Watch the Episode on YouTube This episode is a game-changer for anyone feeling the relentless squeeze of time constraints. Our guest, Andrew...
In this captivating episode of our podcast, we dive deep into the world of marketing, creativity, and storytelling with the brilliant Jay Acunzo. Our conversation covers a spectrum of intriguing topics, including the elusive balance between creativity and measurable results, the impact of AI on writing (and why great writers should be thankful for it), the fine line between intrigue and clickbait, empathy in content creation, and more.
Listeners will gain valuable insights, practical tips, and a fresh perspective on unleashing their creative potential in marketing.
There are so many quotable moments from this episode and we truly could have talked to Jay all day. In our world, Jay Acunzo and storytelling are synonymous.
If you want some immediate next steps and an engaging conversation on the topics mentioned above, be sure to tune in.
Connect with Jay Acunzo
“But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I'm saying? Does it also feel this way to you?” - Kazuo Ishiguro
Going solo in business doesn't mean you're alone! Join our thriving Facebook community group exclusively designed for solopreneurs! Connect with like-minded individuals who understand the unique challenges and triumphs of running a business single-handedly. Gain valuable insights, discover proven strategies, and unlock the power of networking as you engage in lively discussions and receive expert advice. We hope to see you there!
About Jay Acunzo
Jay Acunzo is a believer in resonance in a world obsessed with reach. He's the host of the podcast Unthinkable and cofounder of the Creator Kitchen, a mastermind where content creators learn to ship more valuable, original work.
He's held media and marketing roles at ESPN, Google, and HubSpot, and today, he develops original series and podcasts for bestselling authors, globally touring speakers, indie creators, and brands like Salesforce, GoDaddy, and Drift.
His grandest aspiration and also delusion is to be the Anthony Bourdain of B2B creators.
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Full Episode Transcript
Jay Acunzo (00:00):
Everyone is beating their same boring drum and you come in and you're playing this awesome jazz trumpet. You know how easy it is to spot you. Everything is a backdrop of gray and you're shining bright yellow.
Welcome to the One-Person Business podcast, the show for solopreneurs, consultants and contractors who are ready to take charge of their business and reclaim their freedom. Join us as we bring you inspiring stories, invaluable insights and practical strategies from successful solopreneurs and industry experts, empowering you to create a thriving business that aligns with your unique goals and allows you to live life on your own terms. Here are your hosts, Joe Rando and Carly Ries.
Joe Rando (00:50):
Welcome to the One-Person Business podcast. I'm one of your hosts, Joe Rando.
Carly Ries (00:52):
And I'm Carly Ries.
Joe Rando (00:53):
If that sounds backwards, just because it is, we usually go the other way. But today I'm going to be your host, and the reason is that our guest today is somebody that I discovered, at least for our little group here on the internet, and I'm just a huge fan of his work, of his podcast and of his ideas. So I'm going to do the interviewing today. So instead of being the peanut gallery, piping in with the questions, I'm going to do the talking and Carly can be the peanut gallery.
So today we are going to be talking with Jay Acunzo. Jay is just an amazing guy. And with Jay, the first word that comes to my mind when I think about him is story. He understands story. He understands the value of story. He knows how you should and should not use story, and that's what really got me engaged with him. I think you're going to find this to be a really valuable lesson in terms of determining how you can use storytelling to better promote your business, your offering as a solopreneur. So Jay, welcome to the One-Person Business podcast. We're really glad you're here.
Jay Acunzo (02:01):
Thanks, Joe. To be associated with the word stories, it's very meaningful. It is because something that I care a lot about and have thought a lot about and try to teach it to a lot of people, so I appreciate the kind words.
Joe Rando (02:11):
We're going to start off here with a question about creativity. It's really hard to maintain creativity when you're marketing. It's hard to maintain creativity when you're novel writing, but there's a really big challenge for coming back every day or every week with something creative and then using that to achieve measurable results in business. There's the trade off then between, you get creative sometimes, but you miss the mark in terms of your business or you hit your business on the nose, but it's just not that interesting. Talk a little bit about how you weigh those two things and keep the creative juices flowing without going off the rails.
Jay Acunzo (02:51):
The culture unfortunately, I think, presses this onto us even though I think it's inaccurate, which is that, "creativity means something big". I just fundamentally disagree. Maybe someone else judges your work and goes, wow, you're really creative or you're really big. But I assure you, if people are judging my work and saying it's creative, I'm not sitting around all day writing or podcasting or giving a speech going, look at me being creative. I'm doing the work. I'm a craft person. I think there's a hopeful message in that, which is if you think about how to master any craft, so you could be writing something in support of your business, you could be speaking on a podcast, yours or someone else's. You could be speaking to your team quite frankly, or you could be speaking to a client.
When you're executing anything communication based, you want to be a master of that. You want to use your words to inspire action from others, which is what good storytellers do and what very creative people are prone to thinking about. I think there are three things to think about when you're thinking of mastering that craft. I'll take podcasting as a really easy example because we are on one right now, and I host one and I love them, but how are you going to improve your podcast in support of your business? There are a million different things we think about, but I think we think about one above all, which is the process. It's like the workflow, the techniques, the tools that we can use to guide the work. So people teach the process. Here is this technology you can use, or here is this interview question set that you can benefit from.
It feels very externalized to us. It's out there and I want to grab it and use it and graft it on somehow to my work. But it's really the other two things that make you a master of something and also help you separate, helps you differentiate or helps others decide, "oh wow, you're creative". I'm reacting to your work favorably. Like, this is different in a good way, not a stunt like unwelcome or pushy way. The other two pieces of mastering a craft, any craft are not the process, but the practice and the posture. So think of those three Ps again. Process, Practice, and Posture. Process can come from someone else. You are the least required element of that. It's a checklist. But the practice is where the good stuff happens. It's where you should find your own process. It's me showing up every week to write an article, come hell or high water. Since 2005, I've written on the internet and I've done so for me. It's been for me and me alone. If others find it and like it, fantastic. But I'm not now thinking how do I engineer this article to spread faster or do these things? I need a creative practice where I can get better. If you're trying to get fit, which is let's say the fitness world version of you trying to grow your business as a solopreneur. You're not going to just go and run the race. You're going to practice, you're going to go out for jogs, you're going to stretch, you're going to do these things. So why in the workplace is everything we're doing that feels like our work, "the game or the race"? It makes no sense to me. Find 10 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a week to ship something on a regular basis that explores ideas you care about relating to the work, but it is not itself the work. It is for you and you alone. I'm going to age myself here. I like to say I take a mean girls approach to creativity. "On Wednesdays we wear pink." Carly, you're familiar with the quote,
Carly Ries (06:12):
Oh, Jay, you're speaking my language.
Jay Acunzo (06:18):
On Wednesdays we wear pink. Well, it's never really explained in the movie. Why do they wear pink on Wednesdays? Because it's a Wednesday. So for me, I write an every other week newsletter and I host an every other week podcast, the newsletters Fridays and the podcast Mondays. Every other Friday I write a newsletter. Why? Because it is every other Friday. This is how I want people to think. It's not because inspired. It's not because feeling creative. It's not This is the best idea I've ever had. It's not because the world and my life and the coffee and this room. No, it's Friday and on Fridays we ship. I think that is the "mean girls" approach.
Carly Ries (06:55):
You do realize that when we promote this episode on social and in our newsletter and everything, it will be alongside a mean girls meme, right?
Jay Acunzo (07:04):
Okay, I'm for it.
I wouldn't have said it if I didn't know exactly what this was, which is recorded. So that's the practice. Are you putting yourself on a deadline, shipping a lot of work, which will then give you the skillset and the curiosity and the vision to make things that others deem creative. It's really not about how much time or how many resources you have at your disposal that decides if you're creative or not, it's how you use what you've got. Me and someone else are given five hours to create a podcast episode. I like my chances. It is because I've made an ungodly number of podcast episodes in my career. It's not because I was given some kind of gift at birth to be creative. So the practice is this piece that we don't think about when we think about being creative. Then the last one I think is even more important, which is simply your posture.
That is how you see yourself and the world. I look around at my creative heroes. Let's just take it to the business world. A friend of mine, Ann Handley, who writes a wonderful newsletter for marketers and gives tons of speeches every year. When she writes to you about marketing, it turns on light bulbs. You would deem that creative. The way she writes is so tone of voice forward, AI could never do what she does. Her posture, the way she sees herself in the world allows her to go shopping in Maine and observe a magazine sitting on the shelf and then say to herself, "that made me think of this thing that's starting to sound like the work that I do and the audience I'm teaching. Let me go back and write a piece involving a very simple observation", that by the way, any of us can make. We're surrounded by these tiny little stories and moments of inspiration all over the place without adding magical amounts of resources or budget or finding some magical tool.
You're just observing the world and then you decide and have the vision to see this, "oh, I'm going to use that in my work", which is such a wonderful competitive advantage. Again, others deem you creative even if you're not feeling that way. The way I like to think about it is both artificial intelligence and humans are reliant on an LLM as their foundation. For AI, it's large language models, but for us it's little life moments and we're not pulling from those little life moments enough to inform the work. Doing so is not a matter of working with more resources. You're not working smarter, you're not working harder, you're just working more bravely. You're saying, "oh, I observed something". Even if it's going to be metaphorical, not literally about the work that I talk about, I teach marketing and I'm not talking about a marketer. I'm talking about making coffee. I'm talking about keeping chickens in my yard, I'm talking about skydiving, whatever. I'm finding something in my little life moments that provides this delivery vehicle for an insight that they need to hear and won't forget. That is not a process thing, that's a posture thing. And that to me makes or breaks your ability to be creative or to be a storyteller, not the resources that you have.
Carly Ries (10:05):
I want to chime in here really quick because you said the word of the year or the phrase of the year, AI, Artificial Intelligence. Where does that fall into story? How do the LLMs work together? Can you expand on where AI falls into your daily practice with storytelling? Or does it?
Jay Acunzo (10:26):
I don't really use it because it doesn't solve a problem that I have. I think that's a tool that is very helpful for very many people, but I've put in so much work to try and master the process of writing that it's not overly useful. The things that I use it for are, I'm not great at naming projects. So what I don't do is I don't look for it to give me names. What I look for is for it to wrestle with and observe things that I might be missing in my process. I'll give you an example. Recently I've been developing a new podcast and to name that podcast, I basically said to the tool, here's a list of things that I've named in the past that I'm proud of. What do you observe about these names? What do they have in common?
What does each of them seem to do well? And the tool spits it out. I'm training a chat thread here. Then here are a bunch of names from projects that are in my peer set or out in the world that I admire. Here's a brief description of all of them. What do these names have in common? Think about that. And it spits out a bunch of reactions. So I trained it a little further. Then after that I go, okay, here is this project I'm working on. It's a podcast. Here's a brief description of that podcast. Using what you just observed about the names I shared with you, staying in that arena, evocative of those names. Give me 10 possible names for this podcast and it spits it out. Then I say, "okay, I like these two. Give me five variations on each of these." I start to go down the rabbit hole so it becomes this wrestling partner. The punchline of this little rant here is what I've found is, the tool isn't as overly useful for people who are practiced, but it's useful for people who are practiced but have a piece of that job that either they don't love or don't excel at, but ultimately it's for unblocking your imagination, not for outsourcing it. That's a really big line I draw. If you're writing whole pieces using chat GPT and then sending that out to your audience, it's kind of like inviting your audience over for dinner and serving them what is McDonald's food, but on your own fine China, and then expecting them to clap because you cooked for them. It just doesn't make sense to me. There's so much that you don't include in that work.
You don't know how to imbue that work with things that make it uniquely yours, which means it could have come from anybody. So congratulations. If you use it in lazy fashion, it's never been easier to be mediocre at scale. You create commodity after commodity after commodity, which we've been doing in marketing for a long, long time. Now you're able to do it at greater scale. So the cost of that type of stuff is now at zero, and the value of that stuff is damn near zero too. So the question is not how to use the tool. The prime question to ask and the tool can come later is "what am I saying to the world? Do I have a message? What is unique about my perspective?" In other words, how do I get my creative fingerprints all over the work? Then if I need to clean it up or I need to get better at a piece of that work, once I understand how to imbue it with things that make it proprietary and unique and a personal thing, that can only come from me. Now, let me use a tool to unblock parts of the process. Not use the tool to replace that first stuff.
Carly Ries (13:33):
You are a marketer's dream when it comes to a walking soundbite.
Joe Rando (13:39):
I also am challenged unning things and have used chat GPT for just that. In fact, we just went through that. Naming a new product we're coming out with. So I hear you.
Jay Acunzo (13:50):
A friend of mine, Andrew Davis calls it his doppelganger or his digital doppelganger. He has several different doppelgangers where for me, you can see over time, I'll have my naming chat thread or my naming doppelganger. So this is a version of me having put through lots of thoughts and opinions and preferences over time to train it. Then having it basically be my naming collaborator. Then in a different chat entirely, I can go and do this task or that task. Here's the persona of my customer and let me wrestle. Given the persona further up the chat, here is this thing I'm trying to launch, what objections would this person have? That kind of stuff. The phrase generative is the most damaging possible word in naming these tools for people to adopt them correctly. First of all, it's not really generating stuff. It's synthesizing or outright stealing and plagiarizing. Second, it implies that the best use of the tool is production, producing work, writing the thing for you, That's really not what it's good for. It's good as this assistive, almost like intern or a second pair of eyes on something. It's really not meant to do the writing for you.
Joe Rando (15:03):
Totally agree. I think you're going to see a whole lot of people that are mediocre or poor at writing get a little better just because they weren't good to start with. But I think you're going to see some good writers that are lazy, get worse.
Jay Acunzo (15:17):
Yeah, That's a good way to look at it.
And honestly, if you're someone who, like me, really caress about craft and quality and serving the audience and emotional resonance, not just vanity reach, then I have to say to the world using these tools poorly, thank you. Instead of getting angsty about it and angry, thank you for creating this enormous and ever-growing waterfall of gray. Because if you know how to shine your specific color, people can find you a lot easier. They feel gratitude that you're doing it your way If you shine your color up against a backdrop of gray instead of a little drip of gray. The more junk that floods the internet, people are like, what are we going to do? They're hand wringing and clutching pearls. There's so much commodity content and there's so much noise and blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, yes, but everyone is beating their same boring drum and you come in and you're playing this awesome jazz trumpet. You know how easy it is to spot you. Everything is a backdrop of gray and you're shining bright yellow, and there you are. It's easier to stand out. It's easier to resonate and connect emotionally with the right people. So to the people creating a lot of noise, it does make me a little angry, but for my work, I'm kind of like, thanks, you're making my job a lot easier.
Joe Rando (16:34):
See why I wanted him on the podcast,
Carly Ries (16:36):
Jay, you're quickly becoming my favorite person.
Joe Rando (16:42):
I have a question. This is one that I hope I haven't crossed the line, but I want to make sure I don't.
Jay Acunzo (16:48):
Let's cross the line together.
Joe Rando (16:50):
So a while back on your unthinkable podcast, you did a thing where you started, and forgive me, I'm paraphrasing here, but something like "I got up this morning like every other morning and I read the three words I read to start every day."
Jay Acunzo (17:03):
The mug thing.
Joe Rando (17:05):
And it totally got me. I'm like, wow. I immediately wanted to know what those three words were. I've been kind of not plagiarizing it, but using that kind of stuff as an example for people for better ways to tell story in their content. It totally got me. But then there's a question. That really got me, and that was really interesting, but a lot of things that do that are almost called clickbait. That's not clickbait, but then there's clickbait. So where is the line between that kind of open loop, what you called it, storytelling and clickbait? How do you tread that?
Jay Acunzo (17:46):
What we're talking about here is a storytelling device called an open loop. People are falling all over themselves about social media hooks. This is not a new thing. It's like people talking about media marketing, meaning you make multimedia and you build an audience. You have shows, and this is just media. This has been around forever and ever. Why do we in business have to label it something as if it's brand new? We're not that special and we're usually late to the things that creatives elsewhere have mastered for centuries at this point. An open loop is a storytelling device that creates a question on the mind of the audience where they can't wait until you close that loop. We're hardwired for the closure. So very macro level example, it's in the title Game of Thrones. Who will win? Who will win the Game of Thrones? Then if you don't close it in satisfying fashion, you're like, "oh, really? That guy? I waited 10 years for that answer."
Okay, it's time for a new show. So it's very similar to clickbait in that way. Although clickbait is much more immediate where it's like I am old enough to remember when buzzfeed started and popularized that very overt type of clickbait, very abusive type of clickbait, 17 things that every marketer is doing poorly in B2B today, number five will blow your mind. Number five will blow your mind. The blow your mind thing was a very common clickbait tactic. Now here's the problem with that. Never in the history of a list article has any of the numbers blown anybody's mind at all. It's barely blown a single blade of grass, let alone a human being's entire intellectual power. It is over-promising and under-delivering. That is what happens with clickbait. I saw an ad on some social network, it was probably LinkedIn or something about this many chat GPT users and 99% are using it wrong.
No, that's not true. Or I will share my secrets. We're opening all these loops that have this really heightened sense of anticipation to them. I really want to know the answer to that question, and then the answer is not satisfying. So now people dislike you, so congratulations. You grab their attention successfully. You have not held their attention, nor converted it into someone who trusts you. It's like saying, marketers get excited that text SMS marketing has this insane open rate. Why does that matter? if I decided to dedicate my life's work on leap out of the bushes marketing, here's what you do. You hide in front of your prospect's homes and when they're coming out in the morning, you leap out and you go, "I'm going to throw you on something". I would have a 100% look my way rate, but am I successful as a business owner or a marketer?
No. So we're focused on the wrong things. It's not the open loop that makes storytelling successful. It's the fact that you open this loop to share with people. There's something you want to know, and I want to make that clear. It's coming up and if you stay tuned, you'll get a satisfying conclusion." An example in my podcast, the show's called Unthinkable, and we examine unconventional choices that people make when they're obsessed with quality and creativity in their work because they often break from best practices to then trust their own intuition. The way we open the loop, it's the same structure every time that the audience doesn't know it. They're not overt segments, but we start by saying, "Joe and Carly are podcasters here in general are the best practices that you see today among small business focused podcasters."
We build up what the best practices are. We make them seem smart or at least ubiquitous. Then we introduce you to the guests, Joe and Carly, and you talk about something that seems completely antithetical to those best practices. Now the listener's going, "that's really unthinkable. Oh my gosh, why would they do that?" That's an open loop, but it's implied. I don't say, "and you're never going to believe what they did." So really, really adept storytellers allow the open loops to kind of subtly recede into the nooks and crannies of the way they communicate. Then later in the episode you find out, Joe and Carly are actually strategic people. They look at this information and this desire and this scenario, and that's why they did it this way. Maybe we should think more like them and trust ourselves, not some generic best practice.
When you're trying to be more overt about it, you run the risk of overselling. If I'm like, "you're never going to believe", then I'm on the spectrum of number five will blow your mind. So there are all these subtle ways to do it. You hinted at the mug one, which is, in the morning I talked about how to tell a story that grips people. Imagine I said "in the morning, I woke up and got my coffee as usual". Really nothing that is going to keep your attention there. But, if I said "in the morning, I went down to my kitchen and I reached for the mug that had the five words, I always love reading every morning", and if I just pause for a beat, you're implicitly thinking, "What does the mug say?" I have done nothing sensational. I've done nothing really that interesting. There's nothing groundbreaking about that story or that morning, but the way I articulate it is a respectful form of an open loop. Then in the next line, I'm going, the mug says this.
So I'm purchasing little moments of your attention and then giving you the satisfying payout of the open loop or closing the loop in a way that is not disappointing.
Joe Rando (23:20):
Let's talk a little bit about empathy. Obviously we're creating content for our business and we're communicating with people, hopefully mostly people that potentially are going to want to do business with us, or at least some of them will. We were talking about ourselves, but the idea then is that if you don't show empathy in your content for the people that you're communicating with, obviously it probably can't resonate as well.
You're kind of doing a masterclass here, and I honestly don't belong in the class, but just talk a little bit about empathy. How you channel empathy for the people that you're targeting with your content.
Jay Acunzo (24:04):
Yeah, one of the missing pieces in a lot of business focused content. Now that might mean I talk about business and work-related topics, or it might mean that I'm running my business and I teach yoga or eating healthy or whatever. So the topics are not business, but I'm using the content to support my business. One of the missing ingredients seems to be having some kind of premise. We just talk topics. It's like topic, topic, topic, topic. It's like everyone else is also talking about those topics. So unlike everyone else talking about these topics, what do you do uniquely? And it can't be a game of comparisons. It can't be like, "Only I get practical, only I talk to inspirational people." Other people will say, but I do that too. Even if you're thinking, oh, my competitors don't do it, well, they would still claim to it. So really great premise development. Think of a comedian. You're making an assertion. It's like, did you ever notice toddlers always interrupt you when you're having a serious conversation. That's not a story, that's also not a joke. That's just an assertion I'm making. Then I set it up with a joke afterwards. It's a premise for the joke. We should have a premise for a project, unthinkable. You should trust yourself more than best practices. Trust your intuition more than conventional thinking.
Song Exploder from Hrishikesh Hirway, wonderful podcast, breaks down one track with a musician. So Madonna does not tell her whole backstory on that show. She breaks down one track and piece by piece tells the story of how she made it. Why? Well, unlike Unthinkables pitch that I just gave you, it's a more hidden premise or hidden assertion the host is making. He believes that to understand a musician's greatness and to understand music overall means you should look harder at the small choices they make, not the big moments in their life. So there's an assertion there that informs the content, makes the content feel original. And when you pitch your idea or pitch your premise, you're trying to pitch it from the place of empathy that you hinted at. I think about if I were to pitch unthinkable, I'd be like, "Let me just talk to marketers narrowly because my show speaks to everybody broadly."
But you're a marketer and for years you were really excited about being creative and producing work that only you can create, but over the years you've found that you're just getting bombarded by all these trends and best practices and blueprints. You're getting shirted to death. You have near-term goals conflicting with your long-term aspirations. I'm just agitating the pain. I'm using this source of tension you feel. Like pulling a rubber band in one direction and I'm going to snap you back towards now some solution. Well, is it possible to get off this content hamster wheel? How do we build something we're proud of and something we do our way while also driving actual business? Is it an exhausting race to just beat somebody else at the same game we're all playing, or can we stand up and do something original and unique and rewarding. "I'm Jay Acunzo, join me on this journey where we're trying to understand how we trust ourselves more than conventional thinking."
We're telling stories of people who made the leap between what best practices said they have to do and what their intuition was urging them to try. What we'll discover is that it wasn't a leap at all. In fact, it's only unthinkable from the outside looking in. That sounds like kind of a trailer or something like that. But in Hollywood, that's called an empathy statement. An empathy statement is literally just, I'm going to address one person in my audience. I'm going to say, you're this and you're like this. Okay, now you have self identified, this is for me. Then I'm going to say, and then you struggle with this or want this, and then this stuff gets in the way, and then here's some big open-ended questions we share. Now, I'm going to invite you to come with me on this journey of my newsletter, of my podcast, of my overall brand as I look to change something that you want changed.
And the change I'm prescribing is my perspective. It is a solution, not the solution which you might disagree with, but if you do agree with it or at least you're intrigued by, it's going to be very "for you". So I've set it up with addressing who you are and all the problems you have. None of that is unique. I'm now in a genre or an industry or a category or a niche, but my perspective on what to do about it is unique. That's where the empathy comes in. I've heard you. I understand your pain and who you are and what you're dealing with, and I'm here with a proposed solution you have not considered. That's a difference between someone who creates just commodity junk and someone who really has empathy. Someone who goes, "listen, I know this is what you're dealing with and this is what you think you want, but I'm here to propose something that you need" and I'm articulating in a way, from your perspective, that leads you every step of the way that you need to walk to arrive at the conclusion of, this is the change, this is the solution.
This where I already am. I'm not just saying, "Stop that. Do this." I'm hitting all the beats I need to so that I'm coming at it from where you're at and then leading you to where I want you to be. To me, that's the definition of empathy.
Joe Rando (28:52):
Meeting them where they are and then bringing them along. My wife's a child therapist and she says the same thing with the kids and their parents. Meet 'em where they are."
Jay Acunzo (29:02):
It's basically giving a keynote everywhere you go in not so many terms. Good keynotes walk up onto the stage with some kind of big how to think change in mind, but they don't start with it. They start with like, Hey, you know this goal you have. That's the goal, right? Yeah. Everyone agrees, okay, cool, we're aligned. I have your best interests at heart, and you know how we're coming at it looks like this. People go, yeah, I am doing that. Well, here's some problems with that and here's a change to fix those problems, and here's a story or two that illustrates what it looks like. Then here's a methodology so you can do it. I'm leading you every step of the way from where you're at to where I want you to be.
Carly Ries (29:43):
It is so funny, Jay. The way you talk is like a storyteller. I have found myself during this interview getting closer and closer to the screen as I get more and more engaged in what you're saying. I'm so captivated. Literally I just took a step back because I was like, oh my gosh, I'm right up against the camera.
Joe Rando (30:01):
Could you share some practical tips for content creators and marketers that want to tell more compelling stories? Just some best practices, which I know you kind of go against, but what are Jay Acunzo's best practices for not doing best practices?
Jay Acunzo (30:17):
I think, make things your own. That's the message why I attack best practices. Don't just take generic advice, make it your own. Use the variables from your own specific situation, including what you can do and how you do it, most importantly. The who behind your content matters more than ever before. A lot of storytelling advice looks like a narrative. I've got to go tell a narrative. The storytelling advice is rooted in the culture of literature and film and all these things which we can totally learn from and should. I'm much more interested in, without magically adding resources or spending hours of your day studying someone that you love, some auteur, how do you in the next piece you're writing, raise the impact of that piece, get off the content hamster wheel, create things that at once are more valuable to others and more original to you.
How might we go about that? There's a really simple storytelling structure that I love. There are just three parts to it. And the third is the missing piece. In so many ways we communicate as entrepreneurs and marketers. The three parts are, number one, this happened. Number two, which made me realize. Number three, and here's the really important piece. It's the tipping point from talking about anything you want to talking about what they want. That's the thing about the topic I'm teaching you, the insight I'm giving you. This happened, which made me realize that's the thing about topic plus insight. Here's a really easy example. Let's say I wanted to teach people to stop doing all this unnecessary research and following all the experts and buying all the courses and buying all the books in advance of doing a thing and say, please just do the thing.
I'm kind of like the Nike slogan. I'm looking at my audience going, just do it or I'm a reporter. Studies show that in general, we're not afraid of the task that we're actually over researching. We're afraid of doing something that's new. Anyone could say it this way, and in fact, many people have. You're a commodity, and the only way to win if you have a commodity is you got to reach somebody before everybody else saying the exact same stuff does, because you're all the same. It's an exhausting and a very expensive and inefficient way to go to market. What if instead, I had the same goal, I wanted to teach you that lesson, but in my writing or my podcast or wherever I'm showing up, I did this instead. Using that previous structure I mentioned this happened, which made me realize that's the thing about. For years, this is actually a true story by the way.
For years, even though I have an espresso machine in my home, I did not make espresso. I was afraid of it. Really, if anyone can see me or look at me on the internet, I'm inescapably Italian. It was embarrassing that I did not make my own espresso. My wife, who's not Italian, would make it for herself. And every time I saw her going up to the machine, I'd be like, "babe, can you make it for me, please?"
It was embarrassing, Today though, I make it every single day. So what changed? I tried making it once. Okay, this happened. That's all I just did. And when I made it that one time, it made me realize, I wasted a lot of time doing all this research following the espresso influencers, asking my wife, outsourcing it to her, or just not doing it. Once I made it once, I was like, that wasn't that scary. Also, if I messed up, it was easy to clean up, or if I had to do some research, it was more focused and productive research, not endless, open-ended needless research. That's the thing about trying new things; Typically, and studies will validate this, we're not afraid of the task itself.
We're afraid of the unknown. And if that's true, then rather than do all this research and follow people and outsource it or skip it, what we should do is move quicker to make the unknown known. Whatever it is you're thinking about, try it once. Because typically then you don't need the research, or if you do, it's much more focused and productive because a specific question to ask or a sticking point where you got stuck. So that's the same message. I didn't have to go and live some travel hopping plane to plane and meeting fancy people and experiencing things and starting billion business' life. It's literally me in my kitchen every day. It's an observation pulled from my LLM, my little live moment. It's more impactful. It feels like it's valuable. I'm giving you an insight that you can use, and it's a sticking point.
It's like, oh, I'm going to remember that because the delivery vehicle was memorable, not commodified, and it's original, it's personal to me. So you've learned something about me or there was a perspective I had that you shared. Key to all of this is, even if you don't care about coffee or like coffee or you can't stand when people talk about coffee, there was something I was going through in the coffee story that you were relating back to your own world of like, "yeah, I've really been trying to master this thing and I am also agonizing over it and doing too much research". that is really where a story connects, it's not the action or the topic, it's the emotional stakes. That same goal, same constraints, same type of content, all I'm asking you to do is say, in my personal life, this happened, which made me realize this thing, this idea sparked by what happened. And that's the thing about the topic I'm here to teach you and the insight I'm here to give to you.
Joe Rando (35:43):
One question that I have on that is that there's this concept of best practices. If you talk about writing, there'are certain things about writing that kind of are accepted as things that you should know or do, like spelling. Things that are generally considered best practices. I'm going back to when I was a teenager and I was in a rock band, and we said, we have our own style. So we would kind of learn all these cover songs but never really learn them right. And we weren't that good. We kind of said, "well, it's our own style". It wasn't very good but then we finally said, "Maybe we should learn what they're doing, get that down, and then change it", which worked out a lot better. Now we were starting from a place of expertise instead of just hacking. I'm just curious, any thoughts on that in terms of weighing that basic skillset against "doing it your way, your original way?
Jay Acunzo (36:43):
Yeah. It reminds me of this guy, Mike Brown. He's an entrepreneur in upstate New York who runs a very successful coffee brand today called Death Wish Coffee. It's the world's strongest coffee, Death Wish. It's like two and a half times the average caffeine content per cup. When Mike started, he wasn't building an online brand or an e-commerce brand. He was building a single location coffee business in Saratoga Springs, New York, and he had no clue about coffee. He was trying all these best practices and all these different things were not working. It was like a glut of attempts to make the business work because he was just grafting out of his business all these expert things. Most notable was every coffee expert said, the bean you want to use is called an arabica bean, floral, and delicious and aromatic. Now that you know this phrase, if you haven't heard it before, you'll see it all over coffee, Arabica coffee, Arabica beans. It's like heraldi as the bean you want to use. Sort of the enemy to that is Robusta, which is often frowned upon as kind of more rubbery or chemically.The craftspeople in coffee, don't love it as much. It's found in a lot of instant coffees, Robusta. What Mike failed to realize and then he caught up was, hold on a sec. My customer is not Jay trying to write the next book, next to some exposed brick with a coffee he sips, luxuriously thinking about art. My customer in upstate New York is a construction worker,
A firefighter, people who were hard chargers, blue collar workers primarily. As you start to research Saratoga Springs at the time, all their demographic data actually points to this firsthand qualitative insight of Mike's because it was one of the few towns that was building. So all these people flooded to the town, and Mike had just observed, this is who's coming into my shop and they reach for coffee like a Red Bull or a five hour, that's my competitor, not these artisanal coffee brands or other coffee shops. So he's like, I'm going to use Robusta because there's way more caffeine in a Robusta bean once roasted than Arabica, which loses more of its potency. So a coffee expert would've said, "don't ever do that". And Mike, just looking at his firsthand world, figured out that he should. What this showed me was Mike's use of Robusta started primarily because he just looked at his firsthand situation and figured out what worked for him and his customers. I think if you don't have a clue how to write fine, invent your own damn rules, misspell everything. Start every sentence with a preposition, which is frowned upon. Use the Oxford comma or don't, spoiler alert, we're going to fight if you don't. But, far be it for me to tell you what to do, because the only thing that matters in writing is not that you uphold any kind of rule, it's that when people read it, they get it and they get you. Do they get what you're trying to say? And do they actually learn something, not just about themselves and the words, but also about you so that they come back for more or think highly of you so that you start to inspire action from your audience? That's it. If there are really any rules to writing, that is it. Did they get it? And do they get you?
Carly Ries (39:56):
Jay, you subconsciously just know your audience so well at this point. You had no idea you were talking to two crazy coffee lovers. That was the perfect example to use because Joe and I are both coffee addicts. Subconsciously you just know how to talk to your audience. I love it.
Jay Acunzo (40:14):
I just got that vibe. Also, I did a three-part documentary series before the pandemic called Against the Grain. I partnered with a brand called Help Scout, and I got to go up to Death Wish's office and do a multiple day shoot around their company and around their town. They were shoving full mugs of their product at me for on-camera work. What you won't see if you go to jayacunzo.com/atg for Against the Grain, you won't see in the episode me vibrating violently off camera. It was insane levels of caffeine.
Joe Rando (40:48):
We are running out of time here, so I want to make sure we get these last two things in. The first one, your favorite quote about success.
Jay Acunzo (40:54):
I don't think I have a favorite quote about success. I have a favorite quote about successful storytelling, if I can offer that.
Joe Rando (41:00):
Jay Acunzo (41:01):
In 2017, author Kazuo Ishiguro accepted the Nobel Prize in literature. He said, "stories are like one person saying to another, this is how it feels to me. Can you understand what I'm saying? Does it also feel this way to you?"
Joe Rando (41:16):
Carly Ries (41:16):
I love that.
Joe Rando (41:18):
Lastly, how do people find you if they want to learn more about you?
Jay Acunzo (41:23):
It's very simple. JayAcunzo.com for my books, my newsletter, I write an every other week newsletter to help you become a stronger storyteller. That's probably the best project I can offer folks listening, or we're listening to a podcast here, Unthinkable is the name of the show. That's where I talk to other people and collect their stories. Actually right now we're going through a miniseries where I'm bringing on world-class storytellers who are in the business world, so business storytellers, and they're all bringing one of their signature stories that they use somehow to grow their business. They're breaking it apart, talking about how they came up with the story, how it's constructed, what's working, what's not working, how to improve it, and then how they use it to grow their business. So the show is called Unthinkable, but the current miniseries feels really perfect for this conversation.
Joe Rando (42:03):
Yeah, it's great. I love it. Jay, thanks so much. This was fantastic. I will be looking forward to seeing you sometime, somewhere, or at least listening to you on Unthinkable.
Carly Ries (42:37):
And listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. We'll see you next week on the next episode of the One-Person Business podcast. Talk to you soon.
You may be going solo in business, but that doesn't mean you're alone. In fact, millions of people are in your shoes running a one person business and figuring it out as they go. So why not connect with them and learn from each other's successes and failures? At Lifestarr, we're creating a one-person business community where you can go to meet and get advice from other solopreneurs. Be sure to join in on the conversations at community.lifestarr.com
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