In July of 1715, a fleet of Spanish ships left Havana, Cuba, heavy-laden with New World treasure from Central and South America to transport to Spain. It would be used to repay debts to other nations after The War of Spanish Succession (Queen Anne’s War). They carried
More specifically, words you hear but might not know exactly what to imagine (click the links, if you’re curious):
2, 4, and 8 Escudos
But, as we’re reminded today, nature had other plans.
A hurricane wrecked the ships against the reefs along the east coast of Florida, in a 40-ish mile area we know today as the Treasure Coast.
Over time, the remains were buried, the historic level resting on a limestone pan under five to ten feet + of sand.
I’ve worked as a deckhand and diver on modern day salvage operations, searching for these rare bits of history.
It’s a seasonal pursuit, only really viable during summer, when west winds create calm waters close to shore and create good visibility.
We anchor salvage boats in 3 places, lower galvanized aluminum elbows under the inboard motor props, and use the engine to dig holes in the sand, exposing limestone and allowing us to take a metal detector down and locate treasures.
But you’re not here to learn about treasure salvage.
You want to know how your content (newsletter, social post, videos, blogs, etc.) can actually impact growth.
Imagine that finding treasure = growth.
If it was easy to do, anyone with a snorkel set could go on a free-for-all and be rich.
But it’s not.
Under 10 feet of sand.
You have to be willing to go deep to achieve it.
You need insights on where to look and a solid strategy (aka, research and customer interviews that help you truly understand where to find them).
You need tools and funding to dig that deep (investing in subject matter expertise and strategic distribution).
You need the right conditions (what scenarios foster successfully capturing attention and building a strong relationship with your audience?).
And you need to go back day after day to make progress (1-hit content wonders aren’t a thing. Trust-building is. It requires consistent quality.).
Content-led growth relies on going deep on topics that truly matter to your audience, becoming your buyer’s trusted resource, and clearly tying that to what you sell and why they need it.
You won’t hit treasure creating fluff.
Here’s hoping you find some actionable gold in this week’s curated links.
Are you more of a map or ladder person?
What does that even mean, Ashley?
It’s a thing I discovered recently that just CLICKS.
In your life / career, do you imagine yourself climbing a ladder?
Next salary increase
Or do you picture yourself exploring different locations on a map?
Experience in exotic location
(Mountain top, ocean floor, city, country, etc.)
The ladder has merit.
But it can feel very prescribed, right?
And if you’ve trained your brain to think of the ladder as safe, switching to a map mindset is daunting.
It can be especially difficult for someone who knows nothing but ladders to engage with a maps person.
They want very badly to see your story as linear.
To make connections that make sense.
To find clear endpoints.
And a specific goal.
But what if the goal is to experience different things?
To be unapologetically multi-passionate?
Confession: it is with absolute delight that, whenever I encounter someone trying to understand what my very mappy life is and has been, I introduce additional destinations (places I’ve not only been, but still currently reside). Because, y’all, you can be many things at once.
It’s kind of like when you study physical dimensions and challenge yourself to imagine the 5th and 6th dimensions (Superstring Theory). You either like the fuzzy concept of additional planes of existence, or they disturb you.
As my dad—and Allan Watts—would say, “Are you prickly or gooey?”
Structure versus… blobs?
Reality is we’re all a little both / and.
But I’m going to raise my gooey flag a little higher this issue and remind you that having a maps mindset is freeing.
Especially for those of us who are storytellers.
There’s always an unexpected turn we can deliver.
A plot twist.
A way of taking the story where the audience didn’t expect it to go.
Let’s embrace the idea of being enigmatic.
Of not fitting into the narrative others want to wedge us into.
As creators, it makes for a much richer story to NOT tell people what they expect to hear.
As content marketers, it helps us build brand stories that stand out.
As life livers, it frees us from the confines of looking to the next rung on a ladder and allows us to think, “I wonder what adventure I’d like to take next?”
Go ahead, confuse people a little.
It’s more fun.
And it keeps them coming back (see You Gonna Finish That? below).
Don’t freak out.
I’m in Cleveland.
At Content Marketing World.
And I’m just now writing the intro to today’s issue. It’s 7 a.m.
I’m pausing the anxious mental prep that goes into speaking—today at 1 p.m., by the way—to send you something worth opening, reading, and clicking so that you, too, can kill it at being a last-minute writer when you need to.
And, yes, I do typically write this intro (ahem, prologue) the day we send it. But by the time I hit send I’ve done the most energy-depleting thing of my day. That’s just not the case today. I’ll have the pre-speaking jitters until 1:30 :)
Sometimes this write-the-intro-the-morning-of-sending strategy leaves me staring at a very white screen begging for a narrative I find extremely challenging to deliver.
We literary folk are always looking to “find the story.”
But sometimes the story is hiding under a rock, right?
And NOTHING comes to us.
I think this happens especially when we want to write something amazing.
Like when I’m at an event and people are actively subscribing to this newsletter.
And you should have planned something far in advance to be extra amazing but instead you (well, I) left it to chance.
And then… THE BLANK SCREEN.
And though all the little conversations and powerful keynote sessions of the previous days are swimming through my brain I can’t quite pluck out a story.
What do we do when we need to write but we’re unable to find that ever elusive narrative?
Here’s what usually works for me:
Stop thinking big and start thinking small.
Scan your memory bank for one little meaningful moment.
Instead of telling a BIG STORY, tell a tiny one.
Somehow, that lifts the pressure off in a way that lets me also focus on the tiny details of the tiny story.
And, if I’m still having trouble getting started, I’ll do one of two things:
I feel like either of these has the power to pull people in.
And with newsletters, the goal is delivering quality at cadence and allowing the time, efforts, and little stories to compound into a more meaningful relationship with your readers.
Think of newsletters (and content in general) more like an ongoing conversation (more on this in the Marketing section today).
Wish me luck today.
I’m speaking with Dennis Shiao about counterintuitive email marketing strategies.
And, of course, please enjoy the goodies below (which I did take time to curate earlier in the week).
He / she swooped in midmorning.
There was a pink blur and then a splash.
And then, I realized a Roseate Spoonbill had landed 15 feet from our deck (we were at the fishing camp) and I LOST MY MIND.
But quietly, because, duh, pretty bird nearby.
I took photos and videos and just enjoyed the mess out of the 3 or so minutes it graced us with its presence.
I’d never seen one in person.
Somehow I’d had a framed Audubon print of this specific bird and had moved it in and out of 5 houses without actually having seen one IRL.
The moment was special.
Even if he (she?)—I don’t know how to tell bird genders very well, it doesn’t stick— was hanging out near an old Dr. Pepper can that had been tossed in the lake so all my pictures read like “look how we’re ruining nature” PSAs.
I sent a few pics and videos to my mom, dad, and brothers. My dad is a bird watcher of sorts (is there a certification for that?) and he also LOST HIS MIND.
“Wow! Those are really rare. I’ve only seen one my entire life.”
Modern day family connection.
I could feel his joy (and jealousy) clear through the text.
One of my brothers, Rich, chimed in:
“They’re not rare. We see them all the time.”
Thanks for ruining the moment.
Thanks for being so committed to reality that you crushed our father’s excitement.
I’m not mad.
My dad isn’t either (are you Dad?).
But we’ve all been there, right?
Super excited about a thing for our own reasons—because we bring our own context to any given experience—and then someone says, “You’re silly to feel that way.”
How does this tie in to newslettering and content marketing?
Content can create amazing experiences, but it can also be a bubble burster.
You’ll want to be careful how you do both.
When you create experiences for your audience, they won’t be in a vacuum.
Share content you know they’ll love in this specific part of their journey.
“Saw this, thought of you.”
Help them make connections.
Earn their trust with truthful content.
When you’re bubble bursting, educate as you disappoint.
“XYZ is broken. Here’s how to fix it.”
It’s painful, but the message sticks.
And, after they mourn the thing they thought was amazing, they’ll remember it was you who helped them understand why it isn’t.
In either situation, craft your content with a strong goal in mind.
“Why would I create this moment?”
“What am I trying to teach?”
“How can I teach it in a way that respects the audience learning it?”
This is where you get to decide how arrogant your point of view should be.
My vote is to be and stay humble. I know sometimes experience leads to really strong opinions. It’s ultimately your choice how you deliver that opinion.
In other words, try to respect your target audience’s personal build up to the moment a very pink bird lands near them before you step in to teach them something.
I read something powerful recently and I wish I could remember who wrote it.
It was one of those things that you read quickly, think “makes sense,” then realize later how strong it is.
Like a time-released medication.
Here it is:
“Be the end of the search.”
It was in reference to SEO content, but it feels like, metaphorically, it could extend so far beyond web search results.
But, let’s start there first.
We’ve all been there.
You Google a phrase looking for an answer to the current problem you need to solve.
Cue the top-ranked articles for that keyword.
You click one.
Note the advice.
Pick a new result.
Very similar advice.
Ok, so they’re all saying the same thing: Do X, Y, Z.
But, maybe, just maybe, there’s a standout result.
Worth adding to the swipe file.
Worth going ahead and executing on because the instructions are clear.
And you are also now aware of how the brand that published this actionable advice could further help you.
You didn’t go back to the search results.
Instead, you saw more content they created and recommended as helpful and thought, “Oh, yeah, I should look into that, too.”
Or you felt compelled to subscribe to receive more.
Or explore their case studies.
You might not convert on this blog article / video / whatever that was good enough to rank but different enough to end your search.
But now you have the most compelling version of the answer you were looking for and are aware the company that published it exists and sells a thing you might need.
Let’s think about the end of a search.
It’s the moment when you find what you are looking for.
The moment when you decide, “Yes. Let’s try this.”
Search happens in search engines, but it also happens in private networks, on social media networks (hello, TikTok is crazy popular for search now), in peer-to-peer conversations, and, basically, everywhere.
Think of it like the hiring process.
At some point, a hiring manager decides that a candidate is “the one.” The search is over. That person gets the offer. And the paycheck.
Your content, in whatever medium you distribute it—newsletter, blog, videos, paid media—should feel like the end of a search.
“I need a good resource for X.”
“Oh, brand Y creates trustworthy content about X. In fact, it’s so good, I’ll subscribe and stop looking for more.”
Your content goal: no “going back.”
If you posted about this concept recently, thank you. It stuck with me. Let me know who you are and I’ll give you the credit you deserve.
You know how gross your skin feels when it gets waterlogged?
Like you’re a specimen in a jar on some mad scientist’s shelf?
That’s what 4 days of nothing but rain in central Mississippi is starting to feel like.
Except it’s not just the squishy ground, flooded buildings, and washed out roads.
It’s a mood, too.
Like an oppressive cloud has decided to hover and block the sun and we’re all vitamin D deficient.
Is this what it feels like in Washington State?
We’re oversaturated, y’all.
There was a moment yesterday—it lasted about an hour, I think—when the rain stopped and the sun came out.
And it felt miraculous.
As if I’d forgotten what colors looked like without sunlight.
But then it disappeared and the rain returned and the muted, far less vibrant version of reality we’re stuck in resumed occupation.
How am I going to tie this to your content marketing? Or your newsletter?
BE THAT MOMENT OF SUNSHINE
One of my daughters has a shirt that says, “Be the sunshine.”
And your content’s job (or at least one of its jobs) is to feel like sunshine after a rain.
Look at what makes your target audience feel waterlogged.
What’s saturating their social feeds, their inboxes, their lives?
How could you create and distribute something they look at and think, “Yes! This is refreshing. I want more of this.”?
Don’t flood their feeds, DMs, and inboxes with the same thing your competitors create.
Stand out by delivering something they’ll truly appreciate.
Twice in a month she came out of the gym in tears.
Her tumbling coach is… not well-suited to my youngest daughter’s personality.
At 10, she is getting really good at gymnastics and cheer.
But she’s aware that she’s more sensitive than other kids her age.
This is not a cop-out.
It’s a real thing she has to navigate.
Interactions or comments other children can easily absorb are challenging for her to accept.
They hit her at a different angle.
And this guy’s coaching style doesn’t accommodate her sensitivity.
So she’s practicing something besides tumbling these days: going numb, mentally.
So that she can stave off the emotions and perform physically.
And this week she came home proud.
“I did it. I didn’t give him my tears.”
It’s a thing we all learn to do, right?
And sometimes we’re just conditioned to it.
Think of your social media feeds. After years of scrolling, you recognize ads and don’t pay attention.
It’s the same with display ads on websites.
And emails from brands that have lost inbox priority for you.
As marketers / content creators, we’re trying to catch the attention of numbed audiences.
And to do that, we have to figure out ways to break through the barriers their brains create.
These barriers are mostly the byproduct of more and more brands adopting a best practice until what felt like a fresh, new approach now saturates the spaces we occupy.
Eventually, it’s a sea of sameness we’re all numb (aka immune) to. We learn to ignore them.
That’s why “doing what our competitors do” rarely works.
But doing what very few can do does.
You can break through the numb barrier with…
…a strong point of view.
…content that goes beyond anything else out there to solve a buyer’s problem.
…building a relationship that feels 1:1 (engaging on social media in the comments; replying to every reply to your newsletter).
…publishing content that is unmistakably from you / your brand.
In continuing to shift this newsletter more toward content marketing with a touch of newsletter advice, you’ll notice this issue has less newsletter tips and another heaping dose of marketing content.
I’m taking it slow so you have time to react and send me feedback. Let me know what you think.
“It’s wet under there.”
We were pulling up carpet at the fishing camp we’re fixing up this past weekend and discovered that one of the guest bedroom closets that backs up to the bathroom is an absorbant flood zone for some sort of leak we didn’t know about until now.
The process of pulling up carpet is typically gross in general.
Foam that sticks to concrete.
Seeing all the things that have been intentionally covered up.
But when it becomes an archeological dig and you hit water, it’s extra gross.
The leak isn’t horrible.
It’s a slow bit of water that appears on the floor every once in awhile (believe us, we did a weekend’s worth of watching).
But it’s there.
And we thought not using the sink while we wait for a plumber would help us isolate the source.
But it kept happening.
So… likely the toilet is involved, we think. It’s the only one in the camp.
But once our family left and Sal went back to meet the plumber (who didn’t show, by the way), he couldn’t recreate the leak.
We’ll try again when the plumber is actually available (turned out he had a chemical burn incident that explains the no-show).
And, for now, we won’t put down new flooring or finish work in the closet.
There’s no point in doing it until the issue is resolved.
Is there a newsletter lesson here?
But it feels more like a content marketing one:
Don’t skip on foundational stuff.
And don’t ignore it when it needs fixing.
Because you don’t want to use amazing content (like your newsletter, social media posts, podcast, or blog) to get people’s attention and then not actually be able to help them learn what you do and how it can help them.
They need to be able to understand what you do and convert.
Otherwise you’ve got a leak in the closet and can’t put the pretty new floor down.
You’ll find more thoughts on this topic in this issue’s Marketing section.
Update: We’re ripping up some metaphorical carpet over at Audience Ops (a Simple Focus brand) and it’s going to be fun.
It’s also got me very focused on the larger category newsletters fit into: content marketing.
So focused, in fact, that we’re going to begin to shift the balance of this newsletter from mostly newsletter with some marketing content to mostly marketing content with some newsletter tips.
Send me feedback if you have thoughts on the transition.
And for anyone who read last week’s issue and is curious: Nora will be able to use my old calculator. Score!
Oh, hey, oops it’s Friday.
The kind of Friday that occurs the first week of August following the first day of school (yesterday).
Also known as a black hole in which everything is compressed and time passes differently.
Or maybe it’s just the 5:30 a.m. alarm?
Whatever threw me off balance, I’m here to say this Friday edition is brought to you by the rare hustle that is sending children to begin 5th and 7th grade, with a sprinkling of “You’re 7th grader is now taking high school level math (Algebra) that will appear on her high school transcript.”
We’re already there?
But it’s happening.
And the note that came home yesterday says she needs a fancy calculator… which led us to a pretty comical moment last night.
You see, I’ve moved 5 times in my adult life and each time attempted to purge my belongings.
At some point during the moving process (x5) I have had to decide:
Do I keep this graphing calculator or toss it?
My choice has always been to keep it.
I’m not entirely sure.
Maybe I think I’ll suddenly need to solve a problem only it can help solve?
Or maybe I’ve been unconsciously saving it to pass along to a daughter?
Today she took my TI-86 (circa 1998) to school to ask her teacher if it’s going to work for what she needs or if we should just buy her the recommended TI-84.
The 86 accompanied me through AP Calculus and Physics as a senior in high school, the only girl in both classes.
In this moment, while writing, I realize I held onto it as a sentimental object more than a potential functioning piece of equipment (it does still work).
It somehow represents me doing a hard thing:
Not dropping the classes after the other girls attended for a day then abandoned.
Holding out and passing with As.
Feeling simultaneously out of place and where I should be.
Whether it will prove useful for my daughter is an open question for now, but there is a newslettering lesson here:
The defining moments in your life are always with you, whether or not you physically haul them from state to state as the years pass.
They exist as emotional wells you can tap into from time to time.
This one in particular reminds me that I’ve always been ok with standing out and doing a thing others deemed not worth the effort.
And with blazing my own trail.
Does your newsletter do this?
Or is it a formulaic knock off of a best practice?
This week I encourage you to step back and look at what you’ve been sending to assess it for its value to your subscribers.
Is it uniquely differentiated in a meaningful way?
Does it grab and hold attention no other sender could grab and hold in the same way because they don’t share your point of view or come to the blank screen with your experiences?
These things are difficult to calculate, but they should be part of the equation.
You’re expecting a story from me this morning.
A meandering tale of some experience I relate to newslettering.
Because—unless this is the very first issue of Opt In Weekly to hit your inbox—that’s the formula I follow:
It’s almost always a personal narrative stretched into a metaphor about how to write a newsletter… except for when it isn’t.
And, this week, well, it isn’t.
Because I’m on a company retreat at Lake Pickwick in Iuka, Mississippi (do you know how to pronounce it?) and I’m somewhat off my game after a day of boating and playing games with the Simple Focus Software team.
They’re all discovering how obnoxiously competitive I am.
And I considered not sending this issue until I’m back home, in my usual quiet space, able to concentrate and tell you a semi-meaningful story that helps you improve your newsletter process.
But what’s occurred to me is that I’ve built expectations.
Not just of myself, but of you, too, if you read this newsletter regularly:
An expectation that I will tell you a story once a week.
Open my brain and let the words flow.
Deliver a tale that helps you craft your own newsletter, whether it follows a similar format or is wildly different.
Don’t fret. The story well hasn’t run dry.
It’s more that I need time to reflect, and I’m very much in the middle of experiencing.
Ideas are forming, but the 4-hour drive home tomorrow is when they will truly congeal, as I course down a familiar path, surrounded by fields of soybeans and corn.
And, so, this week I’ll just remind us all of a thing I’ve been thinking lately:
The best stories draw from personal experiences.
If you’re new to newslettering (or have hit a dry spell), it might help to step away from the screen and go “jump in a lake” (aka do the thing your reader does so that you can actually help them do it better).
Teach them to expect you to make a splash.