Abandoning Hacks Part II: How Real Content Planning Happens with Jay Acunzo

 In Content Marketing, Content Planning

For the past twenty years, marketers have focused on one thing: going faster. With every emerging technology, social media channel, smartphone or device that hits the market, we have new opportunities to gain the attention of our target customers. Or, to lose them entirely.

With all this noise, some believe it’s the toughest time to work with content. Others see it as the most opportune era for gaining an audience’s attention online.

That’s why we recently interviewed Jay Acunzo, host of Unthinkable podcast, amazing keynote speaker, and all-around advocate of using your intuition instead of trending tactics to improve marketing and content.

We discussed everything from his Green Smoothie Paradox, to the many reasons hacks are dangerous to content effectiveness.

Today, we are featuring additional nuggets of inspiration from our talk with Jay about how to use your team’s collective intuition, how to get more strategic and how to plan effectively. As Jay likes to say, the problem with the information age is advice overload. So why are we offering advice from yet another leading thinker?

Because this advice will help you think for yourself.

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Content Planning Using Your Team’s Collective Intuition

Marketers love statistics, trends, technology, and platforms. I mean hey, we practically invented the shiny object syndrome. But when you go back even a few years in history the reason for this becomes crystal clear. Since the Industrial Revolution customer behavior, culture and technology have all been changing at light speed.

Since day one, marketers have been chasing and attempting to influence customers with everything from billboards and television commercials, to blog posts and banner ads.

We’re keenly aware of this history and how fast things change. So it feels natural to seek out case studies, statistics and evidence to support the idea that we should write THIS type of blog post, or THAT type of eBook, or leverage THAT new shiny tactic over there. But in doing so, we put ourselves in a precarious position.

Precarious position? Using an evidence-based approach? How dare Jay Acunzo challenge this tried-and-true marketing methodology!

While it can make us feel more comfortable, following a case study or allowing statistics to dictate our work also means running the risk of falling into copycat tactics and creating lookalike campaigns.

This immediately factors your unique experience, knowledge of your customers, or intuition right out of the equation.

When leaning too heavily on agreed upon best practices you risk becoming more of the noise, instead of standing out from the crowd. And isn’t that the opposite of what effective marketing is supposed to do?

A more effective method for content planning is to lean on your team’s collective intuition.

Here’s what Jay had to say on the matter:

“Thinking for yourself, intuition, all this stuff I talk about is not about some fluffy ideal, process of self-discovery, or navel-gazing. It’s about asking tough questions and trying to answer them with your team, or with your customers.

If you look at all the historical interpretations of intuition, either from science, pop culture, or the arts, it always comes back to something you CAN’T proactively control. It’s the muse, your subconscious, rapid cognition. But the root of the word intuition is actually from the latin “intuir” which means, knowledge from within.

So the simple definition of intuition is being able to find knowledge within yourself.

By inserting you and your team’s intuition – or a group of customers for that matter – you’re instantly making your situation unique. Nobody can match the context of you and your customers.”

The point here is when you leverage the unique perspectives of your content team, combined with unique situations and experiences of customers, you’ll naturally create content and experiences that are differentiated in the market.

So take time upfront to unpack all the tough questions as a group. What assumptions can you challenge? What do you really know about your readers? What gets your audience out of bed in the morning? Don’t settle for what’s popular. Settle for what’s been duly examined using your team’s perspective as a lens.

Planning Versus Strategy: Living In the Land of Questions

In our conversation, Jay pointed out another overwhelming and unavoidable fact of life in digital marketing today; advice overload.

As platforms, social media channels, algorithms, and behavior change so quickly, there has likewise been a huge spike in the must-reads, how-tos, trending advice columns and marketing studies that claim to teach us how to deal with the changing nature of business. While some of this is certainly high quality advice, none of it is crafted with your specific scenario in mind.

All the advice and statistics leave us so overwhelmed that many often rush through the most important strategic aspects of our content marketing strategy, and jump right into the nitty gritty planning. We fall into the trap of thinking that with the speed of change, the time to publish something, ANYTHING, has already passed!

If you want to go from hectic to ahead of the curve (cough cough, shameless self plug), we recently published an eBook helping marketers Future-proof their Content Marketing Strategy.

But let’s get to the point. The problem with obsessing over all this marketing advice is it puts you smack dab in the land of answers, where great minds tell you how to fix your problems.

But according to Jay, developing a sound strategy requires we all take a hike up the steep slopes of marketing greatness to the land of questions.

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Instead of trying to find someone else who has already solved our problem, we should be posing our own difficult questions that reflect the nature of our teams, businesses and customers. After all, that’s how we discover what our audience really wants, and that’s how we roll up our sleeves to actually solve those same problems.

So, next time you fire up your content planning software, or your boss drops that random social media post in your editorial calendar, stop for a second and ask, “why”?

Without first developing a sound audience-based strategy, your planning efforts will not translate to content marketing success.

Here’s what Jay has to say:

“What often happens is the best or safest sounding advice among all that advice wins out. Because you’re so overwhelmed all the time, you want to cling to something that sounds firm, safe, and logical. So, you cling to the past precedent of your business. You cling to the expert you admire the most. You cling to the common trend of the day that everybody’s buzzing about.

You’re looking for firm footing among all the froth.

But in doing so, you’re clinging to the lowest common denominator. And what often gets thrown out the window are things like originality, differentiation, deep resonance with an audience. These are all the things that go away when you feel overwhelmed and grab onto the nearest, safest, firmest piece of advice.

It’s the difference between constantly living in the land of questions; where you’re open to new possibilities, embracing that what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work tomorrow… Versus living in the world of answers where all you want is for somebody to hand you what works on a silver platter.”

Jay Acunzo’s Not-so-secret Planning Process

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Yeah yeah, I get it. But how do I get more strategic and create a content plan that will blow my customers minds?” Hold tight, because we picked Jay’s brain about just that.

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It wouldn’t be right to say his planning process is bulletproof for everyone. But this step-by-step approach can definitely help you strike a balance between your unique strengths, your customer’s needs, and the gaps that exist in your industry.

Here’s how Jay Acunzo plans content, in his own words:

“I like to ask 2 questions, and seek overlap between the two:

1. What’s your aspiration?

For your career? Your company? Your work? For your audience? Your aspiration is your intent for the future plus some kind of dissatisfaction you have with the current status quo.

For example, your intent might be to join a conversation, while your dissatisfaction might the fact that your voice is too bland to join a conversation. So, your aspiration is showing the world how relevant, fun, and amazing your brand or company is. Maybe you’re looking around at your company and the people are great, but the tone of voice in your marketing is bland.

This is your aspirational anchor.

2. What is your first principal insight?

What’s something you know to be fundamentally true about your audience that by addressing it, you will change how they are trying to solve a problem, or fulfill a desire.

This is reached by talking to people. Trying to figure out what it is that they are really buying. Nobody buys a better pillow; they buy a better night’s sleep. Nobody buys business intelligence software; they buy confidence for their sales team. If you can reach this first principle you’re starting with something more fundamental than the competition. Everything you do should be filtered through this lens that you’ve set up for yourself.

Find the overlap; what is your aspiration and what is your first principle insight about your audience?”

While this advice is not easy,  it is simple. Asking tough questions, instead of seeking easy answers takes time and dedication to doing incredible work. The good news is when you trust your intuition and listen to your customers, your content program will undoubtedly be more successful.

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