Creating Sponsorable Content with Melanie Deziel

Sponsored by:

Perhaps it’s fitting that today’s interview is a play in 3 acts. After all, I’m talking to Melanie Deziel, speaker, author, and founder of Story Fuel. It makes sense that we talk about creating good content in 3 acts: idea generation, brand deals, and coming up with headlines. This discussion is completely packed with fantastic advice to help up your content creation game.

Top Takeaways:

  • When it comes to content, we often focus too much on the format, and not the actual message. instead, determine what you’re saying first. Then figure out how to best say it. The “how” drives the format and where you’ll publish.
  • Brand-sponsored content is being created in collaboration with or on behalf of a brand that wouldn’t be created otherwise. They are leveraging your trust, so find overlap between what the brand wants to say and what your audience wants to hear.
  • When writing headlines, remember they are a formula. Ask “What’s the purpose of this headline,” or put differently: what is this content doing? That should help you determine the type of headline to write.

Show Notes:


Joe Casabona: Perhaps it’s fitting that today’s interview is a play in three acts. After all, I’m talking to Melanie Diezel, speaker, author, and founder of Storyfuel.

It makes sense that we talked about creating good content in three acts: idea generation, brand deals, and coming up with headlines. This discussion is completely packed with fantastic advice to help your content creation game.

So here’s what I want you to look for. What to focus on when coming up with good content, how to get brand-sponsored deals, how they are more of a collaboration, and how to write good headlines by remembering that they’re really a formula. So definitely look for all those things.

I loved this conversation with Melanie, it was one of my favorites. And right after I went and I bought her resources from her website, You can find the link to all of her resources and everything that we talked about over on the show notes page at

But for now, let’s get to the intro and then the interview.

[00:01:09] <music>

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[00:02:09] <music>

Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:02:29] <music>

Joe Casabona: Melanie, how are you today?

Melanie Deziel: I’m doing all right. How about you?

Joe Casabona: I’m doing fantastically. This is recording week for me for the next batch of episodes. This is my favorite part of my week is having these conversations. So thanks so much for joining us.

Melanie Deziel: It’s really the best. It’s a favorite part of my week, too.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Awesome. So we had a great pre-show conversation. And the first thing I’m just going to ask you straight off the bat is, how do you come up with ideas for content? I talk to a lot of people that are like, “I don’t even know what to write about or make a video about.” So what’s your advice?

Melanie Deziel: You know, there’s a lot of different ways you could go about this. I love jumping right into it like this. I think the first thing that I always talk about before we get to the idea of generating a portion is what we actually mean when we say a content idea. Because I think that this environment that we all create in and that we consume content in has been very focused on the formats that we use to deliver our content. And we can sometimes get so focused on the format that we think, you know, just the word “video” means it’s a content idea or just the word “infographic” or just the word “blog”. But we’ve kind of lost sight in those cases of the actual message, like what is it that we’re trying to say.

So I always like to start by saying that when we’re coming up with a content idea, we’re actually coming up with two things. What is it that we’re trying to say? That’s your message, your topic, your perspective. And then how are we going to say it? That’s the format. That’s, you know, video, articles, podcasts, whatever else.

So I think that separation upfront is really important because it helps us make sure that we’re focusing on the right things, and that we’re not losing sight of what our actual message is in favor of like some shiny new delivery method in the form of a format. Because I think there are so many new formats coming out, it’s really easy to just get attracted to the shiny new object or the creative challenge of a new format and kind of lose sight of your strategy or your purpose when you’re doing that.

Joe Casabona: That makes perfect sense. Actually, I’ve now referenced this in the previous two episodes, but I’ve recorded an episode with Kara Chase who talks about not using other people’s playbooks and not getting caught up in the tools.

And I feel like with content, it’s the same thing. It’s like, all of a sudden, I’m told by everybody I need to be on TikTok. And I’m like, I don’t know if TikTok is right for the things I’m promoting or the content I’m creating.

Melanie Deziel: I think that’s the exact right mindset to have, right, where we’re excited about the potential of new formats, but not distracted by the potential of new formats. Because for some business types, for some professionals, or even some personality types, TikTok might be awesome.

I have a friend and colleague who just started using TikTok to promote the business and you know, it’s a perfect fit. It’s the right kind of delivery for their content. They have the right personality to keep things exciting. It works perfectly.

But I also have plenty of other colleagues who the idea of them being on video is scary to them. Or that’s not their comfort space. And so in those cases, it’s like, “well, let’s take a look at what it is that you’re trying to share. What is your message? What is the content of your content? Where can we put that content in a way that’s going to most suit the message and the person who has to deliver it? Because, you know, just because a format exists or a platform exists doesn’t mean that one, you have to be there, and two, that there’s much strategic benefit to being there.

Joe Casabona: I love that. Again, I’ve had a couple of guests previously who’ve talked about the benefits of TikTok. And by the end of those… I’m just gonna pick on TikTok right now. And I was really excited by the end of those episodes to get out and try TikTok, and I saw some success. But all of my videos were me in front of the camera giving some piece of advice, like very professorial I guess, because I have classroom experience. And the advice I got was like, “Well, you got to do maybe half memes or whatever. And I’m like, “I don’t want to dance. If I have to do that, I’m not going to do it.

Melanie Deziel: You gotta wear a wig. You gotta dance.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Like, find like a green screen and do the one… Whereas on YouTube, for example, my kind of content fits a little bit better. People are looking for answers to a specific question. They’re not only looking to be entertained there. They’re looking for kind of this Just In Time knowledge boost.

Melanie Deziel: I think that’s the right place to think about it. I know we’ve sort of started talking about content ideas, but I think this is the right foundation, right? Because even if you’re creating the right content, if it’s in the wrong place or it’s being delivered the wrong way, it’s not going to have the impact that it should.

So starting with, you know, where are you producing this content, where’s it going to live, is a really great way to level set and make sure that you’re putting all this brainstorming effort toward the right thing.

Joe Casabona: So my follow-up question there is, you know, I have a blog… A friend of mine described me yesterday as a prolific writer and I don’t view myself as that. But then he’s told me like most people have trouble starting and like a first draft is my jam. Like, I’ll just put words on pages. So I blog, I have this and another podcast, and I have… Well, technically, I have two YouTube channels. But for all intents and purposes I have one that I’m actually focusing on.

So I guess maybe my question is, what do you think about when you think about where you’re producing the content? Because I’ll get an idea and I’ll put it into Airtable is where all of my content ideas live. And then I’ll say like, “YouTube, or podcasts or whatever.”

So when you’re thinking about kind of knowing where you produce it first, what’s your process like? Do you have like, “Okay, I’m gonna sit down and think about YouTube videos,” or is it more like broader topics and then like, “Okay, this specific thing in this broader topic is good for video, this is good for podcasts, etc.”?

Melanie Deziel: Yes, that. Exactly that. So I always say focus before format. So if you know the message that you’re trying to share, the follow-up question you ask is, what’s the best way for me to share this message?

So say you get an idea, there’s a particular topic that you want to teach your audience. I would look at that and say, Okay, well, to tell the story right, to cover this topic the right way, does it require visuals? If yes, then here are the formats that are going to be best for that. Right? Maybe that one shouldn’t necessarily be just a podcast episode because it doesn’t have the visuals that I need to really get this point across.

Or does this need audio? Do they need to hear the emotion in the conversation, you know, the pause, the laugh, the tone of voice? If so, then maybe I don’t want to just write a blog because they might miss out on some of those things.

So it’s really looking at the idea and the story that you want to tell and figuring out, well, what tools do I need at my disposal to tell this story in the most effective way possible? And that really gives you a good clue about where you want to start in terms of what format to bring it to life.

The other thing I would say is, you’re very rarely or you should very rarely be choosing only one format. I’m guessing you’ve had conversations on here before about content repurposing, but really the best thing you can do is decide where you’re gonna put that content first versus what kind of content you’re going to create in some sort of silo.

Because, you know, we all know that you create a video, that audio could be used as a podcast, or you know, you do a podcast and you record video at the same time, now you’ve got content for YouTube as well, you break it up into clips for TikTok if that’s what you’re doing. Right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Melanie Deziel: So it’s not so much about choosing one format. It’s about seeing which formats are the right fit for the way I have to deliver this message. Like, what do I need to do to deliver it well? And then how can I make maximum use of what I am creating?

Joe Casabona: That’s such a great point. I had guests talk about that. I’ll link some of them in the show notes, which you can find over at But I was gonna ask you about that, right? Because a common question I get is, should I put my podcasts on YouTube?

And for a long time, I said, no. Like, if it’s just like the audio bars, that’s not compelling YouTube content. But the winds are changing, right? And YouTube has been talking a lot about doing more for podcasters and how podcasters can take advantage of the video format.

So taking your approach, choose where you’ll put it first and then see, you know, where it’s the right fit. Maybe it is a podcast, but maybe you use a tool like Riverside—full disclosure, Riverside has been a former sponsor of this podcast—but you use a tool like Riverside to capture the video, and upload clips to YouTube or upload the whole thing to YouTube so that if and when they release their podcast app your show is already there.

I should say I do this right now so that my library is on YouTube. But if you’re looking to grow on YouTube, I don’t think just an image with like the audio bar is compelling enough video to make that show go viral.

Melanie Deziel: I think there’s a couple variables here. So one thing to know is that there are definitely people who treat YouTube like other people treat Spotify or Pandora. They use YouTube open in a separate tab, never looking at it. Purely just to listen either to music or shows or conference talks, whatever it is. They view it as a listening platform. So there is a small faction of people who are using it that way.

To your point, I don’t think that we’re ever going to see that kind of thing go viral. Because again, it’s not super compelling to share, it’s not super compelling to look at, and probably doesn’t get the same type of engagement on platform as stuff that’s more visual would.

But you know, if you’re clear on your strategy and you know why you’re doing something… The examples you gave are perfect, right? You’re trying to build up a library from your channel. You’re trying to build up a history of content. You’re just trying to practice using YouTube and getting better at using the platform. There’s lots of benefits to that.

Maybe you want to put it on YouTube because that’s the easiest way for you to embed it into your site versus having to use some other tool. There’s lots of beneficial reasons, but yeah, I think being super clear that it probably isn’t going to be a great standalone channel if it’s just this non-visual content.

But there’s other options too. So if you, say, you do a great podcast episode and you don’t have the visuals, you have really awesome audio though, you could take sort of the Vox explainer approach and have illustrations made or onscreen texts that are sort of explaining some of the things that are happening.

You could mix up the visuals with different B-roll footage that’s relevant to what we’re talking about. You know, here’s a lot of ways you can kind of turn shorter clips or the full clip into something that is actually compelling to watch.

So I think a lot of times it just comes back to that strategy. Like why am I doing this? Because I think the biggest thing for most creators is this immense pressure to be everywhere and be doing everything. And it’s just not sustainable.

You know, from a human perspective, there’s only so many hours in a day. But also from a strategy perspective. If you are spreading yourself across 10 different platforms and 14 different content series, the quality just can’t be there. You’re gonna sacrifice results in exchange for breath. And that’s not necessarily working to your advantage depending on your broader business goals.

Joe Casabona: That’s such a great point, and actually drives home something that last week’s guest, Jeff Utecht talked about, which was be on the platform or your audience is. You really want to think about that.

Like I said, maybe I’m missing the boat again on TikTok, maybe podcasters and people who are looking for a podcast coach are on TikTok. I need to do a little bit more research there. But I know they’re on Twitter. I know they’re hanging out on Twitter. My Twitter following has grown since I’ve really focused on helpful podcast content. So I really love your approach here.

You said there are definitely people who treat YouTube like others use Spotify. Recent statistics… I’m saying recent like first half of 2020, saw that especially podcast power users, or like podcast super fans, I forget how they’re put, but people who listened to more than four podcasts in a week discover new podcasts on YouTube. So that’s really interesting.

And I guess it makes sense, right? Because just kind of scrolling through your podcast App Directory, you’re like, “I guess that artwork looks cool. Is it gonna be good though?”

Melanie Deziel: That just surface another thing, right? If there’s another podcast in your niche or a podcast that speaks to your audience that is doing that, you get that power of algorithmic suggestions. So if there’s a similar podcast to you, or again one that touches a similar audience and they’re getting, you know, even moderate traction with their YouTube uploads, it might make sense for you to kind of strategically try to be the video that’s recommended to come up after that, you know.

Joe Casabona: Such a good point. So I think we just took, at least me, all the way from “Uh, don’t have your podcast on YouTube” to “maybe have your podcasts on YouTube,” right? There’s a really good repurposing tools out there that’ll make it easy for you to upload. But have the right strategy. You gotta have the right thumbnail and the right title. YouTube is a whole other discussion.

I want to circle back to something else you mentioned. How do you tell the story correctly? You’ve mentioned story a few times. I struggle with this, but I’ve been trying to get better. How important is story in your content?

Melanie Deziel: I think it’s one of those things that’s really hard to define. Like you know it when you see it. But you know, what’s the story of this podcast? It’s kind of hard to define upfront. But I think in a broader sense, story is what makes content easy to follow and then easy to re-share.

And re-share could be the literal like sharing in a text message, sending a link, or it could just be telling someone what you heard about. That like word of mouth factor.

And that can come in a few different ways. It could be suspense that you use to kind of keep people engaged to the end. It could be a chronological order that you’re kind of walking people through a process. And so they want to stay through to the end for the payoff.

It could just be that you keep it entertaining. And new things are happening. And it’s exciting and fun. And, you know, surprising enough that you think there’s probably more goodies to come. So I think there’s a couple ways to kind of get folks going in a flow.

But I also think that “story” might be one of those overhyped words. And I know that that might sound strange coming from me since that’s sort of my thing. But you know, I don’t know that most educational content, so say like a recipe or a tutorial, it would be kind of hard to say that’s like a super compelling story. Like step one, do this. Step two, do this. That’s not what we would typically consider a beginning, middle and end story. But that kind of stuff can add a ton of value.

So I think sometimes telling a beginning, middle, end story, or showing someone’s transformation over the course of a story, for example, can be super valuable. But I do think that story is probably not always the best tool, depending on what it is that you’re trying to share with your audience.

Joe Casabona: And to your point, I’ve like straight up not published content that I thought was good from an educational standpoint because I didn’t have a good story to go along with it. I mean, I’ve repurposed it as Twitter threads or whatever. But I feel like, Oh, well, I don’t have a good story to tell. The beginning of this blog post to set the stage or whatever.

But like you said, maybe you don’t always need that, right? Maybe this content is for the person who’s Googling, like, how do I come up with content ideas?

Melanie Deziel: I feel like the best example for this… You know how people always make fun of recipe content that has a very long preamble?

Joe Casabona: Yes.

Melanie Deziel: That’s a perfect example of like, “I am here to learn how to make a casserole. I do want to hear about the first time you ever tasted casserole when you were at summer camp. That’s not what I’m here for.” I think there are plenty of situations where it’s like, “All right, there’s a little too much story sprinkled on top of this substance. I’m here for the cupcake, not for the frosting,” you know?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Oh, I love that. The way I try to treat story in my own content is driving the point home. I told the story about, Oh, just yesterday, actually… I keep saying yesterday, and it’s true in both of these contexts. So I’m not just saying it as like a general like the other day thing. I had a lot of calls yesterday.

But one was this guy was kind of talking about how he wants to teach people how to make better videos, and all they want to know about is the gear, like what camera should I get? And he’s like, “I really don’t want to talk about that.” And I told the story about how people would always ask me when they found out I was a good computer guy, especially when I was in college, like, “Hey, Joey…” People who knew me before 2008 call me Joey. “Hey, Joey, I’m going to college. I need a new computer. I really want to get a Mac. Should I get a Mac?”

And I’d always say, “No, you don’t need a Mac. You’re gonna pay $2,000 for a computer that you’re gonna use for word and surf the internet. You could pay 600 bucks for a Dell.” And then they’d say, “But I really want a Mac.” And I’m like, “Well get a mac then.”

I said people who want to know about gear, like if that’s the hump that you need to get them over to get them to make better videos through story or whatever, then just do a free video about the one camera you should buy to start your YouTube channel. And he was like, “Man, that really drove the point.” He’s like, “That really helped.” So using it, you know, judiciously I think can be really helpful.

Melanie Deziel: I think it’s sometimes easy to forget that our audience may have barriers that we’ve long since passed that we kind of have to help them over that hump, just like you said. It’s easy for us to say like, “Focus on how to make better quality videos.” But if they don’t even have their equipment set up yet, then like they can’t make better videos because they can’t make one to begin with.

So it’s like sometimes even though it feels like that basic content has been overdone, there’s lots of stuff out there on how to pick a camera or camera reviews and stuff. Like it’s true, but your audience may not have that stuff in front of them. And they may want it from you.

And the other point is, if people are out there looking for it, wouldn’t you rather they get their answers from you rather than potential competition for other stuff down the line. So basic content like that, even if it’s been done, I think is a really important sort of foundation to your content strategy.

[00:23:03] <music>

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[00:24:10] <music>

Joe Casabona: Again, your content really should tie back to what you’re trying to do with it. My most popular YouTube video is “How to set up the Sony A 6400.” Because I watched tutorials and I’m like, “All these people are photographers who assume you know everything already.” And I’m like, “Here are the things that as a beginner I didn’t know.” And like that’s really well-performing.

Aside from helping get my YouTube channel monetized, which I mean, I’m not rolling in dough from that, that doesn’t align with my business goals or whatever. So I think that’s probably another thing that you need to consider, right?

Melanie Deziel: Oh, yeah. 100% Because, you know, at the end of the day, like we could all be out there making cat video compilations and news bloopers, and we’d all get tons of traffic. But is that actually going to translate into anything?

It’s a really good thing to remember. It’s not just about YouTube like we’re talking about. I hear people say the same thing about like, “Oh, I need to up my follower count on Twitter.” And my question is always, why? Why do you want more followers? But why? What does having more followers get you? Because I know your goal for the year is not just have… You can’t pay your bills with followers.

You want those followers because you want them to do something. You want to influence them. You want to teach them. You want to, I don’t know, sell something to them, refer them somewhere else. There’s got to be a bigger goal than just followers or views or whatever. It’s got to be bigger than that or else you’re not going to stick with it when it gets tough.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. It reminds me of the South Park episode when like YouTube started getting really big and like Butters made a video. I don’t know, did you ever watch South Park?

Melanie Deziel: It’s been a while. I don’t know that I remember this one.

Joe Casabona: So Butters made a video and it went viral. And they went to the place where you get like the YouTube money and everyone’s like, “I have a million theoretical dollars just based on their hits or whatever. That really is what it feels like when you’re like, “Oh, I just want more followers.” It’s almost like working for exposure—like exposure can pay the bills.

Melanie Deziel: To what end? I think when you follow that without sort of a focus on your why, think about that video went viral for you, if you had been chasing the virality and just made more videos like that, you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing now. You’d be sort of boxed into this audience that cares about something different than what you care about. You know, you’d have a bunch of viewers who want content you don’t want to make. It would distract you from what you actually want to be doing.

I think that’s kind of a broader message for all to be honest. Because that’s easy to do in your business outside of content too. You know, you get, “Can you do this type of project?” And you’re like, “Well, it’s not my specialty, but I guess I could.

Three more times that happens and suddenly you’re doing stuff that’s not at all related to your core competency. And that’s taking time and effort away from the projects you love and the clients who trust you with the stuff you like to work on. It’s really easy to chase what’s working, what’s like low-hanging fruit, and get so far from what it is that you actually love to do.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I bet the thing is, right, if you always chase low-hanging fruit, you’re never gonna climb higher or whatever.

Melanie Deziel: There you go.

Joe Casabona: I really wish I hadn’t ended that with “or whatever.” That’s a really good quote. I just spoiled it out.

Melanie Deziel: Use it however you want.

Joe Casabona: But you’re right. And it’s almost like niching down is a little scary. Like, I’ve been turning down WordPress work even though it’s easy for me because that’s not where I want to be anymore. In the pre-show, I told you I’m a recovering WordPress developer and people are still like, “Can I hire you for WordPress projects?” And I’m like, “Ah, God, this would be like such an easy like five or ten grand.” Like they’re ready, but it’s not what I want to do. And I know, like five grand today could cost me like 25 grand six months from now when I land that big podcast production client or whatever.

Melanie Deziel: Exactly. Again, it happens in life, too, where it’s like, do I want to be amazing at doing eighth grade homework, or do I want to go to high school? You could stick around and keep doing eighth grade homework and get A’s but you’re not really progressing. You want to move to that bigger pond. You don’t want to become the biggest possible fish in a pond you don’t want to be in.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So let’s make a kind of a quick pivot here. We’ve talked a little bit about… Well, we talked about focus before format and determining kind of where your contents gonna go and what are you saying, and how do you say it. I’m really curious… because I over-engineer… Again, I’m a software engineer so I over-engineer everything. And I have like Siri shortcuts so I can just yell into the ether, like, I have an idea and it gets logged in the right place. How do you capture your ideas? Like what if you’re like on a walk or driving and inspiration strikes? What do you do?

Melanie Deziel: I think my answer is going to be very unsatisfying, but I will share it anyway. And my answer to that is whatever system you use.

Joe Casabona: Love it.

Melanie Deziel: Because truthfully I could tell you you need to set up Airtable or you need to use Notion or you need an elaborate system of Google Docs. It doesn’t matter what I say. If you’re not going to Do it, if it doesn’t fit into your lifestyle, then it’s not going to work for you.

So as unsatisfying as it may be, my recommendation to be honest is whatever system you’re already using, find a way to use that to capture your ideas. So if you love Notion, if you’re using Trello, if you’re using Clickup, like whatever it is that you use and love, that is where you should capture your ideas, because that’s pretty much the only way to ensure you’re actually going to do it.

I would much rather have you rig a system not meant for capturing ideas to actually capture them than to have a dedicated system that’s completely empty, because you don’t have time to learn it or it just is difficult to access or you forget. So like I said, unsatisfying as it may be, what system you’re using is the best system to capture your content ideas.

Joe Casabona: That’s exactly what I was hoping you would say. Because again, in an upcoming episode as this releases, Kara Chase says the same thing. Like don’t use other people’s playbooks and tools and things like that, because you won’t do it.

For the longest time, I was like, “I need to find the perfect CRM.” And they were all too complicated for me. Now I use a note-taking app called Craft. I love it. I use it for everything. So I have a little folder called CRM, and each person gets their own document. And then I can like link to actual meetings we have on my calendar, which also gets their own document.

Melanie Deziel: Nice.

Joe Casabona: And that’s perfectly fine for me, because I’m in Craft actively. That’s where I’m taking notes for this interview.

Melanie Deziel: Well, it’s sort of like if you equate it to the fitness world where it’s like, “Oh, what should I do to stay healthy?” And it’s like, well, if I tell you you need to get a peloton and you hate biking and you never use it, then it’s not actually a good solution, you know?

Joe Casabona: Right.

Melanie Deziel: Same thing for whatever else. You know, you buy an expensive weight set, like if you hate lifting weights and you’re not going to lift them, then those weights are useless to you. So honestly, it’s really easy to hide behind finding the perfect tool when you’re afraid to start something new or you feel like some sort of impostor syndrome, like, “Oh, I’m out of my depth? What if I choose the wrong tool?”

The best time to start is today and the best things to start with is the things that you have. Because waiting around for another six months until you have the perfect tool is just six months wasted that you could have been making progress.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve said his name multiple times on this show now, and I think I’m gonna say it wrong again. But Khehy I think is what it is. It’s K-H-E-H-Y. He gives a talk about how you can do $10,000 an hour work, and that’s like the stuff you should be doing. But like the $100 an hour work is like finding the right tool. And it’s dangerous because it feels productive but it’s not.

Melanie Deziel: Well, I think there’s probably like… I don’t know. Maybe this is more therapy than podcast at this point. But I’m sure there’s certain personality traits and certain folks who are more drawn to that kind of thing. I know I for one can get sucked into sort of research procrastination really easily if I’m not confident in a particular skill set or a particular process.

The easiest way to put off having to do it is to convince myself that I’m learning more about it and I’ll do it later. It’s pretty easy to get sucked into that if you’re not super confident, or you’re nervous, or you have impostor syndrome, for sure.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, because I do like trying new things or whatever. And something that I think half jealous of and then half gives me agita—which for those of you don’t know, that’s like the Italian word for heartburn—is Federico Viticci. He runs MacStories. And he writes this tome every year that’s like the ultimate… It’s not called the ultimate guide, but it’s like the ultimate guide for using the latest version of iOS and iPad OS.

And I feel like every year he changes his process to write this 50,000 word document. And it kills me. But then I’m like, You know what? He is also like charging… Like part of his membership is him trying new tools and apps. So this guy is getting paid to tinker, which is super cool. And I would love that. But then just thinking about changing my home notes app again is like anathema to me.

Melanie Deziel: I mean, that comes back to I think figuring out the purpose of these things. Maybe getting paid to tinker and mess around and trying new tools is the actual goal behind some of that versus making a ton of money or getting a million downloads or something. Maybe the goals are different.

I do a lot of writing projects that if you were to look at them on paper in the balance sheet, you’d be like, “Why the heck are you doing that? That is not worth your time.” And it’s like, well, I enjoy doing that it gives me energy and allows me to do more of the things that I have to be doing. Or it allows me to stay connected with people that, you know, I want to maintain a good relationship with. Or, you know, I don’t know, I’ve always wanted to talk about this topic and I don’t usually get invited to talk about it. And so it’s fun to expand my authority or my experience. There’s a lot more than money or views that can conserve your goals as a creator, as a human, as a business person, you know?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I love that. Absolutely. It’s gonna feel like we’re cutting against that, right? But I do want to ask you about branded content. I think a lot of my experience with sponsorship is from this podcast but I have been getting a few people paying me, you know, a reasonable amount of money to cover my time to do like these paid reviews.

So I’m essentially getting paid to try a product on my YouTube channel. I guess maybe first you can define what is branded content? Is it always going to be like this sponsored thing? Is it always a blog post? How does it work?

Melanie Deziel: So it can be just about anything to be honest, which can be challenging. But basically, at the highest possible level, sponsored content is… or branded content. There’s lots of different names. But this content is being created either in collaboration with or on behalf of a brand, and probably would not have been created otherwise. That’s like a really broad definition.

This episode, maybe you probably wouldn’t have bought that product and reviewed that product in as much depth if you weren’t affiliated with the brand. It could still be completely objective, it could still be super valuable but it’s not something you would have prioritized without that relationship with the brand, for example..

Joe Casabona: Right. Right.

Melanie Deziel: So, again, that’s a broad definition. It could cover a lot of things. But it’s sort of, you know, content being created with some level of influence by the brand and it probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Or it wouldn’t have happened the same way.

Joe Casabona: I think that part is so crucial, right? Because if you start to think, “Well, I would have made this content anyway,” it’s like really easy for you to devalue the work, right?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: You know, if you’re like, “Oh, well, I want $1,000 For this YouTube video,” and then the brand is like, “Well, we will only pay you 300,” then you’re like, “Well, I would have made this anyway. So 300 is better than no hundred.” Again, the brand is gonna have a little bit of influence.

I’ve had deals fall apart because at a lower price point, they’re like, “We also need to review it and you need to make revisions.” And I’m like, “Nah, not at the price you’re paying me.”

Melanie Deziel: That’s not a standard sponsorship. And I think that’s another way you can differentiate it too is like… I always joke like sponsored means, in most cases, if someone’s just sponsoring something that would have existed anyway. They’re buying squares and rectangles. They’re buying real estate that exists that’s sort of in between, or alongside your content.

Like a standard podcast sponsor, they get the repin read in the beginning, and they get maybe a 15 second read in the middle, and maybe something at the end, and maybe a logo on your show notes page. So they’re really sort of an accessory to the content when they’re just purely an outside sponsor.

If you’re working with them to create content on a specific topic, or you’re interviewing one of their executives, that’s more collaboration than a sponsor, like just the standard sponsor. And I think that’s kind of the difference. And it’s important to know that a brand involvement doesn’t have to be a negative. It should. If a brand involvement is a negative, it’s probably not a great fit.

If you don’t want to make it it’s probably not a great fit. If you’re afraid your audience will hate it, it’s probably not a great fit. You know, in an ideal world, you’re working with a brand that you like or respect that has some value to offer to your audience. And so working together is a win for everyone involved.

Joe Casabona: That’s such a great point. I love that. And I’ll share some numbers. I think they’re public. For a sponsored review on my YouTube channel, which has about 2,300 views I charged about 550 bucks. And that’s just like a five minute video of me using the products and giving my thoughts. It’s honest. The brand has no say in it. It’s sponsored content. They don’t get to see it before it comes out. I send them a link. But it’s totally up to them. If they want oversight, I 4x or 5x that price. Right?

Melanie Deziel: Sure.

Joe Casabona: Now, we’ll come up with an outline, we’ll come up with a script. Before I upload it, you’ll see it. You get one round of revisions, where it’s not a reshoot, because we wrote the script already. And then I’ll release it. And then you can also use it.

And then there’s like the question of, can you use it organically for share? Can you use it for paid ads? Or whatever? Is there exclusivity, right? Like, I can’t use competing products for a certain amount of time. All of that has to be considered.

Melanie Deziel: And that is a perfect example of like, in one case, you might have written a review for a product just because you liked it. So maybe you would have written that review in the straight up sponsor scenario. But you would not have independently reached out to the brand of your own volition to be like, “Hey, do you want to weigh in on my script for this upcoming video since I mentioned your product?” Like that would not have happened unless there was a deeper relationship there.

So I feel like that’s a pretty good way to like pressure test and see like, “Are they just an advertiser? Are they just sort of having really surface-level involvement or is this a deeper partnership? And when the answer to deeper partnership is yes, that’s a good chance that you’re creating more sponsored content together. Like you’re collaborating on something.

Joe Casabona: I like that. I like that a lot. I know if people are gonna have questions, they’re gonna write in and be like, “How do you get branded or sponsored content?” Do people reach out to you? Do you reach out to them? How’s that work?

Melanie Deziel: There’s almost an endless number of ways that this stuff could happen. There are folks out there who can act as agents for you and try to make these connections in exchange for like a share of the partnership or the payment or whatever. That may be a good option for you if you want to put exactly zero effort into it and you’re fine with letting someone else take a cut.

There are also platforms out there. You look for influencer apps, influencer platforms. There’s sort of like Tinder for influencers where you can go ahead and get matched up with brands who have similar audience goals, or you know, similar content types where they’re prioritizing the same networks that you’re prioritizing, for example.

So there’s a lot of those types of platforms out there. I don’t have any one in particular I recommend, because again, it really depends on what types of partnerships you want and what platform you’re on. But yeah, have a look at influencer platforms and see if there’s one that aligns with your audience or your platforms of preference.

And then the other way is to try to do it more organically. So there’s different ways to do that. You could try to reach out to the brands, you could look at the brand site, or their presence and see if they have publicly posted information about how to become a brand ambassador or an affiliate or whatever else they offer.

I mean, you can also just try to attract them by creating really great stuff. You know, if you’re out here reviewing products from a specific brand regularly and you’re tagging them, then there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll notice at some point, and maybe that will open up a conversation for a deeper relationship.

Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. In a near future episode, I’ll be talking to Justin Moore about kind of pitching brands. I guess, what’s your approach to creating that content? Do you have any kind of processes in place or advice for people who may have never done it before and might be inclined to just “well, the brand is giving me money, so I’ll do whatever they want”?

Melanie Deziel: I think the most important thing is to try to find the overlap between what the brand wants to say and what your audience wants to hear. And that might sound super basic. But there’s a good chance that what the brand is trying to do and all the things they want to say that not all of it belongs on your content, on your channel. Not all of it applies to your audience.

So it is kind of a process of looking at what they want to say, what they want to talk about, you know, the visuals they use, whatever else, and ruling out the stuff that like, “This isn’t going to be at home on my channel. My audience won’t trust this type of content. My audience doesn’t care about this particular topic.”

But in doing that you can identify, you know, okay, well, this product that you talk about, that’s actually something my audience would really love to hear more about. Or, Wow, you mentioned this thing as a side topic, but I get that question all the time. My audience would love to hear more about that.

So it’s kind of like a pruning process of all the different things that might be proposed or all the different messaging the brand might have out there to see what are the ones that are going to be at home on my platforms in my content for my audience? And finding something there. That’s really where you want to focus. It might literally be making a Venn diagrams to try to find where that overlap is between the things your audience cares about, the things that your audience trusts you to talk about, and the things that the brand wants to get out there in the world.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s put such so succinctly. Find overlap between what the brand wants to say and what your audience wants to hear. I think a really good example is early on in the show, I talked to WordPress developers. I’ll use one of the sponsors for this week, LearnDash. You know, doing a sponsor read for LearnDash then might have been uses the best coding standards is performance. With a developer license, you can use it on as many sites as you want for your clients if you’re creating online courses.

Today that sponsor read sounds super different because the audience is now creators. They don’t care about developer licenses or know anything about JavaScript. They just want to know, like, Can I install this and easily create my course? So now I say like, “Hey, with their playlist feature, you can make a playlist on YouTube or Vimeo and have the course automatically created.

Melanie Deziel: Nice.

Joe Casabona: So good.

Melanie Deziel: Exactly.

Joe Casabona: I love LearnDash. They’re the sweet sponsor, but I’ve been using them for years.

Melanie Deziel: That’s the other thing that you can’t overestimate. Like you have to actually care. Because if you don’t care about the sponsoring brand and it’s like lip service, and your audience can tell that you don’t like it, or they can feel that there’s no emotion there that you’re just like reading a script, it’s not going to do for either of you what you want it to do. It’s not going to convert the way they want it to. The brand is not going to connect with your audience the way you want your content to. So I don’t know.

If there’s one place in your content to really stand up for your values and what you like and what your audience expects from you, then selecting your sponsors, selecting your partners is 100% the place to be. Because you’re bringing their reputation in yours into the same space and your audience is trusting you. So really choosing carefully and making sure you can stand behind them and you agree with what they offer is so, so important, especially when you’re starting out, because a couple bad choices there could really start to hurt your audience trust.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Ah, again, put so succinctly. You’re bringing their reputation and yours into the same place. And I’ve said to people, especially podcasts, people trust the podcast host. And whatever the brand is willing to pay you is not worth more than that trust. It’s so put really well.

[00:47:34] <music>

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[00:48:33] <music>

Joe Casabona: As we kind of wrap up here at the main interview… We haven’t mentioned this, but Melanie has a background in journalism. So in Build Something More we’re going to talk about how journalism has changed in the last 10 years. And you should stick around and see if we talked about The Newsroom because I love that show.

You can become a member for 50 bucks a year over at the show notes page Again, 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month, which is less than the iced coffee I’m drinking right now. So check it out.

As we wrap up here, if this is a three act play, act one was coming up with ideas, act two was getting those ideas sponsored or getting your content sponsored. Let’s make act three, getting people to click.

So one of the resources that you have on your website is tips on how to write a headline templates, I should say. 300 headline templates. Writing headlines is one of the hardest things for me because I feel like it’s because of my like software development and engineering background. I just want to be matter of fact. Like this article is about WordPress or whatever.

Melanie Deziel: You will find an article.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. Very like Ron Swanson-esque. That’s probably not a good way to write headlines I’d imagine.

Melanie Deziel: You know, it depends on the type of content. If I’m in a manual of some kind, if I’m like in user FAQs or support documentation, then I definitely don’t want you being clever. I want it to be super, super clear, because I’m looking for assistance. And that’s true for a lot of educational content. Like how to fix, you know, such and such is a great headline for people who are searching how to fix such and such. That’s exactly what they’re looking for. Right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Melanie Deziel: If you’re trying to be super clever, and you’re like, “Is your such and such making a funny sound? Here’s how to make the sounds better.” That’s not going to get the people who need it. So it is always going to be a balance between being clever and being clear. And that’s true of like, all copy, all content that you want to create.

So a lot of, you know, talking about headlines is well, what balance do I need here? How clever can I be versus how clear can I be? And different types of content, different audiences, different levels of seriousness. The way you might talk about, you know, so what’s the deal with NFT’s where you can be like light-hearted and kind of jokey is probably very different from like how to select the right burial service for your loved one. You probably don’t want to be like, “Lol, someone died. What do you now?” That’s definitely wrong tone.

It’s always a balance for sure between clear and clever. But a lot of what headlines are is really kind of like a formula. I am nothing if not a pattern seeker and pattern finder. So a lot of what I talk about is figuring out well, what’s the purpose of this headline? Is it to entertain? Is it to educate? Is it to compare? What is this content doing?

Once you can identify that purpose, like this content is designed to (blank), then there are certain types of headlines that work really well for that particular format. So for example, if you’re creating content that is helping people decide between multiple options, then you can use a vs type structure.

Product A versus product B, which is right for you? How to decide between product A and product B, which is better for (blank)? Product A or product B? There’s sort of like a vs formula that you can iterate on.

Or you could focus on the question itself. Which is the best product for this purpose? Which product is right if I have XYZ? So there’s sort of like predictable headline formats that work really well for particular types of content. So that’s really what that particular resource that you mentioned on my site is dedicated to that. You know, sort of sorted by content purpose, what are the structures that might work well for this?

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. I like that a lot. I think that’s something that… I mean, I don’t want to say it’s because of the acquisition, but Wirecutter did this really well for a long time. You know, the best baby stroller or whatever. The best baby stroller for Disney World. Super good.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but anytime I search for like “best whatever for whatever,” I don’t see Wirecutter or the New York Times show up anymore. Maybe that’s just because it’s paywalled and they’ve really kind of reduced the search engine optimization. But that doesn’t sound like very prudent. If you can paywall it, you still want showing up in search?

Melanie Deziel: I can’t say exactly. I was at the New York Times. I was there during the acquisition. I have not worked directly on the Wirecutter stuff. So I don’t have any insight to share unfortunately.

Joe Casabona: I did not know that. This is why I’m like a bad interviewer. I did not know that.

Melanie Deziel: I mean, it’s been quite a while. It’s not in my recent history. So don’t worry. It’s a fact out of the archives here.

Joe Casabona: Nice. Nice.

Melanie Deziel: But yeah, I mean, a lot of that exact type of structure that you were talking about before is very journalistic in nature. You know, it’s coming from that journalism stuff. So it makes sense that, you know, early on in the acquisition they would have, which I think was like 2014 or 2013, they would have been really focused on trying to optimize those headlines by using their new access to journalistic resources. That makes total sense.

Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting. I think the… Well, the last thought I just had was fleeting, about… Oh, right. I also think I’m maybe a little bit stuck in this rut, because I have been trying to do more YouTube and like YouTube there’s a stat that like 80% of people click because of the headline or the thumbnail.

And so like you got to write these super click-baity headlines. And I think I’ve let that pollute my thinking a little bit on titling my podcast episodes and my blog posts. I think the matter-of-fact headlines, especially for my blog posts, which are mostly educational, probably, work. I shouldn’t be trying to serve the YouTube algorithm on my own blog.

Melanie Deziel: Well, that’s a balance, too. And I know this is kind of like a crappy answer but it is always a balance. Because at the end of the day, you know, appealing to the algorithm may get people to your content, but it’s not going to get them to stay. The robots don’t engage. So you got to appeal a little bit in order to get people there. But you got to make sure that it’s enough to get people to stay and that you’re not misleading them or sort of overpromising and under-delivering. Things like that.

Joe Casabona: I think that that’s a really good thing. Again, as a programmer, “it depends” was always our favorite thing to say. It’s just there’s so many factors. Like anybody who says like “the one thing that you can do to do this” is probably being disingenuous.

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, exactly. The one secret, the silver bullet, the one thing you need. That stuff may work for the clicks. But most of the time you read that content, and you’re like, “Okay, that was a little oversimplified.”

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. I’ll give this example and then we’ll wrap up with where people can find you and where they can get these great guides. But I straight up stopped watching Screen Rant because all of their headlines were like that. And like I watch New Rockstars now. I don’t know if you’re like into movies and pop culture I clearly am because I’ve made like 400 pop culture references in this interview.

But Screen Rant would always be like, Villain of Doctor Strange three revealed, and it’s like super heavy theory. And I’m like, “That’s not revealed. That’s what we think.” At least new rock stars is like, “This is our theory.” And Screen Rant is like, “This is fact.”

Melanie Deziel: I mean, that’s the reader trust thing that we were talking about before. If people keep clicking on content and not getting what’s promised, then they’re gonna stop clicking because they know it’s not going to be what’s promised.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. Melanie, this has been great. I always ask for like one or two rather action items, but I feel like we kind of have one for each act of this episode. So I would say you’ve got these really great, really affordable guides on your website. Can you talk a little bit about those and how people can get them?

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, absolutely. So on the website,, you can check out the store. There’s tons of printable resources that hopefully will help serve your content needs. Nothing is more than 20 bucks so it’s all you know, bite-size helpful stuff.

Everything from, you know, content ideas that are fully fleshed out that you can adapt to use for your brand. We’ve got the headline guide. So again, there’s like hundreds of formats that you can use, formulas for your headlines.

And there’s also a big workbook that is the companion to my book, The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas. In that workbook will… it’s like fill-in-the-blank multiple choice, what handhold you through coming up with literally thousands of content ideas. So those are all on the website at

And we have a discount code. So if you use the code JOE, for obvious reasons, you will be able to save several dollars on any of those principle resources. So you know, help yourself find the one that speaks most to you and hopefully that helps make it even more accessible for you.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I love it. Thanks so much for the discount code. I appreciate it. I know my audience will appreciate it. I am without a doubt picking up the headlines one and probably the workbook because, again, I have this over-engineered system for coming up with ideas but I’m always interested in other approaches and seeing how other people do it.

So Melanie this has been great. I think we have the answer to this, but if people want to learn more, where can they find you?

Melanie Deziel: You can check it out at That is really the home base for everything. You can find my social links there. Anything you might want to know about the books, upcoming book, anything, you could find at

But I always like to mention that I am the only me. So if you search for Melanie Diezel on your network of choice or throw me into a search engine, you’ll find me wherever you’re looking.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Love that. I will put everything in the show notes over at Now that we have that tidbit that Melanie used to work at the New York Times, if you want to see how journalism has changed in the last 10 years, become a member of the Creator Crew. Again, you can sign up over at

But Melanie, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Melanie Deziel: Yeah, thanks for having me and letting me share my story.

Joe Casabona: My pleasure. Thanks so much to everybody listening. Thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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