summer / 2015

The magazine of branded content
The way Jay Acunzo sees it, all content starts with one question: “Why does your company exist?”
Aug 17, 2015

As VP of platform for NextView Ventures, a Boston-based VC fund that seeds web and mobile startups, Jay Acunzo evangelizes for content marketing in a multi-stack sort of way. In addition to creating and organizing content assets and tracking inbound metrics, Acunzo also produces Traction, a podcast designed for tech entrepreneurs that echoes the slickly edited narrative storytelling techniques of Serial or This American Life.

He’s a former staffer at Hubspot’s content team, and co-founded Boston Content, a 1,000-member club of content enthusiasts, so his opinions on the subject are in abundant supply. We asked him for some.

Content: NextView Ventures seeds startups and does a lot of content marketing of its own. Is it a condition of funding that these startups integrate content marketing?
Jay Acunzo: We want to be agnostic about how they’re going about driving business, getting traction, marketing themselves. We’re not adopting a new company because of the way they operate, although there are certainly things like culture, how authentic the team is, how driven they are, that matter to us. So we’re not looking more favorably on a company because they do content marketing versus another company that does more PPC, for example.

You came to NextView in 2014 and you diagnosed a gap in their brand messaging. What was it?
They had a really good ground game and a really good reputation in Boston for being very helpful, being very genuine, very approachable. They just had to codify it, to articulate it consistently and concisely—and that’s hard to do for a lot of companies because consistency is hard: you hear your own message a lot and you just assume everyone else in the world who you’re trying to reach has already heard that, so you change course, and that’s dangerous.

It’s crucial to sculpture the scenario: Imagine you’re sitting across from an incredible entrepreneur. They’re raising their seed rounds. Everybody wants in and they’re asking you point blank: ‘I’m excited to get an investment from you, but why NextView?’ What do you say back?” So that was the first step in this exercise—the why, and we came up with “Because we are insanely focused on founders and their companies to get the best possible start.” The second and third steps are the “how” and the “what”: “Here’s how we do it, and here’s what we do.”

The future of content marketing: Will it belong to organically-generated traffic, or shared via social?
It depends on if the future is populated by short term thinkers or long term thinkers. If you’re looking at the future of today’s companies, those people will be building an empire on the back of organic topics because they’re thinking long term. When you’re scraping together an audience, it’s fine to do a little viral stuff. I understand why people do that. But I think you’re far better served if you just try to solve problems. That’s your reason for being and you just do that the best possible way. Treat it as an opportunity to file away another story, another resource that solves a problem because the more of those you publish to your own domain, the bigger the content asset. Treat it like a product. That’s the best long term strategy for content and that’s how you get a lot of organic traffic. I just pulled the results [for our blog] from June, and of our top ten most trafficked posts, only three were published that month. That’s pretty common for what makes a good blog.

You produce a podcast, Traction, for NextView. How can brands or agencies tie a podcast to business objectives?
It all starts with your reason for being. What is your mission? Why do you exist? I see a lot of companies that are really excited about doing a podcast and they spend very little time thinking strategically about the sound, the segments, and the tagline for the show. They just kind of run out and start interviewing people in their industry. I think they can definitely be punched up a lot. So for example, NextView, like I said, we care about the “start” part of start-ups, and we’ve found that’s really refreshing for entrepreneurs. So on our podcast we’re not going to talk about a company’s history. We’re not going to talk about the general trends. Instead we’re going to think about the idea of “traction” because that is what our companies are struggling with; and the reason we exist is to help companies in that traction-oriented phase. So you just have to tie any tactic—it could be a podcast, or it could be something else—back to that mission that you have. If you don’t have that mission, if you don’t have that reason for being, everything else falls apart.

You’ve mentioned in the past an idea about a content marketing talent agency. Is the content marketing industry mature enough to support something like that?
I don’t know about content marketing but maybe just broader marketing overall. You have all these agencies and brands that are struggling to hire and then you have all these people that are working as contractors, as freelancers, speakers, bloggers, endorsers of products, etc., and I think there’s a way for somebody to get in the middle of that and make a lot of money and solve a big, big problem. As an example, I literally can’t find a director-level person who has the wherewithal to both execute and implement strategy for most of our start-ups. I know these people exist but there’s just not a lot of them and a lot of them are now branching out to become consultants.

What’s your definition of success for your content?
When I hear an entrepreneur across any channel, it can be in person, it can be offline, it can be online, email, Twitter… it doesn’t matter, but when they react emotionally and viscerally to something we produced, that gets me so fired up and makes me want to double down on whatever it was. So even the podcast is a creative format because people are commenting with exclamation points where in the past those people might have been saying those same things but it ended in a period. That qualitative feedback, for us to get, is important. It’s the most rewarding part of what we do. There are people who are actually looking for support and help in the start-up world because they have one of the most monumental, admirable tasks—building an early stage company.