I just don't understand why people love the words "guru" and "thought-leader"....


Whenever I see these words used by the business press, or more likely, on various Web sites, I always think of the warlocks in the HG Wells classic The Time Machine, where a horn sounds and all these people move like zombies towards some mountain entrance.... In a sense, they all look like they are following some guru or some thought leader.
I ask this because, well...take the concept of branding. Did you know that if you plug the words "branding + thought-leader" into Google, you'll find about 148,000 pages?
That means there are a whole lot of thought leaders out there–.but how can that be? If there really is an idea that is cutting-edge and advanced, how can so many people have the same cutting-edge thoughts? Or maybe each has a different cutting -dge thought (which means there are thousands upon thousands of new branding concepts emerging all the time)?
My sense is that all of this thought-leader stuff is really just for selling something. The same goes for the word "guru." That's fine, I guess, if you want to characterize yourself in some new age words in order to sell books. But I find it results in a lot of confusion–which is something that marketing professionals don't need.
Here is one typical example. I was at a conference awhile back when some self-professed thought-leader-branding-guru stood up and said that a brand was "a promise you give to your customers." Ah, well, that's not quite true (a brand is actually just a thing, like it was originally with the brand you put on cow–a visual or word based symbol). And if a brand is a promise, then what is a positioning statement? Well, that could be a promise, too. So these brand gurus can get you a little mixed up if you start thinking about it.
Finally, it turns out this need for having thought leaders and gurus is even apparent in the hard sciences ("physics guru" turns up over 2 million pages on Google).
So why do we need these thought leaders and gurus so much? I don't have an answer for this myself, and frankly I can't find a guru who knows the answer.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is the CEO and founder of MarketingProfs. He's also a longtime marketing professor and mentor at the University of Southern California, where he leads Mindful USC, its mindfulness center.