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Content Strategy

Build a Content Playground, Not a Funnel with Ashley Faus (Atlassian)

Build a Content Playground Not a Funnel with Ashley Faus

The old framework of the buyer’s journey is broken. 

Customers expect more access than ever to educational, engaging content at every stage of their decision-making. 

Ashley Faus believes it’s time to reframe the buyer’s journey as the content marketing playground where customers can learn, engage, and interact with content on their own terms—building trust and affinity that lasts a lifetime. 

As the Content Strategy Lead of Software Teams at Atlassian, Ashley manages a team for content and distribution for iconic software solutions that unleash the potential of every team. 

She talked to us about how to fully embody your audience, focus on building relationships, and reframe the content marketing funnel.

Show Topics

  • Fully embody your audience
  • Focus on authenticity
  • Take time to understand the problem set
  • Seek out potential stories
  • Understand how content marketing fits into the bigger picture
  • View marketing as relationship-building
  • Reframe the old buyer’s journey
  • Build a content marketing playground
  • Reimagine the content marketing funnel
  • Create content for the whole playground

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Key Takeaways

06:48 – Fully embody your audience

The ability to step into the shoes of your audience translates from theater to marketing and lets you better understand their feelings and motivations.

“A long time ago, I stumbled on this article talking about this idea of Saunder, which is basically the marketer’s emotion. It’s basically the realization that all the people around you are living just as rich of a life as you are, that to you, they’re just passersby, they’re not important. They’re just random characters in your story. But to them, you’re that person. When I think about how that relates to the singing and the acting and that theater that I do, I’m just so used to embodying these people and to recognizing, even as an ensemble member, I have all these thoughts and feelings and motivations, and I’m feeling all of these things and I’m experiencing all of these things. That may change. I may step into those shoes every 10 minutes of a scene. When I come back and do my marketing work, it’s like, ‘Okay, who is that audience? What do they love? What do they care about?’ That ability to fully embody the audience and fall in love with the audience as a whole human is a huge intersection from a marketing standpoint.”

08:47 – Focus on authenticity

When creating thought leadership, a marketer should use their technical skills to elevate the thought leader’s voice and opinion, not dictate the core of the content.

“Whenever I work with people on thought leadership, frequently and because I work with a lot of engineers, whenever we sit down, they’re like, ‘Yeah, okay, marketer. I’ll just do whatever you tell me. Whatever you want me to say, I’ll just say that. Whatever you want me to wear, I’ll wear that.’ And I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. I don’t have the answers.’ There’s not a right way to do this because the problem is if you’re wearing a mask or you’re putting on a facade or you’re regurgitating something that I tell you to say, it’s not your own thoughts. You’re not being authentic. You’re not going to be credible. You’re not going to be trustworthy because it’s very clear that you’re putting on a mask. I think what you’re saying about helping somebody else do thought leadership and being able to step into their shoes and empower them, in a lot of cases, I have skills that are complementary, but their thoughts are their own and their ideas are their own and their experiences are their own. So, it’s really about how do I marry the technical skills, to your point about writing or SEO or distribution or social media, with that stuff that is unique to them in terms of their ideas and how they speak and how they think and how they talk.”

12:22 – Take time to understand the problem set

The most important piece of knowing how to market to your audience is understanding their problems so you can position your offering as a viable solution.

“The biggest thing, when I talk about falling in love with your audience, a lot of people mistake B2B or technical marketing for “boring.” In most cases, it’s because they don’t understand the problem set. So, because they don’t understand it, they just think it’s boring. Like, ‘Oh, that’s, I don’t know. That’s developer speak.’ But when you actually get a chance to sit down with them and you do start to understand the problem, it’s fascinating. I came from two different security startups prior to coming to Atlassian. There is some fascinating stuff. When you talk about the hackers and what they’re doing and how that impacts things. When you actually drop down a layer and you get somebody to explain it to you from a technical perspective, it’s fascinating. I think you have to not just assume like, ‘Oh, okay. I need to sell you this product.’ No. What are the problems that you’re actually trying to solve and where can I find some experiences?”

16:00 – Seek out potential stories

Curiosity is integral to creating original content as a curious marketer will find stories hidden in other conversations, communities, and organizations.

“Prior to COVID and the prevalence of hybrid work or work from home, working in an office, I would just eavesdrop and just sit and listen to the conversations that were happening. Again, when you approach it with this mindset of everything that is happening around me has potential to be a story, so I’m just going to listen. So, I would just listen. I remember, again talking about the perimeter security company, one of our founders at the town hall started talking all about TLS one dot three, and he lit up. And I’m like, ‘I have no idea what this is, but this guy, this is the most excited I’ve seen him in a long time.’ So I was like, ‘All right, if he’s this excited about it, it’s a big deal.’ And so, even just listening, where do the voices get raised in the office? What are people getting heated about? When you walk by a conference room, what whiteboard is full of stuff? Who made that stuff? Who did the doodles on the whiteboard? So obviously, in a remote environment, now you have to go seek that out. Now you have to say, ‘Hey, I’m Ashley. I’m going to sit in on the engineering town hall or the IT town hall. Oh, I’m going to go grab some time with some of these leaders to understand.’ Who are the comms, or the marketing people or the project managers in those other organizations and saying, ‘What are you working on?’ Going and saying, ‘How can I find out about that?’”

26:18 – Understand how content marketing fits into the bigger picture

Content marketing is one smaller part of overall marketing efforts, and knowing how that work aligns with other initiatives helps content be even more effective.

“For me, moving into more of the content marketing space, the thought leadership space, and the intersection that that has now in my current role with product marketing, it’s always been getting closer to the humans behind the screen. That’s where, for me, I would not necessarily call myself a content marketer, even though a lot of the deliverables and a lot of the things I’m measured on align with what that looks like today. I tend to have a much broader mindset around how to distribute it, how to do research, where it intersects with the other disciplines within marketing. I would consider myself more of an integrated marketer who happens to have some depth. If you’re familiar with the T-shaped professional, I would probably say, yes, I’ve started to build that T shape in the content space and social media content, but I like to go across and make sure I don’t get too far away from email or product marketing or even inbound. I’ve obviously changed my mindset a lot over the last decade or so on how that should work. I tend to be ‘team ungate everything’ and let people raise their hands when they’re ready to buy. I ended up in this career just because it was the mix of skills and being as close to the humans behind the screen as possible. This tends to be a great way for me to do that.”

29:20 – View marketing as relationship-building

Marketers who build strategic partnerships with their customers build relationships that go beyond a simple purchase and can span years, companies, and entire careers.

“Coming from a SaaS perspective these days, I have to keep winning and re-winning the hearts and minds of my audience. The mindset shifts that I’ve had as well, going from ungated, I used to think I won. I sold you a thing. I won. Haha. I have closed the deal. And now I understand, actually that’s just the first start of the relationship and there’s so many different ways to get value besides the linear journey that ends in a purchase. It’s not ending. It’s an ongoing relationship. Careers are long. People go to different companies. Do they bring you with them or do they not? We need to hire people. Are you hiring customers, getting referrals from those people? We create strategic partnerships so that we can expand into new markets. Do you have a good reputation with these people that you’ve browbeaten into buying something? Probably not. I think that’s been the biggest shift for me is that I no longer think that my goal is to convince someone to buy something and then I did my job. It goes beyond that.”

38:41 – Reframe the old buyer’s journey

The traditional funnel content marketers follow isn’t as relevant when customers no longer follow a linear journey with brands.

“The content playground is really focused on the buyer’s journey. I would say it’s not even a buyer’s journey. It’s an audience journey. In the past, you had this linear journey where you said you go from awareness to consideration to purchase and you win. You’re done once you’ve purchased. And then, especially as subscription services became a thing, ‘Oh, well, we need to sell them something else.’ Somehow they get dropped back into awareness, but they already have experience with you as a brand and as a customer. In some cases, the way that you’re expanding is to just add more people to the same product or getting them to renew. Why would you put them all the way back in the awareness space for a renewal? That’s a different mindset. So, if it doesn’t work in perpetuity and the goal, you don’t basically end with, ‘they bought something.’ Okay. What does it look like?”

40:43 – Build a content marketing playground

As customers interact with brands at different stages, you can reach them at every touchpoint through content that delights, engages, empowers, and entertains your target audience, like a playground full of content.

“When you start to realize that the way we’ve been thinking about this, it just doesn’t work. So what does work? That’s why I started thinking about the playground as this mindset of seamless handoffs. Again, playground designers are smart. They can entertain children for hours, for days. What if I, as a marketer, can delight and engage and empower and entertain my audience so much that they just stay with me for hours and days, and I’ve been so smart about this journey that they can go in any order. They can come in at the very top, or they could come in at the very bottom. They can get educated about problems. They can get educated about solutions. They can buy solutions. They can use solutions. They can become a brand champion for solutions. When I start thinking about it as an endless journey with seamless hands, and building that relationship and having multiple value-added outcomes, both from a business perspective and an audience perspective, it really opens up your mindset … If I, as a marketer, can replicate that level of intelligent design in my audience journeys, that’s really how I win.”

44:03 – Reimagine the content marketing funnel

Separating content by the depth of the material rather than the stage of the sales funnel lets your audience interact with various pieces of content in any order.

“When I talk about being a fitness fiend and how that impacts my work, my go-to example for this is, ‘What does it mean to be healthy and fit? Most people would agree it’s some combination of diet and exercise, but the details of that are going to be very different if your Runner’s World versus Yoga Journal versus Muscle and Fitness Magazine. When you start to think of it that way to say, ‘Okay, I really like bodybuilding workouts.’ So if your Muscle and Fitness Magazine, at a conceptual level, you’re going to say it’s a high protein diet and big, strong muscles. At the strategic level, these are all your processes and your frameworks. You might talk about different types of proteins, fast-digesting versus slow-digesting and the benefits. And you might talk about the value of compound lifts or having good form. And then at the tactical level, this is your nitty-gritty. This is the stuff you’re doing every day. You would say five recipes for chicken dinner or 10 tips to build bigger biceps. You’ll notice that no matter where you land, it makes sense to go somewhere else. So, if you land on 10 tips to build bigger biceps, and there’s a paragraph in there that says, ‘make sure you’re getting your protein.’ And you’re like, ‘Well, I don’t, why do I need to have protein?’ Well, you can pop all the way back up to the conceptual level to understand why protein is important to building big, strong muscles.”

46:01 – Create content for the whole playground

When you view content as a larger landscape where every piece can be the customer’s first touchpoint, you can create a more inviting, customizable experience that meets every reader where they’re at.

“Obviously, for more complex topics, I deal in agile and dev ops. There’s a ton of practices. There’s a ton of tools. There’s a ton of team cultures. There’s a ton of team mindsets that have to shift. That gives me content at all sorts of different depths with the opportunity to do learn intent journeys and buy intent journeys. That way, I’ve built it in a way that no matter where you come in, you may think, ‘Oh, I need to buy this one dev ops tool.’ Okay. Well, why do you need that tool? Let me tell you about these metrics that the tool provides, which then ladder up to these core competencies within dev ops. So, you start to see how that kind of ladders in from a planning and a measurement perspective to understand not just, ‘Are we ranking? How much organic traffic is coming in?’ Or, ‘How many people are signing up directly from this one page?’ It’s a much bigger conversation than that.”

Join us for Office Hours on May 18th. Karl Hughes started to help companies create authentic technical content that resonates with software developers. 

Karl will show you exactly how to replicate his process on:

  • Finding and recruiting subject matter experts and technical writers
  • Developing engineers within your organization to become writers
  • Motivating and managing creators
  • Paying contributors and the tax/legal implications 


Karl Hughes Office Hours
Karissa Barcelo

Karissa Barcelo

Karissa is a Content Growth Marketer at Omniscient Digital. She enjoys producing and repurposing content with a killer marketing strategy behind it. She has a diverse background in video production, content strategy, and writing B2B blogs and customer success stories. Karissa has a passion for storytelling and turning complex ideas into relatable material. She lives in Las Vegas with her fiance, Sam.