Q&A with Jay Acunzo - How Customer Obsession Can Help Drive Media
Our latest Integrated Marketing Leadership Series event, IMLS®: The Future of Media, kicked off with an inspiring keynote by Jay Acunzo, champion of content marketing and host of the Unthinkable podcast. Jay set the tone for the day with a charge to each of the 100+ senior marketers to spearhead next practices and take a customer-first approach to media innovation.
We sat down with Jay for a Q&A, asking him to dive deeper into how marketers can shape the future through a customer-obsessed media portfolio.
Q: Why is customer obsession so important?
A: When you actually inject your customer into everything you do as a digital marketer, you end up with a clear vision, goal, and target audience. As a result, your marketing efforts are aligned and more successful.
We exist for our customers. It’s not the other way around.
Q: How do you balance a customer-first approach, business needs, and marketing resources?
A: These are not mutually exclusive so much as order of operations—one needs to follow the other. Start with a customer’s needs, and create your business goals around them. Then, allocate appropriate resources. Once you have a low-dollar experiment that works, you’re then able to grow your investment in a certain area with more confidence.
Startups are brilliant at this because they have little to no legacy data or thinking at their organization. Travel giant Kayak is famous for building quarterly numbers and budgets around changing customer needs. It all started in a very simple place: the co-founder and CTO, Paul English, placed a big red phone in the middle of his engineering department. It would receive a periodic customer support call, and engineers were each required to answer them in rotation. The lessons they learned were invaluable, and their product buildouts became entirely focused on customer needs.
Jay Acunzo captivates the audience at IMLS with his advice on how to create the future of digital media.
Q: Why are some marketers still missing the boat on driving relevant content for customers? How do they turn this around to become successful?
A: We often think in scale first, and this is a mistake. It’s never been easier to reach people, but in the noisiest era ever, attention is the most precious and scarce resource. The hard part is actually resonating with people. Once you find something that breaks through, you can easily target, place, and disseminate your message.
Marketers often reverse this. We judge the success of a campaign by looking at top-line metrics (last click performance, total views, shares, share of voice, brand sentiment or awareness lift, net new leads, and so forth). When we’re innovating or putting the customer first, however, we may need to look at something else as our starting point: Can we create something that a small number of people react to in big ways? You can still measure it. Look for “depth” indicators like emails and social comments with original, emotional responses or time spent and repeat traffic.
If we create something that a small subset of our audience truly loves, we’ve struck gold. The challenge then becomes resisting the urge to do more things like it, and instead doing more things with it. Pull out that information from the content, repackage and repurpose it elsewhere, and ultimately proceed with promotion and media investments more confidently.
Q: What are some examples of great customer-first marketing messages or media campaigns?
A: I love what Uber did in Chicago to grow its market. In talking to their general manager at the time, I learned about the ineffectiveness of their traditional approaches. They spent tons of money on billboards and banner ads and they sent emails asking people to download the app or order rides, but it was yielding minimal results. When the company took a more customer-first approach, it began to find real traction.
Uber thought about its customers’ lives and decided to solve a small, but real challenge. It realized that many people were likely to arrive at work during the week of Halloween without a costume for the company party. Thus, Uber Costumes was born: you pull up the Uber app and call for a car containing a new costume at the last minute.
They didn’t over-market this test. They allowed for three days of promotion, four costume types, and one channel to measure and optimize: email. As it so often does, it worked out much better because of these constraints. Although it sounds counterintuitive, constraints can be strengths.
Lastly, Uber injected a partner into the program to amplify it further. It worked with Snickers to deliver a custom candy bar of the same name as your costume, and the two co-promoted the campaign that week. They reached millions of people in the area in just three days, receiving millions more in earned media impressions on social and in the press. Uber doubled its email open rates and click-through-rates.
Q: What are some innovative ways to use your media portfolio to deliver the marketing holy grail (right message, right way, right time)?
A: Those three things -- right message, right way, right time—create absolute relevancy for customers. But we never think to ourselves, “How do I tell my buddy Dan what he needs to hear using the right message, in the right way, at the right time?” That’s because you actually know Dan, and he knows you. You have context. So everything you could possibly share feels like it has all three of those things.
But with customers, we have to take a different approach. Start by looking for resonance, not reach. If I want more views, I’ll write about puppies and Donald Trump (possibly in the same piece). But if I want more customers and brand loyalists, I need to find a small number of people that react in big ways to what my brand is publishing to start, then lean into what works with more investment dollars and more channels.
So what does this have to do with modern marketing? It’s about optimizing for depth, not breadth—for context, not reach. The first will often breed the second.
On social, build custom lists for your repeat or re-targeted visitors, and then engage with them proactively. For email, develop and document a tone of voice that feels familiar, not corporate, and look for ways to insert shared experiences across emails to build loyalty and that communal feel. On your website, personalize your content using modern tools.
In the end, the most innovative brands aren’t simply optimizing for “the most possible X.” They’re going deeper and building superfans who can then interact with them and tell them where the marketplace is going.
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