The Deconstructing Content series explores how marketers go beyond creating content for the sake of content. In each article, we’ll highlight one content leader and break down what makes their work stand out. And more importantly, we’ll call out the key characteristics that help these leaders drive business results. Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with the series.
Who do you think showcases the purest form of content marketing?
You know, the marketers who take audience building to heart and go out of their way to consistently deliver value to their readers. The ones who execute their content marketing strategies without making it feel like marketing.
For me, there’s no better example than Jay Acunzo. If you don’t know the name, here’s a brief snippet of Jay’s bio:
I’d like to help more people find and share their voices in their work. I think when people feel intrinsically motivated by what they do and what they create (instead of work feeling like a chore), everything gets better and everyone wins.
When I’m not making Unthinkable, I’m leading Marketing Showrunners (MSR), the media and education company I founded to help makers & marketers create podcasts and video shows that say something important and make a difference for listeners. (I also host 3 Clips, MSR’s podcast which deconstructs great podcasts, a few little pieces at a time.) I’ve made over 10 podcast or video docuseries pilots, with several becoming full shows, together with brand partners.
A lot of Jay’s work revolves around podcasts. But there’s a foundation of written content that we’re going to focus on here.
Let’s break down some of what Jay has done with Marketing Showrunners and see what we can take away for our own content marketing. (Spoiler: there’s no formula you can copy.)
The Big Picture: Why Study Jay Acunzo’s Content?
This isn’t going to be like some of the other investigational articles you might have read in the past.
It’s not going to be like the classic HubSpot study from Chris Von Wilpert that examines a $271 million inbound lead gen machine—complete with hockey stick graphs and loads of insight into the formulas HubSpot uses for success.
And it’s not going to be like the Canva study from Ross Simmonds that details the graphic design tool’s backlink empire and SEO masterclass.
Jay Acunzo (and Marketing Showrunners by default) doesn’t play by these enterprise-level standards. He doesn’t have thousands of employees at his disposal and millions of dollars to funnel into a content marketing formula.
Aside from a handful of freelancers, Marketing Showrunners is just Jay putting in the work to bring value to his audience.
I don’t have graphs that show you how Jay achieved some crazy result like increasing organic traffic by 1,000% year-over-year. I’m not pulling organic search traffic data from Ahrefs to show you how MSR’s backlink strategy has really started to pay off.
No, this is a breakdown of how Jay and MSR consistently deliver content that their audience truly loves.
Numbers aside, don’t you want your audience to react to your content like this:
This is good dang.
— GenuineJack 👋 (@GenuineJack) April 13, 2020
Or like this:
— Ben Battaglia (@jbbattaglia) August 19, 2020
Or like this:
Explain you why before you ask people to listen.
Loved this advice.
👇🏽 Comment below your best podcast growth advice 👇🏽
— Matthew Gattozzi (@MatthewGattozzi) August 14, 2020
Let’s not be naïve here. Jay uses content to generate interest and signups for podcast workshops. To promote the podcast episodes he produces so he can create more sponsorship opportunities. To generate more speaking engagements and hosting opportunities.
But that’s not what it feels like when you’re reading the articles.
The pursuit of these business goals never comes at the expense of what truly matters to Marketing Showrunners: “We serve marketers who want to find & share their voice, make a difference, and shift the culture of their industries for the better. We believe a show is the best way to do so.”
That’s why this content is worth learning from.
The 3 Best Lessons to Learn from Jay Acunzo’s Content
I get it. You’re under pressure to generate traffic, leads, and revenue for your business right now.
You want to learn all the secrets that catapulted HubSpot to the forefront of the internet. You want the formula for Canva’s rapid rise to graphic design power.
But if there’s one general lesson you can learn from Jay Acunzo, it’s that content marketing isn’t about shortcuts. If you want to generate results, you need to keep showing up and delivering value—over and over and over again.
Instead of looking for the secret formula to Jay’s success or trying to completely copy his strategy, focus on these 3 lessons to renew your approach to content marketing.
Lesson #1: Damn the Best Practices
My first experience with Jay’s content was back in 2017 with the Unthinkable podcast. The one thing that stands out most in my memory is the mantra he repeated so often: “Damn the best practices.”
This message really hit home for me at the time. I was spending the vast majority of my days working with clients to write content that fueled their marketing strategies. And there was one trap that so many clients fell into—trying to turn content marketing into a formula.
- Making sure to hit that 800-1,200 word “sweet spot” for blog posts
- Creating listicles because “those hold people’s attention”
- Publishing “on a consistent basis” of at least 3 days per week
- Cutting up blog posts into one-line paragraphs “to increase readability”
- Keeping sections short to maximize “scannability”
- Picking a keyword and injecting it into the title, headers, and first few paragraphs
We’ve been told so many times that people have shorter attention spans than goldfish and the only way to drive content marketing results is to cater to these best practices.
Read any of Jay’s content and you’ll see that it intentionally flies in the face of these best practices. Why? Because:
“Today more than ever, it’s so incredibly easy to be average. But I know you want something more. It’s my fiercest belief that exceptional work only happens when we find and follow what makes our situation an exception.”
That’s the first lesson to take away from Jay’s content. Stop thinking that the “ultimate guide to content marketing” you downloaded will give you the one small tweak that will make your results skyrocket.
Want the real formula for success? Focus on creating content that will make a difference. Set expectations with your audience. Deliver on those expectations. Repeat.
Whatever approach you take that fits this “formula” and works for you is the one that will drive results.
Lesson #2: Value Comes from First Principles
Pillar pages, topic clusters, 10x content, the skyscraper technique. These are the kinds of frameworks that can help you organize a content/SEO strategy that generates organic traffic.
Marketers have proven that these frameworks can drive results. But too often, they’re used and abused to the point that everything becomes “The Ultimate Guide to X.”
When every major piece of content meant to drive organic search traffic is just another ultimate guide, everything starts to blend together. Too often, that means investing hours, days, and weeks into content creation only to fall short of business goals.
Do you know what you won’t find on the Marketing Showrunners blog? The Ultimate Guide to Business Podcasts. Or, a beginner’s guide to podcasting equipment stuck behind a lead-gen form.
Instead, Jay and the other writers at MSR focus on creating content based on first principles reasoning.
Reasoning from first principles is what helps you take your content strategy beyond best practices.
Instead of covering the same topics in the same ways as your competitors, you dig deeper. You keep asking questions until you get to the heart of any issue your audience faces. That means skipping the generic “how to start a podcast” post and publishing An End-to-End Guide to Crafting an Irresistible and Original Podcast Premise instead.
Build content around your unique perspective. That context is what turns generic ideas into insightful articles that can break through the noise.
Read through some of Jay’s articles. He isn’t looking for catch-all ideas that appeal to every marketer. He draws on his experiences, combines that with what he knows about his audience, and writes out opinionated posts that stand out in a crowded world of podcasting advice.
Taking this approach to content marketing doesn’t mean sacrificing SEO objectives. If you’ve ever followed the 10x content framework, you know that it’s critical to differentiate your content from what already exists. Combining a 10x content approach with the kind of first principles focus that Jay showcases can give you the best of both worlds.
Lesson #3: Voice Matters (But Not in the Way You Think)
Every day, we connect marketers with the freelance writers they need to execute content strategies. Brand voice and style guides play such an important role in these relationships.
Even if you’re building out an entirely in-house content team, solidifying brand voice is often a critical strategic step. The fact that voice matters isn’t news.
But reviewing content from Marketing Showrunners may make you rethink your approach to brand voice and style.
Jay’s writing style is unique. When you read his blog posts, you see that he commits to writing the way he speaks. You’ll see a “yanno” here and a “hoo boy” there as you read his work—things that you can’t exactly nail down in a style guide.
Look at this small section from one of Jay’s MSR blog posts:
“We have to be their favorite to earn trust and love. But to earn trust and love, they need to choose us and spend time with us. But they only choose and spend time with things that are their favorite things.
Chicken, meet egg. Or maybe it’s the other way around? My head hurts…”
Any time you read Jay’s content, you feel like you’re in a personal conversation with him.
At first glance, that might seem hard (or impossible) to replicate across entire brand. But that’s where the lesson kicks in.
Molly Donovan is another writer for the MSR blog. Compare this small section of one of her blog posts to Jay’s:
“As you’re thinking about the issue you’ve chosen to explore, write about the world you wish existed. Write about an imagined world in which the problem you’ve identified doesn’t exist. Instead…what?
Then think: how do I get to that imagined place? How do I make that world a reality? If you can take your listeners on a journey with you to discover the answer, you may have the makings of an excellent show.”
The conversational tone is still there. But you wouldn’t exactly mistake one of Molly’s posts for one of Jay’s.
An over-obsession with brand voice guidelines can suppress one thing that helps content stand out—the writer’s unique style.
Take a page out of the MSR book. Set brand guides without restricting the unique voices of your writers. When your writers have room to express themselves, they’ll be able to convey their points in ways that keep your content from becoming a commodity.
Content Breakdown: The Experience Spectrum
Okay, so we’ve walked through the big picture takeaways and key lessons you can learn from Jay’s content.
But you might be looking for something a bit more tactical than the 30,000-foot view. Except the whole point here is that we shouldn’t be looking for a tactical formula for content success.
It all comes down to putting the work in consistently and building on the results over time.
First of all, thank you!!!
Second of all… I made this today, too 🙂 pic.twitter.com/6rJKzxRqeD
— Jay Acunzo (@jayacunzo) August 18, 2020
Instead of searching for formulas and shortcuts, we can walk through one of Jay’s articles and see what makes it work. Let’s dig into a few elements of The Experience Spectrum:
- Alignment with business goals
I’ve avoided the term “thought leadership” so far in this post. Marketers have watered the term down by throwing it around too often.
But this article from Jay (and the larger series) is a legitimate example of thought leadership.
“The Experience Spectrum” doesn’t give us a how-to guide for podcasting. Rather, it explains the problem with current approaches to business podcasts and proposes a new (better) way of developing one.
Thought leadership is built to stand out from other content. It’s opinionated, controversial even. And as a result? It separates those who are truly aligned with your business and those you aren’t meant to serve.
This article shows you what it looks like when you take a stand on a topic. Jay is saying he isn’t for the brands that want to put out a podcast for the sake of saying they have one. Instead, Marketing Showrunners is here to serve the marketers who want to develop podcasts that are actually original.
Too much content sits on the fence. Choose a side within each individual piece of content and across your strategy as a whole—you’ll generate better results that way.
What exactly are you supposed to learn “The Experience Spectrum” as a headline?
It’s simple. Short and to the point without any clickbait.
But more importantly, Jay didn’t force a keyword into the title in the name of SEO. This article isn’t meant to fit into a larger SEO strategy. Whatever organic traffic it earns over time will be a bonus based entirely on the fact that this is valuable content.
The rise of data-driven marketing and all-in-one SEO platforms has created an endless focus on search optimization. While organic search is invaluable for content distribution, you don’t need to force each and every piece of content to fit into an SEO strategy.
If your goal is to highlight an industry problem and develop a strategic piece of thought leadership, focus on that.
Deliberately choosing when to focus on search optimization and when not to will help you maximize the effectiveness of each article.
Voice and Style
We’ve already talked about how Jay uses a unique voice and style to separate his content from the crowd.
This particular article highlights what that means more than most. Why? Because of Bob the Magic Wand.
Jay Acunzo is a speaker—a marketing entertainer. He knows that just because he has a unique perspective doesn’t mean everyone will read through his 8,000-word article about podcast experiences.
So, what does he do? He steps up the humor and makes the post as engaging as possible. In addition to the more serious images that explain the “experience spectrum” concept, this magic wand travels with you throughout the article.
One core concept for Marketing Showrunners is that marketing isn’t about who shows up, it’s about those who stay. The voice and style in this article align with that mission. The wand may seem like a gimmick to some. But to the true audience of Marketing Showrunners? It’s a welcome break in a long post with some deep insight into changing the podcast development mindset.
Alignment with Business Goals
Going all-in on creating value for your audience doesn’t mean ignoring business goals. However, you have to be strategic with your CTAs.
You can find plenty of 800-word blog posts that barely scratch the surface of a topic and then end with the hard sell. “Contact us to learn more,” “request a demo today,” or something to that effect.
Generating product interest is the primary goal, delivering value with content is secondary.
Compared to that type of blog post, Jay’s 8,000-word article about the experience spectrum delivers immense value. But that doesn’t mean it makes sense to slap a hard sell at the end.
Even though it’s not promoting podcast workshops, this article aligns with Jay’s long-term business goals. The CTAs all focus on adding email subscribers. The article may not directly lead to new business immediately. But building the audience over time serves Jay’s long-term plan to resonate with marketers and podcasters.
Right up front, he’s setting expectations for the series and giving readers a way to opt into new releases.
The end of the article gives readers two additional opportunities to opt into MSR’s email lists.
Most brands don’t have this kind of commitment to content marketing as a long game. We’re tempted to drive blog post readers to demo requests or content downloads that generate leads. But then sales leaders are frustrated when lead quality isn’t strong enough.
And that’s why articles like “The Experience Spectrum” aren’t one-off occurrences for Jay Acunzo and Marketing Showrunners. To increase brand affinity and become truly known, liked, and trusted, you have to keeping showing up and bringing value to your audience—even when content doesn’t generate millions of dollars in revenue the second you hit publish.
Audience Is Everything in Content Marketing
The pressure to generate results with your content is real.
When you have quotas to meet, it can feel risky to invest in the kind of content marketing that Jay Acunzo and Marketing Showrunners focus on. But the reality is that it’s riskier to rely on best practices to drive performance.
Successful content marketing requires work that will rise above the noise. There’s so much content bombarding your audience every second of every day. Hoping for minuscule conversion rates while running the standard lead-gen playbook won’t always be enough. Something has to change.
There’s nothing particularly complicated about the lessons you can learn from Jay’s content. However, it’s not exactly easy to shift your mindset and refocus your strategy.
Start making incremental changes today so that moving forward you’re creating the kind of content that will make you brand known, liked, and trusted for the long term.