How Adrian Alfieri Created The Ultimate Content Studio for Commerce Companies
Organic content is the name of the game. As paid media costs continue to increase, more and more companies are adopting the mentality that “every company is a media company.”
Finding a Head of Content or a content team to build a media arm from the ground up isn’t as straightforward as one might think. Founded by Adrian Alfieri (who’s behind one of our fave newsletters The Proof), Verbatim takes all the hard work out of the content creation process.
At its core, Verbatim is a studio helping commerce companies grow, scale, and build content engines to drive organic acquisition. Partnering with Disco, Novel, Skio, Goody, and even Tydo, Adrian and the Verbatim team are shipping dozens of pieces of content in a single week.
In a world where content is king, we sat down with Adrian to get the scoop on Verbatim’s roots and why he’s bullish on long-form, interview-first content.
“In the ongoing battle for attention, great content will always win. But, to have the best content, you need to tell the most compelling stories.”
Verbatim’s Roots: Getting Started
Verbatim was born out of necessity.
A little over a year ago, Adrian left VC to start consulting with two early-stage companies in the commerce space. Within two days, one client ran out of runway, and the other got acquired. All of a sudden, he had zero dollars in revenue hitting his bank account.
Adrian had to figure something out.
He started freelancing with people he looked up to and admired in the spaces that excited him—mostly fintech, health tech, and ecommerce infrastructure.
Continuing to freelance, Adrian found himself gravitating toward ecommerce infrastructure clients. Interested in the consumer space, Adrian has always enjoyed learning about tools and tech stacks.
Partnering with ecommerce SaaS companies, he started building out content frameworks and writing long-form, interview-first content. Over time, word spread, and he started to get introduced to more and more founders who had the same pain point: they saw the value in high-quality content and were ready to invest in it, but they had no clue how to get started.
With each new partner, Verbatim’s content “product”—so to speak— has gotten better and better. Finally, at the start of 2022, Adrian reached a point where he felt comfortable with the core model. He incorporated, built a website, and publicly launched the studio.
“To be blunt, Verbatim was born out of necessity, not some grand vision for the future of content. I had my back up against a wall and was forced to get scrappy about finding a way to make this thing work.”
The State of Content in 2022
The bar for quality content—especially long-form content—is going up exponentially.
Adrian attributes that to the rise of Substack and the increasing number of talented newsletter writers and solo operators.
In tandem, there’s a high demand for talent. It’s increasingly difficult to hire a full-time head of content right now.
In his eyes, the best heads of content are people like Packy McCormick, Mario Gabriele, Pomp, or Polina. They’re exceptional writers, operators, and creators. But, it’s practically impossible to hire them because they’re crushing it on their own.
At the same time, more and more ecommerce companies are raising tons of capital while struggling to organically acquire customers. Adrian explains, “Every DTC founder is using about 20 to 30 tools. There’s this ongoing battle to find the next one. Everyone wants to know what’s the newest, greatest tool that’s going to drive tangible outputs.”
All of these factors led Adrian to build Verbatim and explain part of its success.
In 12 months, Verbatim went from zero dollars a month to seven-plus figures in annual revenue. This year, they’ve started to brand out and partner with high-growth companies in new verticals like Polywork, Nue Life, and Cohere.
“The best head of content candidates are newsletter operators. But, they’re going to make more money working for themselves—understandably so. As a result, finding a killer content hire is getting a lot harder.”
Why Interview-First Content?
Adrian discovered the value in interview-first content from writing and building The Proof. Founders and investors, especially high-profile ones, don’t have enough time to prepare for and execute hour-long interviews.
Adrian found that riffing with someone for 30 minutes was a low-friction and seamless way to create exceptional content. In turn, it taught him how to ask strong follow-up questions, which typically unlock the most interesting insights and learnings.
“Unscripted interviews help people feel more comfortable and open up a bit more,” explains Adrian.
In addition, interview-first content has baked in distribution, as most folks like to repost articles from both their personal and company accounts. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
When Adrian says “interview-first content,” he isn’t referring to straight-up Q&A pieces. Those articles aren’t interesting to read. They’re pure transcripts.
Instead, Adrian believes multiple ideas equate to original thinking. The transcripts are simply jumping-off points. From there, he dives into synthesis. He’s more interested in sharing a collaborator’s unique POV on a space or insight than creating SEO content.
“People open up if you give them the space. If you’re vulnerable and open, the guest will feel comfortable sharing what’s on their mind. That’s exactly what makes for a great story and a great piece of content.”
Why Long-Form Content?
Adrian is bullish on long-form content. Why?
It boils down to two reasons:
- Long-form content is the easiest way to quickly experiment.
- It’s one of the more evergreen content formats.
It’s easy to repackage long-form content for different channels (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc). Plus, it’s one of the best ways to test messaging and positioning.
Adrian finds videos and podcasts to be impactful, but the downside is that they require much more energy and momentum. They’re higher lift—especially for a small startup team—and harder to sustain in the long run.
“I recommend starting with written content. See what works, and then push the highest-performing content to other channels,” explains Adrian.
From the consumer perspective, it’s easy to focus on written content vs. podcasts and videos. It’s a different content consumption mode.
“If I toggle out of Twitter to an article, I’ll usually save it. I’ll screenshot it. I’ll write notes about it. I’ll save it to read on the weekend. If it means a lot to me, I’ll remember it,” notes Adrian.
So, why is long-form content important for ecommerce SaaS companies?
Right now, they’re struggling to find avenues to quickly drive revenue. Investing in organic, evergreen content can be an incredible opportunity remarks, Adrian.
“Consistently show up (organically) with high-quality content. It can directly impact traffic and conversion. Or, it can lead to an introduction to an investor who might lead your next round or a partner who might pass over 20 new leads,” says Adrian.
By posting great content at a consistent cadence, you’ll naturally increase the surface area of good things happening—whether that’s a direct customer or referral partner coming in the door.
Cutting through the noise is difficult, but writing online engineers endless serendipity.
“Evergreen content is critical. Long-form, high-quality content performs exceptionally well for SaaS companies, no matter what size.”
Verbatim’s Playbook for Building a Content Engine
Adrian shares his step-by-step process for designing a high-performing content flywheel.
- Distill the pain points, objections, frustrations, and desires of your target customer.
- Identify high-signal folks in your ecosystem who can speak to those pain points.
- Map that cohort (customers, partners, investors) onto a weekly content calendar.
Once there’s a content calendar in place, he recommends reaching out to a shortlist of guests and asking them to partake in 30-minute jam sessions to riff on those pain points.
Every guest has a unique POV and angle, so it’s important to prep for each interview accordingly based on their background.
Adrian adds that this prep stage is crucial. In his words, “If you’re not thoroughly prepared for an interview, the content won’t convert. It’s that simple. Good preparation equals good content.”
Once you’ve conducted the interviews, record them, transcribe, and then get to writing.
The writing stage, according to Adrian, is the fun part. This is where the writer gets to distill insights and tell compelling stories that customers care about and want to learn from.
“The best content is a mix of entertaining and actionable. Start with a clear hook and entertain the reader, then move into tactical next steps and actions they can take. If you nail both, your content will drive results.”
- What to pledge
- How to improve
- Which tools will set you up for success
I think the most important thing brands can do in 2023 is to better manage their customer data—both ethically and effectively. There’s an opportunity for brands to know their customers better than ever before—a clear benefit for both the customer and the brand. When you manage your data correctly, you’ll create stronger and more personalized ads, creative, site experiences, and so much more.
This is a classic: Let the data guide you. Go where the buyers for your products are and communicate with them on a personal level (i.e. by persona and funnel position) and nurture those relationships (past, present, and future customers). It’s possible—all through data.
We recommend that Shopify brands analyze and update their websites using data-driven decisions. Using analytics tools such as heatmaps and scrollmaps can help brands better understand how customers are interacting with their store.
Store owners tend to make assumptions about the way customers interact with their website. Most never go back and analyze their design choices to find pain points or areas of opportunity. By using heatmaps and scrollmaps, they can see where real customers are clicking and concentrating their attention. Leveraging this data, brands can start to iterate on design and make their online store experience streamlined and intuitive.
Hotjar provides a simple way to implement heatmaps, scrollmaps, and recorded user sessions on your site, helping you acquire incredibly informative user data. Additionally, it gives you the ability to create on-site surveys, which allows you to obtain direct and often critical feedback from users about their experience.
Test various attribution models and analyze the impact on your business. At Fifty Six, we are always here to help our clients identify and optimize their approach—a critical step in any successful marketing strategy.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times–Customer Lifetime Value. And even more importantly, Future Lifetime Value (FLTV). With the ever-growing importance of first-party data, it is crucial that brands take a good look at their CRM and FLTV metrics.
Stop allocating budgets to low-hanging fruit that doesn’t move the needle on conversion. Think about what’s really going to improve your CX and the return of undertaking different initiatives—not just on what’s top on your list of bugbears on the site!
One of the best ways to understand your customer behavior is by using HotJar. Their heat-mapping and screen recording tools shine a light on where customers are navigating to and from on your site, where they're rage clicking and experiencing frustration, and where conversion is dropping off within real life customer journeys and flows!
Understanding your customers’ pain points via data and analytics , will allow you to work with your CRO/CX Agency to solve customer frustrations and improve conversion.
Rewind backs up all product, customer, and order data for Shopify sites—essential since Shopify itself doesn’t provide this solution. It's saved so many of our clients time and money from administrative accidents.
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33% of customer service inquiries are pre-sale questions. What does this mean? If you’re not investing in customer service, you’re missing out on revenue-generating opportunities.
The benefits of elevating your customer experience:
- 10% to 25% increase in AOV for customers who engage with live chat pre-purchase
- 21x higher conversion rate for customers who reach out via Live Chat or SMS compared to other site visitors
- 87% of customers who have a great customer experience will make another purchase
- 72% of customers share positive experiences with 6 or more individuals
Gorgias is our favorite Helpdesk platform. They can reduce costs by 35%, primarily by decreasing the average ticket handle time. Their machine learning algorithms are trained on millions of ecommerce-related interactions across Gorgias’ customer base and provide accurate, automated replies for the most common ecommerce inquiries. This helps our agents resolve tickets faster, which provides the customer a seamless experience.
Trust your agency! Agencies do the same things across multiple brands and niches, so we see the trends and have the practice and experience!
Don't be afraid of data and insights. If customers aren't clicking on your emails, try a new CTA. If your ads are driving good metrics at a small spend, start scaling. If your customers are complaining about a product, look into QA! If the data tells you something isn't working, let it go and try something else!
I'm supposed to say Tydo, right? 😉
Double down on differentiation. There will be a lot of headwinds this year and standing out from the crowd will set you apart.
A picture is worth 1,000 words. A video? Probably millions. In ecommerce that value translates into engagement, acquisition, and retention—everything you need to impact your bottom line.
At soona, we've seen the we've seen the impact of creative and the continuous split testing of it yield results. Our resolution is to challenge ourselves and double down on innovation and creative optionality so that each brand we work with can distinguish themselves in a crowded sea of D2C ecomm. We'd love to see our brands share this resolution and keep pushing the creative limits.
Klaviyo. We're using it to power our email and newsletter at soona too!
Optimize your returns strategy! This can lead to valuable customer insights, enhanced user experiences, and increased revenue and customer loyalty.
Brands need to dive deeper into understanding their customers to set themselves up for success. Conduct research to gain insights into customer needs, preferences, and behaviors. By doing so, you can develop targeted strategies that will enhance customer experience and boost overall retention.
Right now I would say Gorgias. Having a good customer service tool is crucial to building strong customer relationships.
Start paying heavy attention to data, specifically around retention. We see a lot of effort put towards acquisition with the assumption that once someone buys, they are your customer forever. Instead, get to know your customer, understand their needs, and analyze their behaviors once they are on-site and judge their sentiment after they have visited. Work with a retention focused and data-driven agency to implement tools that contribute to repeat business and customer delight. It will pay dividends.
When surveyed, about 80% of ecommerce merchants think that they are delivering a great experience to their customers. However, when the same customers are surveyed, only 8% of those customers think that they are getting a great experience from the merchant. Now, more than ever, retaining loyal customers is an essential part of any online business and you should spend time with your customers to judge their experience with your website and products and offer improvements based on that feedback.
Tydo's report cards are an essential tool, along with Klaviyo for email and SMS, Recharge for subscriptions and memberships, Okendo for reviews and surveys, Rebuy for AI driven collections and upsells, Loop for self service returns... each tool is great on their own, but their strength as the ultimate tool comes from when they are used together!
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