Is your content icky or sticky? [INFOGRAPHIC] Based on an interview with Jay Acunzo, former head of content @ Hubspot

Content, content, content… Everyone talks about it but few seem to care about its quality.

The motto seems to be “Knock it up and crank it out.” Who cares if it is or does any good?

Jay Acunzo cares.

I mean, I care too… but Jay cares so much that he’s made it his life’s mission to tell “stories about creating exceptional content…” through

I’m a marketer who believes in creating exceptional experiences for users through content. So, I interviewed Jay on the subject.

Like you, I’ve been bombarded with utterly ridiculous claims that our attention spans are shrinking, meaning we need to turn everything into shallow listicles.

I know you don’t believe that baloney. But just in case anyone else on the Internet does, I’ve summarised Jay’s wisest words on creating exceptional content in an infographic.

Check out the infographic below—share, use and distribute as you please (using the embed code or by downloading the image file). We only ask that you give credit.

And if you’re passionate about creating exceptional content—for users (if you’re in UX) or your audience (if you’re a marketer)—check out a playlist of my full interview with Jay at the bottom of this article.

Is your content icky or sticky? [Infographic]

Jay Acunzo WhatUsersDo Infographic

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Audio playlist and transcript of my interview with Jay




Timi: Okay. So I’m gonna start with the audience. Is it for the boardrooms? Is it for algorithms, you know, search engines, and such? Is it for yourself? Is it for a market? Who should you have in mind when you’re creating?

Jay: It has to be audience first. It doesn’t mean you take yourself out of the equation or your team, your product, your company. But if you get to the first principle of what content marketing is actually supposed to be, you can build up your thinking, and your answer is for pretty much anything from that first principle. So if you distill why a company exists, it’s to solve a problem or fulfill a desire in the world. And we just layer on all these processes in red tape and jargon. That kind of clouds that. Startups are really good at identifying that because that’s why they start.

So, if you take it over to the content world, content marketing is just solving the same problem or fulfilling the same desire as your product or service but through media that you create and distribute. And so, inherently, if you take that as your first principle, you can apply it out into, you know, how you frame who this is for. So solving a problem, fulfilling a desire, it’s not necessarily your problem or your desire, it’s the customer’s. And if the customer is not at the center, you don’t have a reason to exist. You know, profit, and promotions, and readership, all these things are byproducts of you doing a good job, solving a problem, or fulfilling a desire for the customer.

Timi: The audience comes first. The customer comes at the center of everything. But, like you said, you don’t need to get rid of everything, sorry everything else. It’s a case of prioritizing then.

Jay: Yeah, I think it’s a false choice of like, “Well, we’re either gonna create this for them or for us.” But, you know, if you start again at what this process is, you have a person or a team that’s creating the content. So you literally cannot remove the context of who those people creating the content are, the moment and time in which they’re creating it. It’s all different. Like, you know, the example I give is if I had the same headline assigned to 50 people, and the same 90% finished draft to the same 50 people, I would get 50 different finished articles from all those people. Because it’s flowing through the experience of who they are and out into the world. And so if you consider that, you can’t remove the individual. So it’s for the audience, but you can’t remove you.

Timi: That’s true.

Jay: The only way you’re gonna keep playing the game, you’re gonna keep doing that content is if you get results through it. So it’s also for the company. So it’s not just for the audience, but I think if you lead with that thought that it is, the rest of the stuff gets a lot easier to achieve.

Timi: Interesting. Have you always held that point of view throughout your career, or is it something you kind of grew into as you got more experience?

Jay: I think I grew into it but with one kind of caveat or, I guess, one explanation behind that, which is, you know, I started in sports media. And I loved creating stories that made me feel but because I knew it would make you feel something too. So I really like the hero’s journey story of an athlete who comes from a hard background or overcomes some kind of personal challenge, you know. The human interest side of sports was really fascinating to me, because I always felt something when I consumed or wrote that stuff. But I think it was a signal to me that, “Oh, you might feel this too.” So, you know, I was always creating for me.

I think really great content, really great anything is something you’re proud of and you feel great about, food, product, whatever you’re building. And if you’re not loving that process, you’re probably gonna put a worse end product out into the world for the other person. It’s why I think it’s really difficult to succeed as a freelancer writer. I have tremendous respect for people who write across industries that they don’t care about and do it well. That’s the key. So I think I started with this idea of what do I like to create and where can I put that. And then I realized, “Oh, wait, the more I like it, the more other people tend to like it, too.”

So you can kind of picture a Venn diagram. It’s like really great creators, I think, have this overlap that they seek between one circle saying, “Stuff I like,” and the other circle saying, “Stuff you like.” And I think what the goal is is you wanna get to that overlap of things I like that you also like. I think that’s a fulfilling career. And so a great creator starts in the circle that is what do I like and then nudges over to the overlap. I think a business often starts, “What do other people like?” And what happens is they don’t try to nudge through the center to insert what they also like. And so what happens is that’s where you get the spammy stuff. It’s like, “I’ll do literally anything as long as they click. I’ll do literally anything as long as they open my emails and buy my product.” And it feels hollow. It feels wrong or even like, I use the word icky a lot. It just doesn’t feel right. It’s because they haven’t tried to nudge over to their own sensibilities, their own taste and intuition at all.

Timi: Is that because you need that human connection. If something is coming from a hollow place, if you’re creating something that doesn’t come from a place of humanity, people may not be able to put their finger on it, they may not be able to tell you exactly why, but it just doesn’t move people, I guess. It just doesn’t connect.

Jay: Right. I mean, distill again, distill it down to the one-to-one. You know, the first principle is one-to-one marketing. What would that be? Someone that you’ve gotten to know over time really, really well and you can turn to…I can turn to you and say, “Hey, Timi. I know you listen to Unthinkable. Well, here’s the thing I think you like about Unthinkable that’s really strong in this other show. You should listen to it.” You’re much more likely to say, “Oh, okay. You have context on me. You understand that I’m thinking about you and what I know about you, and then you’re gonna act.”

So if you zoom out to something more at scale, it’s the same idea. It’s like put in the customer first. I think empathy for the other person. “Hey, this feels spammy. We shouldn’t do it.” Or, “Hey, I really enjoyed this story. Others might, too.” Like, you have to be this exposed empath or this nerve that’s just constantly exposed to the world, because as you take in the world, you can have empathy and spit something back out that will make someone else feel whatever emotion it is necessary for them to take the action you want. So, again, one-to-one, this makes total sense. You put process, bureaucracy, goals, tools, technology, profits on top, and we start to lose sight of that. So if you dig, dig, dig, that’s why this stuff exists.

Timi: Yes. And do you have any particular process that you yourself go through or, I guess, habit that you use to make sure you don’t lose that empathy or that you use to reorientate yourself every time you’re about to create something to make sure you are connected to the audience you’re creating for?

Jay: It’s a really, really good question. But I had to think about it. There are probably 3 things that I try to do. And so the first is, for no reason, like I’m not trying to build a feature of a product, I’m not trying to create one individual piece of content or fill an editorial calendar, but for no reason, I’ll have four to five conversations with listeners a month for my show. Because I know I’m building something for them. I’m taking notes. But I don’t really even go back and read them so much as I just want their realities to stick in my brain. You know, again, the same way that if I talk to a friend 3 of 4 times in a month, I’ll have a much better chance of recommending something or building something that they love. So that’s the first thing, is I’m just having these like informal hour things… what’s-your-life-like, get-to-know-you calls.

And, you know, you can kind of scale those. You can do webinars where you get Q&A action, or, you know, you can have a video series where you encourage Q&A in the comments or, you know, video hangouts, whatever. But I just prefer to do them one-on-one. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is I often try to get outside of the echo chamber. So, you know, if someone asks me what’s my favorite marketing book, I always like to say, “Calvin and Hobbes comics.” Because it’s like, go read something amazing, right? Go read something outside the echo chamber. We do not have a problem finding more marketing content. We might have a problem breaking from that and going and reading Anthony Bourdain or watching his show or, you know, pulling from the love of sports that we have and reading the best book ever written in our favorite sport or something outside the echo chamber. I think it just awakens you to the real human condition that you’re marketing to.

And then the third thing is that I’m always in the hunt for is something that’s kind of an atypical, if you can call it, metric, which is I wanna find small numbers of people reacting in big ways to what I do. And once I find that, I can lean in really, really hard, because I know I have the hard thing done. I’ve created something that people feel it resonated deeply with them in a world where everybody floats around everywhere. Now, the challenge is leaning into that harder and building it out, removing constraints, putting in more places, finding more people, which, while that can be a struggle, has never been easier, and it’s never been harder to do the first part. So to sum it up, it’s like I wanna have individual calls with people I’m serving just to get to know them like people. I wanna go outside of my echo chamber to stay abreast of different topic areas and ways of creating things and just my craft in general. And then I wanna find small packets of people that react in very, very big ways to let me know that I’m on to something.


Timi: I’m gonna move on to creating the content now.

Jay: Okay.

Timi: And on this subject, I feel I have very strong feelings, because I often have to fight with colleagues sometimes. Not so much here actually, which has been a breath of fresh air, but usually I have to fight them. Because there’s this whole battle which you’ve tackled on Unthinkable between intuition and precedent. Which side of the spectrum do you fall on?
Jay: I think they’re both at play. I mean, they have to be. I think if you wanna do something exceptional, by definition, you’re gonna have to move through average. And so to know what to be an exception from is to know the convention. And so you can do a more average work, which is the data size, list articles, drive traffic or that we should search optimize and write a lot of how-to blog posts. Okay. Your intuition comes in when you’re like, “But while the experts do say that, I actually believe that we should host a podcast. Because I had five conversations last month with our customers, and all of them seemed incredibly busy, and overwhelmed, and subscribing to lots of our peers that write that stuff. So how are we gonna differentiate? How are we gonna stand out and be the exception, which is to be exceptional?” Well, you shouldn’t do what the experts say. So now that I’m inserting my own intuition, I think I’m separating from the pack.

So I think you start with the convention always. But then where I think most people turn back, where average contributors turn back, and even where experts turn back is the insertion of the self. I think an expert is somebody who wants to find the absolute right answer, devoid of context. It doesn’t matter if you’re Timi and you live in the UK, if you’re Jay and you live in Boston, if you’re Mary and you live in South America, and you have all three different businesses at three moments and time and three different histories as individuals. Doesn’t matter. Here’s the right way to do that. And I think that’s an okay answer. I’m hesitant to call it total bullshit, but I think it’s close it, because the reality is you can’t remove any of the context. But I think an expert wants that.

So I think the only people that really get too exceptional is that moment of “I’m gonna insert myself here.” So I’ll give you an example. There’s a company in Boston called Drift, and they have messaging software to help you communicate with people on your website. And they recently removed every lead gen form on their website, which is crazy for a lot of B2B software companies who do content. But their insight, their insertion of this self was, “Look, first of all, people do not like lead forms. We are selling to people, okay? So that’s our like first little insight that we have about the human condition.” Then they built this little constraint project to test that inside out. “Let’s remove our forms.”

Now, the insertion of the self is like they have this swagger at Drift. They’re like, “We’re gonna write really loudly about how we did this and it worked. And we’re gonna, like, thumb our noses at everybody following the best practice. And we’re gonna get all this press. And we’re gonna go on all these podcasts. And we’re gonna put that same initial insight treating people like people into everything we do.” You get that through their welcome newsletter. You get that through their podcast. They’ve just put it everywhere now that they’ve tested this little constrain project, after having that insight. So they stepped away from convention in a small way, and now they’ve inserted themselves more fully. So I think, to answer your question, both convention and intuition are at play, but it just happens in that order.

Timi: Okay, because you’ve had, I mean, a pretty glittering career. While you were at Google and HubSpot specifically, because I think those two are places where they’d probably be in a lot of pressure, did you find it easy to balance things as well as you wanted to, as well as you just described here? Or did you feel a push towards one or the other?

Jay: I think the bigger the company, the more your push towards the convention. I just think that’s how it works, because scaling knowledge is so incredibly difficult and mitigating risk. If a person leaves, they leave you vulnerable, because they took with them either knowledge or skill. So you have to kind of have more convention baked in. But, you know, I think that’s why I love startups and that’s why I love being a solo act. It’s because I can constantly find the framework and then break it a lot quicker.

Timi: Okay, and finally again, just to summarize your point of view, do you have any advice about how you make sure you’re balancing intuition and precedent well when you are creating content? Do you have a process you go through? Do you look at, you know, existing articles for a particular topic before you write about it or something like that?

Jay: I don’t look kind of horizontally on what others have already done. I guess what I’m really doing… It’s an interesting question. I haven’t considered that before. I guess what I’m really doing is just kind of leading with that first principle thought. Like, when I distilled content marketing down to what is it supposed to be, that clears the way needing to looking horizontally and sort of like looking straight down. It’s like what is the foundation of all this. And then I could build back up something using my intuition and also pulling from the convention that I understand.

Timi: Okay. So you kind of like go to the nucleus of the matter. So you never lose the core, you never lose the DNA even if you do, you know, come up with something that’s unique based on your intuition.

Jay: Right. Right. I think that’s why being a new entrant into an industry or a job is actually very powerful, because you can come with an outside perspective, and you don’t know any better when you question the convention. Like there’s a great coffee brand now called Death Wish Coffee. And they won a Super Bowl ad in the States. It was crazy. They won an ad against 15,000 small businesses. Theirs got the most of votes from all these rabid fans of this coffee brand, and they profess to be the world’s strongest coffee. All their customers are like truckers and entrepreneurs, like hard-charging individuals.

And as a result of like the way they built their business, they’re standing out, they’re doing something exceptional. But it all started when Mike Brown, the founder, quit being an accountant to move into coffee. Didn’t know that in coffee you’re not supposed to roast what are called Robusta coffee beans. It’s frowned upon. It’s like instant coffee material. He liked that stuff. Turns out he found a blend with those beans to make the strongest coffee “in the world.” So like just by having a little bit of naivety and being willing to actually insert that naivety over a problem and ignore the experts, he’s an exception.


Timi: Okay, so, how do we measure the value or usefulness of content marketing or content in general? Is it based on what it does for the business, or is it based on what it does for people? Like you use a great example of Drift there, you know, about them removing the lead forms. I don’t know many companies that would have the courage to do that. But I personally think it’s the right way to go. So what do you think? What’s your approach? Should we go by, you know, metrics? Should we spam people with popups, because, you know, it gets 2% uplift regardless of whether or not like 90% of people hated it?

Jay: Yeah, that pause there was like my existential crisis of being in marketing, I guess. I think, honestly, tactic gets tied too much to outcome. Like, there’s more than one way of getting an outcome you want. I think that’s true. When you like have an experience in your career, you realize that. It’s like getting to this point in my career, I could have taken any avenue. And other people are telling me to do this, and then they say do that. And I don’t know what to do. So I’ll do it my own way. And it works kind of across the sphere of things. So, with the marketing tactic, it’s like removing forms doesn’t mean don’t gather emails or I won’t gather emails. It’s just that it’s become the easiest or shortcuttiest way of getting there.

And so Drift saw 150% increase month over month on their email list when they removed the forced forms. Because what happened was they led with the greatest experience possible, which was, “Here’s our content. It’s really good. And we’re gonna speak to you like a human. And, at the end, we’ll have a little PS. Can I send you an email on Monday?” And that’s literally their call to action. Not a great big graphic, and it’s definitely not a forced form, not a popup. They do have a little slide-in on the right, but it’s got a picture of their head of marketing that says, “Can I send you an email on Monday?” Like PS. And they grew way, way more through that. So, I think, I’d caution people against tying a tactic folks say works for the end result and the best way to get the end result in your specific context. Drift has numbers to hit, too. Everybody’s excuse that they like to wheel. There’s always like, “That sounds great in theory, but I’ve got numbers to hit.” And Drift does, too. And Mike Brown, as an entrepreneur, had to sell his house and his car and move in with his mom. And, like, you know, he’s got revenue to worry about. He started out wanting to, you know, create the world’s strongest blend of coffee to earn 5K more in revenue a year, because it would support his marginally, you know, his cheap lifestyle. So like everybody’s got numbers to hit. And the people that are executing on this stuff do, too. In fact, they might have numbers to hit more urgently than you. I think it’s an excuse. It’s an unwillingness to try, because if you try, you might fail.

And I think you can actually install support structures. Have the technical skills from knowing the convention. You know, have the confidence of good leadership or the curiosity of you just wanting to know what if. Like there are things you can install in your own life that’s like, “Yes, I know I have numbers to hit. I will hit those numbers.” And it’s actually, “Okay. I’m doing it as a side project, as another example.” So, yeah, it’s a very strange thing that people say, where they’re like, “I have to get results. But the better way that you’re proposing won’t get me results.” If it’s an actually better way, it should hold up against your results.

Timi: Okay, I’m gonna ask you a slightly, actually a very controversial question now. Do you think that the content/marketing industry contributes to this problem based on the way we talk about content? Because I think there’s a huge disconnect between what the marketers who sell content marketing say about content marketing and the people, the consumers, the people who feel the effect, you know, over-inflating the impact of it – what [the results] you should expect. And, basically, you’re trying to make people feel like they’re missing out if they’re not doing some crazy new thing so that there’s always something to sell. And I think that pushes people to become more desperate in the way they approach content marketing. It makes them switch off their brains, and they just go, “Well, this is what everybody else is doing. This is the trend. I’m just gonna jump on it.” Or do you think, you know, the practitioners should take more responsibility and be like, “There’s always gonna be noise. It’s my responsibility to tune that out.”

Jay: It has to be the latter. It has to be. But the way you stand firm in the latter and say, “I’ll tune out.” It’s not tune out the noise. It’s maybe consume some of it but then press it through the context of you, your business, your customer, this moment and time. And so, for example, if I knew… Again, back to the first principle here. One-to-one, I know Timi. And Timi is X, Y and Z way. And so someone, some expert on the stage or some list article I found says, “Do A, B and C.” And I’m like, “Well, Timi who is the person I’m serving doesn’t like any of that stuff.” I have no problem saying, “Okay, I don’t have to be on Snapchat. I don’t have to be in Instagram.” Or I can relegate those things to play. I can just test it in kind of low stakes fashion, because we kind of play in the same channels, where we work now. And, you know, I don’t have to insert it into my marketing. I can just kind of be aware. Or I can say, “Oh my gosh, I hadn’t considered this. I think Timi really likes that because of these things he told me or these stuff I know about him. So I will use those things.”

So I think it’s the failure to know the customer intimately that causes this panic. It’s like people are losing the customer. They can’t control the message, because it’s everywhere. They can’t control the channel, because there’s too many. They can’t get your attention, because you have very little and you have a lot of options. And just because of that panic, everyone’s looking for that cheat sheet or the kind of foundational thing to stand on brought to you by someone else. And the problem with that is that someone else doesn’t have your context. And in all likelihood, they’re trying to sell you something, you know.

I’ve worked for marketing tech vendors. We try to sell you something. So if we say inbound marketing is a better way to do marketing, we’re taking it out of context and we’re saying in absolutes. So maybe consider it in your context. Maybe you don’t have a business where that actually works. Maybe what you say on your blog is just as important as that you have a blog, right? So there’s all these reason why you can’t just take absolutes from other people. Be aware of them, but you can kind of smack to yourself if you know the customer intimately to say yes to some things, no to others. But you have to spend time talking to actual customers.

Timi: So, again, to sum up, do you have like a little litmus test that you do before you hit publish to make sure, “All right, is this thing that I’m sending into the world, does it have value? Do I think it will add something to the people for which I’ve created it?”

Jay: Well, I mean, my context is very different than someone driving leads to software. So my context of publishing an article is, “Did I improve my thinking? Am I keeping up my reps and sets?” In other words, am I continuing to horn my writing chops and my thinking abilities? Like, that’s why I write. So I write for me with the intent of adding value for you. So if I can’t say yes to that, I don’t publish it. But that’s a very different context than your boss pushing you to drive X number of leads in a month.

Timi: That’s so true.

Jay: Right. So, again, go back to your context. Like, what are you trying to get done? What is your strategy? Who are you serving? You know, start with the customer back to the very first question you asked me. “Does the customer need this? Can they get this in exact same way as in other places?” Then go to yourself. “Do I like this? Are my sensibilities in play? My taste is telling me this is terrible. Why am I publishing this?” Then go to your business. “Okay, does this fit our strategy? Now that I’ve deemed that it’s “good,” because the customer and I both agree, now does it fit our strategy? Do we have a strategy?” So, again, I think that’s how you…maybe that’s a little bit of a rubric that we just tripped on that you can use to find context. But I think the context cannot go missing. You can’t just look at what I do or what you do and then copy us.

Timi: That is true. Now, it’s interesting you said there that your context is different, which is absolutely true. But I think because of your approach in general, you’ve ended up getting the kinds of results, as far as I know, that a lot of businesses kill for. I mean, I’ve never recommended Unthinkable to anyone who didn’t come back and say, “Wow, that’s brilliant.” And I think it’s because of the same reason that I feel that way. I think it’s just that they can feel the quality, the thought, the craft. And I think it’s a term that you like to use and I also like to use, but it’s going into it. And I think people can feel it, and they know that, “Okay, this is something. Attention has been paid to this to make sure that it adds something to me.”

Jay: First of all, Timi, thank you. Again, know the context. When I was a kid, my family and I, you know, we used to goof around and create little programs. I created ESPN3 to cover my family’s pin pong tournament as a child. Like, I was always doing these things, and then I loved to write just for fun, and then I wrote sports, and then I worked at these different places and lived in these different places. Like, the reason I’m able to do that work or not think about all the keywords that I need to target and just publish what feels good is because of everything that brought me to that moment. And so I think the challenge isn’t how do you do that. The challenge is how do you figure out what’s brought you to your moment and how do you actually use it.

You know, I talk a lot about this movement from average to exceptional. And I mentioned the word exception. You know, if you are an exception, you’re exceptional. So every human is an exception. The problem is not everybody knows to trust that, or how to use that, or how to like consider that or hone it. And so that’s really what Unthinkable is all about. It’s not giving you the details of what you should do in the moment. It’s preparing you for the moment so you can go and decide for yourself.


Timi: What role, if any, do you think data plays in the creation of content?

Jay: I think it’s a wonderful place to draw insight, right? That’s what data is for. Doug Kessler talks a lot about this. So I should quote him and cite him, because that’s where I got that kind of direct connection where data is for not talking about things through numbers, because that’s not the most effective way to convince somebody or convey information. It’s also not like a bunch of charts on a slide, because that’s just a data dump. It’s about deriving insights so that you know what to do or informs what you do. I think the problem is we think it’s the only way to draw insight or the best way, which it very well might be in certain scenarios.

So what I wanna do with Unthinkable is encourage people to draw from every place that can get you insight, data, what other people are telling you to do, having gone through the data themselves, your own experiences that are directly related to your work. I used to write a fun blog, and now I’m a writer. The things that are indirectly related to your work. I whittle wood at home, and somehow that rewires my brain or gives me the mental space to solve hard problems back in my work. Like, there’s just lots of ways to get the insight that you need to go and execute something better than A-to-B advice, right? So data is a big, big part of the car, but there are more parts of the car, and you the person are the driver.

Timi: Absolutely. I don’t know if this was a thing at HubSpot in particular, but do you think that there’s a way to get a good mix of quantitative and qualitative data, like Google Analytics versus, I guess, for example, talking to people on the phone? How do you balance those two?

Jay: Yeah, I mean, I can speak to Unthinkable. So I look at email list growth and podcast downloads per month, per episode. The latter being kind of a weaker metric, because it just means the file has been localized to your machine, doesn’t mean listens. So email is really strong. That’s the stronger metric. And I also look at number of unsolicited emotional comments. So I know I’m on to something there, right? Like, so if my goal some day is to turn what I’m doing on the show into a workshop, or a talk, or a book, or a product, like, you know, I’m trying to play the long game. I’m not like this episode has to kill it and buoy the whole show. I’m like, “This episode has to teach me something so that I can keep playing this game over time.”

So what did I learn here? A concept that I love, nobody reacted strongly to. So maybe that doesn’t make the book. Maybe I don’t build out a workshop around it or try to sell a product or whatever. And so that’s what I’m looking at. And I do drop my email, which maybe is a little odd. My call to action is, “Subscribe, and if you have thoughts on this, email me here.” So I prompted a little bit. I’ve just started doing that actually in the last week.

Timi: I was surprised. I was like, “Wow, that’s bold.” Most people would try everything they can to hide their emails.

Jay: Well, yeah, it’s gonna cause me a little bit of inbox stress, and there’s some weeding out that I have to do with things. But I have gotten good at saying no in a way that’s tactful and helps me sleep at night being the sensitive guy that I am. And I’m gathering tons of data. Like that is data. I’m gathering tons of information about you, what you think of my thinking, or my show, or my product. It’s huge. So if I said something on this podcast or in this interview that you’re all excited about, like, I wanna hear that. Or you’re like, “I strongly disagree.” I wanna hear that, too. I’m looking for the emotion on either end of the spectrum. And so I consider that data. It’s just that I think a lot of people don’t consider that the same. They look at our report as data only.

Timi: Yes. That is such a good point, and actually some of the guys… An attitude that I’m trying to change in the world, which is people think of data as numbers. And you’re absolutely right. All those responses, all the behavioral insights, all the emails, that is all still data. That is all still information that is informing you, giving you insight, and that can help you proceed in an optimal way, shall we say. But I think when it comes to the world of content, and marketing, and images, and words, people are too focused on numbers.

Jay: Magic of the second screen here, I just pulled out my phone, and I searched Google for “define data,” and here’s what it’s saying, “Things known or assumed as facts making the basis of reasoning or calculations.” It doesn’t say numbers. It says things known or assumed as facts. So you assume that somebody really, really likes your work if they spend a lot of time with it. And your report is saying there’s a lot of time spent. That’s an assumption. The time spent metric doesn’t tell you they definitely liked your work. You assume they like your work if they say, “That was amazing. It changed how I think.” Right? Or maybe that’s a little bit more factual, I don’t know. But like in other words, you can derive meaning and insight from a whole lot of sources, and it doesn’t have to just be in analytics report.

Timi: And, again, what is your approach or what is your one piece of advice you have to make sure that you do use data in the way that it’s meant to be used, in a way that, you know, you’re in control, you’re driving the car, but you’re using the data to get the most out of the car?

Jay: Ask two questions always. So what? And what if? People are spending more time with your content. So what? “We’re gonna publish more articles.” So what? What does this mean for the customer? What does this mean for you? So what? And then to move forward to new ideas, ask what if. Okay, so what, so what, so what or why, why, why, same deal. “Okay, well, what if we did X?” All the experts say do, back to the easy example, list articles, “Okay, what if we wrote stories? What if?”

And there’s two ways to gather data about the world. There’s something called the Aristotelian model and then the Galilean model. The Aristotelian model is the data says, “Lists work. Do more lists.” It is observations about the past bucketed and categorized to make decisions about today or the future. But today and the future are changing more rapidly than yesterday ever did. So the Galilean model says, “Isolate the variable and test it in the moment.” It’s based on the question, what if, right? So what if, if we have an ad for a TV show, we put the time above the name of the show versus below? Will more people see the time? Will more people tune in? What if? I don’t know. I mean, the data in the past says that these ads worked. All right, now the creative process says what if.

Timi: Brilliant. Jay, that was a perfect answer. And that was actually the last line of questioning I have for you. So thank you very much for coming on our interview. I think our listeners will love this. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as well.

Jay: Oh, it’s been awesome. Yeah, thanks, Timi.

Articles based on my interview with Jay

If you’re feeling the vibe of this here thing we got going on, there’s more. I was so inspired by my interview with Jay that I wrote a series of articles based on them:

  1. How to talk to people like they’re human beings, not marketing pawns 
  2. Balancing intuition and convention to create exceptional experiences
  3. What marketers can learn from UX about not being an ars*hole
  4. The 2 types of data & the 2 ways of understanding them

Hope you enjoy reading!

Our UX blog is on the move...

We're now publishing all of our brand new content on the UserZoom UX blog. All of our previously published articles will also be migrating to UserZoom over the coming months.

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Come say hello!


Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

2 Responses to “Is your content icky or sticky? [INFOGRAPHIC]

  • Carla Johnson
    2 years ago

    This is a great interview, Timi. I love Jay’s point about figuring out the conventional framework and then breaking it quicker.

    • Timi Olotu
      2 years ago

      Thanks, Carla, I’m glad you enjoyed listening. That point is one of my favourites too! Great minds, eh? 🙂

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