The VP of Boston’s seed VC firm NextView Ventures’ Jay Acunzo, a former digital media strategist for Google and former head of content at HubSpot, says there’s no such thing as a silver bullet in marketing, so we should all stop looking for one.
The co-founder of Boston Content quotes Robert Rose when he says content marketing is about creating value, not just describing it, and that if you don’t know the problem your business was created to solve, marketing is the last thing you need to worry about.
You’ve managed to create the go-to blog for seed-stage startups in just over a year at NextView. How did you grow this number from zero?
We have thousands upon thousands of entrepreneurs, other investors and startup executive subscribers, but the way we’ve grown our blog was by taking a very narrow focus.
If you look across the landscape of VCs, there are a lot of investors who like to blog about very generic topics. We recognized as a VC we have one specific purpose, one great product—a high-conviction, hands-on seed investment—so our content has to match that.
We started by asking people what they were struggling with during the seed stage. We spent time in the field talking to entrepreneurs and finding ways to answer their issues on the blog. We’ve done this by interviewing experts and pulling resources together ourselves.
You have created your own step-by-step system called the Content Marketing Wheel that businesses can use as a guide to creating their own strategies—what is it and how does it work?
The core of the Content Marketing Wheel is a hub and spoke approach. It’s about taking all of the little pieces that are “content marketing” and putting them into one coherent plan in order to generate results.
The idea is to create one pillar piece, some sort of resource, that solves a problem for your audience, and around that you do all kinds of marketing tactics to lead back to that piece.
The pillar piece’s topic should be something that your audience cares about and really needs knowledge around, while the format of that content will be dependent on your goal.
Time is often the biggest barrier to startups creating content. Assuming that someone can dedicate half an hour a day to content, what would you suggest they do?
You only have to spend a few minutes a day or a week to write, to create content. You need to think about it as filing away helpful articles or assets into a collection to form one big asset.
You should use your few minutes to write the answer to a question your customer has. Write something that helps them. Eventually, all your blog posts will add up to generating lots of results. What you’re going for is the long tail effect; you’re not measuring the views today but over a longer period of time.
It’s about creating content results three, four or five weeks down the road—that’s the hallmark of a great blog. On the NextView blog, about 80 percent of our traffic each month comes from posts that were not published that month. That’s true ROI.
Content marketing principles start on the basis of identifying a customer’s problem and using content as a way of solving that issue. How do businesses pinpoint that problem? What processes do they need to go through to set their content marketing goal/s?
Content marketing is about solving the same problem that your product is trying to solve. CMI’s Robert Rose likes to say, “Content marketing is the way marketers can create value, not just describe value.” If that’s the case, content marketing is just like a product.
The product or the service creates value and your content is an extension of that. So if you don’t know the problems your business is there to solve, marketing is the last thing you need to worry about.
Why do you exist at all? What does your product do? Startups are generally really good at this already because when they start, they are launching to address a problem or unmet need in the market. I say to our startups, don’t worry about all the noise in the industry—be a problem solver and things will be a little easier.
How should/can startups use their data to inform their content marketing efforts?
What you want to do is identify small signals that something is working, then shoulder into it. So for example, if you’re publishing something on SlideShare and notice that there’s a velocity of views and things are really taking off, lean into that harder.
If something works, instead of doing more things like it, do more with it. When your audience is telling you they like something, there’s a tendency for marketers to say, “Great, that was a win!
Let’s go and do other things!” But what they should do instead is spend more time with that piece and create content that will drive traffic back to it. Even if it’s just a small reaction, like a couple of data points or a few customers giving you positive feedback, those signals are a precious gift and can drive the rest of your strategy.
You mix up the type of content you create on your blog from informative essays to SlideShare presentations to broadcasting podcasts. Which type of content have you found to be the most effective, and why?
You can’t just pull out one piece, one channel or one pathway and say, “This gives me the most ROI” or “This is the most effective,” because they all have to work together as one strategy.
We have SlideShares that we publish, and those are great for views, but they also drive people back to our blog, which is great for conversions for subscription, and that email list is great for launching new podcast episodes. It all connects.
I couldn’t just pull one tactic out and call it the silver bullet. Marketers should stop looking for one and understand that we don’t have a choice; we have to be cross-channel and provide a variety of content for our audience.
You can get by doing one thing well at first, but eventually, you have to diversify. There isn’t just one silver bullet, so we should stop looking for it.
You believe content marketing works for any sector. Can you give me an example of a best practice—either from your own work or piece of work you’ve admired—and how it delivered ROI?
There’s something I’ve taken from the founder of Twitter and Medium, Ev Williams, who gave an interview in 2011 or ‘12. He said that people don’t want to do new things, what they want to do is what they’ve always done but in an easier, faster, more effective way.
He said if you can identify a human desire, and work out all the steps it takes someone to fulfill that desire, you can then use modern technology to remove some of those steps. That’s true innovation.
An example in tech is Uber. It’s huge. But all they did is remove a few steps in your process of hailing a cab. I think the same can be applied to content—remove steps for people so that they can achieve what they’re trying to do, faster.
In terms of content ROI, at NextView we get a lot of questions like, “We are about to meet our investors, so what does a good board deck look like? What should I put in that deck? How do I order it and design it?” To answer those questions we created a deck template, which removes several of those steps for entrepreneurs. It is predesigned, prearranged, and people can simply update it and save time.
That piece went somewhat viral for us—it was viewed hundreds of thousands of times and was sent to a big startup CEO listserv. It was a runaway success, but it all started with the idea of identifying a problem and figuring out what the audience was trying to do. Any business in any sector can do that.
If you could give just one piece of content marketing advice to a startup, what would it be?
Again: Treat content marketing as a way of solving the same problem that you launched your company to solve. This frames everything in a box. It may be a broad box, but it gives you guidelines about what you should and shouldn’t be doing.
You shouldn’t be writing your idle thoughts about the industry; you shouldn’t be talking about the technology behind your product and how revolutionary you think it is; you shouldn’t be talking about the latest hire in your team—not on your marketing blog anyway. What you should be doing is thinking about solving the problem your company set out to solve, with your content. Period.
Read next: Content Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference, Again?