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Unthinkable Media: Make Shows, Not Pieces

Stories, ideas, and podcasts for driven makers and marketers.

By: Jay Acunzo on February 19th, 2018

The New Marketing Mandate


When I was a kid, I hated sand.

Before I could walk, I hated sand so much that my parents could simply plop me down on a blanket at the beach, and I’d stay put. I’d just sit there, gnawing on a toy, staring at other kids playing a few feet away, like a puppy inside an invisible fence.

Why? Because I hated sand.

Now that I’m a full-grown content marketer, I find my hatred of the stuff returning. Everywhere I look, I see marketers digging holes in dry sand … and I just can’t stand it.

As marketers, we’re so obsessed with reach and acquisition that we miss the truth: The point of our work isn’t to get people to arrive; the point is to get people to stay. But instead of embracing this fact, we’re stuck in this constant and frenzied race to get more, faster, with less. All too often, marketing feels defined by constant motion (activities) rather than constant progress (results). We can’t let off the gas, lest the result dry up, and the walls collapse in around us. It’s all about as effective as digging a hole in dry sand.

Ugh. Sand is the worst.

So why does this happen? Why do we rush in a near panic to acquire-acquire-acquire? I blame the effects of a bygone era that still persist today — an era built on mass marketing. In the past, the marketing mandate was simple: acquire people’s attention. In a world with far fewer channels and far less choice than today, marketers would place messages in the right spots, in front of the right people, with the right promotional language, all intended to capture a few seconds of your time. When a campaign or promotion would end, marketers would plan and launch another one. And another one. Aaaaand another one. The hope was that they could be convincing enough in a single message — or a few disparate “touchpoints” containing messages — that the audience would act. But of course, 95% of the actions people took would be to ignore or avoid the marketer. (Shouts to all the banner-ad-loving marketers out there, who managed to move that number from 95% to, like, 99.99%. Outstanding.)

The point is, when a marketer’s settings are stuck on Constant Acquisition Mode, few if any activities yield a compounding return. It’s an inefficient, tireless race to nowhere. The moment you stop, the results stop. The audience stops paying attention. It’s like digging a hole in dry sand.

Man, oh man, I hate sand.

But, for years, this was the marketing mandate: acquire people’s attention. Constant Acquisition Mode.

Today, we see the effects of this mentality echoing across sectors and channels, informing (read: ruining) the work of too many well-meaning people. (Can’t forget to mention all those hucksters who surround well-meaning people, spamming you with DMs and opting you onto their lists without permission. Because HUSTLE!) Despite a changing world, we haven’t changed our behavior — not really — and we keep churning out more stuff, more pieces, with the singular goal to acquire attention. We stare longingly at the big spikes in our data, and we try to recreate them … never mind that the deep, lengthy valleys are the real issue.

We drag our shovels to work and just start wailing away at the ground, swing after swing revealing our outmoded mentality. PAY. ATTENTION. TO. ME! 

We fail to realize the fundamental issue: The marketing mandate has changed.

Marketing is no longer about acquiring attention. Marketing is about holding attention.

In 2018, the consumer has all the power, and the marketer’s constant huffing and puffing and digging is a race to nowhere. If we spend even a single moment not producing content, it feels like we don’t exist to our audiences. They’ve gone elsewhere. They’ve forgotten us. We feel stressed, burnt out, or trapped by the demands placed upon us by our bosses, clients, and even ourselves. But we need to stop this pointless effort entirely, and embrace our new mandate. We must work to ensure that our past efforts raise anticipation for future moments between us and our audience. We must be on the minds of others for longer, both because they’re excited to come back after visiting and because each interaction lasts longer than our marketing predecessors would have thought possible. These days, it’s simply not sufficient or even all that effective to capture a few short, disconnected moments in someone’s life. All our frantic digging to constantly acquire attention has distracted us from the truth: Our work has to stick.

Gone are the days where we could simply “reach” people. Today, we have to resonate.

Don’t just acquire attention. Hold it. This is the new marketing mandate.

The Missing, Fundamental Piece of Our Industry’s Dialogue

It’s not about getting their attention. It’s about keeping it. Once we earn it, why do we so easily let it slip away? — Elle Woulfe, Vice President of Marketing, LookBookHQ

Why, indeed? It’s a big, hairy question, posed by a smart, veteran marketer. This is just one man’s opinion, but I think the core reason why we let it slip away is that we don’t even know retention is the job! In other words, marketers don’t talk about holding onto attention — like, at all. Yes, we talk about content marketing, social media, influencers, ABM, and engagement, but these are the industry’s reaction to the fundamental shift. Why does this stuff even matter at all? Why does this stuff matter right now? We’re missing a crucial piece to this industry’s discussion: the fundamental shift in our purview. We’ve got to move our collective thinking away from the sand and onto this new, underlying bedrock. We’ve got to stop digging ourselves more holes that don’t remain and instead build something lasting on this new foundation.

If we don’t go to that deeper level, we approach these modern strategies and tactics with an outdated mentality. We see this all the time — marketers practicing content marketing, social media, influencer marketing, and more, all without first understanding the underlying truth. Their actions are easy to spot: They feel stressed, almost crazed. They try to bludgeon people in every interaction, rather than create a series of interactions worth having. In their constant digging, they try to game systems or trumpet the newest technology as THE answer to all our problems. (“Shoveling automation will save us!”) They fancy themselves beachside gurus. (“Check out my rippling … brain!”) They write LinkedIn broems. (I don’t even have a joke here, because fuck LinkedIn broems.)

And so, panicking, we follow suit. We dig and dig to acquire and acquire. We work our asses off. My friends, we have become ass-less creatures. And for what? So we can start all over the next time. All that agony and effort — only to watch as the walls cave in on us.

You know what? Forget LinkedIn broems: I say, fuck sand.

We need to make a change. We can’t keep creating more for less, working thankless hours and sacrificing even our deepest-held beliefs about quality, craft, and the customer because “my boss, my client, my numbers, my business.” We need to wake up and realize that we’re racing to nowhere. We need to embrace the new mandate.

I think this says it all:

“As marketers, we’re really good at describing value. We can create headlines, features, benefits, all that stuff, and we know how to describe the value of the product or service that we’re marketing. But what we’re not as good at doing — and where the evolution of marketing is going — is creating separate and discreet value with content so that you get value out of the content itself, regardless of whether you buy the product or service.” — Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer, Content Marketing Institute & Founder, The Content Advisory.

That’s the game now, team. The game is to create enough value that people walk over, sit down, and spend time with us. Gone are the days when we could describe value to turn some heads for a brief moment in time. That head-turning moment, that impulse others feel to look our way — that is but the tip of the massive iceberg that is the job of a marketer today. So what if we stopped obsessing over just the tip, just for a moment, just to see how it feels? What if we could create more of a dialogue in our industry about the rest of the iceberg? What if we addressed the underlying, bedrock-layer, fundamental change?

What if we could HOLD attention?

Introducing Unthinkable Media

Great makers and marketers today focus on the long-lasting, compounding effects of their work to drive better results. They want subscribers, not views; owned audiences, not fleeting impressions; 30 minutes, not 30 seconds. Underpinning all of this is a singular focus on the new mandate to hold attention.

And how do they hold it? They make shows, not pieces.

Today marks the official, public launch of Unthinkable Media, my podcast incubation and education company. We’re focused on this idea of holding attention, not just acquiring it, by helping makers and marketers #MakeShowsNotPieces. Inspired by the success of my podcast Unthinkable, informed by my time working at Google, HubSpot, and the VC firm NextView, and motivated by two years of full-time public speaking, I am excited to both create and educate in service of this new mandate — in service of YOU.

What is Unthinkable Media?

We’ll serve two roles in the lives of makers and marketers: to create refreshingly entertaining shows about work, and to provide inspirational and educational content for those who want to create their own. A quick word on both of these roles…

  • Inspire and educate craft-driven makers and marketers: On our blog. we will share new ideas and inspiring stories, deconstruct and interpret shows we admire, and otherwise endeavor to rally passionate creators around this idea of building better podcasts. You can subscribe to our blog via email (which bears our mantra as its name: MAKE SHOWS, NOT PIECES) right here.
  • Create refreshingly entertaining shows about work: We’re not a production company, though we provide production services through our team of contractors and agency partners. (Are you a creator who works on podcasts? Get in touch.) Instead, we are a podcast INCUBATION company. First, we partner with mission-driven, audience-first B2B companies — companies who believe their work has a higher calling than more leads and sales. Second, we concept and create a pilot, which our partners own as exclusively theirs. Third, we test shows using an incubation process informed by the world’s best software developers and, believe it or not, standup comedians. In the end, I want more shows about work to be genuinely delicious, as well as nutritious. Too many are simply bland and boring. (Learn more about our process with brands on our About page.)
What’s the whole #MakeShowsNotPieces thing about?

We’ve seen this trend emerging for awhile, but it’s time we stopped to understand why it’s happening — and each capitalize on it more fully. We know about GE’s two award-winning podcasts and coffee fanatics have seen the “Upstanders” series from Starbucks. Tech leaders like Slack have created amazing audio experiences, while challengers like Basecamp with their Rework podcast and InVision with their jaw-dropping documentary are holding attention better than ever. This isn’t reserved to companies with huge resources, either, as even newer startups are now creating shows and holding attention. Drift’s Seeking Wisdom helped them spark a movement. SaaS company PriceIntelligently just launched one of several video shows planned, called the ProfitWell Report, while software platform Tettra (Org Uncharted) and executive consultancy Brain+Trust Partners (The Difference) are rallying passionate believers in their missions to their side. (Disclosure: Tettra and Brain+Trust Partners are clients). Individual influencers are creating shows, too. CreativeLive CEO Chase Jarvis and his Daily Creative series and The Loyalty Loop from keynote speaker and author Andrew Davis are two examples of the attention-holding power of combining education and entertainment. I’m a fan of both of these, as well as Contently cofounder and bestselling author Shane Snow’s StartCuts newsletter series. The list goes on to include TinderCharles Schwab, Marriott, McDonald’s, the Balvenie, and the Humane Society.

Whether you’re big or small, new or old, you are now in the business of holding attention, and making shows is an amazing way to do so.

Great shows help us put down the shovels for a moment and stop digging holes in dry sand. If created with the right techniques (like hooks, open loops, show bibles, and rundowns), a show can capture a huge amount of time in an era where people spend very little time with any brand or “piece.”  We can gain trust in a world where trust is on the decline. Rather than hope others subscribe to a collection of topically related pieces, we can bring people on a journey — one they eagerly jump to open or see or hear with each new episode. We can make the rest of our marketing more efficient with our shows, too, as we can syndicate, atomize, and inform everything else we do with the endless content and ideas bottled up inside a series. Plus, great shows don’t sit anywhere in our funnel. Instead, they straighten the whole damn thing. It’s so much easier to market to people who feel like they actually know you. In this way, great shows make URL audiences feel like IRL connections.

Word-of-mouth. Differentiation. Owning an audience. Funnel velocity. Content efficiency. (That sound you hear is every CMO drooling onto the screen.)

When we create shows, not pieces, we make our work easier, because it’s so much simpler to do marketing when people pay more attention, more often.

So let’s stop focusing on acquiring attention and start holding it.

Let’s stop digging holes in dry sand. Because admit it: Sand sucks!

Podcasting is a way for us to showcase our thinking while building intimacy at scale. — Scott Monty, CEO and co-founder, Brain+Trust Partners

Listen to Unthinkable Media’s pump-up reel, followed by my most horrifying experience working at Google (and how that moment led to this one).

In the future, I hope Unthinkable Media can be synonymous with refreshingly entertaining content about work. I’ve always been inspired by The Ringer (and Grantland before it, #RIP) and how they make sports and pop culture commentary smart and entertaining at the same time. I appreciate what Crooked Media is building too, reflecting the reality of peer-to-peer political discourse better than all the bloviating pundits. With Unthinkable Media, I’m excited to build a place where enjoyable, smart, and productive conversations about business and career can happen — with plenty of story, humor, wonder, and fun, rather than stuffy suits, stock tickers, and groupthink around four hour weeks and automated incomes. I imagine an endless list of stories you can browse that make you think and feel and laugh and question what you thought you knew, all serving people who aspire to do exceptional work — people like you.

If you’d like episode roundups plus one new idea about exceptional work every Monday, you can subscribe via email.

If you want to build a show together, you can get in touch.

If you want start listening, you can explore our shows. 

And if you want to keep pumping out commodity content and obsess over reach, not resonance … then you can pound sound.


You don’t need more tips & tricks.

Join the newsletter, Damn the Best Practices. One new story and idea every Monday for pushing past conventional thinking in your work.

Founder of Unthinkable Media. Believer that exceptional work happens when you find and follow what makes you an exception. Ex-Google, HubSpot, NextView (VC). Speaks on stages and into microphones for a living. What a weird and wonderful life. #MakeShowsNotPieces


  1. Andre Palko

    I always look forward to your Monday morning emails as food for thought for the week. Maybe it’s a bit ironic that I still prefer reading a blog post or transcript because I have difficulty devoting 20 or 30 minutes to a podcast or show…because I’m probably creating some content! Yet here I am…you keep my attention. Thanks for the perspective, Jay.

    • Jay Acunzo

      I always look forward to your readership, Andre! Thanks for the comment and the continued support 🙂

  2. Chris Cooper

    In the words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.” Jay, this makes me excited to watch and jealous to not be a part of. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

    • Jay Acunzo

      Chris, thanks so much for the support! I would love your help once we launch our podcast incubation feed — one central place to test and review shows, with listener feedback. That’s one easy but powerful way you can help us. Stay tuned for more. I’ll be announcing that feed soon.

  3. Ken Carroll

    Jay, this is music to my ears. Meaning, substance, creativity and playing the long game, building audiences through smaller groups of highly engaged listeners – it’s all good. I’m on board, a follower and a listener and soon, I hope, a participant in the world of podcasting. Thanks for the refreshing, liberating ideas.

    • Jay Acunzo

      Thanks for the support as always, Ken!

  4. Ken Wohl

    Jay, just came across your work and Unthinkable Media. Love your philosophy and really excited to learn from it. Our B2B InsurTech startup just launched a podcast and I’m looking to learn from the brightest. Thanks for the thoughts. I’ll be following closely!

    • Jay Acunzo

      Thanks so much, Ken!

  5. Pratistha

    When I started reading this, I could relate so much to hustle for acquiring attention. Almost the daily life of a marketer now. This piece brings a fresh perspective to pause and reflect. That’s when the actual goals become clearer. Thanks, Jay!


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