One of the perks of speaking at several marketing conferences every year is that I get to meet and get to know lots of new and awesome people. And this year was no exception.

Now that the marketing conference season is wrapping up, I wanted to give a shout out to a few "unicorn" marketers--people who I think are ridiculously interesting and going places in our industry.

This is neither another most influential marketing experts list filled with many of the same names you've heard before, nor is it a scientific study. Simply, these are some great people you should follow on social media or get to know if you have the chance to them in person.

And as I was compiling this list, I realized they all have one thing in common: they're all entrepreneurs! All of these people are either founders or owners of companies, or they are self-employed as consultants.

Here are a few super-smart marketers and entrepreneurs who are doing some extraordinary things.

1. Will Critchlow, Founder & CEO, Distilled

Will has an impressive depth and breadth of understanding about complex topics like machine learning and mathematics. His posts on Distilled and Moz always go beyond just the superficial layer. He's also heavily involved with the wildly successful SearchLove Conference--I had a great experience at each of the four Distilled events I attended.

2. Damon Gochneaur, Founder, Aspiro Agency

I know what it's like to take a risk and build something on your own. That's why I have a ton of respect for Damon--he had the guts to start up his own agency and I think he'll be very successful. Damon is also active with DFWSEM, which is one of the top local search marketing organizations.

3. Eric Enge, CEO, Stone Temple Consulting Corp.

Eric is strongly dedicated to putting out really great content wherever he writes. This year, he won the prestigious award of Search Marketer of Year from both the U.S. Search Awards at Pubcon in Las Vegas and The Landy Awards at SMX East in New York City. (I was honored to win the same awards the year before Eric.) Eric is a really good, stand-up guy and a gentleman. Also, his "Here's Why" video series is super funny.

4. Steve Rayson, Director, BuzzSumo

As machine learning becomes more important, it's critically important for marketers to know what content people find interesting. Steve has done some amazing research into content strategy topics (check out the embedded video below, featuring a webinar we did together earlier this year). Steve nails it every time. In addition to his current role at BuzzSumo, Steve is a serial entrepreneur and investor.

5. Kindra Hall, Speaker & Consultant

Kindra is all about storytelling. After watching her keynoting at events like SearchLove, Content Marketing Conference, and MozCon, she really got me thinking more deeply about how to integrate storytelling into the content we create. We've really taken her advice to heart. Everything we do now tells a story because storytelling dramatically impacts recall and is a strong differentiator in a web mostly made up of noisy content.

6. Daniel Gilbert, CEO, Brianlabs

Daniel is way ahead of the PPC (pay-per-click) game in terms of AdWords scripts, automation, and programmatic advertising. He's dominating these really mathematically intense fields. A top author on Search Engine Land, he's my go-to guy whenever I need in-depth insights into very advanced PPC stuff, including programmatic advertising, AdWords scripts, and enterprise PPC.

7. Jenise Henrikson, CEO, Alpha Brand Media

Jenise is the publisher of Search Engine Journal, a search marketing news publication that continues improving. She's also the force behind the hugely successful SEJ Summit conferences and was nice enough to give me the opportunity to speak at a couple of those events this year. She's also quite passionate about giving women a bigger voice in marketing, as best summed up by this tweet:

8. Michael King, Managing Director, iPullRank

Mike is all about hustle. I ran into Mike at a conference this summer as he was doing a client call just minutes before he was scheduled to go onstage to speak in his session! I thought that was so great. He's always working hard - I definitely admire that. Mike is also a recent dad and continues to grow his own successful agency, which is exciting to see.

9. Pat East, CEO, Hanapin Marketing

Pat deserves huge kudos for the success of Hero Conf, which is far and way the biggest PPC event in the world. PPC marketing is usually a sideshow at Internet marketing conferences - but at HeroConf it's PPC all day. I've been working with them for a few years so it's been great to see the conference get bigger and bigger every year.

10. Ginny Marvin, Paid Media Reporter, Search Engine Land

I rely on Ginny to provide very thoughtful and timely coverage of the most important events in the world of PPC, which she does brilliantly on Search Engine Land. You can also find her at SMX events interviewing executives from the Google AdWords team about the latest and greatest developments. She is also an in-demand digital marketing consultant.

11. Brian Dean, Founder, Backlinko

Brian is a really smart SEO guy who knows what's he's talking about because he lives it every day. In addition to creating great video tutorials and written content, he is one of the few people who had managed to build a successful business. We had a memorable conversation this year on how to get more mail subscriptions from your blog and had the opportunity to collaborate on a successful infographic featuring data-backed tips for improving your organic click-through rate. Do yourself a favor and check out his remarkable YouTube channel.

12. Wil Reynolds, Founder, Seer Interactive

Wil is one of my favorite speakers. In addition to all the great marketing work he does, he's also a great person who does a lot of charitable stuff, including helping the homeless in the Philadelphia area. I spoke at a Seer Interactive event earlier this year and all of the proceeds made from the event went to charity.

Thanks to Will, Damon, Eric, Steve, Kindra, Daniel, Jenise, Michael, Pat, Ginny, Brian, and Wil for inspiring me this year!

What entrepreneurs inspired you this year?

Published on: Dec 13, 2016