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Bridging the Gap between Subject Matter Expert and Non-Technical Audience | Amelia Ross

Bridging the Gap between Subject Matter Expert and Non-Technical Audience | Amelia Ross | 411

Creating highly technical content that your audience can understand.

An interview with Amelia Ross about creating content for various education levels in a timely manner.

Your org’s thought leadership illuminates a highly technical field. So how do you make it accessible to a broad audience?
In technical fields like A.I., it can be hard to clearly communicate your organizational insights in a manner that your audience can grasp.

In order to make technical insights accessible, you have to get out of your bubble and into the mindset of your audience!

Our guest today is Amelia Ross, Director of Content Strategy at Primer AI, a company dedicated to helping organizations make the best use of their investment in data. They do this by using best-in-class machine learning and natural language processing technologies, to help their customers scale and optimize intelligence workflows.

We discuss how an organizational thought leader determines the right target audience for their insights. Ameila tells us that it isn’t just about reaching the economic buyer, but also spreading your content to the influencers that surround such a buyer. It’s important to create content that shows  your company as empathetic, leading edge, and knowledgeable — and to take an informed stand on emerging technology, trends, and social issues.

The modern world is moving fast, and thought leadership must be timely and relevant in order to have impact. Ameila shares how timely events shaped the course of Primer AI’s thought leadership. The Russian invasion of Ukraine sparked Primer AI to use their product, Command, to create content that illuminated events in real time. That thought leadership gave decision-makers under time constraints a complete and accurate view of the information faster than ever before.

In addition to reaching your audience in a timely manner, you also have to ensure that your content is presented in a way your clients will easily understand. Amelia explains the need for educational content in thought leadership, and the challenges of creating content at various levels in order to connect with everyone — from the average audience member to industry experts.

This conversation is an enlightening look at creating thought leadership that illuminates complex ideas, and doing it in a way that connects with a broad audience.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • When creating Thought Leadership content for complex topics, consider other influences that might support your insights with your economic buyer.
  • Thought Leadership that connects to trends and social issues needs an immediacy that keeps pace with the news cycle.
  • Don’t assume your audience understands the jargon, terms, and acronyms of your thought leadership. Create content that reaches and enlightens consumers at all levels.

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 or reach out to Bill Sherman on Linkedin!


Listen to our Leveraging Thought Leadership podcast!


Bill Sherman Thought leadership often faces a difficult challenge, translating complex technical ideas that are communicated by deep subject matter expertise and sending them out to an audience that doesn’t have the same level of expertise. One area where this happens is in the world of AI and machine learning. And so today I’m sitting down with Amelia Ross to talk about how to create that bridge between subject matter expertise and a non-technical audience. Amelia is director of content strategy at Primer AI. She has 15 plus years of experience conceptualizing and curating content that engages and inspires audiences. She’s highly experienced with thought, leadership and highly technical topics, and her journalism earned multiple awards from Peabody and Desi and amicable. Today, she’s here to share her knowledge with us.

Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin.

Bill Sherman So, Amelia, many people, when they think about reaching an audience, they often focus on the buyer. Right. How do we get this information to a buyer? So it influences a purchasing decision, which I wouldn’t discount, but the ecosystem, I would say, and potential audiences for thought leadership is larger than just the decision. How do you think about expanding population?

Amelia Ross Thought leadership does target the economic buyer, but there are many internal influences on the economic buyer, particularly when you’re taking a look at an enterprise purchase of software. You need to create an environment where your company is seen as leading edge, and some of that is done often by having really thoughtful pieces created and distributed through various channels where your company takes or my company takes a position on perhaps controversial issues on emerging technology. I’m seeing trends and even social issues. And this is where a thought leadership can create a venue for a buyer, a method of creating this type of communication. So when you’re looking at expanding the audience for thought leadership, it’s very important to first know who your cohort is, who your ideal customer is, and then go from there both internally to their organization and where these people might go to obtain information.

Bill Sherman And I want to build on that in the sense that you talk about a little bit of being controversial and creating a conversation around something that may not be on people’s radar. And so one of the things that I know with your organization recently has captured attention as we’re recording here in May of 2022 with the war in Ukraine. Can you use that a little bit as an example of how that attracted attention and got people thinking about A.I. in a new way?

Amelia Ross Right. My company primarily does artificial intelligence and natural language processing. And what natural language processing is essentially taking unstructured data and being able to run A.I. models against it. And so what is unstructured data? Unstructured data can be anything that’s written, anything that’s a video, etc.. So you could imagine that in really rapidly evolving events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, so much information is coming in in non written form. So what we did in our terms of our thought leadership is we took some of our products, one product in particular called command and we basically fed it information about what was going on in real time in the Ukraine. And we then created thought leadership content around that. So why is real time situational awareness so key for not only government organizations who are involved, but for corporations who might have employees or facilities in areas of risk? It turned out to be really a good way for us to engage a much broader audience beyond who I would say our initial cohort is, and to have fact reporters, many reporters coming in and asking to find out information through our services about what was really happening all too quickly.

Bill Sherman And that ability to process real time but unwritten information and to make sense of it. I think what you talk about as you’re reaching different audiences in some ways, you gave a concrete example of something that is now possible that many people wouldn’t have thought possible. Is that correct?

Amelia Ross Yes, I would think people who are in government agencies would know this is possible. And I think people in the sort of on the cutting edge of natural language processing would know this is possible. But many people, sort of everyday citizens, would not know the extent to which this is possible and to the extent to which this is possible in a way that creates safety for citizens and safety for employees. So I think this was a very good thing for us to communicate broadly. It helps communicate the possibilities of NLP or natural language processing in a way that is maybe less fearful about, you know. And, you know, it’s also very engaging because one of the things that I think we all face as consumers of information is the amount of disinformation that’s in the world. And we really use some of our technologies to surface what the what could possibly be disinformation. So I think we touched upon a number of themes that many people in the world are considering when they take a look at artificial intelligence and with the state of the world today.

Bill Sherman And with that, as you said, those in government, those working in a natural language processing, they’re more familiar and more comfortable with this. But if you’re leading an organization, if you’re running a business saying, how will this impact me? And what we’ve been doing, let alone if you are a citizen in a society? How does information flow? That touches on some very broad themes that go beyond and comes back to that question of going beyond the economic buyer to influencing conversations within society.

Amelia Ross Yes. Yes. I think you’ll see time and you’ll see other vendors talking about the democratization of artificial intelligence, where it really is something that can be pervasive in society for societal good.

Bill Sherman Let’s talk about thought leadership in real time because I think one of the things or near-real-time. The example that you provided and the ability to put out an example of false leadership soon after the war in Ukraine started becomes significant because thought leadership can’t just be go write a white paper and publish it next year. Let’s talk about immediacy.

Amelia Ross I think immediacy is really important. Generally, I think it’s important for marketers to prove their value internally. And I also think that this sort of the length of time to create a white paper and get it into the up into the broad marketplace and prove the effectiveness of thought, leadership is sometimes very difficult where you can make a difference, where you as a practitioner of thought leadership is where you can make a difference is to sort of ride a wave of social concern and social awareness and positioning a company sort of like a suffering this way. So what we were able to do was to use a lot of our technology to show what we can do in a real time event like the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. And since it isn’t a point in time where live where the invasion happened and now it’s over, it’s not. It’s continuing. So we have a continuing entry into providing more and more effective information, showing people like, hey, you can take it. You can drill down. You can see what tweets, for example, were from bots and what what video images may have been altered, for example. So people who are needing to make critical decisions under perhaps very time sensitive pressure when they have more complete information, but they have a confidence in the accuracy of information, i.e. identifying what could be disinformation or misinformation. Then I think you can see the power of MLP generally, and as I said before, what NLP does is pretty amazing. It’s, it’s, it’s like the ability to read and write, like a human ability to read and write. So you see a video, you ingest a tweet, you take a look, you have satellite imagery. I mean, all these things can be so revealing to a decision maker and the audience for that is broader than just the decision maker. The decision maker often is not, in fact, the economic buyer. And the decision the decision maker in these time critical situations uses the tool and may influence the purchase of the tool or the technology. But even when we are targeting content strategy to an economic buyer, we’re going beyond the actual hands on keyboard user.

Bill Sherman If it wasn’t a white paper, right? From a timeliness perspective, what modalities and what ways did you use to get this sort of thinking out there to spark ideas?

Amelia Ross First of all, we use our technology to develop a monitor. And then I mean, we had it, but we used it so that we could all access it internally and pull what we call cigarets, which were situational reports of what’s going on. Well, now we did a combination of a social media campaign, a series of blog posts, and we supported our internal PR function with giving enough information to them so that they could pitch media on what we were doing with information, misinformation regarding Ukraine.

Bill Sherman Which leads to shortening the cycle between the insight and your ability to get it out into the world. Moving more towards a real time form of thought leadership, whether it’s for pitching to media or putting it out in a post, and that to be able to stay in tune with a fast moving news cycle or even be a step ahead of the news cycle.

Amelia Ross Yes, it’s really critical to have fast turnaround time. And anyone who has created content a in a corporation knows that sometimes that’s difficult to do for a lot of reasons. So having senior management support of these short turnaround times and abbreviated approval processes helps tremendously. But also just knowing that, you know, and communicating that within your firm, that this can really make a difference in how the company is perceived broadly. And getting some enthusiasm behind it helps quite a bit.

Bill Sherman So you mentioned senior leadership and sort of streamlining the approval process. But I think one of the other things that’s important there is the pieces which go out underneath sort of the organizational banner and voice versus that of the leader or the executive. And so how do you balance those in a way that it makes it effective?

Amelia Ross That’s a very interesting point, because there is a real difference between thought leadership for that, for an executive or a CEO and thought leadership for a brand, a thought leadership for a brand. In my opinion and my experience can have a more of a steady cadence. Then the thought leadership for an executive. I thought leadership for an executive can be more controversial, more opinionated, and I wouldn’t say it can be more engaging. They both can be very, very engaging in sort of doing something real time. If you have created the structure to do thought leadership on a quick turnaround, it can be quicker to put out brand thought leadership than executive leadership. Because once again, going back to approval processes and getting on the agenda of the CEO, given everything else that is going on, on his or her personal calendar, it can be difficult. What we try to do is we try to get ahead of that way. And now that we know our products, our product roadmap, what we can do, and then stewardship choices like that, we’ve sort of created a template. It’s actually a more complete content strategy, but a big aspect of this content strategy is executive thought leadership. So we get the buy in before the event, before we create the piece, and using that, we can then create the role of thought leadership, which does take longer to produce, particularly if you want high quality. And generally, despite the short turnaround of some of our thought leadership about specific events, we do aim for quality over quantity.

Bill Sherman And it sounds like and I want to see if I understand this correctly. You’re using the executive fellowship. Moore has planned tentpole pieces within an editorial calendar and then using the corporate voice for thought leadership for that immediacy. Is that is that a fair summation?

Amelia Ross Yes, I would say that we pick and choose when we create executive thought leadership. One is because we don’t want it to be that common. You know, when our CEO says something, we wanted to own part through awareness and we also want to create a sense of authority in his voice. And some of that is just being very mindful of how we use.

Bill Sherman 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 let’s come to that comment on controversial whether it’s stirring the pot or kicking the hornet’s nest or whichever metaphor we use on controversy. How do you sprinkle in a little bit of controversy into that executive thought leadership that aligns with their position and their voice, but also the product roadmap and strategy? How do you sort of marry. Well, not thread that needle for us.

Amelia Ross It’s almost it’s already written on the wall, which is sort of interesting because part of what we want to do is democratize AI and with our executive thought leadership. We leverage the threats to democracy, that misinformation and disinformation. You know, quite frankly. So that can be, as you can imagine, controversial in certain circumstances. And having a C, o say that X, Y, Z is a threat to democracy is a very powerful statement.

Bill Sherman One of the things that I think is interesting, both thematically and the time that we’re in, is that we’ve seen organizations speak about misinformation or disinformation within their area of expertise. So I think in parallel to some of what you’re talking about, freedom does an annual state of science index. And they look at how people around the world understand science and value science because they did an initial survey several years ago which said that while they asked if science went away and scientists went away, how would your life change? And a surprising percentage of people said, Not at all. And for three M, that was a clarion call. So I’ve heard you talk about misinformation and disinformation in this conversation in a way that I think if we were talking five, ten years ago, it wouldn’t be on the table. Sure.

Amelia Ross Yeah, I think, one, there was more trust. Two. It was less Malthusian.

Bill Sherman There’s also more fragmentation of information and that sort of critical thinking that’s required to say, is this coming from a source that I can trust? Are they reliable? Is this information accurate? Is this perspective one that I can embrace, or how much critical thinking do I have to put these pieces of information become significant?

Amelia Ross Yes. I do think there’s a whole fragmentation of information. I think many people are in echo chambers. I think we use technology to craft what news, what information is going true, under what circumstances. And I feel like journalistic standards have deteriorated well to the loss of the copy editor, for example.

Bill Sherman So let’s talk about. Echo chambers. Right. And how does thought leadership break through an echo chamber, whether you’re trying to reach the economic buyer or you’re trying to reach an influencer or you’re trying to reach someone within a larger ecosystem.

Amelia Ross That’s a very, very interesting question. First of all, you have to know where your economic fire and the influence up to the purchase decision. Go for information. And we do some market research on AI in some of the research we’ve recently received. I was somewhat surprised to see some news media. Had greater credibility than other news media, which wouldn’t have been what I would have suspected of this cohort. I mean, the idea being that you can somehow place your thought leadership in the media or in the channels or the watering holes or these people go because you’re not going to really have the next shiny object that they’re going to come out of their echo chamber and find you’re just not. Unless something extraordinary happens in the world and you are like a sole provider of a solution, which I hope doesn’t happen. So you need to you need to be where they are now, how to engage in that. You know, I personally don’t recommend getting involved in a tremendous amount of social media conversations directly. I believe in placing content and monitoring people’s responses on the content of content. So that’s how I recommend doing it. The content has to. Has to be quality has to in some way address a problem with a possible solution for these people, for them even to take a look at it. And some of it is I mean, in terms of the total strategy, it’s not just organic, it’s also paid. Where can we place the content that somebody will see? This actually breaks with the echo chamber and certain market segments that we sell into. Personal reference and word of mouth is very important. So in terms of content placement or getting through to an individual, it can be something as simple as having a sales rep email them some. It could be as simple as participating in a very small event where you can be face to face with these people. It could be offering up a webinar on some technical problem that they need to solve or a decision they need to make, or regulations they need to understand and its implications, this particular aspect of technology and bring them to you where you can turn around and give them value and then hopefully create that sense of trust or curiosity where they will be more open to thought leadership content, shall we say.

Bill Sherman I think that’s one of the most powerful and effective ways. Actually, it has to be deployed carefully. You can’t do it broadly because of limited resources. But that hand delivery of bold leadership, right, whether it’s through a sales representative or, as you said, sitting down over an event at a cocktail reception or at a dinner together and talking about an idea, whether it’s someone from the organization or invited third party guests often sparks a conversation with deeper relevance than you can, certainly with the Super Bowl ad or an advertisement, you know, in an airport. Right. It’s tailored to the individual and feels more relevant to them rather than part of the noise.

Amelia Ross Yes. And we also produce thought leadership content as leave behinds. So there could be a meeting and. So here’s some more information about this topic at your leisure.

Bill Sherman And to be able to break through the bubble, I think one of the other things you have to do is either appreciate what’s on their radar today and find a way to connect this idea to what’s on their radar now or find a way to get them to think a little bit further into the future. If your topic is three years out, five years out, seven years out, whatever, that radar is for thought leadership. Most of us are just going, what’s on this week’s agenda that I have to get done? Is it on fire this week?

Amelia Ross Yeah. One of our most successful pieces was for our CEO, and it was five trends and I’ll pay for this coming year. So, yes, forward thinking, forward looking pieces from a perceived industry expert are very valuable.

Bill Sherman As long as you can pull it back and someone says, okay, I need to take a look at this because I don’t want to get caught unawares.

Amelia Ross Right. And that piece of content presupposes that somebody knows what an LP is already, right? A whole bunch of people who have no idea who we are attempting to sell to actually have no idea what an LP is. So that’s step two, shall we say.

Bill Sherman You almost have two latter thought leadership in a way, being respectful because you may be talking to an economic buyer who may be self-conscious and not want to ask the question, What is an LP or what is it that you’re talking about? You seem to think this is important. I don’t know what it is. And so if you think about it and sort of like college curriculum, there’s the 101 course. There’s a 200. There’s the graduate level. And if you hand someone a graduate level of thought leadership, they’re going to look at it, roll their eyes and go, Yeah, maybe this is smart, but I’m going to walk away.

Amelia Ross Well, there is a real need for educational content and thought leadership. And it depends on what market segment you’re targeting, but particularly with technology and new and emerging technology, rapidly changing technology, it’s key that you provide educational content that really talks to the reader not in any way assuming that they don’t know enough about it. So that’s part of the that’s part of the platform of content we have. We also. Have believe in my technical content for somebody who is not necessarily technical but is very much interested in the technology. And that’s a way in to understanding what natural language processing can do. So there’s basic thought leadership, educational content for economic by buyer who is absolutely not technical. And when there’s some technical educational content who is not for the experienced data scientist, it’s for the newbie data scientist, or so the person who’s sort of grown into a role of data scientist, which is happening more and more.

Bill Sherman And then also for them to be able to make their case to senior leadership. And I think that that is the equivalent of financials for non-financial managers. Right. So how do you explain this to someone who said, yeah, that wasn’t my lane in school. It’s not been my profession 20 years. And now you’re telling me this is a thing I need to think about, right?

Amelia Ross I just downloaded this morning an e-book to see what it was all about. It’s like the 20 KPI’s that any business I.T. startup should have. And it was basic explainer, things like earn rate. And I’m like, Oh, yeah, this, you know, this type of content is very, very valuable. You can read it at your leisure. You don’t have to be embarrassed by any questions you ask. Yeah, it’s key. It’s absolutely key. I mean, before I started a primer, I had no idea what a named entity recognition model was. And now I do.

Bill Sherman And I think one of the things that becomes easy for us to forget is we learn these things quickly. We get inside the bubble, we use the jargon, and we’re inside our own ecosystem. And then we forget that the jargon that we use is not well, how the rest of the world speaks.

Amelia Ross Oh, absolutely. And that becomes very apparent when you’re talking to different audiences, when you’re creating content for a government organization. There is a whole lexicon of stuff that means something in government where you and I reading it, not having any experience would be like, This makes no sense. And why are there so many and, you know, abbreviations that are just like an alphabet soup? But each of them, each and every one of them makes sense to the reader. So, yes. And then how do you, as an internal, say, content strategist or content creator, content marketer or CMO even, how do you get outside of your bubble? And that’s difficult in this pandemic era, to be honest with you. So it’s, you know, maintaining a pure network who I’m assuming I’m not in a specialist in the same industry vertical as you are. I cannot wait to face to face events happen again to actually see somebody and just ask a crazy question without being on video and reading broadly. You know, looking at the news feeds, looking at the PR feeds, seeing what resonates with different people.

Bill Sherman Well, and I would say making sure that your reading diet extends beyond your own bubble into the world of your audiences. Read what they read as well as then read voraciously outside. And I know we all talk about limited time. But if you cannot. Understand the language that your audience is using. It’s almost certain you won’t reach them.

Amelia Ross Or it’s guaranteed you won’t reach them. Guaranteed. As much as I hate writing with buzzwords, that’s what matters. You know, it’s. And the definition of terms definitely matters. What I try to do personally is I try to. I guess maybe from my own background, I try to read the news from a European country, not in English, read the news from a European country in English, and read the US news, as well as trying to understand where my audience goes for information. Which is why I was when we spoke earlier, I was surprised that there was greater credibility in this one news outlet that I would have never guessed.

Bill Sherman So you mentioned journalism. How did you get into the world of fellowship?

Amelia Ross Let’s see. Well, I was a journalist at CNN and I was hired by IBM, and I was given. Those told go create thought leadership about cloud. That’s simple. So that’s what it was like. Oh, okay. So then we created something called Steps to Cloud Expertise, which was the whole series of videos all about back then. And this was a while ago. A lot of CIOs and CTOs were actually threatened by cloud because it could mean reduction in staff, it could mean a whole bunch of things for them. And it’s also new technology and what happens to my mainframe. And in that process, I learned quite a bit about cloud and therefore the value of thought leadership. So it was from an assignment and then we just saw how effective it was and in whatever role that I was in subsequent, I always recommended that we create thought leadership content because we would target that to a maybe a C-suite or somebody higher in the organization. As we were creating content for the actual people who were making the purchase decision or kicking the tires on the technology or researching use cases.

Bill Sherman You mentioned a couple of things there that I want to underscore, that information for the buyer and then supporting with something to a senior leader to explain the why, because they may not be getting into the weeds at the same level that the person or the committee making the purchasing decision. But they need to know, okay, if we’re allocating budget, where does this take us and give me that primer? Mm hmm. Well, yes, so that I understand and I can explain to the board if I get asked.

Amelia Ross Absolutely. Absolutely. You want to give anybody, the C-suite level the ability to present to the board with confidence?

Bill Sherman Exactly. And then you talk about the importance of having good definitions. So I want to turn to you and say, how do you define self leadership?

Amelia Ross This is interesting. Thought leadership, in my opinion and experience. It’s content that resonates with an audience in such a way that you leave them curious to learn more.

Bill Sherman I like that that’s clean and simple, but there’s a lot of nuance and we could dig into that definition of what learning more means. Wait a while. One last question, if I would. Which is you’ve been in thought leadership with a number of works from very large to startup. Yes. What advice would you give someone who like you? Because more and more people are being asked to be responsible for thought leadership, either on a project level or on an organization level. What do you wish that you knew when you started out on that first project? And what advice would you give your younger self?

Amelia Ross First of all, I would say this is not going to be a one off request. It’s not a one. And done, honey. You know, try and make it fun. Try to really uncover a nugget that your company or your executive has that really is differentiated and is intriguing, something that you personally are very interested in. And then you can create good content in that.

Bill Sherman I think there’s great wisdom in that because if you’re not having fun and developing the leadership and putting the idea out there, your audience will never be more interested in you. Mm hmm. That’s true.

Amelia Ross That is really true. The level of interest you have in a topic is absolutely displayed in the content you create. It’s like your thumbprint or your signature.

Bill Sherman So, Amelia, I want to thank you for joining us today with this conversation. It’s been delightful.

Amelia Ross This lovely chatting with you. Thank you so much for inviting me.

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.