I spent Sunday making good on a promise I made my 12-year-old to take her shopping.
She’s been saving her money (including some from an entrepreneurial project) to buy Christmas presents for family and friends.
Sure, the stores were busy.
Yes, the lines were long.
Add to that, she is a slow decision maker.
But... y’all, she found thoughtful gifts for most of the people on her list.
And some of these people include her bus driver’s children.
Her smile and satisfaction at having found gifts she knows they’ll love were worth the crowds, lines, and slow decisions.
She enjoyed every minute of spending money she’d worked hard to make on others.
I write a lot about knowing your audience.
And creating content that truly resonates.
Because we content marketers want to build trust and credibility so it’s easier to sell our products and services.
But I’m inspired by her experience shopping to focus a bit more on the feeling even B2B SaaS brands should have when we’ve created something we know our audience will love because we understand them deeply.
If you’re not thinking “I can't wait until we release this and our audience gets to read / watch / consume and use it. They’re going to LOVE IT,” you may not be creating something worth sharing.
Create for them like you’re giving them a gift, not checking something off a list.
Opt In Weekly will pause until January 5, 2023. I wish you all happy holidays and lovely times spent with family, friends, and your new pal ChatGPT.
Trying to hook a reader? Or a viewer?
Sometimes it works really well to craft a story, identify a moment of crisis, and start right there.
Because you can use that very first moment to get them emotionally invested in the story’s outcome.
Television dramas execute this all the time.
Someone in a dark room, frightened, trying to get out.
“Why is my favorite character trapped?” you think.
Cut to 5 days before.
You need to understand what led to this moment.
And how—if!—things get resolved.
Great writers do this, too.
They open a loop.
Bring you into the action.
Make you want the missing pieces filled in.
“But, Ashley, I create content for a B2B SaaS company. It’s different. There aren’t climactic moments in my industry.”
Sure there are.
How about that moment right before you hit send on an email going out to thousands of people and you’re not 100% sure you got the segmentation right?
What about the stress of presenting your idea to the CEO and Zoom requires an update to open?
Or the times when 2 conflicting priorities are vying for attention and you’re in charge of deciding which one gets cut, TODAY?
Use those moments your audience can relate to.
You don’t have to over dramatize them (in fact, that undermines things a bit).
Instead, create a short, relatable introduction.
Be concise, but set a scene that resonates and/or piques curiosity.
If it feels too “imaginary,” talk to a customer and get them to tell you about a situation they were in and use their words to explain the rising action.
And, here’s something you might not expect to hear from a woman who loves a good, slow narrative:
MAKE IT SOMETHING THEY CAN SKIP IF THEY’D RATHER GET RIGHT TO THE TACTICAL BITS.
Like this Prologue.
It’s not for everyone, and that’s ok.
If you’re here for the curated links, you know how to scroll.
It’s the same as landing on a blog article and scanning to see what the H2s are recommending.
If you start “in the action” and you make the introduction skimmable—“Ah, I get it. This article is about X.”—you’re providing an experience that lets someone navigate to what they want to get out of the engagement.
Don’t make them slog through exposition if they’d rather not.
It’s the same for podcasting.
I’d rather fast forward past the “tell me about your background” bit in most interviews and get right to the thesis: “Today, we’re talking about how to not waste your audience’s attention.”
This week’s round up includes some inspiration, intentional thought provoking, and a touch of AI (it’s coming, y’all). Let me know what you think.”
My youngest daughter and I shared a silent, I’m-about-to-throw-up mind meld over the dinner table.
Two nights in a row.
We somehow managed to quell our gag reflexes.
Finished each meal without much drama.
But, it’s been… challenging.
Here’s the deal:
My husband is trying to eat mostly vegan these days.
For health reasons.
If you don’t know what vegan is, it’s plant-based only.
No meat (duh), but also no animal products (eggs, butter, etc.).
He’s not trying to force it on us.
But he is our home chef.
And I don’t want him feeling like he’s got to cook two meals every night.
Also, I’m not a huge fan of slopping a pile of lentils on my plate and pretending I’m satisfied.
So I’ve started collecting recipes for variety.
We’re in an experimental phase.
Monday night was salad with seasoned chickpeas.
Tuesday, we had a pureed carrot and red lentil soup.
It was really thick and had a mostly cumin / onion taste.
Last night, we tried BBQ jackfruit “pulled pork” sandwiches and beans.
Not as gross.
But, still, very strange.
It’s going to take a while to find recipes we like.
To stop exchanging “are-you-able-to-swallow-this?” looks across the table.
Is there a content lesson here?
You don’t just declare you’re going to do a thing and do it well within the first few tries.
It takes time to experiment.
To find a way to make it work for you.
When you launch new content tactics like organic social, podcasts, newsletters, a live series, or whatever you’re hoping to try in 2023, don’t expect them to take off overnight.
You’ll probably feel a little nauseous several times along the way.
An optimistic attitude and determination can help you push through and endure the phase of being bad at a thing until you’re good at a thing.
This week’s digest of content includes some inspiring pieces that could prompt greatness. Bon appetit!”
My week started with an 11-hour field trip (6 a.m. departure, 5 p.m. return) with my 10-year-old who got to DISSECT A BABY SHARK.
This is the same child who was traumatized by the surprise snake experience of February 2022.
She was not so put off by cutting a dead animal open as she was by holding a live one.
In fact, she took extreme pride in the fact that 2 of the girls in her group excused themselves and decided not to participate while she wasn’t phased.
This turned into a few rounds of dramatically displaying the shark innards as she removed them so that the children who chose not to participate could see the liver and stomach from far away.
Was it a little over the top?
But we all know what it feels like to realize you’re doing something others aren’t willing to try.
And she didn’t rub it in too hard (she’s too sensitive herself to deliberately hurt someone else’s feelings).
But the whole scene–
A research center room with big windows to nature on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
Air thick with formaldehyde
5th graders wearing goggles and blue gloves
Some enjoying the process of cutting flesh open; some choosing to walk away–
It reminded me of the ways we marketers, content creators, and storytellers attempt to bring our audience into a story.
Some jump right in.
“Hand me the scissors. Let’s see if there’s any undigested food in the stomach” (Hers had shrimp eyes in the creases!)
And others walk away.
“Um. No. Not for me.”
No amount of waving a shark liver around made my daughter’s uneasy friends change their minds and decide to rejoin the group.
And that’s ok.
We shouldn’t expect the thing we’re hocking (or doing) to attract everyone.
You can’t just say, “But you SHOULD want to do this,” and make it so.
In fact, it’s not such a bad thing to repel people who wouldn’t enjoy your product or service.
You want to attract the people who get it and love it.
And you can attract more of that ICP if you stop worrying about the people who don’t want anything to do with it.
They’re not willing to ride 3 hours each way in a chartered bus to spend an hour dissecting a shark.
Find the people who are.
And bring a good book (My choice was Ann Handley’s new edition of Everybody Writes. Spoiler: it’s GOOD).
This week’s round up of content carries 2 themes: The idea that prework (briefs, planning, building for a mission, psychoanalyzing your audience before emailing them) matters and How to market in a recession.
Enjoy! And let me know what you think.
I’ve been thinking a bit in the past week about scaling trust.
It’s pretty much a prerequisite for scaling growth, right?
The way I prefer to word it, though, is “earning trust at scale.”
Because you can’t just go out and create trust.
You have to earn it.
One opt in, account sign up, and conversion at a time, right?
Until, at some point, you’ve earned enough trust that trust earns you more trust.
The people who trust your brand begin to recommend and vouch for you.
So, how do we earn trust with content?
Well, for starters, here’s what you shouldn’t do:
❌ No click bait headlines with content that falls short of actually being helpful.
❌ No pretending to be an expert when you should have interviewed an expert.
❌ No making claims without sources or proof to back it up.
❌ No copycat content that is the same regurgitated fluff your competitors also publish.
It’s actually about delivering more helpful information than anyone expected you to share and becoming known for it:
✅ Knowing who you are creating for so well that your content can go extra deep and truly help them.
✅ Forging relationships with your audience by pulling back the corporate curtain and using a real human voice to speak for the brand.
✅ Sharing insights backed by actual examples and experiences.
✅ Using direct quotes from credible experts.
✅ Being confident enough to share curated content you didn’t create but that you know will help your audience.
✅ Engaging directly with your audience to learn how they’re responding to what you’re creating and what additional resources they need from you.
Scaling trust requires effectively distributing content that demonstrates expertise and authority.
Who at your organization understands your buyers best?
Could you record them answering tough questions and providing solid advice backed by examples regularly?
Could they engage directly with customers regularly?
Could they disrupt the way your prospects currently understand their challenges and help them see things differently enough to try your product / service?
Get them talking and turn that into content: videos, podcasts, articles, social posts, etc.
To earn trust at scale, first earn trust in ways that don’t (responding to each comment on social media, responding to each newsletter reply, engaging directly with customers to learn what matters to them, over delivering when someone in your ICP asks a question), then use a strong voice (or set of voices) to represent your brand and get the message you want to permeate your market out there.
The customers and prospects you invest in 1:1 will become a part of your trust-building mechanism.
And, of course, BE TRUSTWORTHY.
“She knew what I was without me having to explain it.”—my youngest daughter, delighted that someone understood her Halloween costume.
It was simple: a burlap skirt, a loose linen shirt, a straw headdress, and a bit of dirt smudged on her face.
But she was getting a whole lot of “Why do you have straw on your head?”
So when someone got it without asking, there was an immediate bond.
This was one of her people.
So much to unpack here, right?
First, you need to know she was Nori Brandyfoot.
And if that’s confusing to you, you need to know she was a Harfoot.
And if that’s confusing to you, you need to know that Harfoots are the ancestors of Hobbits (I’m using capital Hs here out of respect for fictional races of lovable halflings).
And that Bilbo and Frodo Baggins were like Nori, abnormally drawn to adventure.
It could also help if you’ve watched the Amazon series The Rings of Power, which is a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
All caught up?
Or not so Tol-keen?
Sorry. I had to.
Now we can talk about how, when we choose to do a thing few people really understand and we practice our craft out in the wild (aka dressing up as Nori Brandyfoot for Halloween), we have to be willing to live with the fact that a large portion of the people we encounter will be confused.
It’s frustrating, yes.
But here’s the thing:
When someone does recognize that thing you’re doing as incredibly valuable to them (aka is a fan of The Rings of Power and totally gets it), the connection is crazy strong.
They will feel drawn to you.
They’re your people.
I’ve been working on a go-to-market strategy with a service business that hired Audience Ops to help out, and, as we’ve been diving into who their Ideal Client Persona (ICP) truly is, there’s been some concern about my recommendation to niche down.
They do a handful of things incredibly well for a wide range of clients.
But what they want is a steady stream of qualified interest in one service in particular (the most lucrative and exciting one they offer).
To scale that type of growing interest, they need to figure out what will resonate strongly with clients who value that particular service.
Clients who will encounter them and think, “Yes. This is for ME. This is exactly what we need.”
A place where no one has to ask, “Why do you have straw on your head?”
Because they’ve got straw on their heads, too.
Think about your favorite writers and creators.
Chances are you love them on multiple levels:
And more generally…
All the books
Most of the phrases
Unless they achieved a complete one-hit wonder (and everything else they made really stinks), you probably think of their body of work.
ALL THE THINGS
All the moments of emotional response to their creations.
You are in relationship with them via the content they’ve created.
The collection of things to be consumed and enjoyed.
Example: My daughter has gobbled up almost every book written by David Walliams.
When you find a creator that clicks,
You seek them out,
Devour their work,
And recommend them to others.
Does your brand (personal or corporate) aim for this sort of love from your audience?
Do you seek to create a body of work they can be drawn into and binge?
Are you building a relationship with them that keeps them coming back and recommending you to others?
Today’s issue is heavy on the content marketing side, especially the challenge we all seem to face:
How do we create in ways that get results, breed die-hard fans, and scale?
And can we hire for or outsource parts of the creation process?
It starts with understanding who you are creating for.
And then strategizing your content to serve them in ways that feel like hand-delivered secret invitations to learn things they did not know.
Let me know what resonates.
It’s an intimidating number, right?
But also the start of something.
Your first 100 X.
How about issues?
That’s what today marks for Opt In Weekly.
It’s a commitment.
It’s so much newslettering about newslettering (and more recently, content marketing).
To the publishers out there well past 100: I commend you.
You’ve done something few achieve: persevered.
And to the people who are just starting: I can’t wait to celebrate your 100th issue.
Consistently writing and publishing is a daunting endeavor. The very act of pushing yourself (or your team) to launch and stick with a publishing schedule is tough, but when there are people on the other side of that blank screen you write to—individuals with names and real reasons they read what you create each week, it tests your resolve to show up for them.
To deliver on your promise.
To earn their trust, word by word.
I sometimes ponder the double meaning of the title Opt In Weekly.
Yes, readers opt in (they actually double opt in—wah wah).
But we, the creators, have to opt in, too.
My encouragement to you in this strange moment, on the cusp of sending issue 100: opt in to delivering on your promise in your content.
Hold up your end of the bargain.
In 100 issues, you won’t be the same person.
Your thoughts will have evolved.
Your approach may shift.
You will discover, through the act of creating something worthy of sending, that you actually learn what you think as you force yourself to create content that serves others.
That you are more you than you were 100 issues ago.
And perhaps you are, too?
It feels like we’ve just begun this journey, right?
Let’s see where it goes.
P.S. I’m halfway through Ann Handley’s new edition of Everybody Writes and, obviously, rethinking my entire writing process, but in a good way. I’ll report more on its amazingness in an upcoming issue, but if you want to sort of book club / fan girl this read with me you’re more than welcome.
Ever get screen paralysis considering which CTA to use with your content?
We obsess over them, right?
Get a demo?
Read/watch this other thing we published?
I think obsessing over getting it perfect is a big waste of time, though.
Give them a way to grow in relationship with your brand, yes.
Maybe even multiple paths (read more, learn more, free trial).
But your true objective is that the content itself creates a feeling of trust that grows over time.
Here’s an example of the mental journey you want to foster (note: it probably won’t be as perfectly ordered as this):
“Wow. I’m so glad I discovered this. This is good. They know what they’re talking about. I’m going to try this thing they’ve taught me.”
“I think I’ll subscribe / bookmark / follow / whatever because that was so good I don’t want to miss what they publish next.”
“I have a new problem to solve. I think I’ll look for an answer from that brand that publishes on this topic, or maybe ask them what they suggest.”
“It’s been a while and I’m still getting so much good advice from that brand. It’s like they’re giving away secrets. I’m getting really reliant on them as a credible resource.”
“I feel like I might need that thing they sell. I trust them. I’ve learned about it in snippets, have a feel for what it could do for my business, and I’d like to learn more.”
Do you see the hidden CTA that’s working on the prospect in this thought progression?
It’s not 2 snappy words on a button.
It’s a growing feeling of “I want to work with the team that created this content. I trust they know what they’re doing.”
It’s not a 1-newsletter, 1-ebook, 1-blog post, 1-LinkedIn post, 1-YouTube video, or 1-TikTok strategy.
It’s a relationship that requires your brand to publish quality consistently.
The hidden CTA matters more than the “Book a demo” CTA you want to squeeze in.
The hidden CTA is “Trust me.”
And that trust forms and grows over multiple encounters.
Make each piece you publish worth someone coming back for more.
You know what’s not fun?
Knocking on 6 car doors of unsuspecting elementary school parents consecutively to ask them if they’d mind moving to the side to let you squeeze through to get to the early activities line at 6:40 a.m.
This was me last Friday, feeling ridiculous but at least glad I’d opted to put on a hoodie instead of a robe for my 5th-grader’s Leadership Academy drop off.
She normally rides the bus but it gets to her school at 7:10 and their meetings start at 7, so parents are advised to arrive early enough to get in an early activities line that wraps around the back of the school.
But the trick is this:
In order to get in the line you have to get to the school before the regular line is long enough to block the entrance.
Which means you need to be there between 6:30 and 6:40, so that you can get in the line then wait until they allow your child to get out of the car at 7.
I spend an hour from the time I leave my house to when I get back to drop off a child at a school that is 10 minutes away.
And, last week, for the first time, I was late.
So I swallowed my pride and started knocking on car windows.
Each parent was startled, then rolled down their window and shared a laugh with me about my mess up and agreed to pull aside once I’d spread the word.
They parted the waters.
And not nearly as stressful as trying to catch a cruise boat after a canceled flight.
But there’s a content / newslettering lesson here:
Some weeks you’re going to be behind and it’s going to take extra effort to publish on or close to schedule.
Achieving consistency is probably one of the most challenging parts of creating content or sending a newsletter.
Self-imposed deadlines are easy to punt, if you feel like it’s only you you’re letting down.
But if you’re building an audience and have set an expectation that you will be sending something really good at a regular cadence, the best way to keep earning their trust is to keep the commitment.
Figure out ways to hold yourself accountable.
Learn what helps you hit goals.
Figure out how to make it happen.
Enlist help if you need it.
I’ll be leaving 15 minutes earlier for activity drop off tomorrow.
I’ve figured out that’s what it’s going to take to avoid knocking on windows and being “that mom.”
But will I be perfect and never slip up again?
So, the other piece of this advice: come to peace with giving yourself the grace to fall short of an intention every so often.
Better yet: help your audience understand why it happened.
Use it to endear yourself to them.
If they’re following / subscribed to your content because they find it highly valuable, they’ll appreciate it when you’re willing to be vulnerable.
They’ll “pull aside” when you ask.
I hope you enjoy this week’s curated links.