As marketers, we tend to develop an abstract concept for everything. But best not complicate storytelling.

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"We overcomplicate it...becoming a storyteller," says Marketing Smarts guest Jay Acunzo. "We try to abstract away these things. We do this with other things in marketing, too. What is ABM? What is marketing automation? What is content marketing?"

Storytelling is pretty straightforward, he says: "Stories contain three things...some kind of steady state; some tension, some question...some sort of conflict; and then a resolution."

What good marketers do is solve those conflicts.

"Ask questions that Google can't answer and then go on a journey or a quest to try to answer them," Jay explains.

Be original. Trust your gut. So many marketers are concerned with quantity, with numbers, with "reach," when what matters to people is emotional resonance.

"Reach is how many see it. Resonance is how much they care," he says. "I think a lot of people have misconstrued marketing as a game of reach, as a game of awareness...we think, and it's a very dangerous thing to think, it's an assumption, that if only more people were aware of us that they would like us."

Check out Episode 517 to hear more about story structure, the problem with best-practices, and why so much of trying to be the best is, as Jay says many times, "much puffery."

You can listen to the entire show from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcript: A Masterful B2B Marketing, Unthinkable Storytelling Masterclass

George Thomas: I am super excited because today we're talking with Jay Acunzo and we are having a discussion around a masterful B2B marketing unthinkable storytelling master class that you are not going to believe. When I talk to Jay, we talk about resonate and resonance and the importance of that. We talk about where B2B marketers can get started with storytelling, and not in the buzzword way, but a real down to Earth way that you can think about this. We talk about things like flywheel and favoritism, we talk about hurdles and success. Jay even gives us some fabulous words of wisdom.

To say that this is a journey, to say that this is a story is all true. I can't wait for you to listen in and get the learning that you will learn from this episode. I hope you're ready, buckled in, and have your notepad, your pen, your paper, all the good things ready to take notes, because this unthinkable storytelling master class with Jay Acunzo just might change your B2B strategy, marketing, or maybe even your life in the rest of 2022, in 2023, and beyond. With that said, let's get into the good stuff.

I'm super excited because today I get to talk to Jay Acunzo and more than that is the conversation that we're having. We're going to be talking about a masterful B2B marketing unthinkable storytelling master class that you get to tune into today for free. Before we get into the good stuff, I do have a question that I love to start with, Jay. What the heck keeps Jay Acunzo up at night?

Jay Acunzo: I think the marketing thing that keeps me up at night is that when I started in content marketing it was 2011 and there was this glut of ideas that were excited and a glut of people that were excitable pushing the industry forward, but it was rife with a lot of folks promising the moon with hacks, sheets, and shortcuts. Shortcut culture seemed to be permeating marketing to grow your reach, your following, your subscription list, etcetera. It felt like for a moment in time that started to subside. I don't know if it was pandemic related or what, but it seems like we're back there.

An easy example is the typical thread on Twitter. There's nothing wrong with a thread per se. It's just become the tool or the communication approach of choice for people who are overpromising everything in the world for no effort at all, telling people how to live and work. So, it feels like we're sort of back stuck with a lot of folks who are really obsessed with the marketing equivalent of get rich quick schemes. That keeps me up at night.

George: I love that that's a thing that you brought up because one of the things for me personally that I've dove into, and I don't remember exactly who said that quote, but it was around if you do what is hard in life, life will be easy, and if you do what's easy, life will be hard. You're right, we can see so many people that are trying to take the easy way instead of just doing the work that needs to be done. That's why we're here today, we're going to try to help the Marketing Smarts listeners do the work that needs to be done.

When it comes to this unthinkable storytelling that you write about on your blog and you speak about on stages, in your mind, you use these words, resonate or resonance, what does that mean to marketers and why is it vitally essential compared to what we might have historically focused on?

Jay: I think the most important place to start to understand these concepts, because they can get a bit heady or theoretical and we want to make them practical here, let's compare resonance to its close cousin reach. I think back to the hucksters promising 10X growth in 10 months with just $10, they're promising a lot of reach. Maybe we see them get retweeted a lot and we want that reach.

Reach is how many see it. Resonance is how much they care. I think a lot of people have misconstrued marketing as a game of reach, as a game of awareness. We have sprinted to the top of the funnel in many cases because we think, and it's a very dangerous thing to think, it's an assumption, that if only more people were aware of us that they would like us, they would take action with us, we would build our businesses better because of them. It's a very dangerous assumption to make that we're already so good that if only more people were aware of us or it, whatever it is.

A buddy of mine Jay Clouse and I are both podcasters, and we like to talk about how hard it is to grow a podcast. One of the most important things that you can do to grow a podcast is to invest into the show itself, because most shows don't have a "distribution problem," they have a product problem. In other words, the hard truth we have to swallow, podcast or otherwise, is maybe we're not making anything good enough to spread. Then we try to force the issue and it hurts trust, but trust should be the goal.

Back to just that delineation before I try to define resonance quickly. Reach is how many see it. Resonance is how much they care. Marketing is not about getting in front of people. Marketing is about ensuring that they care. No amount of reach can ensure that they will care, so we're better off getting better at the craft of building things people care about because that's the job.

George: This is so good. I rarely have ever said there's a rewind point at the true first question, but that might be the rewind point, at least one which I'll mention throughout this podcast.

Jay, when you said sprint to the top of the funnel and it being about reach, my brain immediately went to worst case scenario / best case scenario. You leaned to everybody is on the best case scenario. Ladies and gentlemen, the more people that know about you, or maybe also the more people who don't like you at all because of what Jay said in that, that you haven't worked on the craft, you haven't made a great product, so there is that best and worst case at that top of the funnel that can be very crazy.

This is a great conversation. I can't wait to dig in a little bit more. One place that I want to journey is this thought of everyday storytelling and B2B. Any marketing storytelling, but to me, and I've done a couple of these episodes, and you hear people flippantly use the word storytelling, and it becomes very much a buzzword. When you think about storytelling, what are your thoughts on what is business storytelling, truly?

Jay: It's storytelling about business. Let's not reinvent what we know as a story. What is a story? Let's define that. A story is a sequence of actions that introduces and resolves tension. That's it. We've been learning this since we were children, and we've lost sight of it as professional communicators. It is insane, marketers making story a buzzword is like chefs making food a buzzword. It's just supposed to be what we do.

Stories are a sequence of actions, a sequence of events that introduce and resolve tension. The itsy bitsy spider went up the waterspout; not a story, statement of fact, a status quo, steady state. Then you introduce a question in people's minds, or some tension, or some conflict, and it starts to look like a story. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. What's going to happen to my little guy, what's going on? You have a question and then you want the answer, so I have permission to continue, I have held your attention. Out comes the rain and the spider does that thing, good on him.

So, we've been learning this since we were kids. We overcomplicate it. It makes sense because what we've started to focus on as marketers is story or storytelling, but what this is about is you, the listener, becoming a storyteller. We try to abstract away these things. We do this with other things in marketing, too. What is ABM? What is marketing automation? What is content marketing? We come up with these big abstract concepts. It's almost like we are then stepping into this thing that exists and somehow that is the work that emerges. You're doing the work.

The history of story, story structure, the science of story, the ROI of story, how to understand does story matter, all this stuff. You can gather up all of those ingredients all you want, but the real question becomes who is doing the cooking. If you don't know how to tell a story, what does it matter that you understand story structure, what does it matter that you can justify to your boss why we should be telling stories?

In other words, the job of a marketer today is to become an effective storyteller, to understand how to speak in sequences of actions in ways that introduce and relieve tension. All of that gets pointed at something the listener can relate to, the audience can relate to. That's where that idea of resonance comes from. There's a source of alignment at play here. People go, "Oh my gosh, you're speaking to my soul." It's not that they are in the story. You don't have to tell stories of senior level marketers, if that's your ideal customer. They don't have to have their job title appear in the story, but they have to have something about their lived experience appear in the story.

Again, I think marketing advice has lost sight of this very simple truth. It's actually not about story. It's about the storyteller. Can you, the individual, tell effective stories? The difference is you don't just describe something happening, but you also prompt action in other people. Reflection and action, that's the hallmark of an effective storyteller. Sounds like marketing to me.

George: So many good nuggets. By the way, listeners, if story or storytelling has confused you historically as a B2B marketer, Jay just listed off about five to seven keyword searchable phrases around storytelling framework. Go and search that and do a deeper dive. Speaking of the deeper dive, these two first questions were actually set up questions for this third one that I want to ask. By the way, listeners, in preparation I went and read some of Jay's articles. It's fascinating if you've never gone down that road.

There's a thing, that you talk about that if we think about resonate and resonance and the conversation we had there, and we think about storytelling and what we're trying to do as marketers, that becomes very interesting, and that's best versus favorite. I'd love to give you space to talk about something very intriguing around this conversation. Honestly, for me as I read the article, it became like OMG this is a foundational piece. Can you unpack your best versus favorite mentality and how understanding it will help the B2B marketers?

Jay: Let's talk about two ideas. I love that question. The two ideas are what we want and how we get it. What do we want? We want people to take action because without action, we don't get results. That's back to the idea of ensuring others care. They're not going to take an action if they just see it. They have to care about what they're seeing, it has to resonate.

Resonance is the urge to act that has been created when an experience or a message aligns so closely with you that your thoughts, your feelings, and even your abilities feel amplified. It's the urge to act when something aligns with you and makes you feel amplified. That's why when we encounter the name of a podcast even before we listen, or we hear a slogan or a little pithy maxim that someone tweeted, and it hits home for us, there is an alignment at play and we go, "Oh my gosh, this. I will pick that. I will stick with that. I will stick up for that against the odds of infinite choice out there."

What we want is we want action, and that comes from resonance. How we get it is very fraught and I don't think we quite understand it. We run around trying to become the best and convey to our prospects that we are the best. We want to rank number one on this, that, or the other thing. We want to puff ourselves up to be the biggest and the most glamorous, when in reality that is not how people make choices.

I would point to my own experiences with fashion and sports. My favorite shirt, as my wife would tell you, not the best shirt, but it's my favorite. My favorite sports team is the New York Knicks. As anybody who follows sports will tell you, not even just in basketball, but in any sport, the Knicks are among the worst teams. Really think about that. In the cohort of options, among the worst is my favorite. I give them my attention, I give them my money, I can't stop talking about them or listening to shows about them. It makes no sense, right?

Now port that back to the marketing world. We don't need to be the number one ranked in any objective fashion, and there really is no objective way to rank ourselves. Give me a break with all of the G2 crowd, like that's not a gameable system, like you're not incentivizing customers to rank you, Gartner's magic quadrant, like it's not pay-to-play with these analysts. It's all BS, it's all puffery.

At the end of the day, a person is making a decision on the other end based on whether or not, you're not the best, you're their favorite, you're their personal preferred pick for a very specific purpose. Have you tapped the emotional reason that they would care? Study after study will show you that's how we make choices. We make emotion-driven choices that we rationalize later.

If we can find a way into someone's emotions, it almost doesn't matter, you're protected. Like my favorite shirt, my favorite team, my favorite restaurant, my favorite dish, it's protected against anybody else who is saying, "Jay, why do you listen to that science podcast?" The biggest, the number one on Apple, the stuff marketers would agonize over trying to be is the other show over here. I don't care, this one is my favorite.

That's what we want. We want to be so defensible as brands that people go, "I'm picking you, I'm sticking with you, I'm sticking up for you, I'm referring you against the odds." It does not matter if you are top ranked in any objective sense, because mostly that doesn't even exist and it's certainly not how people make buying choices.

George: My tweetable moment from this episode might be "It's all puffery," and just let people chew on that one for a hot second. That was so good. Honestly, as you were talking, I can't help but remind the Marketing Smarts listeners of a previous episode that we did, two episodes that we did with Sally Hogshead on different is better than better, because it kind of leans in on what you were talking about pertaining to this kind of favorite versus best, and especially how companies are on this just almost force-fed driven we have to be the best at the thing instead of different at the thing or somebody's favorite because of the amount of caring that is put into the thing that we do.

I want to circle back around to stories. For instance, earlier today I did an interview with another person and we were talking about stories related to video testimonials, but you could talk about stories of what do you say on your website homepage, or you could say stories and it could be what you're doing on social media. So, this is going to sound like a very basic question, but I feel like it's a confusing portion in some of the listener's day. I'll just ask the question. Are there certain types of stories that B2B marketers should be focusing on or telling more than potentially others?

Jay: It's funny. These questions are really important, but we do have to contextualize them. We talk about does ABM work, does Twitter work, do stories work. My brother-in-law is a carpenter. I'm pretty sure he doesn't get together with his carpenter friends and go, "Do hammers work?" We abstract away the job in very strange ways. Partly, I get it, because we're very stressed out, there's a lot of change, and we're getting those questions from others, maybe the CEO or the CMO. I get it, but we really have to contextualize this stuff.

Let's start with the stories or the way we talk about stories that already happen. We talk about a slogan or a tagline on the website. What is the story we're trying to tell on the website? It's a one-line description., where video meets marketing. That's not a story. Wistia, by the way, great storytellers. But on that homepage, the place that a lot of marketers go, "What's the story we're telling on our homepage with our tagline," you're not, that's not a story.

Stories contain three things. The second thing is what makes it a story. A status quo, some kind of steady state, some tension, some question, some desire where it's not clear you'll meet that desire, some sort of conflict, and then a resolution. The itsy bitsy spider thing fell into that three-part story structure. You can call that the one simple story.

Sophisticated storytellers don't rely on that simple storytelling anymore. They don't just introduce one moment of tension. It's what Brene Brown calls gold-plated grit. You talk about I wanted to build this company, then this thing got hard, but then we got over it and now everything is great, let me tell you about how everything is great. That follows that same arc of starting, conflict, resolution, let's talk about the resolution, gold-plated was that story because there's a lot of moments of tension.

When you're just starting out as a storyteller, wherever you show up, the homepage, a long form essay, a podcast, a video, on a stage, in a book, if you want to tell a story, you need that carbon element of tension. If you don't have a carbon element, if you don't have carbon, you don't have life. If you don't have tension, you don't have a story. That's all this is.

On the homepage of any brand, if you're like, "Things today are X and now it's broken because of Y, so we provide Z," that's much more like a story. Here's the status quo, here's the norm, flat statement, the itsy bitsy spider went up the waterspout, but then this disruption, but then this question, but then this change has happened, and here is our vision for the resolution. Join us on a journey on this podcast as we explore that vision we have.

That's what I think about when I think about story. Before we get to the types of stories, I know you asked that, I just wanted to debunk this idea that I don't understand what we're saying when people go, "What's the story we're telling here on the homepage?" That's a slogan, that's a tagline, it should hang off of your brand's story, but in and of itself it is not a story because you don't have tension. When you add it, now you have a story.

George: So good. The funny thing is you sent my brain in a really interesting direction because I always try to put myself in the listener's shoes. With what you said in that last portion, there was this level of "Oh no. Do I not have a story? Have I not been paying attention to crafting the copy in a way that actually is serving me?"

The question that I'm going to ask you next feels a little bit like a two-part question, sort of but not really. What I mean by that is I'm prefacing I know I want you to talk about the first part where it's like getting started, but I stole some of your words off of your website for this question of earning passionate superfans. If somebody listened to that last section and they're like, "I'm in trouble," how can B2B marketers get started or put a story-first system that focuses on that caring portion and earning passionate superfans?

Jay: Thinking about the MarketingProfs audience very specifically where it's very B2B driven, but this applies everywhere. What we are in the business of doing as marketers is inspiring change. That's what an action is. You were not acting or you were acting a different way, and now you're doing it this way. Or you understood the world slightly differently than we do as a brand, and now through these stories, now through our content, now through our messaging, you understand the world like we do, which also makes you a more qualified prospect and easier to sell to, etcetera.

So, we're in a business the change, and a story is a vehicle to communicate change. This tension, this question, and then the resolution. This problem in the industry and our vision for what would be better. It is all about marching people away from something, away from the thing that they're doing that they know or you're telling them is not good enough or won't cut it anymore or is doing them a disservice toward something better. That's really what leadership is, away from something and toward something better. I see storytellers as a form of leaders.

Given that, of course, as marketers we all want that, so we are all in the business of change. I'd ask you a very simple back end maybe this never gets to the website type of exercise. Can you stand up to the world in your head, or maybe even publicly, and say, "Stop this. Start that."

I'll give you an example. You can't be on a marketing podcast without one of two people coming up. It's either Seth Godin or Simon Sinek, because everyone is going to talk about some sort of Seth Godin idea and everyone is going to talk about the word why because it is such an important part of marketing, and somehow a single human being has owned the word why in the zeitgeist for many years, Simon Sinek.

Let's talk about Simon Sinek. Stop selling what you do. Start selling why you do it. Stop acting like an expert. Start acting like an investigator. That's the thesis behind my book Break the Wheel. Can you say stop this, start that? Stop trying to be a good storyteller. Start being an effective storyteller. Of course, we have to define what those things mean.

On my homepage, I tried to articulate the story that I'm telling the world instead of just having a tagline or what I do, so the header phrase on my website says, "Don't market more. Matter more." There's some tension there. Stop doing this. Start doing that. Now, a lot of it is implied because I'm speaking to marketers and creators, and they understand what I say when I say you're probably marketing too much, or don't market more, matter more. There is a lot to unpack there, but you can probably do it if you're in my target audience.

That is a really helpful heuristic to understand we're going for one gram change in philosophy, in approaches, in whatever, the behavior of our audience, that would become the brand level story, off of which you can tell actual narratives or come up with slogan, taglines, campaigns, content, and all of that stuff.

This is hard won. I hope I'm not making it sound too simple. This is the hard work. It feels like back end work, but this is the strategy work that allows everything you actually then produce and ship into the world, the stuff we get stuck on as marketers, the tactics, it allows that stuff to actually work harder on your behalf.

What is that change that you're trying to inspire in others? Start there, and the storytelling part becomes a lot easier.

George: This is so good. I think there is a level of this is where you slow down to speed up. I also like whenever you can find something simple that is very impactful. Saying those two things, starting and stopping, is very simple. But what you put on either side of that could impact the people, the revenue, the process, the culture, the company, the world. I know I'm getting grandiose, I do that sometimes on this podcast.

Here's the thing. What's funny is because we're kind of going grandiose, I almost want to ask this next question in a different way because, of course, if you haven't figured it out, we're talking about story, but we're not really talking about story. I could ask you what are some start with story hurdles. However, I think the bigger question is what is some messaging, communication, being human, caring hurdles that you've seen marketers face along the way when they're trying to do what we're saying you should try to do?

Jay: The first hurdle is to really deeply understand the problem. I think talk to customers has become trite. I'm friends with some software product managers as dear friends, and I'm thankful because they've impacted my life as friends, but also my marketing in a really profound way.

Great product managers do not go out and talk to customers about what they should build. Great product managers go out and talk to customers about the pain. They identify the problem. What problem are you facing? How are you currently trying to solve that problem? What is not going well? Or show me how this works and I'll identify what's not going well about the current status quo of solving that problem. They understand, explore, and look at it from all angles, the pain, the problem, the things that are not going well.

It starts with frustration. Then they go back as product leaders with their engineering team, with their design team, with their go to market teams, and they, using all of the skills they've worked very hard to hone, their imagination, and their taste, they create a solution, software or content or a message. They create the solution that the customer would never have known to ask for.

It's really dangerous to go out and just give the customer what they're asking for, because what the customer wants is not necessarily what they need. It's a delicate dance because you have to meet people where they're at and then walk them every step of the way toward what you think might be better. We're really bad at identifying the problem. That's the first hurdle.

This manifests in a lot of cliché positioning statements that you see. I think there are three awful but ubiquitous, especially in B2B, positioning statements you see. Let me just go through the three, because I think it will be kind of fun.

The first is, "We are the leading X." Okay. Based on what? I was in VC for three years, I was the vice president of content at a VC firm. We saw seed stage companies. Some of them had a prototype and no customers. They would come out and position, "This is the leading app that does this for this crowd." You have no customers. How are you saying that? Then you go even larger and it still is fluffy, it still is much puffery. The leading based on what? So, that doesn't say much. You try to be the best, not their favorite.

Then you start getting more problem focused and people go, "It's X that doesn't suck." That's the best you can offer us? It's like we are marginally passable as a solution. Really? Then by the way, the problem is not that the current email software they're using sucks. They might say that, but what's the real problem? What do they mean by that? A product manager would understand that, would try to glean that, and then use that in the product development and also inform product marketing and other brand go to market initiatives.

Then my favorite is, "It's a better way to X." Awesome. I'm all in. Are you going to tell us what that better way is? That is the second hurdle. If the first hurdle is understanding the problem, the second is having a point of view as to the vision for your community of what would be better.

People see my bio, and in marketing they latch onto one company that I've worked for, which was HubSpot. I was briefly their head of content. HubSpot for many years had a brand story that had that vision down. Instead of saying it's a better way to X, which maybe they did say, they knew what the better way was.

Here's that three-act one simple story. The status quo, for years marketers ran the same playbook over and over again, buy a list and spam it, do out of home, run interruptive advertising, etcetera, field marketing. Thanks to the internet and social media, a lot of these interruptive tactics no longer work because the customer has all the choice, so the customer has all of the power. That's the tension. Now, the resolution. From status quo to tension to resolution. The resolution, you now have to be the thing they choose, you have to create marketing people actually love. We call that inbound marketing. Here's our methodology, here's our education, here's our tool set, etcetera. They actually had a vision for what was better.

Those are the two big hurdles that you asked for. What is preventing marketers from telling good stories? They don't really understand the problem and they don't have a vision for what will be the better way. By the way, all of your competitors could understand the problem the exact same way you did.

Let's say you all somehow downloaded a dossier of here is everything you need to know about your customer's problem. You should still have a unique point of view as to the vision for what is better that your competitors would truly admit, "We don't think that's the better way. We think it's over here instead." This is where we get into differentiation territory. Understand the problem and have a point of view that is unique to you for what would be the better way.

George: By the way, when Jay said what historical marketers were doing and then listed off the things, if you were like, "Wait. We do that. Uh-oh," I'm just saying you might want to look at the things you're doing and the things you should be doing.

Jay, you talked about hurdles, and I like to do the polar opposite question. Pertaining to the conversation that we're having today, what is the on the top level, gold medal around our neck, what does success look like when we've leveraged the resonate, resonance, caring, actually all the stuff that we've talked about? What gets us first place on the podium?

Jay: We hear success, we hear success metrics, so let's talk about metrics. Let's talk about measuring resonance, let's talk about if you're a great storyteller, how do you even tell. I think there are some initial ways to tell that's more qualitative data.

This is my I will die on this hill. Data does not mean numbers. Data means information stored for later use. Yes, collect the numbers. Also, collect qualitative feedback, survey responses, and your own observations through your own intuition. If you're going to be data-driven or better, data-informed, don't limit yourself. Collect all forms of data, not just the stats.

Anyway, that big pet rock aside, how do you measure this stuff? Initially, what you're going for is kind of like you're searching for gold on the beach. The way a lot of marketers search for gold on the beach is they gather their shovels and they run sprinting around the beach through brute force, just stressfully digging every single place they have to dig. It's this thing, it's that tactic, it's this trend. If you stop, because you're digging a hole in dry sand, what happens? The walls cave in on you. It's exhausting. It's reactive, it's stressful. Far better is to calmly pick up a metal detector and look for a beep. Then you go, "I didn't get a beep anywhere else. I got a beep right here. Now with confidence, I can dig down here."

We skip the part where we get a beep and we just start digging. What I mean by that is whether or not you're building something big like a podcast or a book or an event series or your next piece of content, you should be testing your ideas publicly, aerating them, in conversations one-to-one. Do people light up? Have you articulated your core message or a simple idea that you'd like to explore well? On social media, in your personal accounts, even if you can't use the brand accounts, are you getting a small number of people reacting in big ways to what you're saying? If you are, that's the beep. You're not done, but that is a signal of future success, that's a sign that you might resonate.

Now that strongly worded tweet professing your belief about B2B marketing might be able to support an entire podcast, or even just one episode. Why would you create your podcast around this notion that you picked out in a boardroom somewhere when you haven't gone to market to test whether or not that premise is powerful enough to support a whole show's journey? That's something we need to get better at doing is to measure success first, look for a small number of people reacting in a big way, lean into that.

Then, of course, you want to scale. I'll end this metrics rant here. We need to break our metrics into things that can be bought versus things that must be earned. A way to see if you have that gold medal around your neck as a storyteller or a resonant marketer is if you're doing well on the things that must be earned side of the equation.

I can buy traffic to the website. I can't buy repeat visitors. I can buy downloads for my podcast. I can't buy episode completions. I have to earn those things. I can buy emails for my list. I should not, but I could. I cannot buy passionate responses to my latest newsletter. I have to earn that.

Are you measuring what can only be earned? If you are not, you're doing yourself a disservice. You're only focused on who arrives. Real marketers understand it's about who stays. It's not enough to grab attention. They have to walk over, spend some time with you, you have to hold their attention, they have to care. Back to the whole reach versus resonance debate.

I think that's the way we signal to ourselves I'm going to go in my drawer, my kid plays little league, I'm going to take out the trophy he doesn't care about anymore, I'm going to replace the plaque to say, 'World's Best Marketer' and give it to myself because I am doing really well on the metrics that must be earned. That's how you know.

George: This whole idea, probably the second tweetable moment of measuring that that must be earned versus what you can pay for, that is a golden nugget in this episode. I want to stick on this success train for a second. I'm super curious, as you look out in space, is there somebody who is just doing it right? You look at this company or this human being and you're like they are a ninja. What do we have there?

Jay: Oh my gosh. I do have a collection of these, just every single month I'm adding more and more to the collection, it's called my podcast Unthinkable, but there's a couple that stand out from that show.

A couple of years ago, I was talking to the marketers over at 360 Learning. Here's a SaaS company, and they're based in the UK, I think primarily, and they have dozens, if not hundreds of competitors. They sell learning and development software, team training tools. It's a fairly commoditized space, so everybody is sort of marketing the same way as you'd expect. They're talking about tips and tricks for onboarding new hires, they're talking about how to build a good culture, lifelong learning as a theme, all of that. The things you would expect their competitive set to do, they're all largely doing it.

360 Learning comes along, and with just one videographer and one head of content, one person running their content team, which was a woman named Joey Chan, they created what I think is one of the most resonant projects in recent B2B memory, and also a great example of what I think marketing is becoming. They created a docuseries where as Joey was onboarded as a new hire, she was followed around by that videographer teammate, and they created a docuseries about what it's actually like to start a new job.

Here's what they're not doing. They're not saying, "What are the key takeaways from this episode? What are the tips, tricks, and practical advice? What is our ultimate guide for awesome new onboarding of your team?" Because they had already been doing that, and everybody else was already doing that, so they were just shouting into the noise, they were blending in. What this project was supposed to be was the ultimate I feel seen project for their audience. The thing that caused them to throw up their hands and go, "Oh my god, I dealt with that when I started my job," or when I onboarded this new hire.

They put on display the fact that they said to Joey, "Here's your budget for content if you were to join us." Great. She took the job, that budget went down, she was unhappy, she went to her boss, they had a meeting about it, they filmed it and they put it on display. It was the real truth behind what it actually is like to start a new job. Not the dream, not the gold-plated grit, not the puffery, but the reality of it, as close to it as you can get in captured content. People went, "Oh my goodness, you're speaking to my soul."

Yes, they've raised a couple rounds of funding since then, but initially they were one of the smaller players. They've exploded, they're thriving. I'm not saying that was the silver bullet, but it certainly was a mental shift for them. A representative project of what they now do when they think about going to market, which is we have to tap into the personal emotional reasons people would care about us, not just serve their informational needs, but serve their emotional needs, and that will cause people to feel this positive irrational bias toward our brand, even though we have tens of competitors (at the time) that are far larger that could claim to be number one, could claim to be the best, and 360 Learning could not.

They've since followed it up with other types of content, including a second series about onboarding another employee, so it has sort of moved from an experiment into a strategy for them.

George: Ding, ding, ding. Marketing Smarts listeners, did you hear that? In that last section and through the whole podcast, Jay said again the word caring 10+ times and emotion 10+ times, and what a great story of how to be successful using this and leveraging what we've been talking about today.

Jay, as a person who creates podcasts, a writer, a speaker, a father, the whole human that you are, one of the things that I love to do at the very end of the podcast because we've all been on a journey, we've all helped people through their journey, the older we get, the more people it is, that's just a fact of life. What are some words of wisdom that you want to share with the Marketing Smarts audience as we close out this podcast episode?

Jay: The single most transformative idea that has ever been given to me was from a great friend and mentor who has probably been on this show and/or should be again, Andrew Davis, author, speaker, marketer extraordinaire. He frames his work this way and taught me to do the same thing. Ask questions that Google can't answer and then go on a journey or a quest to try to answer them.

Why are we so obsessed with best practices in marketing when so often best practices lead to average work? I have no idea. I don't have the answers, but I'd like to hold up my hand to the community I want to serve and say this frustrates me and I have a lot of questions underneath that big one. I am going on a journey to try to figure this out because I think there's a better way. I think we should trust our intuition over these supposed best practices most of the time. Maybe we're intuition-led and data is used to course correct. I think we should trust our intuition, not these best practices. At very least, I think best practices lead to commodity work. Great. I have no answers. I have questions. I'm going to be an explorer and an investigator. Join me on my newsletter, join me on my social accounts, join me in my podcast as we explore where this goes to try to improve our work and transform ourselves for the better.

I think most of us are trying to out expert each other, out factually correct, out how-to. We're just sitting in the camp that is most crowded and trying to out elbow each other. When you do that, when you create things that are commodified – by the way, expertise and experts are because they're instantly accessible everywhere for free – when you create commodities, the best case scenario is that you reach somebody else that you're trying to reach with your commodity before the competition.

How to run great Instagram ads is how to run great Instagram ads. I don't really care about the source, as long as it feels factually correct. I better rank number one on search if I publish that material, or else it's not worth doing. I better out shout somebody on social media or try to "go viral," because the only recourse I have when I create a commodity is I bully my way into someone's life because I'm not saying anything original, I'm not transforming them, I'm just trying to transact them. Here's a download of information, please be on your way.

Drew taught me how to be a better thinker, a better communicator, a more empathetic marketer, a better storyteller with that one simple idea, which yes, has a lot to unpack underneath it. Ask questions Google can't answer, embark on a journey to answer them, and then invite your audience along with you. For my money, I don't know a better way to build an audience, to earn affinity, to resonate deeply, and to grow a business than that.

George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.

I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.

We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk with May Habib about empowering your teams with AI, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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