Episode 302
May 5, 2023

Ignorance Plus Desperation

How do you find out what your customers are afraid of and what they already want? What has it been like for Aaron to go from being the long form guy at previous companies to now creating short form content? How does our personal story fit into the larger narrative and why is that powerful to consider? Listen in now to the discussion with Aaron Orendorff and hear this and more! 

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How do you find out what your customers are afraid of and what they already want? What has it been like for Aaron to go from being the long form guy at previous companies to now creating short form content? How does our personal story fit into the larger narrative and why is that powerful to consider? Listen in now to the discussion with Aaron Orendorff and hear this and more! 

The Story Within The Story

  • {00:06:31} Good writing that is a mix of good content, emotion, storytelling, and enough of the right juice to get eyes on it works, even when you are not exactly the expert on the subject
  • {00:08:58} The tension between knowing a little bit about a lot and being willing to take risks and be open to learn makes it hurt less when you are actually proven wrong
  • {00:18:18} Three levels of Aaron’s strategy for Future Commerce: Originality with accessibility, capturing the demand, and cleaning up the technical side of things
  • {00:25:41} After six years of experimentation at Future Commerce, we feel more than ever that our content is worth discovering
  • {00:43:19}  Have you ChatGPT’d yourself? I mean, we have a draw to be known and to do something that has meaning
  • {00:47:16} Writing incredibly compelling content is exciting, being found and generating traffic is even more exciting, and it’s also critical
  • {00:51:12} “The place to always invest is what's the voice, what's the value, what's the creative angle, what's the thing that we can do in a way that no one else can? You build a back catalog of just day in, day out, put in the reps, you've then amassed this war chest, and then it just becomes so much easier to actually get this out into the world now that I have something worth sharing.” - Aaron Orendorff

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Aaron: [00:00:00] You don't change someone's desires. People have desires. All you can do as an evangelist, as a dirty marketer, whatever the act of persuasion you're trying to accomplish is, you have to start by identifying what the person is already afraid of. What is the thing they already want? That is the only tool I have to channel onto a new object.

Brian: [00:01:46] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about the next generation of commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:52] I'm Phillip. Love the energy, Brian. Today we're going to dive into a conversation I think is long overdue for us to have with somebody who can't think of any better person to have it with Mr. Aaron Orndorff, who I hold in such a high regard. These days Head of Marketing over at Recart. Once upon a time Editor-In-Chief of a little company you might have heard of called Shopify and has covered some incredible ground in many industries in between. Aaron, welcome to the show.

Aaron: [00:02:20] Small Canadian startup. You're right. I'm not sure if many of your listeners are familiar with it. Yes, that is my claim to fame, I suppose, and this is ridiculously overdue. My goodness, the love affair I have had with you two gentlemen across the board, across the mediums, and the number of Slack groups I have shamelessly dropped you into every time I see you freaking do something. It's dumb that we haven't done this before, so I'm excited.

Phillip: [00:02:49] It's not so dumb in that I was just trying to get you to pay us to be on the show, but instead, we're paying you to be on the show. I don't know how you worked that out. That makes you the greatest marketer.

Brian: [00:02:59] Jedi mind tricked us. Yeah.

Phillip: [00:03:01] No, but I'd love to kind of get into that a little bit. Tell us what are you working on these days? What's interesting to you?

Aaron: [00:03:08] What a great tease, first of all. That is delightful. Yeah, well, I'm Head of Marketing at Recart. We're an SMS app for Shopify businesses built to cost less, sell more, and drive real growth. What I'm working on right now is nailing that spiel, which is why I have my one, two, three locked in.

Brian: [00:03:27] It's pretty good.

Aaron: [00:03:27] And actually, we should get into that because I'll tell you, it's been... I dramatically underestimated this new move in my career and the level of difficulty and competition that I was walking into. It's exposed me in a whole new way to things that I thought I was exceptional and world class at that haven't worked and what has worked. So you want to dig into that more? I'll bare my soul. I'll bleed on this mic for you.

Phillip: [00:03:54] I don't want to bump, set, spike for you, but you're kind of the long form guy, which I think is like this interesting dichotomy, but it is an interesting change of pace to see you go from at Common Thread where you were sort of known as the guy who did the like 10,000 plus word pieces that are these incredible tent poles for content marketing. Very deep, incredibly rich, probably way more than anyone has an attention span to actually consume. But that's what the content was owed because you're excellent at your craft and now you're in the 140 character space. I find that to be a really interesting shift. Has it been tough?

Aaron: [00:04:30] You know what the trick is? The trick is you got to get yourself a job marketing a thing that you don't actually have to work within. That's always been my key. So for example, Shopify Plus. For those of you that, honestly I'm sure there are plenty of folks out there, this is the first time you're hearing my voice, my name. I've been in the marketing game for about a decade and previously burned down a career before that. I would love to get into that as well. And how that previous career actually in ministry influences even the way I think about marketing today. But I got my start after about three, four years of writing like a mad man getting picked up by Shopify Plus. And I had no business writing about eCommerce, let alone enterprise eCommerce. And it's very, very similar to when I moved over then to Common Thread Collective as VP of Marketing and then now Head of Marketing at Recart, at each and every stage, I cannot stress how important it is that I am not an eCommerce marketing expert, but I play one on the internet. That is my preemptive self-defense imposter syndrome. That's my card.

Brian: [00:05:37] I do feel like anyone who is honest in this space is probably going to say the same thing. It's an emergent profession.

Phillip: [00:05:45] Is there anyone honest left in the space?

Brian: [00:05:46] I don't know. I don't think there is actually. Except for Aaron Orendorff.

Phillip: [00:05:51] We're talking to a few of them.

Aaron: [00:05:52] And that's only because he's scared somebody's going to call him out. I am great for 30, 45 minutes of prepared remarks and 1 or 2 follow up questions and that's it. I say that a bit tongue in cheek, but this whole idea of moving from long form into short form, the irony of that is not lost on me because anyone who does know me, you're right, it is my entire career has been marked by "That's too long. It won't work." Yes, it will if it is exceptionally, exceptionally good. We can cater to two types of people at the same time. But [00:06:31] at the end of the day, the root of all that is that good writing, good content, a mix of emotion, storytelling, and enough juice to attract the bots to get the eyes of humans on it, that savvy combination covers a multitude of other sins where you may not be, like in my case when I walked into most of these positions, the expert on it. But I also find it endlessly fascinating to know a little bit about something and pick up the next piece along the way, and as long as I'm a step or two ahead of my audience, then we're usually in pretty good shape. Or I just learn publicly, get embarrassed, and I turn that into content. [00:07:12] That's the other way to do it is just everything is an opportunity.

Brian: [00:07:17] Are you asking us to embarrass you, Aaron? Is that what you're saying right now?

Phillip: [00:07:22] I don't think that's possible. As far as everything I know about you and our coming to get to know each other, I don't even know if it's possible. You are certainly one of the most open-minded, ready-to-learn people. I think you're very eager to participate in conversations that maybe you're not the foremost authority on. It's funny because it goes against, again, talking about sort of these truisms. There is a truism that I think is bandied about on Twitter. It's like, have a thing that you're an expert in. Never deviate from that topic, only talk about that. We don't want to see your kids. We want to hear anything. We don't want to hear what you're eating. We want to hear about your vacation. Stay on topic, build a niche, gain a following, and monetize it. And I think you tend to behave differently to that.

Brian: [00:08:12] Let me quote Pascal really quickly here.

Phillip: [00:08:18] Oh gosh. Here we go.

Brian: [00:08:19] He says in Ponce, he's got a little note that says, "Little of everything: As we cannot be universal by knowing everything there is to be known about everything. We must know a little about everything because it is much better to know something about everything than everything about something. Such universality is the finest. It would be better, still better if we could have both together. But if a choice must be made, this is the one to choose. The world knows this and does so for the world is often a good judge." There you go.

Phillip: [00:08:48] Once again, great quote from Brian that could have been half as long, but we are we're talking about long form.

Brian: [00:08:55] Long form.

Phillip: [00:08:56] Blase Pascal.

Aaron: [00:08:58] Let me mix that with one of my favorite modern authors, [00:09:01] a gentleman named N.T. Wright. Massive scholar in the religious world. Respect in all circles. "I am wrong about a quarter to a third of everything I think I'm right about. The problem is I don't know what quarter or third that is." And it's honestly, no, I think like that tension between knowing a little bit about a lot and being willing to take risks and then an openness to "I am incredibly fallible..." And listen, you can call it a defense mechanism if you want. It's how I protect my ego. If I go into this situation with an open mind and an open hand, two open hands, where I'm not clinging to where I'm right, but I'm willing to be proven wrong to learn more quickly. But it's also it just undercuts then it doesn't hurt so bad when I am proven wrong. [00:09:54] It's a great way to think about it.

Phillip: [00:09:57] We're actually dancing around like a really meta topic. I'd bring it right back home to the space of specifically eCommerce because that's where I've spent the bulk of my career the last 15 plus years. When I was building eCommerce from like 2002 to 2012, so that ten year run, most everybody that was around me, they weren't generational retailers. They weren't digital marketers because we didn't really have those things back then. These were people that were from other areas of other industries who happened to be either technologists or people that just sort of found their way into eCommerce as a business that had high growth. So we just needed people to come along. There were no truisms. There were no best practices because they hadn't been formed yet. So everybody had this openness, willingness to share, open-mindedness, less everything very highly context-dependent. Everyone's very eager to talk about things. We didn't have to do all of the song and dance around, "I don't know everything." Now everything's very firm. We have a very mature ecosystem. There are very concrete means and playbooks on which to build a business, or at least that seems to be the thing that people are telling us and people speak with a lot of assurance about "This is how it's done. This is who did it before, this is how it works, and this is how we can do it for you." And I think that's the cognitive dissonance that I have in this industry right now, is that I, the person who has been here for 20 years, feel less sure than ever about what works and what doesn't. And the people who have been building in the most recent environment the last few years seem to be extraordinarily sure and eager to share with no reservation. And that gives me pause because the older I get, the more I believe it's all context-dependent and that you really can't give anyone a playbook for success because you don't know anything about them and you don't know their customers and you don't know the stage of growth there in. You really don't know what their cash flow is like. All those things come into being. But maybe I'm overthinking it, you know, as I'm wont to do.

Aaron: [00:12:47] I want to simultaneously lean into that, agree and disagree vehemently. And on the agree side... So I got stopped in my tracks about, I cannot stress just how... I hinted at this. Going from Shopify Plus, cutting my teeth in eCommerce, particularly getting to I came into Shopify Plus at a time when Shopify Plus had just graduated from being a whiteboard in Toronto to an actual CRM. I was the third marketing hire at Shopify Plus. And the reason that's so important to stress is because I fell ass backwards into the opportunity of a career. Like it absolutely defined. I walked into that six months later, and the person that had hired me who was the first marketing hire at Shopify Plus left and they had no one to run the trains. And I said, "I can." So I just started doing the job of leading written content. And it's such ignorance plus desperation. You don't know what you don't know. So you say yes and figure it out. Desperation is I'm just hungry, hungry, hungry. Those have been the two qualities that have pushed me forward in my career over and over again. I underestimated even knowing all of that. The last, I'd say three months have been really hard, probably one of the most challenging times in my career so far because I walked into this new space of SMS marketing where the competition is unbelievably fierce, where the folks that we're up against, there are three elephants in every room we walk into. We are not the de facto choice, but it's fundamentally a marketing and sales fight. So there are a lot of lessons that can be applied that don't just have to do with SMS but are much broader and larger than that. So there's this challenge, and I came across a thread recently from a beautiful, brilliant gentleman named Jason. He is a Head of Growth at a large unnamed, he never says out loud who it is, the company that he's working for and running. So there's this wonderful piece of humility there... Just a wickedly smart operator. And he wrote a thread recently about they had crossed the $100 million in annual revenue mark and they're aiming for 100% year-over-year growth, eCom driven. Wild in this environment. That is a level of success over the last year and this year that is absolutely unheard of. And this thread he talked about the co-founder of this company and what he said is he is possibly the greatest copywriter I have ever experienced in person. And what he'll tell you is, "I'm above average."

Phillip: [00:15:31] Wow.

Aaron: [00:15:31] Because he's open to being wrong. He's open to improving. He's a student. And that stopped me in my tracks because as I was coming into Recart, I remember thinking, I'm going to absolutely smash this out of the park. These people, they have got product market fit. They've got retention in a way that I've never seen before and their marketing is terrible. So if I sprinkle on my Aaron Orendorff rocket fuel, here we go. I just can't stress how struck I am by that first line of thought that you just talked about, that there really aren't best practices because you don't know until you get in the room and you start messing around with things of what's going to work. And sometimes the things that you think that I think I'm world class at simply fall flat. And I'm acutely aware of that reality. On the flip side of that is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel every single time. And I know that's not what is it when you blow up icons. Blow up idols. What's the fancy word for that?

Phillip: [00:16:41] Yeah. Deconstruction.

Aaron: [00:16:43] I know that's not exactly what your deconstruction is all about, but it is trying to say, we do need to challenge the assumption that you have no idea how many decisions are made for you as a business because of the Shopify theme you installed. That to me is such a wildly revelatory idea that you're just not considering. Because it feels like... They're just built now. In some ways, they're built to "I have a process I go through when I buy that I don't want to interrupt or have to think about." So if I interrupt that and it's not for a good reason that is catered to my audience, friction, lower conversion rate, you end up with problems. But the opposite extreme of that is just as dangerous where no assumptions aren't even examined, let alone challenged. So it's those two coming together that I think is really one of the reasons why it's so wild. This is the first time we're coming together to talk because there's so much in my heart that beats the same way.

Phillip: [00:17:48] So we hinted at it there, Brian. Aaron, you've been doing some work with us. I'd love to hear an assessment of where you think we were, how far off your perspective of like as a media company that's really interested in examining retail or eCommerce what you saw as interesting, and how bad off we were at putting that message out there or to be able to be discovered, in your words, like to be found. And what are ways that we're going to start trying to fix that in our world?

Aaron: [00:18:18] Let's put it at three levels. And the first is the originality of the content and ideas and the research and even the mediums through which you present and ship content. Originality is the best word for it, which is simultaneously powerful once someone experiences it and really hard to discover. Unless it's being shared directly by someone who has experienced it and is willing to put it out there, which is it's just an incredibly rare thing to actually have that get passed along in any sort of way that builds a critical mass. And that's the danger of originality and I would say even artistic. Those with an artistic, creative bend lend themselves to posthumously being discovered and valued. That is just the story of great artistry is they never in many, many cases never experienced the kind of accolades that they deserved during their lifetime because they were doing something people didn't understand and there was an inaccessibility to it. So the first is then in originality, how do we tie what is being done to something people are already going out there and looking for? Particularly on organic search, but then also tying it to ways of presenting it that appeal to a broader audience almost so that you can trick them into Visions. Archetypes. Right? Nah Homie, eCommerce Trends. Future of eCommerce. Let's go make that rank and we can take over the ideas that people think they need and say, "Ah, but there's a better way." So you're using that existing demand to then channel it onto the original idea in a way that creates an entry point that is really natural and discoverable. So coupling originality with accessibility. The second layer is then capturing that demand. And this is just simply through, one of the dumbest things I always do, and I say it's dumb, but it's like if you have a good piece of content, put the whole freaking thing on the internet and then create a relentless CTA throughout that whole freaking thing to get the whole freaking thing in your inbox.

Phillip: [00:20:47] Yeah.

Aaron: [00:20:48] Or a little bit of an extra something something that augments the whole freaking thing. And I love the fact that the very first piece that we released and it's under Phillip's name, it's on eCommerce Trends. And it was right there. Bottom of page one, middle of page two. Toiling away in obscurity for a really meaty keyword. eCommerce. eCommerce acronyms. Business acronyms. And a whole bunch of other long tail searches that are associated with it, too. So I see that in the keyword reports and I'm like, "That is gold." Anything that's right on the cusp that hasn't been optimized for SEO, I bet we can juice the crap out of that. And we're not only going to make it accessible because what was it? It was named something like eCommerce... It wasn't even eCommerce acronyms. It's like it was like business and like some obscure demystified. And I try to sort of keep that too. But it wasn't even like clearly about the thing that it was about. It was like Google did you a favor by indexing it and showing it to people who were looking. It's like you were fighting Google to be like, "No, this is so neat and an original way to put it." It's like, no, just give it a URL. eCommerce Acronyms Dash Business. There it is. We're going to put that in the headline. We're going to put that in the H's. We're going to put that in the alt text. We're going to blow this out. We're actually going to have some savvy about it to go see what are all the other terms that people are looking for inside of it. What acronyms are they there? 68 inside the original one. Now we're going to blow it out to 156 or 150 plus. And then the easiest then is like, okay, we do all of this work on it, put that thing into a Google sheet that's beautifully designed that you can search and save for later because that's actually helpful. No one's going to sit there and absorb all of these. They're also probably not going to remember to bookmark it and come back to it later.

Phillip: [00:22:25] Yeah. That's right.

Aaron: [00:22:25] But if you say we've got all of them here, it's an editable Google sheet, it's color coded, it's batched by category. It's going to be really easy for you to add to it later yourself. It's catnip for just saying we've built this beautiful thing, we put it on the front end and then getting people to, "Hey, I want that." Guess what? You're also on the email list now. And then the third ingredient is the technical side of things. And man, once this comes out, I'm just going to have to go share the screenshots of what an absolute train wreck your technical SEO was. {laughter} Listen, this is incredibly valuable to eCommerce operators and it goes right back to that thing of the Shopify themes. Most people who install a theme on their Shopify store are just looking at it on the front end. There's no attention to what's the H1, what's the H2, what's the meta description? Am I using alt image tags? Am I accidentally replicating a title across a whole bunch of different pages, mixing products with products with collections? There is no eye toward the technical side of things and they lose because of that and people can't find them and they're just absolutely blind to it. Where it really is, it's like the number one... People will come to me to do eCommerce consulting for content, and that's the first thing I almost always tell them is you don't actually need to start a blog.

Brian: [00:23:48] Yeah.

Aaron: [00:23:48] You just need to have somebody go in and just get yourself one H1, get those alt tags in there, make sure it's actually key body copy that Google can read because some of these Shopify themes even do wild ass crap of like putting it in as images and you're like, Google can't read that. It doesn't know what that is. Yeah. So if we do this, it's those three pieces that come together and you can really like if you're an eCommerce, if you run an eCommerce store, that's probably the biggest lesson to get out of this whole thing that we've done so far is there's a great plugin. In fact, I'm going to get yeah, just super practical here and tell you it's called Marketing Syrup. It's a free Chrome extension and if you run it on top of your home page, your product pages, your collection pages, you click it, and it'll literally give you a screen-by-screen examination of how many different H categories you've got. Go in there, get one H1, etcetera. Do you have alt image tags? How much text is readable on the screen? That sort of thing is just such an enormous opportunity for winning. And in your case, it went from like an 8% out of 100 to now we're rocking it like 90 something. It made me look like a genius. Yeah.

Brian: [00:25:05] And you are a genius.

Phillip: [00:25:08] You are a genius. I think one of the things that we have really worked hard on, and certainly I think originality, I think came out in what you've talked about before. I think it's also just being really diligent in putting out content on a very frequent basis and getting good at getting the reps in. And the thing that I think we didn't do, and I think actually it's worked in our favor to some degree is like we didn't focus on the minutia of the actual doing the discoverability. We're finally in an era of the last year where I think the content is worth finding. And it took us like six years of experimentation to get to a place where it was worth investing and being found. Not that the back catalog is not worth anything, but I actually feel like we're doing things that are valuable that nobody else is doing and that's worth discovering now.

Aaron: [00:26:05] That is the gift of coming into an organization. Getting to help an organization like what you're running is you're right. That is it almost makes you feel like I'm doing like service because it should be. And that's the magic of listen, you cannot underestimate what Phillip just said. [00:26:24] Making something worth discovering. If you've got to side on one of those two things of being easily discoverable, optimized to the hilt versus having shallow, it's not worth actually going to read, it's just built for bots, people will see through that and it'll turn on you in the end. [00:26:45]

Phillip: [00:28:17] I think there's a really natural segue actually, to talk a bit about your prior career arc, of which I think you and I actually share a little bit in common there too. I am a seminary dropout and I spent a good deal of my early career or pre-eCommerce career chasing ministerial jobs. I was a traveling musician in a Christian rock band. I've done the youth pastor thing. I've done the worship leader thing. Very involved in that area of my life, my expression of my faith, and the thing that I've found and that we expressed actually last year in the Visions report in 2022 was that what marketers are typically in search of organized religion figured out a long time ago, which is there's an answer in a playbook for almost everything. You give it enough time, give it a long enough time horizon, a couple thousand years, we'll amass a canon of text on which we can base and make a lot of easy decisions and remove a lot of the friction and fraught nature of examining the human condition by just saying, "Well, let's go to the text." And that's effectively what Shopify has become is the canon of eCommerce. A lot of decisions have been made for you. We've compiled a lot of solutions into one place. You just do the thing that the text says to do and you get your get out of hell free card, right? It's not always that simple, right? Because you can go and just believe wholeheartedly in Shopify. It doesn't mean that you have the ability to build Shopify from the ground up. And I think some people want to examine the very nature of that belief. That's what the deconstruction is really about, and that's why we're called Future Commerce, not just Commerce Commerce. We're trying to we're trying to think about...

Brian: [00:30:10] {laughter} Current Commerce.

Phillip: [00:30:10] How you reframe the future of something requires you to do something that hasn't been done before, which means you have to reexamine the thing you're doing to begin with. Anyway, I've monologued for way too long. I think you and I share a similar background there and I'd love to hear about how you identify with some of the things I just mentioned.

Aaron: [00:30:28] Yeah, I mean, even if you follow Aaron, I dance around this and I hint at it from time to time. I've lived two, possibly three distinct lives, and my first life, I did not grow up in a religious home. I grew up in a self-consciously atheistic home. I used to love to argue with the religious kids at school. I remember I was in middle of high school when I met somebody for the first time who didn't believe in evolution, and I was dumbfounded. And a lot of that has to do with my father, who's just a towering influence in my life of intellectual honesty. One of the best conversationalists I've ever encountered in my life. Grew up in this self-consciously atheistic home, and had what I would have described at the time, towards the end of high school as a conversion experience. I then went into the military, got deployed a couple of times, and while I was on deployment in the Middle East, picked up some theological books for the first time at a book barn, a barrel in a book barn. It was just like the I mean, we did all of our train up. I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and it couldn't have been more like in the South esque kind of deal of Book Barn and a Barrel. And I got theology out of it. But I caught this because I'm also relentlessly intellectual. I love to overthink things. When I got that theology itch, it really lit me on fire. So I ended up going into after I graduated from college university, I went on to graduate school and got what's known as a Master's of Divinity, emphasis in hermeneutics, the interpretation of text and homiletics. So I'm one better than you. I actually graduated. Yeah, I went into multi-site church ministry here in the Portland area where I still live. And then that life imploded. Imploded in a really spectacular way a little over a decade ago, which, and here's something else I really rarely talk about. I mentioned this once a year, and I do it very veiled. On February 8th, I celebrated ten years of continuous sobriety. So you can do the math on that pretty easily to be like what went down, but what happened was launching into I could write. And I knew that there were a lot of people that can't. They're trying to sell things on this thing called the Internet. I bet they would give me money to help them write better or do their writing for them. And that's where everything came from. Necessity is the mother of invention. I had to eat. I didn't. I mean, job was gone. House was gone. Family was... Like it was the absolute cliche-ist of bottoming out, but that then gave birth to... And what I discovered... What I discovered was that the exact... Gosh, what you just said, I can't believe like those are two trains that we haven't discussed this before. Because what I naturally fell into was the exact same motivational human behavior principles that I think religion and spirituality in their best. Listen, there are a ton of terrible expressions of this, but at their best, and I would not consider myself an orthodox person at all these days any more. Aaron from 15 years ago would call me like a heretic. I can't escape the religious furniture that is still in my mind that I sit on. But the same sort of... You don't change someone's desires. People have desires. All you can do as an evangelist, as a dirty marketer, whatever the act of persuasion you're trying to accomplish is, you have to start by identifying what is the person already afraid of. What is the thing they already want? That is the only tool I have to channel onto a new object. Period. Full stop. Any good marketing comes down to that. Entering the story the person already lives within, letting them continue to be the hero of their own story, articulating the pains, the frustrations, the fears, the nightmares of their story, and showing them, "Oh but there might be a better way." And that's in every situation I've ever been in, that's what opens the door to "Yes."

Brian: [00:34:50] Can I counterpoint that real quick just a little bit?

Aaron: [00:34:52] Absolutely.

Brian: [00:34:53] So if moving, keeping in the same vein of religious thought, you talked about what's required to quote/unquote, win someone to something. But what about the sort of the external story side of things as well? So hear me out. Yes. [00:35:21] Personal story is essential. And it is the thing that drives a lot of behavior. But what if there's an even grander narrative? So not just a person inhabiting their own story, but getting caught up in the larger narrative and where they fit into that narrative. Now, that does hit on base needs for sure. I would agree. But what if the bigger story is actually the more important story? And where someone fits into that is the personal side of it. So it's story within story is actually more powerful than just only that person's journey. [00:36:10] And so if you can help them catch that grander narrative, then that actually will hit on the things that... And you can make your cases about which religions take which approach and religions have a million different approaches to this as well. So yeah. Sorry. I see you wanting to talk, Aaron. Go for it.

Aaron: [00:36:32] I had a great conversation with a good friend of mine, Jacob McMillan, who's a wicked copywriter too. One of the top-notch in the world, I would say. Great content guy. We came up at the same time, so our paths sort of, so he's one of those people that... And we were having this conversation and I have to find my solace in something that is so significantly bigger than me that I get right sized. And otherwise I am too big of a deal and everything feels like it's always now forever. Nothing's going to change. And I'm either winning or absolutely losing. I can curse on this show, right?

Phillip: [00:37:14] Yeah.

Aaron: [00:37:15] Yeah. I'm either the hottest shit in the world or an absolute piece of shit. Those are the two extremes I live at, and neither one of those is right sized. Yeah, neither one of those is right sized. So I have to find that that balance for me comes from anchoring myself in, I would say, spiritual but not religious is the way I would describe it now. With a large helping on the back end of gospel Christianity. Yeah, like that's absolutely where I go to get right sized. I was talking with Jacob and he was saying for him it's absolute nihilism. I was like, "What do you mean?" He's like, "Well, when I sit and I think about at the end of the day, there's basically a trap door that is going to open into absolute nothingness, my existence is so fleeting in the grand scope of this universe here and now, let alone in the entirety of time, that I am so absolutely meaningless that it's okay." I was like, "Dude, this is like the exact same. I get it. I need that bigger story."

Phillip: [00:38:26] There's like the podcaster in me really wants to make the bridge, but there's a part of me that wants to just like dig one level deeper.

Brian: [00:38:34] Dig a little deeper. I'm into the deeper.

Phillip: [00:38:36] There's a really... So one of the themes I mentioned that we covered last year, we called the Sacraments of Commerce. And it's a charged word. The word sacrament means something. But it's these points of agreement in ritual in which we behave, that allow us to say that we are part of a group affiliation. Like you are a part of the in-group or you're part of the out-group and the in-group believes and behaves in a certain way and that's how you become part of the in-group. Certain sacraments divide the church. So let's talk about the Christian church for a second. There are many expressions of Christian church. There's high church. There's low church. And let's talk about that. Let's unpack that for a second. High church would say the church is the ultimate authority. The organization of people and the institution is the ultimate authority because we are the ones, the church is the ones who assembled the text of the gospel. So the gospel has some authority. The church has ultimate authority. That's probably where you would see like an orthodoxy. You would see like a Catholic church. That the church has, you know, has the ability to dispense atonement, the church is the authority, not this sacred text. And you have low church where the Baptists would be a good example. It's like the Word is the ultimate authority. This text is the ultimate authority. And if we can't agree as an assembly of people, then we'll just go start our own other thing. The church, ultimately the organization, the people, it doesn't quite matter. The thing that matters the most is the text on which we base our thought and belief. You can actually see and if you were to read into it and if you've made it this far in the podcast, congratulations, but you could read into it and say it's actually a lot of parallels there in the way that we draw in-groups, out-groups and ideological lines around things like business behaviors. It's the way that we form into factions on Twitter. It's the cost cap versus not cost cap. It's the well, who created the marketing playbook to begin with? How much reverence do you have for Anna Wintour or Mickey Drexler or whoever that is? It's like, who do you hold in high esteem or what brands do you hold in high esteem? What thought leaders do you hold in high esteem and their perspectives on what is the canon? Who has set the canon and what do we hold to be important and most dear? And if we just as marketers, I guess I'll call myself a marketer here, but if we as marketers had just decided that we could examine other organized religion as being a good example of playbooks, we would probably realize that a lot of this has already been outlined for us in the way that people affiliate and the things that they believe and the way that they organize themselves. I think we're just rediscovering a bunch of that and eCommerce has proliferated it, but I think it's just a human truth. I don't know if that was a fulfilling rabbit hole, but I went into it. So let's dig ourselves out of it.

Aaron: [00:41:45] Well, you're absolutely right. I mean, it's something as social proof. All right. We just relaunched the website for Recart and you put your little banner bar there. Who's using you? Goes by, you get your quotes on the thing, and it's the exact same thing for DTC eCommerce with reviews that are on the site. Are there publications that have given you the stamp of approval? And I've sat with eCommerce leaders to examine this and be like, "Does this hit?" And I slave over the five points of differentiation and the elements that go into what does it mean to send during your shopper's peak buying window. How does AI create a model of past click and purchase behavior? And how does weighing the purchase time versus the click time, like the mathematics that's behind that? There's all of these like nuances that I'm captured by, and every time I go into it, what they do is they go, "Oh, I know that brand. They use you too? That's cool." I'm like, son of... Dammit, just give the people what they want.

Brian: [00:42:57] Yeah.

Aaron: [00:42:58] Right? And it's like, I can fight upstream and there is some like, yeah, okay. Do a better job. And somebody's going to dig a little deeper from time to time. But it's like I just run into that reality of it's what's in the canon. Who do I trust? Who's the authority that I look to? And are they saying things about you that I like and do I know them because I already like them too?

Phillip: [00:43:19] That's 100% it. I think that's what it comes down to. And to your point too, it's like this striving, this feeling of being known or quantified drives a lot of this. It's sort of like seeing yourself in some permanence in the thing that you're building has meaning. We're in search of meaning. So one way that you could even take a look at that is there are new channels in which we can discover whether we're known or not. For instance, ChatGPT is a good example. One of the first things I did when I got access to ChatGPT was ask it if it knows who Phillip Jackson is and it's striking. There's something that's really gratifying and I want to be known by the algorithm. Sure. Why not? Aaron, are you known? Have you searched yourself on ChatGPT?

Aaron: [00:44:16] I'm going to show my age here. I Google myself on a regular basis. Let's not mince words about that. Yeah, I am shamelessly making sure. Yeah, I have not GPT chatted myself. Does it know who Aaron Orndorff is? And I'm so nervous.

Phillip: [00:44:34] Oh, it does. I'll read you the description. I did it right before...

Aaron: [00:44:36] It can be the worst description ever. As long as it knows who I am, this is a win.

Phillip: [00:44:40] But I mean, it does. Yeah. So it says. I said, "Do you know who Aaron Orndorff is?" With no other qualification, it says, "Yes, I'm aware of Aaron Orndorff. He's a well known content marketer and copywriter who's written for various well known publications, including Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Ink. Orndorff is a contributor to the Content Marketing Institute and has been recognized as one of the top content marketers in the industry."

Aaron: [00:45:01] All true.

Brian: [00:45:02] Okay. Whoa. 100% true. Man, I got a lot of lies on mine.

Phillip: [00:45:06] It did not way, "He's the most handsome man in Portland."

Aaron: [00:45:08] That is... Okay, now, this is the... Dear, dear listener, if you've made it this far, kudos to you. Here's the Easter egg, and this is maybe even a good segue into what really did bring me onto the show today because yeah, if you go... So one of the things like when a regular human asked me what I do and I tell them I'm a marketer or I particularly talk about content marketing or say something like search engine optimization and their faces go like "What?" What I say is, "Do you have a phone?" "Yeah." They get on their phone and I say, "All right, go ask Google who the most handsome man in Oregon is." And I don't think I've even played this trick for you yet.

Phillip: [00:45:08] No.

Aaron: [00:45:51] No, you should do it. If you've got it live, go. Who's the most handsome man in Oregon?

Phillip: [00:45:57] Got it.

Brian: [00:46:00] In Oregon or Portland?

Phillip: [00:46:01] Wow. It's... {laughter}

Phillip: [00:46:03] Oregon worked.

Aaron: [00:46:04] Use to be Portland. Used to be Portland. I have expanded.

Phillip: [00:46:07] You even have the Google, the instant result or whatever it is at the top with the picture. That's pretty wild.

Aaron: [00:46:16] That is my favorite party trick for... Yeah exactly. For what is search engine optimization? It's this. This is it. That's what it is. And I even did my other one was over the Christmas break. I was trying to get Ridge Wallet's attention. I'm like, "What's stupid human thing can Aaron Orndorff do to do that?" And so Sean eCommerce, Sean Frank, he had tweeted something about being blocked, shadow banned by Twitter for being the smartest guy in eCom because it didn't actually show up in the Twitter search. So I went and built and then got him to rank with a picture. So the reason I bring all that up is one, because I think it makes me look cool and I want people to like me. So hopefully everybody thinks I look cool and they like me more because I just shared that story and it's not too shameless. But also I think it brings up the balance to all of the highfalutin stuff we just talked about. And a lot of that was highfalutin stuff.

Phillip: [00:47:15] Sure. Yeah.

Aaron: [00:47:16] Yeah. The flip side of that is. [00:47:20] Can human beings who want to give you money find you? And that's been the other major accomplishment of my career is to write simultaneously, to create simultaneously for those real humans with these highfalutin ideas, dense, thick content that meets multiple needs that is built on story, that is engaging, that people share not just organically, but inside their Slack groups, those sort of things that are just that blows people's socks off, but that simultaneously also goes out there and just absolutely crushes at generating traffic. [00:47:58]

Brian: [00:47:58] Now, so man, I'll tell you right now, first of all, quick parenthetical statement. I totally could have gone a lot further on that highfalutin stuff. And I want to with you, Aaron, We got to have you back.

Phillip: [00:48:10] We need a four hour stint with just Aaron.

Brian: [00:48:12] Just yes, a four hour stint. I'm in. I want to do a four hour podcast with you. Second, I think back to what you said earlier, Aaron, about when you came to Recart and you were like, "Oh man, I'm going to crush this. These guys have an awesome product. They've got an awesome customer base, but they are terrible at marketing." Now I know why you came to work with us because you said, "Hey, those Brian and Phillip guys are pretty cool. But they're terrible at being found on the Internet." {laughter}

Phillip: [00:48:46] That is for sure.

Brian: [00:48:47] And now I realize you are the best. You have the smartest career advice of all time, which is basically just find people who are good at one thing but terrible at another, the thing that you're good at, and come in and do that thing for them, which is what you're doing for us right now. It's true.

Aaron: [00:49:09] That's a beautiful lesson. And for example, I've gotten a chance to do this at every place I've been successful has been backed by that principle. Like at Shopify Plus, it was all about the army and access to high-growth businesses, high-growth eCommerce businesses. That was the absolute unlock. Everything I ever did that was worth something there was built on five or 6 or 10 conversations, multiple case studies, building to a round table that then I could come out swinging. And I'm the least creative person that I know, is one of the ways to think about it. But I love it when I got over to Common Thread Collective, for anybody, go track down Taylor Holliday, Andrew Ferris, Dave Cook, Nick Shackleford, the alumni that have come out of CTC under Taylor Holliday's leadership it's just an absolute who's who of eCommerce, especially in paid media, but even just eCommerce operators. And it's because Taylor is just this powerhouse of creativity and ideas and what made it so magical in my time at Common Thread Collective was that they didn't know how to channel that. The way I describe it is it's like I showed up and there were all of these bullets laying on the ground and missiles and all of it. And every once in a while somebody would grab a handful of them and throw them. And I was like, "What if we built a gun?" I don't know what to put in it? I don't know. But like, that's the... And so that's why when yeah, when you all approached me back at the end of last year and it took us a few back and forths to figure out what is this going to look like to put it together. That's what really excites me about getting to partner with you on this is I'm just so not that creative. But if someone else is creative, I will ride that ish till the wheels fall off and know how to... But it goes right back to what you said, Brian. It's the [00:51:12] what's your area of expertise, your special gifting, where you can provide disproportionate value and then coupling that with others that they're complementary to one another. They're in some ways antithetical to one another and they challenge each other. The place to always invest is what's the voice, what's the value, what's the creative angle, what's the thing that we can do in a way that no one else can? What's the person's native content language, especially if you're an eCommerce owner or operator? What's the thing you couldn't help but do on a weekly basis, even if no one saw it? Is it making short form videos? Are you a designer? Are you a product person that just loves to talk about breaking down the schematics of something? All of these lend themselves to particular content types and you nailed that. You build a back catalog for six months to a year. You don't have to wait six years. You build a back catalog of just day in, day out, put in the reps, you've then amassed this war chest. You got all these bullets and then it just becomes it's so much easier to find somebody to say, okay, go build me a gun. Let's actually get this out into the world now that I have something worth sharing. [00:52:16]

Phillip: [00:52:17] Oh, my gosh. There's like hours of content left that we could be producing out of this. I really appreciate you being so open. Thank you for sharing your journey.

Brian: [00:52:23] Oh, yeah.

Phillip: [00:52:23] Thank you for everything that we're doing together. I'm pumped for the future and that's what we're all about. Future Commerce. Thanks, Aaron.

Brian: [00:52:29] Thanks, Aaron.

Aaron: [00:52:30] Gentlemen, thank you.

Phillip: [00:52:31] If you want more of this podcast and other Future Commerce content, you can get it at FutureCommerce.com. And we're also in your inbox respectfully, three times a week with insights and contextualization of the things that are happening in the world and how they impact you and your relationship with brands and the technology that powers them. You can find that at FutureCommerce.com/Subscribe, and we'll keep you up to date. Speaking of keeping up to date, we have a summit coming up in June, the Visions Summit. We want to bring Visions live to you for the first time ever. We'd love to have you there. There are limited spots available. Find out more information about that by going to FutureCommerce.com. Thank you so much for listening to Future Commerce.

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