Interviews with The Creatives – Aaron Orendorff

We’re back with the second interview of our series “Interviews with The Creatives”. This time we’re talking to Aaron Orendorff, founder of iconiContent, content strategist, copywriter, and ‘big-gun blogger for hire’ as he calls himself. Let’s see what’s his story!

1. Could you tell us briefly about your background? How did you get started in copywriting and content marketing and for how long have you been doing it?

My academic background is in English and theology of all things. I earned a Bachelors of Science with an emphasis in writing as an undergraduate. After that, I went on to graduate school at a seminary where I received a Masters of Divinity. In fact, I was in full-time ministry training for about two years up in the Portland area.

However, my life fell apart a little over four years ago and I found myself unemployed and unemployable. That’s when I jumped headlong into content marketing. I knew I could write and that I could write well. I got a couple of editing jobs and started digging into online copywriting through places like Copyhacker, Copyblogger, those type of resources. Three years ago, I threw up a website, started blogging, and was off running.

2.  On what do you spend most of your time at work?

Writing! Words are my bread and butter. I’ve yet to figure out a way to replicate myself or sell a product, although I’ve got a guest blogging course coming up that I’m hoping will be one of those passing streams of income.

Today I work one-on-one with just a handful of freelance clients. My main gig is content marketing at Shopify Plus.

To maximize my time and output with freelance clients, I enlist a host of “ghost drafters.” I get the assignments or create them with the clients. That means the topic, keywords, and the CTA. I then create an outline and have a very structured process of doing this. First, what’s the pain? I like to call this the “hell” that content is going to save someone from. Second, what’s the heaven it’s going to deliver them unto? That’s the payoff for reading.

I structure every piece around a certain number of bullet points, come up with a few examples or resources to link to, and then I hand that off as a Trello card. They do all the heavy writing lifting for me. After they hand it back, I polish it up and normally add more content. That process has been huge for me to create the kind of workflow and outputs that I’m able to sustain. 

3. How do you keep your ideas fresh?

Read! I read like crazy. I read the best of the best marketing, thought leadership, and psychology books. I’m absolutely in love with behavioral economics. Outside of marketing and leadership, I read both fiction and nonfiction. Cultural trends kind of stuff.

The best thing I do to stay fresh as a writer is read out loud with my wife. I’ve been reading A.J. Jacobs of all people recently. Just reading him out loud, along with Ryan Holiday, has helped my writing become a lot better, crisper, punchier, and concise. That’s a fantastic way to develop your voice and keep it fresh.

4. What type of project do you enjoy working on the most?

Now, that I’ve started working full steam with Shopify Plus, what I really love are holistic content marketing campaigns. Right now our big competitor is Magento. So we just launched a ‘Come over to Shopify Plus platform, and you’ll get 6 months for free!’ campaign.

That’s not the sexiest idea for inspiration, but what I do is create blog posts around it and email sequences for different segments and audiences as well as social media campaigns. Everything surrounds this one big idea and that has been incredibly fun to work on especially as a team. And it’s not all “come buy this” stuff. A great example is my “Why the Three Worst Lies in Business Are the Ones We Tell Ourselves” article. The content that we create is just so much better than anything I would do on my own. And having that overlap is powerful for getting more done.

5. What is the biggest inspirations for your career?

As cliche as it might sound, I really enjoy helping people. That’s been the impetus behind doing the guest blogging course, because I would share these little tidbits on podcasts or in articles about how I got up on Huffington Post or how to break through on Entrepreneur, Copyblogger or Content Marketing Institute. People started hitting me up on social with messages like, “I did it! And it worked!” To hear that has been amazing!

The other thing I really like writing about is change. How human beings change, what they’re doing wrong, what they can do right. One of my most recent Mashable article is a perfect example: ‘7 habits you need instead of passion.” The response was unbelievable; the number of DM and emails that I’ve gotten about it and to hear that just fuels me.

6. What are the trends that you think will continue to influence content marketing?

There’s gonna be and there already is a huge push to visualize everything, create more infographics, more slideshares, more videos. That trend is going nowhere but up with Instagram Stories, with Snapchat, with Facebook Live videos. So, a marketer and their camera, whether that marketer is a C-level kind of person trying to do B2B or good-old-fashioned B2C, they’ve gotta be the human face of the company, making the company visual and interactive.

The place where that falls apart and where people are really going to have to try hard on, is aligning all that visual content with the insights — i.e., the differentiators, what The Challenger Customer calls “commercial insights” — to tear down a customer’s world view. That’s their mental model. It means getting inside of the way they already think what they think they know about their business. It especially means two things. One, showing them where they’re wrong about their business. And two, making your content supplier or company agnostic. Tell one story and have one message accross all those mediums.

7. Could you recommend two or more resources for content marketers and social media marketer that are reading our blog? (books, blogs, websites)

I’ll give you two!

  • Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz.

Old book and it is phenomenal! One of those books that absolutely exploded my brain when I first read it, Because it’s all about your audience, your target market, crawling inside their minds. He’s got this structures about different levels of audiences awareness and how that has to coincide with the type of headlines and ad and copy you create.

Just finished that book and talk about, again, blowing my mind. The thing has absolutely just destroyed so much of what I thought worked in B2B content marketing. What I thought worked — things like thought leadership — doesn’t impress anyone. Sure they read it and go, “Whoa, that’s smart!” But what they really need to do is read a piece of content marketing and say, “Oh my gosh, I’m wrong. I’ve been thinking about my business wrong.” And then that’s how the solution comes in from the supplier or the product to meet that wrong thinking.

The great thing about that is basically an extended version of the problem agitation solution formula that people like Dan Kennedy and old school direct marketers have always known. You can confront somebody with their pain. You ratchet it up so that they cannot ignore it. You add up all of the cost they never knew existed or had a suspicion that existed so that they’re chomping at the bit to buy your solution before you even present it.

8. What’s the best advice you have heard lately?

I’m writing a piece right now about the dark side of optimism. This came from reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. He’s a Nobel prize winning psychologist. I read that at the end of 2016; it is an unbelievable classic book and it has a chapter about optimism being the fuel of capitalism. The catch is that optimism, while great for the economy, causes all kinds of blind risks. Optimism has a dark side that can be incredibly destructive.

Instead, you list out all the ways something could go wrong, or envisioning that a year or two from now the project you’re working on has failed. And then you figure out: “Why has it failed?” It’s forcing yourself to think negatively, to think pessimistically.

As a result, the best advice you’ll ever get is to think about what could go wrong, not at what could go right. That’s how you prepare yourself for the future and for succes. And of course for someone like me — with #LetsGetRejected as their slogan — I fell in love immediately.  



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