Jay Acunzo on How to be an Exceptional Marketer

Modern Marketing


Do something different, they say. Be bold. Stand out from the pack! The list of clichéd instructions on how to improve just about anything according to them is, well, endless. So, when all the “expert” advice becomes white noise, we might as well render it meaningless. If we’re all following the same guidance, aren’t we all a bunch of followers?

Instead, marketing and sales pros must dig deeper to uncover what can truly set initiatives apart. And no, these won’t come from yet another blog.

What differentiates best practices from the right practices comes down to what Jay Acunzo, an award-winning podcaster, and dynamic speaker, says is not much more than your intuition. As the former digital media strategist at Google and head of content marketing at HubSpot, he knows a thing or two about what it takes to be the difference. I interviewed Jay to find out what marketers can do to break away from banality in a way that really matters to themselves and their customers.

Q: You’ve been quoted as saying, “It has never been easier to be average.” Expand on how this applies to today’s digital marketing landscape. How do we prevent mediocrity from creeping into the creative output?

Think about the amount of information you have access to and the speed at which you can access it. It has never been easier to find and follow someone else’s idea or answer. You need direction and someone else has pretty much handed you a “how-to.” Done. Simple.

Unfortunately, generalized advice is the best these so-called expert opinions can provide—without knowing your context, who you are, who your team is, who your customers are, etc. You can’t remove an individual from the situation, and because experts make their living providing broadly applicable knowledge, you’re just defaulting to whatever latest trend they report. You’re doing commodity work.

With more and more experts coming out of the woodwork, it’s never been easier to be average. So, the question is, what does it take to be exceptional in a world where average is now table stakes?

"It's never been easier to be average."

Q: But how can marketers initiate acting on something differently? How do we acquire the confidence to push back on the status quo?

Those doing the work have to unleash their full potential. Stop obsessing over some guru’s answers, and start asking yourself the right questions. Then almost naturally, you’ll start to focus less on generalized advice and more on the specifics of your own context, as well as the abilities of your aspirations.

Q: You host the Unthinkable podcast. What’s been your favorite strategy or guest story? What lessons can we pull about standing out in increasingly noisy digital ecosystems?

We’ve had so many incredible guests, from Disney to TED speakers to best-selling authors. But one of my all-time favorite stories involved Lisa Schneider, Chief Digital Officer at dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster. You’d never expect someone from Merriam-Webster—a brand not known to be particularly exciting—to engage in this crazy, imaginative work. But they’ve differentiated so successfully due to readjusting their focus on their team and audience, ignoring industry precedents and current digital marketing trends.

Merriam-Webster had an ordinary, corporate Twitter account that posted similar stuff and automated the same old thing, daily. Until one day, Lisa checked out the company’s internal chat groups and noticed how lively, fun, smart, and witty they were. She realized if we acted like our true selves in public, more people might enjoy what we have to offer. Fast forward to today: Merriam-Webster has over 550,000 Twitter followers and received around 7,000% more press this year than last year.

Merriam Webster Twitter Account

Q: What channels offer marketers the most opportunity to stand out?

Look, if somebody on a blog post tells you that a certain channel or tactic is the answer and you follow it, you’re doing commodity work. Because that expert doesn’t know your context. Unless you focus on your team’s abilities, your brand’s aspirations, and your customer’s ongoing experiences, it’s virtually impossible to apply generic answers from a blog post and succeed at a rate that’s anything but average.

Because you have so many channels, you’re all looking for a single answer. Instead, you should celebrate all possibilities. The digital age bestows us with countless options to vet for our own situations.

Ask yourself:

  • Which of these possibilities match my team and the way I speak to the world when I’m not a marketer?
  • What is it about ME that’s different?
  • What do I bring to the table?
  • Which of these channels can best amplify my unique attributes?

Q: Let’s talk automation. We can’t live without it. How can we use automation to better our marketing and creativity?

Effective automation can be indispensable—if it’s not put on repeat. You start by asking questions, you find an answer, and then you funnel the answer through automation so it continues to spit out the same answer. This can be powerful, but only if you regularly revisit the answer and make sure it applies to new scenarios.

Successful marketers must own their problems, questions, and audience insights. Automation is a fast track to complacency unless you commit to asking the right questions of various human sources and continuously update your technology.

Q: We know a big tenet of yours is trusting intuition and not settling for mediocre work. What’s more important—the message or the methodology of how it’s spread?

Intuition is often misinterpreted as being the muse that gives you the answer. In reality, the Latin root means knowledge from within or an ongoing process of thinking for yourself. So, if you’re just pumping out copy, good things won’t happen. However, if you truly understand and articulate the process and seriously consider the “why,” you create a kink in the curve and start improving exponentially.

If you look to achieve a goal by relying on how people reached it in the past, you contribute to conventional thinking. Instead, add your own questions and consider all the different ways you could accomplish your goal. Treat gurus as just one source for identifying all possibilities. Remember, the key is to question and test everything.

Jay Acunzo belief quotes

Want to learn more about becoming exceptional in the world of marketing? Check out Jay Acunzo at ZoomInfo’s 2017 Growth Acceleration Summit on Sept. 13-14 in Boston where we’ll be covering best practices, growth strategies, and the future of data.

Do you have an example of exceptional marketing? I’d love to hear your example in the comments below.