Posts filed under creativity

Lessons from Hacking a Podcast: 3 Ways to Be Memorable

I recently launched my first podcast, which has been the most difficult and most fun project I've worked on. Over the next few months, I'll post some of the stuff I'm learning here. It's partly because you might find it interesting. It's mostly so I don't hurl my laptop at a wall. So, uh ... hurray podcasting! (Kidding. It's actually awesome, I swear.)

microphone.jpg

Beware the friend who hogs the microphone.

Back in college, I threw a pool party at my parents' house. (I had permission, chill out, chill out...) To make things a little more interesting, we rented a karaoke machine. Now, I don't know if you've ever experienced your friends around a microphone when they're in a safe, judgment-free zone, but suffice to say, weird stuff happens. Holding a mic when their confidence is high just ... does stuff to people.

One of my friends in particular quite literally refused to give up the mic. He sang a bunch, then just plopped down in a chair and began commenting on the world around him. He was our own little Kanye West at an awards show, and just about as welcome. 

And when we asked him to stop, he'd simply shout over us: "I have the mic! I have the power!" Over and over again.

Since launching my podcast, I think about that moment every so often. I'll lean into the mic and think about how much I can or can't influence the resulting show. Is it really all me that makes this episode good or bad, or are there other elements to make it memorable for listeners? How can I give people a reason to start listening? What about FINISH listening? Will people just want me to shut up and put down the microphone?

And the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that podcasts tend to gravitate towards one of three distinct ways to attract listeners when they launch...

3 Ways to Create a Memorable Podcast

1. Big-Name Hosts

This is the most obvious reason listeners tune in, but it's also the hardest to replicate as a content creator. First of all, you can't manufacture it. You can't force someone to be well-known in your industry. Second, even if you have a connection to a big name in your industry -- an executive at your company, for instance -- you may not be able to create a great show around him or her. (An executive may be too busy to host a podcast, or they may monopolize the discussion and take too many tangents based on strong personal opinions rather than telling great stories or educating your audience.)

To illustrate how rare and difficult this is, and to avoid any risk of offending others, let's just use me as the example: Nobody gives a flying fig about anything I say based solely on my name. I don't have enough Twitter followers, give enough keynote speeches, or launch/invest in enough companies. I am not "business world famous." I'm also not one of those "famous for being famous" people on Twitter.

So launching my show on the merits of my name alone would fail miserably. I can't win using this approach, nor can most people.

EXAMPLES OF USING A BIG-NAME HOST:

Since most of you are content marketers, I'll just assume you've heard of Jay Baer and Joe Pulizzi.

Each of them host podcasts. Jay hosts SocialPros, and Joe hosts This Old Marketing with colleague Robert Rose. In both cases, the shows take advantage of hosts with big followings and well-known names in the marketing world. And while Jay does bring in some big-name guests (we'll get to that in a second), his show is primarily known as "Jay Baer's podcast" to others. Joe and Robert, on the other hand, currently avoid using guests altogether, choosing instead to talk shop themselves and rely on their names for awareness. And it works.

The Jay Acunzo Show would gain neither initial listeners nor loyal fans in the face of other, bigger-name hosts ... so when I launched, this approach was immediately off the table.

2. Big-Name Guests

Another very common way to win attention and be memorable is to invite well-known guests to appear on your show. While big-name hosts will often use big-name guests, this is still an approach that can stand alone. Back to me as the example to avoid being rude: I may not have a big name, but I could certainly appeal to an audience if I could somehow reach and interview semi-famous guests. And those semi-famous guests, if they're busy execs at my company, are much more likely to appear on a single episode to answer a few questions for 5-10 minutes than they are to host their own show.

Like #1 above, this is also incredibly common in the podcasting world. It's also a tried and true tactic in content marketing across any medium: Find someone with audience (the proverbial "influencer") and interview him/her in order to tap into a larger network of followers.

If you were hosting a podcast on content marketing, for example, and interviewed Jay Baer, Joe, and Robert, it'd be a smart move -- they're known names with big personal audiences.

EXAMPLE OF USING BIG-NAME GUESTS:

There's a great, relatively new show covering Boston's tech startup world called Tech In Boston, hosted by Dave Gerhadt. Dave's a smart entrepreneur and a good host. As a new show and new host -- and as an entrepreneur who lacks the big-name appeal of some others in the ecosystem -- Dave's done the smart thing by bringing on regular guests that people in town will recognize. To date, he's interviewed several well-known Bostonians in the local tech ecosystem, including Cort Johnson, Mike Troiano, Dennis Keohane, and Meghan Anderson. If you're in Dave's target audience (Boston tech entrepreneurs and employees), you either know these names or know their companies.

Now, before I make my larger point, it's worth noting that Dave does a great job with his guests -- the conversations are natural and informative, and you almost always feel like you're sitting with them. That's no small task as a host.

But the danger faced by any show based on interviews is twofold:

  1. Because this type of show is fairly common, audiences can easily compare/contrast your show to other, more professionally produced interviews. If they're used to listening to ESPN and NPR hosts conduct interviews to various epic guests, with both sides participating in a charismatic, engaging way, you're now playing in that same ballpark in a listener's mind. And I don't know about you, but I'm just not that good.
  2. Because an interview-based show's episode headlines are often the name of the guest, it puts the pressure on the host/producer to find well-known guests consistently. That can be difficult, since again, these are busy people pulled in millions of directions.

That brings us to the third approach to producing memorable podcasts...

3. Play with the Format

Listen to almost every business podcast, and you'll hear a similar format. It runs something like this...

  1. Intro music
  2. Hi from the host
  3. Guest interview
  4. Bye from the host
  5. Outro music

Aaaaand scene. Rinse and repeat.

This is "scalable." This is a "best practice." This is [insert jargon-filled excuse that somehow justifies cutting corners and watering down your end result and blatantly not caring for craftsmanship or quality.]

But worse than all that ... this is just BORING!!!

What's glaringly obvious with too many business podcasts is a lack of post-production work and, even more so, a lack of what I call "segment thinking."

Segment thinking is essentially your ability to view a creative project not like one whole but as smaller parts that you can mix and match to create the whole. In other words, you divide the entirety of the project into segments.

I grew up on ESPN shows like SportsCenter and Pardon the Interruption, which adhere to this notion of segments. SportsCenter is famous for its game highlights and top 10 plays -- both of which are types of segments -- but they also experiment with their format by inserting emotional stories, graphics and data, talking heads to analyze the news, and more. And in the past few years, they've gone so far as to literally SHOW YOU the segments they're moving through during a given show:

sportscenter

At some point, I'll write a whole post on segment thinking. For now, as a podcast host, just know that you have a tremendous opportunity to take a lump of clay (audio content) and mold it in any which way you so choose. You can plug in stable, longer sections like interviews, then mix and match experiments around that until something sticks. Maybe you end with a bad joke every week. Maybe you open with a similar format. Maybe you do something weird and quirky that loyal listeners anticipate, making them feel like insiders and thereby strengthening that loyalty.

Along these lines, when I launched Tech It Forward, I decided to have some fun with the segments and the content.

In my first episode, for example, I did a basic interview for most of the show. But I also introduced a segment near the end to experiment and also to snap listeners back into the moment after several minutes of interviewing. The segment is a word game which puts my interview subject on the spot. This forces you to pay attention again by changing the pace and introducing a new element to the show, which is particularly important late in the show when you may drop off.

Similarly, in my second episode (which I believe is much better), the show breaks into three segments -- a story and two interviews -- all layered with music, sound effects, and narration over the top. We open with a story about how a creative director had a chance to interview an American legend, followed by advice in theory from the same guest, followed by a second interviewee. In the future, I hope to experiment with more formulaic segments too (i.e. not just interview-based, but playful or narrative ideas like my word game in Episode 1, or maybe something headline- or joke-based. Buzzword Power Rankings comes to mind, for example.)

Here's Why You Should Try This Too

Podcasting is much more wide open and ripe for the taking than other mediums, especially if you're talking business. Podcasting is not only less saturated for content marketers, it's done less creatively (see mini-rant about boring show formats above). Creative tends to be the last seat at the table in any content marketing medium -- a mentality I blame black hat SEO for. People just want to game a system until that stops working, then do it "right."

But if you can genuinely give a crap and focus on your podcast's content from the start -- and leave everyone else to fight over approaches #1 and #2 and eek out a handful more listeners by over-marketing it -- then you'll actually have a chance at turning some heads.

Blunt confession: This is much harder than any project I've ever tackled.

I feel strongly that it's worth doing this show in a different way than other podcasts because I think THIS is how I can stand out. I also don't love the idea of "best practices" when it comes to content. Best practices are for programmatic, robotic, "stuffier" marketing ideas like banner ads and email optimization. Following most best practices when the goal is creating content? That's just doing what everyone else is doing, and that makes your job of standing out much, much harder. Better to find unique practices.

How? You need to be more inventive. You need to pull from inspirational sources outside your own industry. You need to take creative risks. That's hard, isn't it?

But as Rob Go, founding partner at my firm NextView Ventures, likes to say, "The hard is what makes it great." And to me, being great in podcasting means more than just attracting people who listen to my show. It means attracting people who REMEMBER IT.

And shouldn't that be the point of everything we do?

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Listen to Tech It Forward, Episode 2: Creativity (with Keith Frankel, Chief Digital Officer, Tablelist and Jeff White, Founder, Rightside Shirts)


Posted on September 25, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity, podcasting.

How to Get Free Content Marketing Help in Boston

As my wife would begrudgingly admit, I'm an absolute sucker for pretty much any computer animated film. A Bug's Life? Great. Finding Nemo? Grand. The Incredibles? You guessed it -- it was good. Toy Story? To infinity and my DVD player. Ratatouille? Rat-tat ... uh ... um ... alright, French is kind of where my wit taps out.

HOLD ON I'M GOING SOMEWHERE WITH THIS!

Remember in the movie Up, when the the talking dogs all break from mid-stream conversation to yell, "SQUIRREL!"? (Of course you don't. You're an adult with a life outside animated films. But I LOVE that joke, and you can watch an example here.) Anyways, I could easily be accused of having the same propensity for the furry object sprinting by me. I like the prospect of the new. I like side projects, creative exercises, and pre- and post-work events. 

So it's no wonder that I launched a community group a couple years ago to go along with my already demanding day job. The group is Boston Content, and I'm proud to say (and honestly never thought I'd say) that we have 600 local members.

Enough with the Intro: What's This About Free Content Marketing Help?

As our group grew, it became clear the community members genuinely loved hanging out and learning about content and creativity. So on Friday, September 19, we're throwing a huge creative bash along with Wistia, Eventbrite, Skyword, Hill Holliday, FutureBoston, and VentureFizz. It is, without question, the scariest and most exciting moment in my time running Boston Content with my co-founder, Arestia.

(<plug> BTW, you can buy tickets to #BosCon Bash right here. $20 gets you 2 free drinks and plenty of snacks, plus a night of mingling, creating video together with Wistia and other guests, designing your own creative inspiration which will be sent to your FUTURE self with Eventbrite, dancing to a top local DJ, and a few awesome surprises. </plug>)

Anyways, in support of this event and this community, as well as to hopefully continue to spread the content and creativity love, I'd like to give away some time, effort, and writing and/or consulting. 

To find out how it works, either watch the video or read the details below it.

1. Free Drinks/Lunch & Networking (1+ Tickets & Most RTs)

If you buy at least one ticket AND tweet using the hashtag #BosCon, with a link to the event, and get the most RTs, I'll buy you lunch or drinks at a time we agree on (not the event) and spend an afternoon or evening talking shop or just swapping stories. (To make this reasonable, let's say that the fewest RTs that can win this is 10. And no using multiple Twitter handles you run yourself -- sorry, community managers, let's make this an even playing field.)

2. Blog Post Written for You (3-4 Tickets)

Buy 3 or 4 tickets as an individual or non-sponsoring organization, and I will write a blog post for you or your company. There can be multiple winners here (and for #3 and #4 too).

The post's topic can be anything. It can be in my voice/byline or your company's. If your topic is not in my wheelhouse (which is marketing/tech/startups/writing/creativity), I'll do the necessary research to create the post as I would if I were working for you full time.

3. Blog Post + 90 Min of Free Content Marketing Consulting (5-7 Tickets)

If you purchase between 5 and 7 tickets, I'll spend an hour and a half with your company to help move your content marketing strategy forward. Again, there can be multiple winners here -- it's for anyone who fulfills this requirement.

4. Blog Post + 3 Hours of Free Content Marketing Consulting (10+ Tickets)

For 10+ tickets from you or your organization, in addition to at least a few hugs from me the night of the event (I'm Italian - it's what we do), I'll write a blog post for you and also spend 3 hours consulting your company on your content marketing. This will likely be spaced out over multiple sessions, but we can discuss exact details. For instance, across 3 hours, it's more possible for us to collaborate on a larger project like an ebook/guide or SlideShare, in addition to talking strategy. 

Why Are You Doing This?

Of course because I want to ensure the 19th is an amazing night we all remember, but also because I REALLY enjoy consulting startups and other companies around Boston and talking content marketing. (I suppose you could do this challenge if you're not planning to attend the event, but I'd really prefer anybody who buys a ticket actually experience the festivities.)

Are You Any Good?

That is definitely not for me to say. But if you want to do some digging, a few suggestions:

  • My portfolio is here and, and here's my LinkedIn
  • At NextView, I launched and now run this blog and build resources listed here
  • I used to lead the team behind this blog and the resources created here
  • I've worked in-house or as a consultant with brands, agencies, and startups through jobs at Google, Dailybreak Media, HubSpot, and now NextView Ventures
  • If nothing else, I could draw something for you like this

Okay, I'm In. What Do I Need to Do?

  1. Follow the instructions listed above.
  2. Forward me your Eventbrite ticket confirmation email (send to jason.acunzo@gmail.com). This part's important so I can figure out which tier you're in the running to win.
  3. I'll coordinate with the winners after Sept 19, in order for every participant to have a chance leading up to the party.
  4. Attend the event. Eat, drink, and be creative!

Anything Else?

Yes. If you're reading this and you're either a current or future member of Boston Content: THANK YOU! Arestia and I launched BosCon over coffee to just have more discussions around where our careers and our friends' careers were headed. I never thought 600+ people would join us from around the Boston area. We've hosted more than a dozen events and have shared hundreds of emails and tweets with the community group. It's been ridiculously fun and unbelievably humbling.

So -- without motive or agenda -- thank you! You absolutely rock.

Posted on September 7, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity.

[Inside Creative Content] BlogAbout: Built by Intuition and UX

blog-idea-generation-tool

I'd like to sell you on an idea for a new creative project.

First, you should know that it's going to take a long time. Like, a long, looooong time. 

Second, I'm not quite sure any precedents exist in our industry, and if they do, nobody is publishing any information about how effective or not effective this project can be.

Oh, and I'll need some internal design resources.

And a developer. Cuz those grow on trees in the tech world and all...

And total creative freedom -- yeah, let's go with that. You gotta back off for this one, Ms./Mr. CEO.

One more thing to note -- the end result, while fun and engaging for our audience, won't have a nice, neat A-to-B path to ROI. It'll probably take some faith, some qualitative understanding of our prospects, and some complex attribution paths to determine our return.

But I just have a gut feeling. I just KNOW this will work. 

Sound like a project you're excited to pitch?

Me neither. But that's the origin story behind BlogAbout, the interactive blog headline generator built by IMPACT Branding and Design, a top agency in my previous home state of Connecticut.

I had the chance to chat with John Bonini, their marketing director and one of the brains behind BlogAbout (and really, all of their content). As a disclosure, John's interactive app is an example of creative content I plan to cite in my upcoming Content Marketing World talk in early September.

John explains how he and a teammate came up with BlogAbout and why, despite his regular reliance on data, he firmly, utterly, and completely believes in creative intuition and risk-taking in content marketing.

How BlogAbout CameAbout

Mimicking Real-Life Brainstorming

John Bonini: It was a very personal project from me and Carly Stec (content marketing manager at IMPACT). We wanted to create something that helped us, to be honest. I could never find anything truly helpful in the way of blog topic generators. It was the same old "insert your keyword here and we’ll spit out five generic titles for you."

I’ve never brainstormed like that. Brainstorming topics is a lot messier than that. It’s more interactive, there are lots of cross-outs and debates over whether something would would work or not.

It’s not, "let me type the word 'Facebook' and get myself five titles and I’m good to go for the week."

We wanted to create something that lent itself more naturally to the process. I wanted something that was interactive, that let people type in their own things — I’m not going to prompt keywords.

I’m also not going to prompt a form-fill … but a lot of people do complete the form at the end because the process is so enjoyable and useful. 

So the whole reason it came about was to create something that aligned with how Carly and I actually brainstormed, and in doing so I knew what appealed to others that are in the same position.

I just read Youtility by Jay Baer, and it got me off this ebook tilt. I don’t want to create ebooks just to get a form filled. And I wanted to create something that’s worthy enough to be mentioned in a book like that. 

The funny thing about that is that last month, Ann Handley reached out to me -- she’s mentioning BlogAbout in her upcoming book.

Tackling the ROI Question

Jay Acunzo: So how’d you sell it in?

JB: Set expectations. I admitted that this wasn't going to deliver immediate ROI, which is a tough thing to sell anybody on. It’s not just the money -- it’s the time it took. You can always recoup money, but you can’t get that time back. It was a pain point for our CEO, and he expressed that. He asked several times about the ROI.

JA: What made him see your rationale for doing this then?

JB: I told him that BlogAbout would attract a ton of marketers who blog. We didn’t have anything to achieve top of mind awareness for us -- it was all gated material. Nothing would drive organic traffic unless we were adept at SEO. This drove a lot of organic traffic via social and email, but it also did wind up ranking well on search. 

He also just trusted me to make this decision. I believed that if the experience was great, we’d get a lot of forms filled, and we did. We got over a thousand forms filled, voluntarily, not prompted, and I’ve been able to build real relationships with these people.

It’s also really, really heavy rapport building. I know what you’re blogging about when you use our tool, and I can talk to you directly about that. I also know more about what to blog about [on the IMPACT blog] to create future content to help them, because I have this info.

JA: So what was the reaction like from your audience?

JB: The first month we did it, it got the most visits on the website in the entire month. Now it’s the second- or third-most visited page in our site each month. I certainly didn’t anticipate that. It jumped right behind HubSpot on Google search rankings too.

How BlogAbout ShookOut

John was kind enough to share some results with me during our interview:

  • #1 most-visited site page during the first month BlogAbout launched
  • #2 or #3 most-visited page each month since
  • Over 1,000 qualified leads driven (John calls these the "warmest of the warm," given all the information they volunteer about their blogging, as well as the fact that they've filled out a form voluntarily, without being prompted in order to use the tool.)
  • Top-2 ranking for several important keywords for IMPACT's business
  • Improved lead nurturing. Based on blog topic titles, IMPACT can segment their email lists and better convert new clients.
  • Improved lead-to-customer conversion rate. IMPACT is now able to weed out prospects who wouldn't be a fit for the agency's areas of expertise or ideal customer persona. If they're blogging about irrelevant topics to IMPACT's service offerings, they can be automatically removed from future marketing and sales efforts.

What stands out most is not only the voluntary form-fills, but the ability IMPACT now possesses to convert very specific audiences (their ideal clients) in broad fashion. The tool rakes in tons of organic traffic, and IMPACT can then cherry-pick where to focus their marketing and sales based on their preferred persona.

Score One for the Good Guys

Sometimes, when you do a project or anticipate a result as a creative type, you just know something will work, or you feel you know. You're convinced because you can put yourself in the shoes of a reader/consumer better than most -- being creative is in part being highly aware and empathetic to your surroundings.

But others in your organization might need more concrete data and push you for faster results.

Says John, "We’ve all become obsessed with identifying quick metrics and quick ROI and if nothing supports that, scrap it and don’t do it. I knew this would be different and tougher to sell internally because we’re not requiring a form fill. I want to do this for top-of-mind awareness and word-of-mouth marketing, two powerful forms of marketing that are tougher to measure in quick ways but absolutely drive results."

Posted on July 21, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity.

Beating the Little Hater Inside Your Head [Video]

Part of this blog's mission is to celebrate creative, quality content, while also helping you create your own. So when a video covers BOTH those things, it just needs to be posted here.

About a year or so ago, I saw and saved this video by blogger Jay Smooth. He writes illdoctrine.com. The video itself is creative, so naturally I wanted to share it. But, even better, it addresses creative people's need to overcome that little hater inside our head which begs us to procrastinate and convinces us that we're just not good enough to create. 

I recently re-discovered this video and had to share it. Without further ado, here's another (even more creative) Jay...

Let Jay know his video is appreciated even outside the pure "creative" industry: Click here to tweet his video.

Posted on June 3, 2014 and filed under creativity.

What Does "Remarkable" Content Actually Mean Anyway?

(This post was originally written on Medium, with some original parts added here.)

“And maybe that’s worth it, in order to create for a living.”

This thought ended a post-work conversation on the constant need to explain and defend the creative process to others. Those in creative professions can likely relate to the quote, spoken by Tyler, a designer friend of mine.

Now, the fact that he’s a designer isn’t actually a requirement for our friendship. But given the subject of this post, it makes sense that you know he’s a designer. That’s the power of adjectives, you see: They’re subtle but powerful conveyers of meaning and clarity.

But as anyone with a boss knows all too well, some adjectives can just plain frustrate and annoy you. And few are more rampant in the business world today than the word which launched Tyler and my post-work discussion: “remarkable.” Particularly when it precedes the word “content.”

As in, “Jensen, we need a robust, synergistic strategy to create remarkable content and grow up-and-to-the-right quarter-over-quarter!”

(Facepalm.) Thank you, newspaper editor from Spider-Man.

But assume for a moment you had to listen.

Rather than many of our knee-jerk reactions to this request (which, I’m guessing, also involves a knee and a jerk), let’s assume we actually had to create remarkable content, whatever that means.

So, um … what does that mean?

For starters, remarkable can’t mean average.

We all get that. That statement alone isn’t very helpful. But what if you visualized what average looked like? Here’s a simple representation (h/t to Dharmesh Shah's Culture Code for the chart):

The average is in the middle. There are a TON of things that are average in the world—it’s the most common state, after all.

Something average is a commodity or, worse, easily avoided and pushed aside. An average idea won’t turn heads. An average song becomes background noise. An average meal is forgotten the next day. An average blog post doesn’t generate subscribers. You get the idea.

Average things get sucked towards the middle to live among the majority, and they often rationalize their existence as “best practices” or “most efficient” or “industry precedents.” Necessary in doses, perhaps, but it’s tough to differentiate and stand out.

We want remarkable. We want to be on the extremes.

Next, visualize the extremes. That’s the easy part—the two orange Xs:

The hard part is determining what, exactly, sits on those extremes. To do that, we need a quick detour from our exploration of “remarkable” to identify the other half of our fictitious boss’s request: content. Why do businesses create content as their marketing in the first place? If we can pinpoint that reason, we can more easily figure out how to be great at it.


What’s content all about?

Content is defined by choice.

The amount of choices facing each of us on a daily basis has EXPLODED, and we can navigate between those choices almost instantly. Tons of TV channels, millions of websites saturating every niche, and multiple screens and devices for us to use — we’re totally in control of where and how we spend our time.

Unlike ads, which interrupt us and try to control our decisions, content must be voluntarily chosen. Nobody is sitting at their computer yelling about how Medium forced them to read Jay’s lousy post in order to read their favorite writer. You chose this, and, seriously, THANK YOU for reading! :-)

So content taps into our emotions, nuances, and biases on a deeper level—it resonates with us—because we’ve proactively chosen to spend time with it.

In summary, if content is identified by choice, and we choose what resonates, then to be remarkable, your content must resonate more than the rest.


So what’s remarkable content? How can you really resonate?

Quite simply, content can be remarkable by helping an audience act or helping an audience think and/or feel.

The better you are at achieving either one for your audience, the further from the average you move in either direction and the more remarkable your content truly is.

If you want to get all highfalutin for a second: remarkable content achieves what I call cognitive resonance or emotional resonance.

Content focusing on cognitive resonance helps people act or execute better. It plays to the audience’s desire or need to solve problems and make decisions, such as:

    •    7 Tips and Tricks for Twitter Marketing
    •    How to Work Fewer Hours
    •    Exploring the Best Weight-Loss Programs

If I read these, I know how to act.

Content focusing on emotional resonance helps people think or feel differently. It aims to elicit intellectual or emotional responses from an audience. This aligns people more closely with you or your business. So the parallel examples to the above three headlines might be:

    •    Why Everything Your Company Posts on Twitter Is Wrong
    •    Are Young Professionals Burning Out Faster than Ever?
    •    The Inspirational Story of a Man Who Lost 150 Pounds

If I read these, I don’t necessarily have a playbook to act, but I’m left thinking or feeling a certain way that either strengthened my preconceptions or nudged me towards something different and hopefully better.

"Be Better Than The GAP"

One of my wife's favorite movies is Crazy Stupid Love with Ryan Gosling, Steve Carrell, Emma Stone, and Julianne Moore. She loves the part where Gosling's character grabs Carrell and addresses his choice of wardrobe: "Be better than the GAP." (She loves the part where Gosling does anything at all, but she particularly loves this part.)

Anyways, Gosling urges Carrell to be better than average. Wearing GAP is settling for doing what everyone else is doing, making you average.

Too often, businesses and marketers create content based on what everyone else is doing -- blogging, infographics, podcasting, whatever. We want to know what's safe and proven and just do that. But the problem is, now we're all wearing GAP. Now we're all average. We water down our own work by trying to be too many things to too many people, and do so in the exact same ways as everyone else.

But above, we pinpointed the goals of content (resonance) and the ways we can be remarkable with it (achieving cognitive or emotional resonance). Knowing that, we can hopefully improve our approach and, yes, better explain our creative process to others and convey what's required to actually BE remarkable to others., like our bosses or non-creative teammates.

It may not be perfect, and you still need a deep understanding of your audience to know what’s helpful to them specifically, but starting out with a basic understanding of what “remarkable content” actually is in theory could help mitigate some frustration and help us prepare better.

The result would be a much smoother, more effective process of planning, producing, distributing, and analyzing our work.

Are you setting out to help somebody act? If so, your content might take one shape and aim for clarity and illustrative examples and an array of other things. Are you aiming for emotional resonance instead? Then perhaps your work more closely resembles art or uses much more storytelling and complexity in how it’s produced.

Either way, I hope this is a first step towards pushing this idea of remarkable towards a simple, codified explanation of "remarkable" content. All I care about is that we crack this code so we can go execute on that promise.

After all, there’s enough crappy content out there polluting the internet, and more is manufactured every day. So even though it’s more frustrating and perhaps scary to fight against the average, and even though it’s harder to strive for that ever-elusive idea of remarkable, to echo Tyler:

“Maybe that’s worth it, in order to create for a living.”

I definitely think so.

What do you think?

Posted on May 12, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity.

Why "Write For Your Audience" Has Become Dangerous Advice

As a writer who found his way into content marketing, I always felt the phrase "write for your audience" was a bit overblown. Said another way, this common advice runs something like this:

"It's not about you; it's about them."

Huh? Really? I like content marketing exactly because I get to insert my perspective and create something that has emotional and intellectual meaning...for my audience, for sure, but also for me.

I mean, think about it -- have you ever written anything really, truly awesome that wasn’t at least a little bit for you? Where you didn't have at least one burst of momentum or energy or that weird period of creative spark you can only describe as briefly blacking out? (Some of you know what I mean.)

The "Problem" Is That We're Human

In the truth, the problem is NOT the advice itself. The idea of writing for your audience is 100% accurate in theory. People started saying this over and over to re-train the muscle memory of marketers from interruptive, outbound, me-first approaches to content. But now that we've all mostly bought in (I hope), we need to re-examine the way this phrase is put into practice. Because the way it's being put to work has evolved in the wrong way: Determining what the audience cares about is judged based on clicks and traffic, causing us to focus on the idea of "reach" instead of resonance, on distribution instead of quality creation, and on vanity metrics like views instead of real metrics like subscribers and customers.

Here’s the deal: You should unequivocally start with topics and types of content that will be really useful or entertaining for your audience. But then, as the person responsible for creating the content -- which needs to hold attention better than the other guy's content -- you should ALWAYS return to your own, genuine passions and point of view to make something that's quality, unique, and creates an emotional reaction from your audience.

After all, the act of creating anything, whether art or marketing, must be filtered through your own perception of the world to then be created. I mean the word "must" both figuratively (as in, it's a best practice to use your own POV) and literally (as in, it's biologically impossible to turn any thought into reality without that thought funneling through everything that makes you who are you are).

That statement wouldn't normally be worth writing here (because of course you can't remove your brain from anything you do). BUT there's a bizarre desire to game every system in marketing, which has turned "write for your audience" into "do whatever can minimize your time spent on the paragraphs to rank on search and drive some clicks."  It's a weird twist of the "write for your audience" advice that leaves too many projects hollow because they don't make any effort to be creative or take creative risks. They just execute mechanically based on "what works" and the letter of the law -- Audience X likes Y, so write a list about Y as quickly as you can and hit publish. Who cares if writing a story would be more memorable - that first post ranked on search. Rinse and repeat.

This approach, which plenty of businesses and leaders sadly demand, comes off like this:

The problem is that this approach is EASY to replicate. Every competitor can do the exact same thing -- identify a problem the audience faces, write a bare-bones, facts-only response, package into a list, optimize for search, and hit publish. Then repeat.

And perhaps worse than losing your competitive advantage, you now lack any chance at being memorable. You don't stand out. There's no secret sauce or proprietary approach, so you wind up with a world that looks like this:

Whether you embrace the marketing side or the content side by nature (and there's always a tilt one way or the other in this job), you can probably admit that standing out matters. The way to do so is to focus on the actual content, the creativity, and the quality...all of which are only made possible by the person or people behind it.

In other words, you want to embrace something that looks less like the factories above, and more like this:

Remember -- the one thing that your company has that your content marketing competitors don't is you.

If It Lacks Emotional Involvement, It'll Lack Emotional Response

Removing yourself and your own emotional attachment to your work turns writing a brilliant piece into creating a banner ad: determine a set of best practices and apply that systematically and repeatedly to the work, then increase the volume of output commensurate with business need.

This is how we wind up writing unending paragraphs of doom. We present dry lists or ebooks that drag on, without so much as attempting to tell a story or have some fun with it so that the audience might truly enjoy and REMEMBER IT.  

This hollow, non-unique, non-creative approach requires robots. But robots haven't replaced the writers...and that's a wonderful thing if fully embraced!

Conversions Happen Post-Click

So we need to stop obsessing over "reaching" people or "getting eyeballs," as big brand advertisers love to say.

Instead, we need to focus on what happens when those "eyeballs" actually have to, yanno, consume our content. Those eyeballs are attached to humans, after all -- humans with emotions, thoughts, opinions, and choices to make. So what about the stuff after the click? Whether you measure a lead coming in or an unmeasurable positive feeling from readers, your audience converts upon consuming the content, not clicking on it.

If you're passionate about movies, don't set that aside when you go to write that blog post reviewing various apps for your audience to use. Come up with a little five-star rating system and design DVD covers describing each tool. If you love to cook, fire off a food analogy everyone can understand to frame your next post. If you're a funny writer, go ahead and be funny, tactfully, in your writing. You'll be more invested in your work, and the audience will appreciate it and remember it.

Ask: Am I Writing For Your Audience?

Good! Now find a way to write for yourself too. Start with them, and end with you.

And if you can't, maybe you're not in the right place or the right job. Because why keep creating stuff that’s adequate and not great? What good is that doing for you, your career, or your audience? I promise you, there are tons of employers struggling to find talent for their content marketing out there.

Writing and creating is an extension of yourself. If what makes you yourself and what makes you stand out as a person isn't allowed into your work, then how are you supposed to create something unique that stands out? 

The lesson, as always: Content is about resonating with people, not just reaching them, and conversions happen after the click. Give a lopsided amount of time to the creation of something truly good.

Only then will you achieve the objective that both businesses and employees share -- that unavoidable, altogether non-robotic, human desire to be remembered.

Posted on May 5, 2014 and filed under content marketing, creativity, writing.

What "Sorry for Marketing" Is All About

Since (re)launching my blog and renaming it a few weeks ago, I've gotten three consistent responses when I ask for feedback:

1. Who the hell are you, and why are you emailing me?

2. Looks cool. Like the name. But what's it all about?

3. Seriously, how did you get my email?

Lucky for you, That One Guy Who Asked Me, I wrote a quick explanation about the weird name and what you can expect if you're reading. In brief:

This blog is my agonizing, last-ditch attempt to convince myself and you that quality writing and genuine creativity matter for content marketers and online media.

Look, you seem nice, so I might as well be honest -- I'm pretty burnt out on all the high volume, low quality, spend-as-little-effort-as-it-takes-to-hit-publish-and-rank-on-search-and-get-some-shares-and-drive-some-pageviews-and-leads approach to online publishing and content marketing.

And I think we can all do better. I think there are genuinely talented people out there who are not just prolific writers, but creative, quality writers capable of telling really great stories. I also think that, as history has proven, any marketing tactic that rises to popularity will be met with tons of people who want to game that system.

The problem with that knee-jerk reaction is that today's "system" to be gamed is the creation of content that people really like and choose to spend time with. This isn't about display ad buying or email optimization or keyword stuffing and link building to rank on search. All of that surrounds or distributes or points to one thing: The content you created. The content that, ideally, was created to build you an audience that you own, that loves you and shares your message, and that converts. To do that, it's much harder to try and make a dud of a missile fly than it is to create something that's honestly good.

But does that stop (some) marketers from trying to cut every corner possible? Absolutely not. Through sheer force of effort and short-term focus, they can get some life out of a dead piece. But much better for real results (like customer-gen, not just lead-gen...or retaining an audience, not just churning through impressions) would be to deploy the hard stuff: a care for quality and a genuine creative ability.

Believe me, I've done my research:

  • I've produced or consumed enough list-based blog posts to open a Tips N Tricks R Us mega-store.
  • I've written or edited mountains of ebooks and guides that sound really great, but lack any sort of care for the paragraphs inside them. "There just isn't time, and we have numbers to hit," someone external or internal seemed to say each time.
  • I've taken all the "What Thing Are You?" quizzes. Each one of mine came back, "You're pretty sure this isn't the most creative people can be."
  • I've clicked on (or even written) too many headlines that promised me something "Unbelievable" or "Ultimate," only to discover the actual content was rather believable and 'timate.

The decision-makers behind this content seem to forget:

This is about resonating with people, not just "reaching" them.

Ironically, the first can lead to the second.

Caring about resonance and quality and caring about your company's reach and results are not mutually-exclusive endeavors.

Getting results becomes much easier if you first focus on the audience and on respecting and helping them, rather than on the tech, the tactic, or the metric, which too often becomes the object of marketers' obsession and causes us to just try and game the system. And, honestly, I'm not here to write about or curate or advocate for NOT getting results as a business. In my day jobs, I've helped build a couple businesses through content (Dailybreak Media, HubSpot) and now advocate that startups in Boston and NYC do the same (through my work with NextView Ventures).

I would, however, like to write about and advocate for creating quality stuff. I'd like us to stop polluting the web with minimal viable junk and start caring more about the creativity and integrity of our work.

Said in marketerese: Conversions happen after the click, whether you judge those conversions with marketing funnel metrics or positive emotional reactions.

(That's also the key difference between publishers like Upworthy or Huffington Post and you and me in content marketing -- we have to be good enough to gain an action, not just a pageview).

Is there some idealism here? Probably. But I like to think of it as long-term thinking balancing out the short-term. Unfortunately, I think the latter gets the bulk of a company's focus 11 out of 10 times in some cases.

And it boggles my mind that we may be at a point where someone (in this case, me -- in future cases, I hope you) openly calling for quality and creativity in one's work can be at all interpreted as weird or contrarian or not aligned with business objectives...especially when you consider that this work is the act of creating things for other people. 

Look, I like working in marketing and business. I really do. I just think everybody takes themselves too seriously sometimes and gets caught up in the wrong things. There are "strategies" (picture a guy in a suit furrowing his brow and tapping the table with his fist) and "thought leadership" (furrowed brow, table-tap) to uphold and perpetuate. Why care for all this ephemeral, fluffy, "quality" and "creativity" stuff? Let's just game the system to get short-term results, even if that system to be gamed has ceased to be forceful advertising and is now the more subtle art and science of creativity. 

The problem is, to state it again, conversions happen AFTER the click, when people actually have to spend time with your content. 

You can rank on search or create great, linkbait headlines. You can position a piece of content really well on a landing page. You can do everything in your power to acquire somebody's contact information before they even read something you created. But when they do...it better be good. Otherwise, what's keeping them around? What causes them to want to hear from your sales team if the original interaction fell short? There's just too much noise to keep their attention and emotional attachment with something anything less than great. (Eric Schdmidt of Google has pointed out for years that the same amount of information created between the dawn of humanity and 2003 is now replicated every two days.)

So, I'm writing Sorry for Marketing to locate, learn about, and celebrate the good stuff, poke at the crappy stuff, and generally have some fun making the case for why quality matters more than ever.

And I know some people will roll their eyes and others will argue passionately for things that run counter to all of this. That's okay - this site isn't for them.

But if you believe fiercely in quality and creativity in online content, then this site is for you. Say hi on Twitter or subscribe on the home page in the top left.

Posted on April 27, 2014 and filed under creativity, content marketing.

Creativity Held Ransom by Daily Routine

I arose today to discover with horror the following note in my brain:

Dear Jay,

We have your precious Creativity. Here are our demands.

1) Answer the emails. That’s right: alllllll the emails.

You’re gonna check email every second you get. We’ve installed a Gmail app on your phone that you’re gonna check nervously between meetings, on your commute, at home when your wife is talking to you, in the bathroom, and generally every moment of gap time you have in your day.

Gap time otherwise spent allowing your mind to wander.

Gap time otherwise spent allowing your deeper thoughts to come out.

Gap time otherwise spent connecting the dots between disparate events and experiences and drawing valuable conclusions and creating remarkable new concepts for content.

Oh, and don’t forget to check email when you’re physically in front of a computer too. Yeah. Do that.

2) Attend the meetings. That’s right: alllllll the meetings.

You’re gonna sit in on lots of meetings. Some of them, you’ll find pointless. Some of them, you’ll find are counterproductive. Some of them, you’ll find enjoyable and start thinking positively about meetings — UNTIL YOU REALIZE IT JUST ADDED A USELESS PROJECT TO YOUR DAY! Mwahahaha!

Go on - attend the meetings. You know you want to. You could be missing something really, really important…

3) Check off your to-do list items. That’s right: alllllll the items.

You’re gonna compile a to-do list full of mundane tasks. Then you’re gonna cross off each task, one by one, until your to-do list is empty. And you’re gonna feel great about each item you cross off, despite none of these tasks moving the needle on your major projects or goals.

That’s right, Jay: you’re gonna feel great about doing mundane work and about generally lacking in creativity all day.

4) Get a coffee before you dig into your next big creative project. That’s right: alllllll the—well, okay, that’s probably not realistic. I mean, we’re kidnappers, not coffee nazis here. But yeah -- get that coffee, sucker! 

You’re gonna finish your to-do list, and you’re gonna face a solid hour or two of creative time. But you’re gonna get up, adjust some items on your desk, and go walk to get a coffee. “But why?” you ask? “I don’t actually NEED a coffee,” you say?

You don’t have a choice.

You will do this because we are holding your Creativity hostage, and when you return, you will realize you have precious little time left in your open window before the next meeting.

Do this, or else!

Sincerely,
Email, Meetings, and Distractions
The Daily Routine Gang

PS: It’s already 11pm. Too late. We've killed your Creativity. 

Don’t let your routine kill your Creativity. Take back your day. Say no to things. Be structured. And work on what's most important.

And if all else fails, start by watching this pep talk and get back to being awesome. Good luck!

Posted on April 7, 2014 and filed under creativity.