This post on design-thinking originally appeared in my newsletter. For more on the topic, I recommend the book The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life by Bernard Roth.

I have a confession to make. Even though I write content for other people’s websites for a living, writing for my own site felt like an impossible task.

For starters, I knew I’d have to put my name on it.

I also knew that over 3 million blog posts get published each day, and it kind of feels like half of them are about marketing. What could I possibly write that would be valuable to anyone?

I really got stuck. I drank some wine. I applied Design-Thinking to my problem.

And I got unstuck.

When we’re taught problem-solving strategies in school (at least in California public school), we’re trained in vertical thinking. That’s the logical, top to bottom, step-by-step way of working through a problem. It’s great for linear processes like driving, baking, algebra, etc. But not always great for the bigger decisions in life.

Design-thinking embraces lateral thinking, where instead of working through a problem from top to bottom, you attack it sideways!

3 Ways to Use Design-Thinking to Solve Problems

design-thinking reject the obvious

1. Completely get rid of the problem. Try rejecting the obvious assumptions that make up your problem first. Simply throw them out of your thought process. For example, I had to ask myself: what if the internet didn’t exist? How would I communicate and which ideas would I want to share? Who could I help?

Doing this allows you to identify the real questions you should be asking, instead of worrying about the smaller stuff. It helps you get to the true heart of the problem you’re solving, so you can defeat it!

design-thinking ideate

2. Ideate like a hurricane. You think you’ve tried brainstorming before? This is brainstorming on a whole new level. In this exercise, you are not allowed to reject ideas. You have to write them all down. I sat down with my whiteboard and a stack of multi-colored post-its and tried this in two steps:

First, I created a mind map on my whiteboard. I wrote the problem down in the form of a question (“What should my website be about?”) and circled it, then I started branching off the main question with more leading questions, and branching off of them with more specific questions, etc. This helped me figure out the scope of my problem, and uncover the smaller questions I needed to answer first to in order to solve the bigger one in the middle. I came up with three big questions and four little questions.

Second, I wrote a lot of post-it notes. One question at a time, I put 2-5 minutes on the clock and wrote down as many answers as I could think of on brightly colored post-it notes. Then I spread them all out in front of me. Some answers were repetitive; some were kind of dumb all by themselves, but the important thing was that there were a lot of them, and frankly with all those colors, they were downright pretty.

design-thinking smash ideas together

3. Smash ideas together! Even if they don’t make a lot of sense, try grouping your post-its together in different ways and asking how they could work together. Or, if you didn’t do the post-it exercise, think up two random or opposing elements that make up your problem and connect them. It’s a surefire way to make new discoveries that will help you solve your problem in a creative way.

Now you’ve got another way to solve problems! If there’s something that’s been stumping you, give these exercises a try. I bet you’ll like what you find out!

Did you like this post? Check out more recommended books on productivity on my Resources page.

Post-it photo credit: @boetter via Visual hunt / CC BY
why people share on social media

Social Media is pretty much a requirement if you’re looking to rally support for an idea, brand or business. However, even in 2016, 70% of B2B marketers claim their biggest challenge is getting audiences to engage with their content.

And engagement is the ultimate. Shares, Re-Tweets, etc. are the way to grow on any social media platform (aside from ads, of course).

I started using social media for marketing back in 2007, so I have the unique perspective of someone who has been paid to watch how audiences adopt and adapt to the changing social networks for nearly a decade.

There are hundreds of guides on how to optimize your posts for different platforms and they’re great! I totally recommend some of them on my website. When it comes to sharing, however, I’ve found* that no matter which social network you’re trying to spread your message on, there are really just three basic reasons why people will share your content.

The 3 Reasons Why People Share on Social Media

social media sharing for definition

1. Definition. People share to define themselves to others. They want you to know they believe in something or are a part of something that defines their identity in some way. On the most superficial level, this is why social feeds can become crowded with memes like “which Walking Dead character are you?” and the recent “Be Like Bob” phenomenon. It’s fun to define ourselves to others, especially if we can hide the way we brag about ourselves behind something like a meme generator.

What can you post that will make your audience members identify with it so strongly that they share it themselves? Can you challenge influencers to join in supporting your cause (much like the ice bucket challenge)? Is there a quiz you can offer your audience that they can share? A more respectable version of that was the New York Times dialect quiz, which was their most popular post of 2013. What can you create to help your readers define themselves?

social media sharing for emotion

2. Emotion. People share because the content has triggered a strong emotional response, and/or because they want to make others feel something. Most commonly, we share what makes us smile, laugh or feel amazed or inspired.  This is why Upworthy posts (though mostly lacking in substance) get so many shares. They’re framed to spark emotional curiousity (resulting in a click) and tend to deliver a quick emotional reaction (resulting in a share).

Am I saying you should you be like Upworthy? Not exactly. However, no matter your industry, I would encourage you to dig a little deeper to find the more human, emotional side of your news. The narrative device of Upworthy headlines is to tell as much of the story as possible, except for the punchline. Is it possible to do this for your story? Try it. In fact, try it 25 times. If you force yourself to write 25 different headlines in 15 minutes, the odds are that you’ll land on something good.

social media sharing for validation

3. Validation. Finally, people share their thoughts, opinions, experiences, ideas, dinners and selfies to gain external validation. They share because they want others to comment on (or support) the new haircut, the terrible experience with the airline or the healthy choices they made.

Validation and definition may seem similar, but I’ve separated them for a reason in this list. A quiz that says you were meant to live in San Francisco, or that you’re the most like Daryl on TWD is not a true form of validation. Validation is what someone feels when they’ve been heard and when others have approved of what they’ve shared. In order to share content that provides validation, you have to turn the mic over to them.

When you use your platform to share the voice of your audience, you validate their impact on your decisions. A great example of this is the Ask Pat podcast, in which Pat Flynn features and answers one audience question per day. He plays their question on the air (usually from a recorded voicemail) and then plugs *their* brand or business before proceeding to provide a thoughtful response. Making space for the voices of your audience members to be heard is not only a great strategy, it’s your responsibility as a brand trying to stay relevant.

If you want to grow on any social network, think about what you can post that will trigger readers to define themselves, feel something or provide them with external validation. Accomplish this, and you will unlock some incredible engagement.

And on social media, engagement = growth.

One more thing…

If you’re interested in another social media tip, I have figured out a formula that works for growing a Twitter following and wrote a blog post on how I grow Twitter followers by 100 per week.

The best source I can think to cite in addition to my life experience is Camille Ricketts’ fantastic Hubspot presentation I sat in on in 2014. She included a variation on these reasons with different examples… although I’d say we differ a bit on reason number three. Still, I like to give credit where credit is due.

Dani serves as the Director of Strategy at Tytanium Ideas, Inc. a Digital Marketing Agency. You can read more from Dani by subscribing to their blog.

attract subscribers with inbound marketing

Note: This post on How to Attract Subscribers is part 2 of a 3 part section on List-Building Strategies in “The Email Marketing Strategy That Works” series. Read part 1 “Email Marketing: Build Your Subscriber List.”

Attract Subscribers with Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing (in a nutshell) is the art of producing content of such high value that you attract potential customers to you. If you’ve already started optimizing your website for email marketing by adding awesome opt-in forms, this strategy can really help you to attract subscribers to your newsletter. A few Inbound Marketing tactics include:

  • Offering an Incentive on a Landing Page
  • Creating Cornerstone Website Content
  • Blogging
  • Adapting blog posts for content sharing platforms like Medium and LinkedIn Pulse (also known as blog distribution)
  • Creating SlideShare presentations that link to your site
  • Hosting webinars on your site (or that link to it)
  • Creating valuable content on social media that links back to your site
  • Curating valuable content on social media to get noticed and ultimately drive traffic to your site

Let’s break these down.


Incentives are when you offer a reader something for download as a special offer given to newsletter subscribers. This could be anything from an ebook to a template collection. Arguably the best way to attract subscirbers, offering an incentive in exchange for a subscription is a great way to hook them, but be careful about attrition (unsubscribes).

The emails that follow the incentive offer should not be overshadowed by the incentive, but rather should tackle the same or similar topics and provide an equal level of value to the reader. Otherwise there is little to keep a person from unsubscribing.

Cornerstone Website Content

Coined by Brian Clark on Copyblogger, Cornerstone Content is content that you create on your website that is highly relevant and useful to your target audience. It has a lot to do with figuring out how your site can be the answer to the questions asked by people on Google about your topic. Creating content like this will attract a great deal of traffic to your site, and as long as your newsletter promises more of the same, will help you attract subscribers.


In many ways, blogging is like an audition for earning the role of an email newsletter provider. When you produce blogs of value on a consistent basis, you prove that you’ll do the same in your email newsletter. Blogging is an excellent way to enhance your SEO strategy, because each post can focus on answering a single topic or question in detail, making keyword optimization a cinch!

Also, blogs are excellent content to share on social media, and allow you to capture attention and traffic around hashtagged keywords. To determine which related hashtags will be the most successful for promoting the topics you blog about, check out the RiteTag hashtracker.

Blog Distribution

In addition to using social media and SEO to promote your blog, occasionally you’ll want to distribute your blog onto other platforms. First, you can adapt or slightly re-write your post to avoid producing duplicae content (a search engine no-no). Then post the slightly different versions of your post on Medium or LinkedIn Pulse, which both have large audiences. As long as you link back to the original post or site, you’ll be able to attract new visitors who may ultimately become new subscribers.

Rand Fishkin talks about this in detail in this episode of Whiteboard Friday.


SlideShare has been heralded as an incredible way to attract visitors to your website and generate subscribers. When you produce a valuable presentation around a topic you’re trying to become known for, it can be a great way to boost traffic and win over new subscribers. Like every other tactic on this list however, be sure to cover the same content topics in your emails that attracted the visitors to your site in the first place.

Convince and Convert has a great post on this topic.


These can be very valuable to the people you’re trying to help and you can always ask for users to register for your webinars by providing you with their email address. In any registration form, you can include a checkbox for visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. If the box is checked by default, this can be a fabulous way to grow your list.

ProTip: Tools like GotoMeeting make live webinars easy, but you can always pre-record webinars like any other video and allow access on demand when users register.

Social Media Marketing

You can always invite your social media followers to sign up for your newsletter. This is especially great when you can send them to a landing page that talks all about the benefits of subscribing or offers an incentive.

Social Media Curation

While this is probably the most indirect way to attract new subscribing, curating content (which is when you share useful articles, videos, etc. from other sources about your topic of interest on social media) is a great way to build credibility and grow your audience. It’s actually how I have been growing my Twitter following by a little over 100 people per week this year. When you build that audience of loyal followers, you earn the right to ask them to subscribe to your newsletter. If your newsletter matches or exceeds the quality of the content you curate, you’ll be sure to keep your audience happy.

Final Thoughts

This was a brief overview of how to use Inbound Marketing to attract subscribers. While I tried to link as many helpful resources as possible, I plan to examine each of these strategies in greater depth on my blog and report how they worked for me. They’ll be categorized under the “Inbound Marketing” tag so you can find them easily, and I’ll link them to this page as they’re added. Be sure to come back for more!

Next we’ll discuss Part 3, “How to Recruit Subscribers: Outreach Strategies for Email Marketing.” You can also return to the main page of The Email Marketing Strategy That Works for additional topics.