[0:45] How did you get into content marketing?
[1:27] Let’s Get Rejected.
[2:26] Thinking counterintuitively.
[4:40] Why is content marketing important?
[5:50] The Three Lies: #1
[9:42] The Three Lies: #2
[12:10] The Three Lies: #3
[17:47] One tip for improving content marketing.
[19:23] Campaign fun.
[20:58] Final Thoughts
Today we have another very special guest, I’m joined by Aaron Orendorff. We actually had a chance to meet at the Unbounce conference in Vancouver this past year and he really stole the show talking about a lot of his tricks in content strategy.
So Aaron, welcome to the pod.
AARON: Oh thanks so much Brian, what a great complement to come out of the gate with, you know how to suck up!
AARON: That is an interesting story, you know I hinted at it at the very end of my talk at the CTA conference. It was one of these sort of, necessity is the mother of invention. My life essentially fell apart about three and a half years ago. So I found myself in southern Oregon, middle of nowhere, lost my job, all kind of crazy personal stuff was going down. So I jumped in with both feet to this content marketing world, started my own blog and just had some really incredible points of contact.
Just these insane little coincidences that led into getting published on a few big sites that I had no business writing for at that point. And then I was off and running.
BRIAN: Just sort of snowballed,
AARON: Absolutely yeah.
BRIAN: You used the hashtag #letsgetrejected at the conference and I think that’s really important for content marketers to understand coming into this world. That most of the stuff you’re going to put out at least initially is going to get rejected, it’s not going to find traction but be willing to stick with it.
AARON: Yeah, so it’s a vital principle in my own professional life. That’s how I tried to couch it or explain it at the conference. And you’re right, the thing is especially if you yourself are a writer, but I’ve got to think this is true across the board for even like launching products, I’ve talked to a lot of clients who have had the same experience. It’s easy to get dejected by being rejected and build your identity on whether people say “yes” or buy from you. And the burnout and failure that comes along with it.
So arming myself with this idea that my goal with this pitch, my goal with this article, my goal with this client is just to get rejected. It gave me this freedom to go after things that I would’ve otherwise been straight up terrified or scared of doing and it would’ve stopped me in my tracks.
BRIAN: You talked a lot of thinking counterintuitively, and I think that’s so important in all of marketing. People tend to get stuck in a rut, and be sitting at the board and listening or regurgitate what the CEO is saying. But it’s so important to really take on all your marketing principles and rethink them and think about if there is a better way.
Talk about that a little bit.
AARON: One of the things I tell new clients is the most valuable time that we are going to spend together, the most valuable I will be to you is in the first two weeks. Because I’m going to come in as an outsider. And I’m not probably going to write anything, we aren’t going to produce anything, but what I’m going to have is fresh eyes that you and your team and your organization are blind to.
So that comes up with the thinking counterintuitively there, but the biggest place I see this is, I had this kind of throw away line in the CTA talk, where I said I’m not a journalist but I play one on the internet.
BRIAN: I think we all start out that way.
AARON: Yeah, right? And so I had written for a few places like the Fast Company, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, I’ve got this great list of bylines, and so I get these pitches. It’s one of the main things I was trying to talk about in my first point there about popular content., I get these pitches for exposure for outreach for getting feature, and so many of them are just really self-centered. And that’s the biggest first sort of pitfall that counterintuitive comes in to try to correct: is that you have to step out of your own shoes.
So whether that is having an outsider view, not using the insider talk, how do you communicate to those people who are like me for those first two weeks, a true outsider to your product, or to your blog.
But really, yeah, it applies to so many of these areas, that counterintuitive. So “let’s get rejected” is the best way to shock people with that but it works itself out in so many ways.
BRIAN: Well, taking a step back, just talking about content marketing in general, can you talk about why it’s so valuable to businesses and yet so many businesses still overlook it as a tactic in their overall marketing plan?
You know at Matchnode we are really focused on direct response ads and direct response getting traffic and we don’t do a lot of content marketing, we do it internally, but we don’t do it a lot for our customers, yet when I’m looking at a lot of our clients they are really suffering from a lack of content marketing.
AARON: Here’s what I would say, I cut my teeth on Joe Polish and Dean Jackson’s I love marketing podcast. So I was thrown in with both feet into this direct response world. And those are the people that even on the content marketing side, the Joanna Wiebes, the Copy Hackers, those kind of folks, I don’t think there has to be a disconnect between the two.
So like for instance with the Joe Polish stuff, one of the first things I absolutely stole from him, and he said this in the podcast to go ahead and steal from me, was his consumer buyer guide. It was a way of establishing trust, getting somebody into your funnel, having them raise their hand with their email. You’re giving them something to guide them through the process of purchasing whatever it is you’re in the business of.
So just because you’re doing content doesn’t mean you have to be shy about getting a response. Whether it’s a signup at the end of your blog post or an email list that’s focused specifically on that. Or reviews, e-books, all that kind of stuff is very much like the overlap between content marketing and taking action to getting someone to do something.
BRIAN: Good copy is so key to conversion.
AARON: Oh heck yeah, I can’t say that enough, and not only because that’s what people actually pay me for, although, I do have a dog in the fight.
BRIAN: Alright well let’s dive a little bit into the meat of your talk at the conference. You spoke around three lies was the way you structured your talk. And lie number one is when it comes to creating popular content, you think it’s about you.
AARON: Yeah, it’s not about you, it’s about them. And it’s kind of a risky point I’ll be honest with you, it was a risky point to bring up at a place like Unbounce which is super focused on conversions, CRO, A/B testing, that kind of thing. Because really, that whole point was really about popular content. What are usually considered vanity metrics.
But an intentional use of those to build authority, to establish social proof, to get yourself featured, your product featured, your business featured in these outreach emails that are often, like I said, so insanely self-focused that I have no interest in replying to somebody who throws me a pitch like that.
AARON: Ah! And so it’s like that whole, popularity in high school in the real world is shallow, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
BRIAN: And it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.
AARON: Yeah, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, you just have to know what you’re doing with it. You know what’s the idea behind it. And so really it is that first step in my content marketing, the stuff that I do for myself to get myself seen, noticed, established and seen as a trusted authority in that realm. And that’s where vanity metrics speak for themselves.
Like when someone sees a ton of comments on a blog post, or all the shares, or the retweets or it’s trending here. That doesn’t immediately equal into someone is going to buy from me or it’s going to sell something.
But it does create these incredible leverage points which just like content marketing, are about being trusted, being seen as an authority so when someone goes into that buyer mode, you’re at the top of their mind.
BRIAN: Awesome, can you talk about your process a little bit for unearthing popular content? I thought it was fascinating.
AARON: Yes! It’s so shallow.
BRIAN: It works.
AARON: That’s the thing about it, it works. So a lot of your listeners are probably familiar with things like Google Trends or Buzzsumo. And I’m not an SEO anything, ninja, guru, fill in the blank, I can basically fake it far enough using plugins on my own posts, that kind of thing.
BRIAN: Know enough to be dangerous.
AARON: What I really use something like Google Trends for, which will give you exactly what it sounds like, what’s trending on search right now. You can also dig into historical data, they do a great job breaking it down into topics, for celebrity news stories, business, finance, sports, all that kind of stuff.
So the example that I used, the first time I wrote for Entrepreneur, I had no name, no byline, it felt like I was sort of jumping the line. Like you’re supposed to publish to all these small places, build a portfolio, and then go after the big dogs. And I just didn’t want to do that.
So I had a few pitches rejected, which is great, #letsgetrejected. And I got tired of that so I said, alright, what’s the overlap here between what’s trending right now on Google.
This was a couple years ago, I jumped in, found out that Mindy Kaling, from Fox’s The Mindy project, hit this all-time high, like maxed out their trending score in the summer of, I think it was 2012 or 2013.
I didn’t know who she was, maybe I had seen the show once or twice, I wasn’t a big fan, but I was like, alright, if people are looking for her then I can easily do an overlap with entrepreneurial lessons, like the Mindy Kaling guide to entrepreneurial domination.
And that’s what I put together, and it was really just his hodgepodge, it was probably the easiest article I’ve written. It’s really embarrassing. I had spent all this time trying to get densely researched and the things I thought I was supposed to be doing, those things got rejected.
So I just did this super shallow, put it together, five points, less than a thousand words and then I emailed it to every person I could find on the entrepreneur website that had the title ‘Editor’ and ‘Online’ in their job description.
And it was the thing that opened the door, because it was obvious to them it was trending, it was a great overlap, it was popular, easy.
BRIAN: Well, lie number two really speaks to something I think about on a daily basis for all of our clients. And it’s, when it comes to producing sales worthy content, you think it’s about sales, but really, it’s not. It’s about salvation, it’s about their needs.
AARON: Yeah, and you hear about that all the time. Whether it’s a breakdown between features and benefits kind of thing and so you sell the emotional experience, but what I found that’s really helpful is to frame it and then kind of ratchet it up a little bit.
So I do, I talk about that whole idea of salvation. The two questions are, what is the hell? “This.” fill in the blank. And “this” can be landing page, product, video, blog post. What’s “the hell” this is going to save people from.
So you’re really wide-eyed about the pain people are in, the emotional need. And then what is the heaven that this will deliver them unto. So the payoff that they get from it.
And so I go after this is kind of two ways. First off, stealing from the audience I’m targeting. Going to places like, Facebook, social media.
BRIAN: You mentioned YouTube.
AARON: Yeah, YouTube, like the dark underbelly of the internet is the YouTube comment section.
BRIAN: YouTube comments, always a treat.
AARON: That’s what people are really thinking, you want raw feedback? Jump into there, it’s a scary place to be.
But yeah, Facebook, or especially, you know I get a lot of traction, road to run on, out of Amazon. And not just my own client’s reviews, but especially reviews from similar products.
BRIAN: Look at the competitors.
AARON: This is what I loved about the product, this is where it fell short, this was my expectation and why it didn’t meet that. And so I’m able to go in and have this treasure trove of, “these are the actual words they’re using”. And when I can use their words, there is an immediate identification that can take place with that salvation idea. This is how they are crafting their own hell, and this is how they are describing their own heaven and you know, ripping that off.
BRIAN: We did the same thing basically in reverse with our Facebook audiences. We’re looking at customer data and having Facebook analyze it to find different interests and demographic data and that’s where we are always mining to target our ads a little bit better.
But the copy that’s associated with those ads, really needs to come from that qualitative search.
AARON: Yeah, so I tried to do this kind of divide, with popular stuff it’s really easy to look at the numbers, because it’s the raw numbers, what’s trending what’s popular, what’s getting shared, but if I need to go one step beyond that, to make sales worthy content, then that’s where I need the qualitative, the actual words they are using.
BRIAN: Well, lie number three, “brand defining content is about success”. And you brought up one campaign that immediately resonated with hopefully all of our listeners at some point in time they’ve ordered a pizza from dominoes.
AARON: So I talked a little bit about this, that brand defining content is not about success it’s about failure and there was this great emphasis throughout the conference. What I’ve seen over and over again is this focus on vulnerability, the word authenticity, being a human and speaking to other humans.
And so it’s easy to see how you can do that at a personal level. And I shared a couple of examples, John Mara had a fantastic post, Rand from Moz had a fantastic post as well and even did a little bit of that in his own presentation at the conference. But the disconnect comes in, the real lie comes in when you’re moving from that personal branding into an actual business.
Now I think it has to be best face forward, the best stats, “I got to look good”. And that’s like the drive for ego and pride at that business level. And most people will see right through that. Coming out of that lie two, the hell they’re in, if all you’re doing is presenting yourself as this like salvation figure, the heaven that you’re enjoying. People far more connect over what you’ve done wrong, over your failures, then your successes.
BRIAN: Which builds your authenticity.
AARON: And that’s like the test. The test for authenticity isn’t so much voice, it’s are you willing to share the dark stuff. The failures, personal and professional. So the one you were talking about, Domino’s, man I just ate that up, at the risk of doing a terrible pun.
They had this really full scale content, I mean they had a documentary, they had traditional advertising, they had an entire website built around this pizza rescue sort of campaign, where they led with “we know our pizza sucks”.
Real customer comments and reviews, like “the crust is cardboard”, “the sauce is ketchup”, they were just insanely open handed about yeah we have blown it as a business and this is what we are doing.
BRIAN: And they were honest, and I mean I’m not really a pizza eater, a pretty healthy guy in general. But I definitely ordered a Domino’s pizza after they went with their rebrand because one it was such great marketing and two I was so curious.
AARON: What a good emotion to talk about too, curious. Because authenticity creates the connection. Their new CEO came in and he was the face of it which was great, because then you actually connected with a person who’s sharing. And they did all these great profile pieces as well on their different like, chefs and the local people. There was this one great ad with the dude who was folding boxes, almost kind of YouTube feel of this phenom who could fold boxes. So all that led to their humanity, but it came down to that they shared their failures, their darkest points.
BRIAN: And even years before Uber you could see your pizza delivery driver, you see his name and that he’s coming to deliver your pizza.
AARON: Coming back to that start, my jump into this whole thing was really on the heels of this enormous failure. Losing my job professionally, the personal failures that I went through, adopting that ethos myself of “let’s get rejected”.
And then being willing to share about that stuff on my blog and even kind of moving that out as guest posts. One of the most popular posts on my site early on, was “5 lessons from a failed copywriting pitch”. And I had a really bad experience where I totally had a train wreck of a meeting, a sit-down with a new client. I dogged on them really hard, I was too aggressive, I wasn’t at all loving or understanding and then I just got torn apart in the parking lot afterwards. It was pretty raw.
And the choice at that point is just, do I just embrace that? Do I push back against it? Do I let my pride tell me “no it’s them not me”?
And that’s great internally, but oh my gosh, when I threw that post out there, you know to my really small email list, and that’s what helped me establish relationships with folks like Jen Havas, Joanna Wiebe, herself commented on it, which blew my mind as a fanboy. They shared it, they joined my email list. And I get actual responses back, not just comments but people who want to send that out, that’s the stuff they write back to and creates those 1000 true fans, the die-hard fans for myself, and it’s always on the heels of that kind of authenticity and sharing what went wrong.
BRIAN: I remember early in my digital marketing career, I wrote a post, when I was working internally for a company, essentially I was just blogging for them. I wrote a post about everything their high school sports coach was doing wrong for them and we immediately heard from every sports coach that was in our network. Right after that we heard from a bunch of leads in our network and sales skyrocketed off the post, it was fantastic. Initially I thought a shitstorm was coming.
AARON: It’s dangerous and that’s the counterintuitive “let’s get rejected” thing. Cause honestly you’re not going to this unless you’re willing to make rejection the goal. And setting aside the fear of being really wide-eyed and honest about it. And again that’s what I loved about Domino’s, that’s what has been so great about the way Chipotle has responded to their own giant fiasco. Is that they’ve just been insanely open-handed about it and honest and real.
It isn’t spin, I don’t want to make it sound cheaper than it is. It can obviously be done that way, but the darkness, the what I’ve done wrong and the willingness to admit that and build from it.
BRIAN: So for all of our listeners, the number one big takeaway they can get from this is obviously, “let’s get rejected”. But if there’s one tip you could pass along as far how they could improve their current content marketing strategy, what would it be?
AARON: Yeah start to see how everything you put out underneath that lens of heaven and hell, salvation, emotionally driven. Ripping off your audience so you get your own words from them. I work with something of an army of freelancers behind the scenes, so I put a ton of stuff out under my name and I’ve got some folks that are sort of five or six steps behind me in their career, who I make them do the heavy lifting and the researching and all that good stuff.
And what I always see the difference between and article that’s a six or seven that’s decent and a ten that could be published on a big name site is leading with the pain and the fear. Diving into that emotion from the jump. That’s what gets people into it. That’s the number one tip where it falls apart. And can I do a number two?
AARON: Number two, this is so lame, I’m a college instructor, I teach communication and philosophy, and I am such an obsessive compulsive with my students about outlining. And that’s the other place where 6 and 7s go up to 10s, is having a really insanely clear structure.
Which is a great counterpoint to leading with emotions, include stories, make it touchy feely and lock that structure down. Lists, clear transitions, telling your audience this is what you’re going to get out of it. Delivering in the body and then just regurgitating that in the conclusion, having that consistency. Structure is such a big deal, for anything. From landing pages, description pages, and especially blog posts and articles.
AARON: Absolutely, I have just released through Unbounce, this is perfect, we start out relationship with Unbounce, talked about it through the podcast and now we’re going to end with it. I had a moment of insight, and again, back to the Google Trends kind of thing, obviously this is a no-brainer. The big thing right now is the campaigns, the presidential elections here in America.
And I have no idea why no one else had done this before, but this one moment of insight waking up in the middle of the night. We should do an entire post CRO related, conversion related, just tearing down the two current sites, the Trump site and the Clinton site. So I floated that idea by Unbounce, and early on connected with Hillary Clinton’s chief conversion rate optimizer, which was unbelievable, I couldn’t the guy actually got back to me on twitter.
And then just this snowball effect happened. I started reaching out to every dream person I ever wanted to work with, or write with. It was the perfect coming together of timing, the idea, that sweet spot for them. And so we dropped this 5000 plus word article which is so huge, especially for Unbounce, even though they do long ones. This one was beast, it was crazy.
And it’s a who’s who of CRO, copywriting, online marketing, and it was insanely humbling to get to work with these people, and I can’t believe I’m playing at the same level as them. I feel like I’m pretending and they were so amazing and nice.
Well, thanks again Aaron, thanks again for coming on, and we’ll hopefully talk soon.
AARON: Outstanding, thanks so much Brian. And if anybody hasn’t listened to Brian’s talk, go to that CTA conf. Hopefully he’ll include it in the show notes there. And if anything, your opener was phenomenal. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it, you can even see the pictures of it. Brian: did something incredibly clever that immediately connected him with his audience. The identification, “I’m like you”, “let’s talk to each other”.
BRIAN: I appreciate that Aaron, so go watch my talk everybody, alright, talk to you soon.
AARON: Alright sir.
–Aaron’s Post on Unbounce: Clinton vs. Trump: 18 CROs Tear Down the Highest Stakes Marketing Campaigns in US History
–intro and outro music from our friends at Sabers: https://sabersmusic.bandcamp.com/releases