“Everybody thinks he or she can be a writer,” he said with an airy irony.
“Don’t tell me it’s a crime to try,” she said.
“It’s a crime to think it’s easy,'” he said. “But if you're really serious, you'll find out quick enough that it's the hardest thing there is.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard: A Novel
Little known fact: Animalz is a content marketing agency that only started drinking its own Kool-Aid in 2018.
Since Animalz started in 2015, we’ve worked with companies like Google, Wistia, GoDaddy, Airtable and Amazon. We’ve built a team of the smartest writers, editors, marketers and strategists going. We’ve even launched our own software product.
But for the first three years of our existence, we didn’t execute a lick of content marketing on our own behalf. Animalz was a speakeasy brand: “If you’re in the know, you know us,” we used to say. We didn’t publish our own content, our Twitter account was barren, and our website consisted of a single landing page.
Today, as you may have noticed, we look a lot different.
For one, we started publishing our own content. We created a podcast. We developed software. We started applying content marketing to our own business, and slowly but surely, our outsides started to match our insides.
Slowly but surely, the speakeasy got a little crowded, so we’ve launched a new website, thanks to the designers and developers credited below, and we’re reaping the benefits of drinking our own Kool-Aid (it’s delicious). Yet as we reflect on the things that got us here, in our case, they are the very things that will also get us to the next place — and beyond that.
1. Quality Is Our First Commandment
“I think quality is really important. At the end of the day, that is the value content can add to the world. Oftentimes, that gets lost. Focus on the basics: Produce content that is useful and helpful for people.”
- Walter Chen, Animalz founder/CEO
Being a speakeasy brand, we depend on referrals in order to grow. If we didn’t have a great product—quality content marketing—we wouldn’t have positive word-of-mouth, and our business would have died before I had a chance to write this blog post.
By focusing on our product and customers first, we were able to learn and adapt quickly, building trust with early customers and slowly developing our methods.
As we reflected on the elements of high-quality content, we documented it to share with the team. In the early days, when the team was co-located, Paige Marie, our in-house researcher, recalls: “Walter was keen on the team eating together every day. We would sit around and discuss the articles he had sent us home to read the night before.”
Those reflections became the principles on which we built our company. They are the pillars that hold up our organization and enable us to maintain quality as we grow.
Has a storyline—not just a collection of facts and tips
Understand the conversation in the specific industry/audience
Delivers on its promise, or has measurable outcomes to help teams quickly adapt based on what happens
Takes a unique stance
Multi-faceted and well-formatted
Ideas are backed up with data and/or examples
Distribution is baked in
Draws readers in
Reasoned from the facts
Fits into a broader company strategy
Has a thesis statement
Written for a specific audience
Maintaining quality is a never-ending journey. As the industry evolves, so too will our principles—and practices—of high-quality content. We continue to hone our process, challenging our principles to ensure they are still relevant.
2. Partnerships Let Us Invest for the Long-Term
“One of the things we always found was that we had customer demand for what we were doing, so we were always able to add more customers and help more people and learn a lot.”
- Walter Chen, Animalz founder/CEO
Walter chose to grow Animalz in a slow, painful way because he realized that it was the only way to make an agency dedicated to high-quality content sustainable.
For years, referrals were our main growth engine, with new customers coming from a handful of Animalz evangelists (shout out to Chris Savage at Wistia, Patrick Campbell at ProfitWell and Ty Magnin at Appcues/UiPath). Those recommendations weren’t the result of muffin baskets or “thank you” emails: they happened because Walter created a perfectionist culture that was maniacally dedicated to, as he puts it, helping customers win.
And content wasn’t the only way Walter—and Animalz—invested in our customers. We leveraged our network to facilitate connections between our partner companies that have helped them grow. We use their products (Airtable, Wistia, Tettra, ProfitWell). Walter himself has invested in partner companies.
Ultimately, partnerships set the stage for better content quality. Trust affords us the time we need to experiment and execute; great marketing results are the product of months and years, not days and weeks.
3. Education Is Built into Our Operating Model
“From the beginning, the mentality of the company was learning: content, business concepts, SaaS. In the early days, Walter sent the book Made to Stick to every new hire before they started. He wanted them to learn as much as possible, then put it down in the form of good words for our customers.”
- Paige Marie, Head Researcher & first employee at Animalz
Hiring and training content marketers is insanely hard, but it’s also our competitive edge. In the early days, learning was rigorous, but in a less structured way. What made it work was that it came from the top, led by the CEO. He envisioned Animalz as a platform to explore curiosity through the act of creation.
In 2018, Walter hired a leadership team who shared his educational values. Building on what Walter created, we developed a way to scale a culture of learning by incorporating it into our company structure, from production to hiring.
Our main objective was to make a repeatable process for growing every member of the team. We’ve done this by:
Developing a rigorous production process
Documenting the (specific!) skills our content managers need to grow—and creating a process to get them there
Creating an editing department that builds quality assurance into every aspect of the production process
Holding learning sessions in weekly team meetings
Creating a library of materials about great writing in Tettra
By developing a repeatable process for producing top-notch writers and content marketers, we quickly saw teammates grow to their potential, pave the way for new roles, and lift the rest of the team up. The impact on our bottom line was almost immediate: we saw account expansion and an increase in referrals.
Outgrowing the “Speakeasy” Brand
"When I think about the work I've done at Animalz over the past four years, what I'm most proud of are the customers I've helped. I cared about helping them succeed and it's that mentality that makes us better than other agencies."
- Andrew Tate, Revive developer & second employee at Animalz
In our early years, growth was a byproduct of our obsessive fixation on quality. We spent our time experimenting, testing, analyzing, brewing up all manner of concoctions in our speakeasy. We were able to do that by taking a slow and steady approach to growth and maintaining a laser focus on our core commandment (quality).
Today, we’re doing things a little differently. For one, we’re drinking our own Kool-Aid (we prefer this to dog food). As we look ahead to the future of content marketing and the part Animalz plays, we’re going to be sharing more of our process and what we’re learning along the way.
Because content marketing is all about education and providing value, we can better serve the community we operate within by emerging from the alley and stepping onto the main stage.
This site was designed by Mark Johnson, founder of BudBud. Thank you for creative energy, attention to detail and tireless work.
This site was developed by the team at Codingscape. Thanks especially to Porter Haney and Tony Farnell.