re, you know, we’re helping our clients figure out how do we put two experts on stage in a webinar where instead of going through a slide deck where we have two experts up there on camera, talking to each other, debating a topic, and maybe we’re helping facilitate that, or we’re putting a professional videographer on site and we’re preparing ahead of time and we’re doing a panel discussion or even a one on one interview. This stuff is becoming more it’s becoming easier to do and to convince people to do it. I think the last year and a half, you know, we’re recording this in in July of 2021. In the last year or a year and a half have also, I think, just broken down some technology barriers for people who have been maybe less receptive to getting in front of a camera. So I think that’s helped the cause as well.

Bill Sherman Fantastic. So as we begin to wrap up. How were you measuring success for thought leadership and how were you encouraging your clients to think about success both in the short term and the long term? Because obviously ringing up sales for them is important. But how do you guide them along that way? Because the first post probably doesn’t lead to that sale, right?

Joe Sullivan Yeah, that’s exactly right. And so that’s a tough conversation to have in a lot of cases because we’ve gone through these different stages in the world of digital marketing, especially, I think where, you know, 15 years ago or so is about one. Google Analytics came out prior to that that you didn’t have the ability to measure anything. I’ve mentioned this on a few podcasts and things recently, but like, you know, I graduated college undergrad in 2005, and it was that fall and Google Analytics came out. So I kind of came up with this ability to measure marketing in my career. But prior to that, it was very difficult to measure. And so, you know, there was a lot of just, you know, there is there’s a lot of brand marketing and things. And then over the course of the five to 10 years that followed as you know, analytics became more a piece of marketing and there was more of an expectation that, OK, if we do things, we need to see an ROI on that thing. Then, we moved into this era of the last five years or so where people have just become so obsessive about measurement that they’re trying to measure everything, anything and everything to the point where bad decisions are being made on the marketing front because people are saying, Well, if I can’t se ROI from this thing, I’m going to do for the next three months, I need to stop doing it. And yes, that’s true with certain things, or maybe partially true. But the problem is when you’re doing something like thought leadership where you are and as it applies to marketing, I should say where you are leaning into the expertise of your team, you’re crafting content that may be written that may be, you know, maybe blog content or maybe podcast content. But these are long term players. That’s just the reality. And if you know if what you need is sales right now or to hit a certain number by the end of this quarter. Good luck. Don’t go start a podcast and expect that to solve your problem. Don’t start writing blog posts and, you know, assume that the search engines are going to reward you a month later with a bucket of leads every day. It doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t. And there’s a misperception out there because of all the tools available that let us measure things. So, you know, we are big advocates that gorilla of on the marketing front, you’re kind of if you had to simplify it, you’re doing two things here. You are trying to capture existing demand that’s out there, people who need something right now and they are in buying mode and the search engines are a great place to do that and pay per click and SEO, which is a long game, but you got to start somewhere. But there is. There is a way to go out and capture existing demand, and then there is a way to build demand and to establish yourself as an authority and to because here’s the here’s the reality probably 95 percent of your audience is not buying right now, at least for most people listening.

Bill Sherman And if you’re trying to chase 100 people to see which five are buying, you’re wasting 95 percent of your time.

Joe Sullivan Totally. And not only that, you’re burning out people with sales messaging that aren’t ready to hear from you and don’t want to hear from you. And so the answer to all of this, in my opinion, is you do the things you can to capture existing demand. You want people to find you when they’re physically looking for something right now. But with the rest of your total addressable market, that is not in buying mode, but likely will be in one month or one year or three years, your job right now is to is to understand what those people care about. To address the issues and pains and goals and buying triggers for them through thought leadership. Make amazing content that addresses that stuff. Figure out what distribution channels, whether that means email, whether it means SEO, whether it means paid social, whether it means YouTube and pre-roll ads that you can run there. I mean, there are a ton of ways to distribute content, and it can be different based on where your where your audience consumes information. But your job is to make amazing things that speak to the things they care about and get it in front of them with consistency so that when they do enter buying mode, you are the first person they think of they have. There is some level of trust built already because they’ve seen you publishing things time and time again that are relevant to them and demonstrate that you’re an expert in those things. And then you’re then you’re not having to hunt. You know, it’s but it takes time. It is is not something that happens overnight, and that’s the toughest part of this for people to wrap their heads around.

Bill Sherman So there’s a million things that you and I could continue to talk about, but I think we’re going to have to leave it here. Joe, if someone wants to get in touch with you, how should they do that?

Joe Sullivan Yeah, find me on LinkedIn. I’m one of 50 thousand Joe Sullivan’s that you’ll find out about May 10. But no, you can find me there. Joe Sullivan, Gorilla, 76, is my company. So connect with me there. is the website for my business. The learning center there is well catered at the manufacturing sector specifically. I think if you are a business-to-business company selling complex solutions and deal with committees of buyers, I think a lot of what we publish there’s is relevant. So I would direct there.

Bill Sherman They’re fantastic. Thank you, Jeff.

Joe Sullivan Thanks for having me, Bill.

Bill Sherman  If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL Newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website and choose Join our newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.

Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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