What are you up to these days?
After 20+ years in corporate sales and marketing executive leadership roles, I finally took the leap of faith to start my own consulting group, Marketing Insider Group. My main objective is to help leaders and brands from all over the world understand how to reach, engage and convert different kinds of buyers that they’re looking to bring into the fold. I spend a large majority of my time doing workshops, speeches, some content development and execution for certain clients. Now I’m also consulting on how to create a culture of innovation inside companies.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Believe it or not, I wanted to be a banker. I thought the pinnacle of success was to be a financial professional assisting the community in achieving their dreams. So that’s where I started. I interned at a bank for three summers before realizing it wasn’t for me.
What was your next step after determining banking wasn’t for you?
I landed at Neilson. I helped consumer packaging goods and consumer brand companies understand the four Ps of marketing – which products sold at which place and what price at which level of promotion. I realized as a salesperson, with goals I was often pushing and promoting and trying too hard to make a sale. It was the worst way to be effective at selling. So instead I took a step back and tried to get to know the pains and challenges of the folks I was trying to sell to. From there sales came much easier and I went on to become one of the top salespeople at the organization for a couple of years.
Did you set out to be a thought leader?
I never felt like that or placed that label on myself. But when I was named head of digital marketing at SAP, there weren’t a lot of places where people were talking about the trials and tribulations of corporate marketing. That theme was born for Marketing Insider and my goal was to share the things I’d learned with the hopes of helping someone out there.
Eventually I wrote about ‘thought leadership’ being a buzzword. One colleague’s opinion was that a thought leader was someone who had to have a completely unique point of view. My counterpoint was that thought leadership stemmed from seeking to help an audience, which is how audiences would eventually identify a thought leader.
Why is content marketing difficult for people to grasp?
It’s about what a brand creates and what consumers are looking for. It’s our natural instinct to want to promote our business and talk about how great we are and why we’re better and why people should choose us. But content marketing is sharing the stuff you know, not the stuff you sell. That’s when people start to tune in and you can convert customers.
What do you look for in the hiring process?
I look for creators or connectors. I’m looking for people who have a history of creating content that is bigger than their personal photos and selfies. Do they understand how to create content for a wider audience? Then I ask why they do it. There’s no right answer. But asking “Why?” helps me understand why they do what they do.
Do you have a final takeaway for people who want to break into content marketing?
The content marketer of tomorrow needs to be equally left brained and right brained. You need to be able to dive into data and also have the skill to turn the information you find into a story that resonates with people. The key is to find the creators who also know how to sell an idea with analytics and data to form an insight that can drive a narrative that drives people to change.
Meet Justin Gray
Justin is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of LeadMD, the world’s largest revenue operations agency having implemented over half of the Marketo user base. Justin has made a career of launching successful companies and scaling them, with successful exits of over 200MM+ in the last decade. Justin’s latest endeavor launched in 2016 when he co-founded Six Bricks an online learning startup designed to combat employee and customer churn through experience-based education. Over the past 10 years, Justin has emerged as a strong voice for entrepreneurship, marketing and culture. As a recognized speaker, Justin has been published over 350 times in industry publications and holds his own column, Tribal Knowledge in Inc., while writing for Entrepreneur, Tech Crunch and others. Justin and his wife Jennifer met over marketing and three years later welcomed their son, Grayson, into the world in April of 2017.