As marketers, we’re always on the lookout for the next great thing to help propel our campaigns to profit and attract more of the right buyers. At the same time, while we’re obsessed with the thought of “doing something different, something creative” to reach our objectives, we’re not always sure about where to start. We’re almost afraid of parting ways with the status quo and ultimately concede to taking baby steps instead.
But what if one day we decided to take the road less traveled? Cliché, but bear with me. What if we were somehow inspired enough to think of “creativity” not as another tool that generates results, but as something we all can unleash from within to more naturally—in a way that’s our own—produce better marketing outcomes?
Jay Acunzo, an award-winning podcaster and dynamic speaker, attests that the lofty ideals we worship—creativity, innovation, prolific production—can actually be taught. As the former digital media strategist at Google and head of content marketing at HubSpot, he’s got me listening.
In this blog, you’ll find an interview with Jay exploring how to find your own creative ways to produce truly exceptional results.
Q: With all the noise buzzing in today’s digital ecosystem, how do you best filter through it to focus on what matters most to marketing initiatives? For instance, what are some of your favorite industry outlets?
I don’t think it’s about finding the best industry outlets (or gurus, or podcasts, or blogs, or books…) but rather understanding your own context first and foremost. There’s just SO much information out there—it’s like the Information Age has created a dark side: advice overload. And the best way to filter it is to understand and overtly articulate your own aspirations, the problems you’re out to solve for your customers, and the limitations of your own resources. If you know yourself, your customers, and your resources, you’re a master of your own context first and foremost. You’ve set up your “filter” through which you can vet all that advice out there. Then it’s a lot easier and faster to decide whether an industry outlet or individual thinker or piece is right for you or not.
Ultimately, the goal is to make all that overwhelming information serve you because you’re proactive, rather than drown in it because you’re reactive.
Q: What’s the one, seriously worn out best practice that makes you want to pull your hair out? Okay, go nuts, pick two if you must.
Every time someone asks how long a podcast or blog post should be, I start throwing chairs and flipping tables. It’s like, how long do you have? Here’s an endless list of (A) why I can’t give you one simple answer and (B) why you’re thinking about the wrong things here. Marketers and salespeople refer to content as a container, but the audience is after what’s inside. And just like Tupperware, “podcasts” and “blog posts” come in all shapes and sizes. It all depends on what you want to cook up—or, more crucially, what your audience wants to eat.
So how long should the thing be? As long as it needs to be. No longer. No shorter.
Q: As a content marketer in a dense world of content, you work hard on honing and perfecting your writer’s “voice.” What role does voice play in your overall strategies and how do you ensure that it not only resonates as authentic, but that it also translates across various marketing channels?
Maybe this is weird, but I’ve never stopped to think about voice as a writer. I’ve never actually “worked hard” on my writer’s voice. It’s just MY voice. Like, me, the person, not me as a writer.
But maybe the lesson lies in why I love to write: it makes me feel stuff and makes others feel stuff too. That’s such a powerful thing. When you feel emotions, you’re a bit more raw. You stop the daily grind and reset a bit. The deck has been cleared, so to speak. And so now, you’re open to change and open to learning. So I guess the way I’ve honed my voice is to just write a ton of bad stuff, see what resonated emotionally with me and with others, and keep doing that stuff.
For example, I know that I have a casual, often sarcastic voice (with plenty of parenthetical asides)—but only because I enjoy that kind of style and others have told me they enjoy it too.
The goal is to find the overlap of this Venn diagram, with one circle being “resonates with me” and the other circle being “resonates with others.” To find the overlap, you have to put out a ton of work, and a lot of it will be bad. The business world doesn’t like to embrace this idea that launching something good requires being bad for a while, but that’s reality. There’s no shortcut or cheat here.
Q: What’s the first step to letting go of the status quo, of what’s being done again and again for reason unknown, and trusting your intuition to finally do something different?
I think things like the status quo or the best practice emerge when we aim to become experts in something. There’s a certain sense of “arriving” or final state of knowing when you want to be an expert. But I think it’s far more powerful, especially in the Information Age today, to act like investigators. Forget being an expert and act like a detective, always.
Investigators ask questions. They don’t earn a living by having the answers so much as knowing how to find them. And even then, they question whether or not the case is really closed.
On my show, Unthinkable, we tell stories of work that looks crazy…until you hear their side of the story. From the outside looking in, every individual and team that we profile seems to fly in the face of all the experts in their space. They break from the status quo. But really, they just investigated the details of their own context—their team’s abilities and beliefs, their customers’ reality, their resources, and limitations—and they plucked out an answer that seemed logical IN THAT CONTEXT. It looks like it’s countercultural or atypical, but to them, it’s really strategic and logical.
When you embrace that no context is identical to yours right now, and when you focus more on being an investigator than an expert, then really great, creative, or unconventional work only seems “unthinkable” to others.
After all, “the answer” will change. How many strategies, tactics, tools, and trends do we suffer through and claim as our savior before we realize the only constant is change? So if “the answer” will always change, imagine if we could throw ourselves into any scenario in this ever-changing world and know how to figure it out. We’d be unstoppable.
Want to break from the status quo? Act like an investigator, not an expert.
Q: Talk to us about the data you use to validate your approach; do you have a preferred way to measure success?
When I’m not traveling and speaking, I direct and host multiple podcasts about people who do meaningful work. The metric I use is something I call “URR.” It’s a completely made-up metric, and I had to give it an acronym so all the very important business people out there would take me seriously. URR stands for Unsolicited Response Rate. It’s been my experience that if you get a small number of people reacting in a big way to what you did, you should lean into it, because good things tend to happen afterward. URR is a way to measure resonance in a world too focused on empty reach, so in a way, it’s how I measure the hard thing: Did I create something memorable, some kind of “value payload,” that triggered a visceral reaction from others? If yes, I put it in more places and do more with the concept. If no, I kill it and move on. This applies whether I’m tweeting or writing or podcasting or speaking. I’m on a constant hunt for resonance, and then that forms the basis of all the rest of my work. (You can read more about URR in this rant I wrote about bad marketing.)
Want to learn more about taking your approach to the next, creatively exceptional level of marketing? Hint #1: Consider studying the INSIDES of what you created. Jay Acunzo will discuss his thoughts on brilliant marketing in “Guts and Spines: How Brilliant Marketers Start and Scale Their Creativity”—an inspiring webinar presentation in which Jay will partner with ZoomInfo to deconstruct what makes top creators so prolific. We love discussing creativity like it’s some mystical muse. But the world’s best know: It’s all about those tangible guts and spines.
What makes exceptional marketing in your mind? How have you been able to achieve creativity? Let us know your methods in the comments.