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Reaching Scale in Thought Leadership | Bill Sherman

Reaching Scale in Thought Leadership | Bill Sherman | 432

Broadcasting Narrowcasting and Pointcasting

Our host, Bill Sherman, discusses reaching scale and the various methods you can use to increase your share of the market.

When most hear the word scale they’ll think of a kitchen or bathroom scale – a tool for measuring.
When it comes to thought leadership, what does “reaching scale” mean? How can you measure it, and how can you achieve it?

In this special episode, I’m are going to invite a few unusual guests: frameworks and models.
These models define scale, measure methods of distributing content, and find ways to assess impact.

When attempting to measure and reach scale, thought leaders often look to social media metrics such as followers, engagement, and likes. But, what’s the value of a “like” toward measuring thought leadership? Instead of getting wrapped up in superficial metrics, thought leadership practitioners need to understand that scale happens when people encounter an idea and choose to act on it – because thought leadership,at its very core, needs to be an idea in action.

Thought leadership isn’t about building the largest audience it is about building the right audience. Bill discusses the differences between Total Addressable Market (TAM), and Share of Market (SOM), the market percentage that you are currently reaching. Understanding these two numbers gives a clearer picture of the influence of your thought leadership.

Further, he shares insights about Broadcasting, Narrowcasting, and Point-Casting. Broadcasting is scattering your ideas on the wind and hoping they reach the right market,. Narrowcasting means focussing on the people who need your ideas the most, while point-casting means packaging your idea in particular terms for a VIP within your TAM.

If you’ve been struggling to reach scale, you might need to better understand how to reach your best audience.
Don’t default to broadcasting. Take the insights in this episode, and start increasing your SOM!

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Thought leadership needs to be an idea in action. Without action, movement, and interaction with an audience, thought leadership can’t spread and thrive.
  • Organizational thought leadership isn’t about building the largest possible audience. It’s about building the right audience.
  • If you can get your idea to the VIPs in your TAM, and convince them to take action, you’ve gained a link to the best audiences your thought leadership could attain.

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 What is scale and thought leadership and how do we reach it? Welcome to a special edition of Leveraging Thought Leadership.

Today I want to do a deep dive on the question of scale. In order to explore this question, I’ve invited a few guests. But in this episode, my guests aren’t people. Instead, there are some frameworks and models. Some have been transported into Thought Leadership from other fields, such as marketing. Other frameworks are home grown within the world of thought leadership. Along the way, we’ll need a definition for scale. We’ll talk about Tam and SOM, and we’ll meet characters such as broadcasting, narrowcasting and pointcasting. We’ll need all of these tools to help us figure out what scale and thought leadership really means.

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

When I talk about scale, you might think of a kitchen scale. We use them to weigh ingredients. It’s a physical scale. But even when we weigh flour on that scale, we’re really interested in the amount and the units. Often those units are measured as ounces, grams, pounds or kilograms. But if we step away from the kitchen and into the world of social media, we use different measures of scale, such as likes, followers, engagement. Dwell time. And then podcasting, we tracked the number of downloads and subscribers. Those are the tools of content marketers, social media managers and podcasters. But what’s the value of a like within thought leadership?

It’s a tough question. I once had a conversation with a head of thought leadership at a rather large organization. This was in mid-2020, and it was during the pandemic shutdown. The organization, like most, had had to cancel its in-person annual conference for thought leadership, and so they did what many organizations did. They transferred those speakers to a highly produced multi-day webinar experience, and they invited guests to join the webinar for several days. The annual marquee event had gone online and I popped in for a few sessions. It looked fantastic and it ran smoothly. The stagecraft was fantastic.

A few weeks later, I caught up with the head of thought leadership and I asked him how did it go. And he said it was great. We had a record number of subscribers and attendees. But I paused and raised an eyebrow and I asked him. I said, But were they the people that you needed to reach? This question launched us into a conversation about audiences because in thought leadership, not every attendee and not every like has the same value. If you want to reach scale.

Okay. Okay, okay. So, let’s pause for a moment and ask the question, what is scale? Especially in thought leadership, because thought leadership is all about scale, yet it’s not the number of followers or likes, at least not directly. It’s really easy to get confused by social media metrics and even get wrapped up in them. And the distinction I use here is Thought Leadership is not designed to be an idea on the shelf. It can sit in your intellectual attic and set on a SharePoint drive. It can sit in a journal. But thought leadership is an idea in action. It needs to be put in front of other people. They need to become aware of it. They need to accept it. And they need to act on it.

Scale happens when people encounter ideas and choose to act. Now, here’s a rule in thought leadership. You can create impact without a large number of followers. If you have the right audience. And I guess that’s the theme of this episode.

Let’s take a look at TAM total addressable market. Marketers use this term when they define target audiences for a product or an offering. Who would be interested in buying it. And Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, they focus on them too, because they’re looking for business ideas with the total addressable market. The TAM will be in billions of dollars. Dream big. Shoot for that unicorn IPO. Now. In thought leadership. Let’s come back to Earth here, or at least the corner of the world that cares about bold leadership. Every idea and thought leadership also has a total addressable market.

We often use the word marketplace of ideas, but in a very literal sense. It’s useful to think about ideas in this context. The audience, for an idea will always pay for your idea, possibly with money, but not necessarily the foundational exchange for any idea. Is time your thought leadership insight as brilliant as it may be? Requires people to take time and become aware of it, whether they encounter it. Scrolling on LinkedIn, watching a video or listening to a podcast like this.

So let’s think for a moment about total addressable market. How many people would say your idea is deeply relevant to them, whether personally, professionally or organizationally? Some ideas and insights might have a TAM in the millions, tens of millions or even more. For example, if you look at the number of business books on leadership topics and the number of courses on leadership, you’ll see there’s a huge demand for these insights. But most thought, leadership doesn’t have an audience measured in billions or even tens of millions. And that’s okay. You can exhale for a moment because and say it with me. You can create impact without billions of followers. If you’re trying to be a Tik Tok influencer or a YouTuber, you will need hundreds or thousands or even millions of followers to monetize their attention. Get sponsorships. Make it into a career.

But in the world of organizational thought leadership, most ideas have a total addressable market that’s much, much smaller. Sometimes some organizations can list the 100 decision makers at prospective clients that they’re trying to reach with their ideas. Literally a hundred people. Other times you can identify the executives charged with the responsibilities worldwide and find them at the right conference through a quick search on Sales Navigator, an email or phone call. Often in B2B thought leadership. You know who your audience is by name. They’re not abstract.

Thought leadership, in an organizational sense, isn’t about building the largest possible audience. It’s about building the right audience. So, let’s say you calculate your total addressable market for your idea. Great. Good progress. Next, how do you measure your progress when traditional social media metrics such as likes, comments, views and downloads can be deeply deceptive? Was that like from someone who fits your target audience? Exactly. Or was that like from your best friend who always gives you that courtesy thumbs up to anything you post? So how many people who scroll through your feed will give you and your idea a second look?

And to answer that question, we’re going to take a look at a second of our guests share of market. If each idea has a total addressable market, a specific number of people. Maybe we can quantify exactly or we can get an order of magnitude. Then the next step is to say, what percentage of that audience am I currently reaching? That’s your share of market. And if you don’t know what percentage you’re connected to, then you can only guess. Do the people within your team know about you, your organization and your ideas? Are they listening to you regularly? Are they embracing your ideas? Are they embracing your ideas? Are you shaping how they see the world? Are you influencing their actions? And are they applying your ideas and creating impact? Because remember, this is all about impact. Sheriff market is the percentage. That you’re reaching of your total addressable market. You don’t have to get it down to 100th of a percent. You don’t have to get it down to the exact specific number. But you should know. Am I reaching 5% of my TAM? Am I reaching 5075? What percentage of the world that I’m trying to reach? Am I currently reaching? And how do I increase that number? That’s the goal in thought leadership and it focuses you on the numbers that matter your TAM and your share of market.

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

But let’s talk about how do you get people to adhere? Let’s start with broadcasting. Broadcasting your ideas is like scattering them on the winds and hoping they land in the right place. No broadcasting works really well when you’re selling B to C products. You can buy ads on the Super Bowl. You can put up billboards and you can reach a large number of potential. But in some ways, generic buyers broadcasting works really well for consumer products such as shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, but it works less well when you’re selling B2B offerings.

And I want to share here an example from the CMO of one of the large consulting houses who he told me the story years ago. And it’s always stuck with me when I think about broadcasting. This consulting house would buy advertisement placements within airports around the world. It was common to walk off a plane and see an advertisement for this consulting house. He looked at his total marketing budget. He looked at the percentage that they spent in airports around the world. And he said, that’s a pretty big number. He said, you know, I could set aside all of my broadcast advertising and instead. Take a list of the top 100 clients. The people who buy from us directly. The people we know by name. We could buy a string of polo ponies for each of those hundred clients and ship a string of polo ponies to each of those hundred clients wherever they were anywhere in the world for a fraction of our airport advertising budget. And that’s stuck with me to this day because broadcast methods. Traditional PR television. Billboards, etc., are often mismatches for selling services, let alone ideas, because only a small percentage of the audience you reach will be your target audience.

Most people are going to find your ad irrelevant, a waste of their time. And like most travelers in the airport, they’ll continue walking down the concourse with their roll aboard. They might see it, but they’re not going to pull out their phone and call an act. So that’s broadcasting. Broadcasting scatters ideas on the wind like dandelion seeds and hopes that they land in the right place. Narrowcasting takes a different approach. Narrowcasting uses the metaphor of the bee and the flower, and it’s about serving the people who need your ideas and focusing on delivering your insights to your target audience specifically. To do that, you have to go where they consume information and package your ideas in a way that they care about. So instead of just leaving it to chance, you’re being proactive.

And let’s talk about the flower and the bees. Flowers want their pollen spread. Sort of like all leadership practitioners want their ideas to spread. Flowers need the help of bees, and so they supply the bees with things that they care about. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Both sides benefit.

Now let’s pull that back to the thought leadership for narrowcasting. If you’re asking someone for their attention and time, it needs to be worth their while. And if you’re asking someone to take action based on your insight or spend their firm’s resources, you need to make a good case. Narrowcasting accepts the fact that most ideas will be deeply irrelevant to 99% of the world. And instead of viewing that as a point of despair and a challenge to be overcome sees it as an opportunity. You let go of trying to reach the 99%, and instead you get to know that 1% really well. And now that 1% is a relative number, whatever your total addressable market is, that’s where you narrow cast, they’re your target audience. Serve that.

And then there’s the third type of reaching out to an audience. It’s what I call pointcasting in pointcasting. You deliver your idea to a VIP within your town. You shape your message and your offering specifically for them. It’s bespoke and customized, often delivered with white glove service. And if the metaphor for broadcasting is a dandelion, scattering seeds to the wind and the metaphor for narrowcasting is the bee in the flower. Then the metaphor for pointcasting is the hummingbird and the pitcher plant. The hummingbird’s long beak allows it to reach the nectar. And the pitcher plant and the pitcher plants. Long neck prevents birds with short beaks from reaching the nectar. In this metaphor, when you practice pointcasting the thought leadership practitioner, well, you’ve got to become the pitcher plant so that the VIP feels perfectly comfortable with the idea and its method of delivery.

Now most of us who practice thought leadership pointcasting to a VIP is a small percentage of the work that we do. But if you can reach a VIP with your ideas, you can influence how they think and act. And one of my favorite examples for pointcasting comes from the world of national intelligence. Specifically, a concept called the Presidential Daily Brief, which has been used by U.S. presidents for over 60 years at this point. Here I’m taking from David Price’s book, The President’s Book of Secrets, which tells the story of the daily brief from President Kennedy to President Obama. In short, the president’s daily brief might be the most expensive, single daily piece of thought leadership produced for one individual for the last 60 years. All of U.S. national security and intelligence apparatus, all of its resources and budget, all of its knowledge is distilled down into one short, daily written report for the U.S. president on the topics of the day. In the early days, it was produced as a newspaper. Then it was put into a book and a binder. Now it’s done on secure iPads.

What David Price illustrates in his book Time and Again, is that each U.S. president preferred a different style of delivery for the ideas of the day. Some wanted news article form. Some wanted short paragraphs. Others wanted in-person briefings where they wouldn’t read it all. And they would interrupt and ask questions. Others would hold their questions until the end as each president took office. The briefers rebuilt the brief for their new customer, the incoming president. And when they got it wrong, one day they got feedback. They go back, work on it the next day and improve the format and the delivery.

Now, many of us don’t have the luxury of fine tuning a delivery format day after day to the same target audience. But I think there’s something that we can learn here. I’ll put a link to David Price’s book in the episode notes. It’s a great read, especially if you want to study how pointcasting works on a daily basis. But here, the takeaway isn’t to shoot for the president of the U.S. The secretary general of the U.N. or the CEO of today’s largest company. Sure, those audiences might be nice to reach. But let’s think about pointcasting on a more practical and budget friendly scale.

Who are the VIPs within your target audience? They might be leaders within your own organization. They might be the leaders of other organizations. They may be the people who are practitioners who are seen as first among equals, or they’re incredibly influential when they speak. If you can introduce your ideas to these people and get them to take action. Their audiences are already assembled and ready to listen. Pointcasting allows you to reach scale faster, but it takes micro-targeting to get there.

Yep. We’re back to that paradox again. So, as we come full circle in the conversation, let’s step back. We’ve talked about scale as measured by impact. Or as Yoda might have said, size matters, not a mighty ally. Is your insight? Not all lakes are created equal and we need to have a sense of our total addressable market, our TAM as well as our share of market, the percentage of our audience that’s tuning into us. From there, we need to make some choices on outreach. Are we going to use broadcasting tactics and scatter our ideas to the wind? Will we use narrowcasting and symbiotically attract our target audience? Like flowers? Attract bees? Or are we going to niche down and point? Cast an idea and deliver it with white glove care to a VIP within our TAM like a pitcher plant provides nectar to a hummingbird.

Most of the time that I see people struggle to reach scale with an idea. They’re either uncertain about who they’re trying to reach, or they’re uncertain about how they’ll try to reach them. And strangely, people default in uncertainty to broadcasting and measuring likes and followers rather than TAM, SAAM, and having a strategy for outreach. As we’ve learned in this episode, not every like, not every download can be treated equally. But I do want to speak about subscribers and downloads for a moment.

If you’ve listened through this episode, you’re probably someone who’s interested in thought leadership. And so, I encourage you and I ask, please subscribe. Also, you’ll find a visual around broadcasting, narrowcasting and pointcasting in the show notes as well. It’s a framework that I’ve built over the years, and I found it super useful in explaining the choices of audience and scale to clients and colleagues. I hope you find it useful and I’d welcome your feedback. As for reaching me, you can find me on LinkedIn, where I write most weekdays and some weekends. About organizational thought, leadership, B2B Marketing and content strategy. Thanks for listening in.

Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the RTL 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.