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Marketers create content for a lot of different reasons. It might be a blog post recapping a recent event; a webinar on recent trends in your industry; or an ebook teaching your audience how to solve a problem in their day-to-day work. These are all use cases for content, and we can sometimes lose sight of the “why” beyond the tactics.
But the goal of content is always to inspire an action (or at least, that should be the goal). You want your reader to subscribe to your blog digest, or your webinar visitor to download your latest offer, or your ebook reader to download a more in-depth resource.
This is where many marketers get stuck. How can I inspire someone to take the next action? How can I keep them invested in my content and coming back for more? Some marketers talk about it as increasing “engagement” – 60% of marketers surveyed by CMI and MarketingProfs list “Producing Engaging Content” among their top content marketing challenges.
But when we talk about engagement, what I think we’re really talking about is resonance. Jay Acunzo, VP of Platform NextView Ventures and the creator and host of Unthinkable, agrees: “It’s all in the name of moving this person along the buyer’s journey to take an action on our behalf,” says Jay. “What will trigger actions out of people? They have to feel something; they have to think something, and have to align with us.”
And that alignment, says Jay, should come from serving the needs of your audience – not talking about your product, services, goals, or interests. Be deeply, empathetically buyer-focused.
Jay’s worked at Google, HubSpot, and several startups, and recently launched the podcast for craft-driven marketers: Unthinkable.
I sat down with Jay to get his thoughts on how and why marketers can start thinking about their content in terms of resonating with their audience – putting in the hard work to deeply know your customer and inspire action.
I think resonance is the depth of intellectual or emotional response that you get from someone else. That’s what resonance is. It’s a little counter-cultural to lots of what’s happening to marketing right now, but the people that have latched onto it are the clear winners already. You don’t often see a brand or a marketing team that has a history of success doing cheap tricks, hacks, and shortcuts. That seems like the definitional opposite of resonance, right?
If you look at a Red Bull or a Coke or American Express or all these brands that we idolize, what they’re great at doing is making us feel something or think differently. And that really is what it’s all about. That should always be the underpinnings of good marketing – because you’re not just going for reach, you are going for resonance. You don’t want to just get in front of somebody, you need to trigger an action.
What is content marketing? It’s just solving the same problem or triggering the same emotion as your product. That’s all it’s supposed to be. But we clutter it with so many tactics and trends and all this noise about “thought leadership” instead of keeping it simple.
I think they believe too often that they can still talk about themselves in any way, shape, or form. I talked to a startup once and they were really hot for content marketing. And they thought: “We totally get we should educate the market. And we need to be entertaining – people are struggling to understand this bot that we created, this automated solution that we have a name for. So, because it’s a named product, we are going to have a byline on our blog that is the product, talking about its features and its process and about how we developed it. And that will be fun and interesting and resonant because it’s almost like a person writing about this stuff.”
To me, that sounds like playing outside the box but pressed right up against it. That is not at all what people are going to like. You’re still thinking too close to home; you’re trying to bolt on this idea like, “Oh people like reading people. Let’s make our product into a person.”
The problem is that doesn’t go far enough away from your product, and shows you’re not trying to delve more deeply into psychology. You actually want to ask, “why do people like reading people?” They like reading what a person wrote because they don’t feel like they’re being sold to: because it's authentic, and because there’s real human personality involved. It works because you’ve started with the audience first, not the product. But it’s scary for a lot of businesses to do that.
Why would somebody click? Why would somebody sign up? Why would somebody watch a demo of your product or talk to a sales rep or become a lead or outright buy or, even better, share your product or your message with somebody else and become an advocate for your business?
You need to do all these high friction, high barrier of entry things as a brand with your audience. And the way to do that is to make it logical to them, to remove that friction. Get them to the place in their heads where they’re ready to take that next step.
That’s how I frame it to a business that thinks that the idea of resonance or engagement or interactivity or quality of creative is too “fluff.” It’s all in the name of moving this person along the buyer’s journey to take an action on our behalf. What will trigger actions out of people? They have to feel something; they have to think something, and have to align with us. We’re entering an era where a lot of people assume marketing needs to be good at describingvalue for people, but it’s about creating value for people now. And it’s a different skill set. I think marketers who understand people and have extreme empathy can trigger those actions and benefit the business. And if you have extreme empathy for people, you want some kind of emotional or intellectual response from them. You want to create something that does that.
I like to say that the type of content in the business world that really attracts me and keeps my attention and I love sharing and seeking out, is business content that is both nutritious and delicious. And there’s this small cluster of people that seem to understand that and want to create content like that.
And I’m blown away by how people think if you’re in the consumer world that’s where all the delicious content has to live, and if you’re in the business world that’s where all the nutritious content has to live. No longer. You have the same platforms as every other brand, as every other individual; you’re competing for attention against all of them. The best possible thing that person is going to read, watch, consume today – you are now competing with that. And it blows my mind more businesses do not try to make their content awesome to consume.
I think it’s not only important, I think you can’t create resonant content without understanding your buyer. It’s literally impossible, because resonance is all about empathy. If you’re creating for someone else, you need extreme empathy toward that person. Empathy is the ability to actually sense the same exact emotion as someone else. It’s not like I understand the position that an audience is in, but I actually put myself in that position. And unless you’re really close to your buyer, that’s extremely hard to achieve. For example, it's far better to talk to actual customers than to read a research report about customers, because the research report will tell you the what, but it’s not going to tell you the why. You’re going to hear that the problem the customer is facing are x, y, and z, but you’re not going to hear the exact words they use to describe it or the tone of voice that they use.
Maybe you could sense this buyer is really stressed or that they feel really tired in their day. Well, you shouldn’t deliver a big long essay with lots of plain charts and black and white fonts. You should do something quick and snackable and exciting and inspirational.
There’s always a very deep nuance to this kind of research. A proxy for having to build up a massive persona and spend tons of time with it is to find 20 minutes of your month and have one conversation with one real customer. Just ask them to describe their day, and then follow up with lots of why questions. And that 20-minute conversation will spawn great ideas that will be spot on.
Honestly, the goal of ROI is basically to maximize and continue to increase the value of whatever you’re building, whether it’s a single campaign, an asset you develop over time like content, the product, your team, etc. How do you increase ROI? You need to convince more of those people that view the content to sign up as a lead. That’s back to triggering those actions. And how do you do that? It’s resonance. It’s not that resonance is triggering an ROI. It’s like saying, what is the ROI of being nice or what is the ROI of drinking coffee before you do your work. It’s not a channel; it’s not a tactic; it’s not a campaign; it’s a horizontal.
If you’re asking what is the ROI of resonance, you don’t understand human beings. You’re putting on a marketing hat, and you’re completely forgetting what it is to be a person interacting with anything at all in the world.
If you have to justify to yourself with some kind of numbers that what you’re putting out the door should be intellectually or emotionally positive for somebody, or helpful, or interesting or entertaining, if you really need a data chart to suggest that, you have way bigger problems than the marketing you’re doing.
Like anything really worth doing, resonating isn’t easy. It’s not as simple as flipping the “resonate” switch, adding some GIFs to a blog post and calling it done.
But it’s also not that complicated. Talking with Jay, I came away with one really clear message: stop talking about yourself, and invest time in figuring out what your audience wants you to talk about with them. It just takes time, empathy, and hard work – there’s no shortcut.
So this week, my homework for you (inspired by Jay) is to reach out to one customer and set up 20 minutes to talk about their day. Listen to what they’re sharing with you, take notes, ask if you can record it – do what you need to do to keep hold of the nuggets of insight you’ll uncover. Then, go back and look at your content strategy.
The content you create based on those conversations – content that answers the questions and solves the problems your customer shared – will have a much better chance at resonating.