Steal This Strategy: How to Write Like Animalz

This is the Animalz content marketing strategy. Take it.

We’ve been working on a guide to writing Animalz-style content with a view to helping our team contribute to the blog. Then we thought: why not share this more widely?

If you’re curious about why we’d give away our secret sauce, it’s because there is no secret: spend ten minutes reading our blog, and these principles should be apparent. And even if every company in the world adopted these principles, we’d be okay with it — the internet would be a more interesting, helpful place.

The Problem Statement

There are a few constraints that have shaped the Animalz blog.

First and foremost, we’re a B2B content marketing agency. We sell to a relatively small market of very smart people — founders, CMOs, heads of content — and most of our deals have a relatively high average contract value.

We don’t need a huge volume of traffic to grow the business — as long as it’s the right traffic. The primary goal of the blog is not to create mountains of pageviews: it’s to reach a small, select audience and convince them that we know our stuff.

  • Solution: Share credible, smart stuff; don’t sweat traffic.

Secondly, our industry — content marketing — is hyper-saturated with content marketing. There is a huge amount of noise and increasing competition for every keyword. Many of those keywords have the potential to generate vast volumes of traffic, but they often don’t serve the goal of getting our smart, savvy target audience to trust us (how many CMOs really google “best content marketing tools”?).

  • Solution: Write something radically different from other agencies; don’t focus solely on SEO.

Lastly, we sell content marketing, so our blog has to perform double duty: it needs to generate new business, and it needs to act as a showcase of what we can do. Every blog post we publish is basically an interactive product demo.

  • Solution: Write stuff that’s really, really good.

Add these together, and you end up with movement-first content, the Animalz strategy in a nutshell, coined and implemented by Jimmy Daly back in 2018. Let’s dig into what it means to implement those ideas in practice.

1. Share the Alpha

At the time of writing, Animalz is a team of ~130 people, and the vast majority are hands-on writers, strategists, and editors. We’ve worked with hundreds of companies and talked to hundreds more. We have a unique macro-level view of content marketing: the problems, processes, winning strategies, you name it.

This macro-view is Animalz alpha, our “edge” over the rest of the market. The goal of the blog is to share the things we’ve learned as a result of this privileged exposure — the information and perspectives that only Animalz can share. 

In practice, that means:

  • Solving hard problems for sales prospects and customers
  • Elevating the knowledge and expertise of our network
  • Sharing learnings from our data
  • Productizing Animalz knowledge and processes
  • Challenging misconceptions and faulty best practices

Every article should fall into one of these categories, and every article should establish us as uniquely knowledgeable in our area of expertise. And the inverse should hold true: we should never be armchair critics, passing judgment on topics that we don’t really have practical experience in.

2. Ignore the Boring Stuff

Whenever I edit submissions to the Animalz blog, I usually share the same piece of feedback over and over again: ignore anything that isn't very interesting. Let other people write the basic stuff.

Lots of content marketing strategies aim to be as “comprehensive” as possible, covering every conceivable keyword and laboriously explicating really basic information: definitions and simple processes.

But we recognize that we’re part of a mature ecosystem of content. We don’t cover basic topics like “on-page SEO” because other companies — like Moz — have done a good job covering it already. We have little alpha on these topics. Given the constraints of a lean marketing team, our energy is best focused elsewhere.

Instead, we focus on solving hard problems, exploring interesting edge cases, and distilling big ideas down into something hyper-specific: the small, concrete, interesting kernel at the heart of every topic. We still aim to be comprehensive within the scope of whatever we’re writing (our old friend MECE says hello) — we just don’t try to boil the ocean.

This hyper-specificity has additional benefits. Writing about a small, concrete “thing” makes it easier to find interesting angles (it’s the difference between “how to be persuasive” and “how to use the thesis, antithesis, synthesis model”); it lends itself to the creation of memorable titles and coined concepts, and it allows us to distill each article down to an illustrative graphic.

This point is closely related to our aversion to writing solely for SEO. As Jimmy says, “Keyword research is the worst kind of creative constraint.” Lots of great articles will never be written if search volume is your sole measure of whether something is worthwhile.

3. Teach the Reader to Fish

When somebody has a problem, the easiest way to solve the problem is to walk through the precise solution — to share a tactic. But what happens if the problem crops up again? Or if the problem mutates into something slightly different?

Tactics are helpful and promise immediate payoff, but the Animalz blog is predicated on the idea that it’s better to seek out the principles that underlie successful tactics. Behind every useful tactic, there is a more useful lesson, framework, or principle to explore.

This is the difference between a list of content repurposing ideas — “turn it into a tweetstorm” or “record a podcast episode on the same topic” — and an article that explores the fundamental mechanics of successful distribution, tailoring each article to a single distribution channel. Instead of listing reasons that “ultimate guides” suck, we can explore the incentives that cause them to be created in the first place.

This approach solves problems and has the added benefit of making the reader smarter, preparing them for other possible future states — a gift that lingers long after the original problem is resolved.

Jimmy talks about this as “making implicit knowledge explicit.” If a customer came to us with a problem, we could solve the problem. But if we see a similar problem unfolding across many customers, we can look for the bigger, broader issue that underpins them all (there’s our alpha again) — and solve that.

4. Go to Bat for the Reader

This may sound like obvious, even inane advice, but it’s surprisingly easy for a content strategy to wander away from helping — really helping — the reader.

  • We can target keywords that have great volume but don’t relate to real-world problems.
  • We can write the things we want to write, not the things our readers want to read.
  • We can over-intellectualize problems and drift away from useful advice.
  • We can share contrarian opinions that make our readers feel stupid.

Every article should go to bat for the reader. It should tackle their hardest problems head-on. It should highlight their wins. It should make them better and smarter. It should reassure them, empathize with their challenges, and remind them that they’re not alone in this.

The best way to do this is to take a problem that seems so complicated, so tangled as to seem impossible, and deftly slice through it with a clear solution, something that renders the problem irrelevant or solves the challenge at a higher level (It’s okay for your content calendar to fall apart at this time of year). 

This is the ultimate bar that every Animalz article has to clear: does it really leave the reader richer for having read it?

Good Strategy is Simple

This strategy isn’t particularly magical — it’s a pragmatic solution to the constraints of marketing to smart people in a very crowded industry.

But crucially, these four principles have helped inoculate the blog against many of the current trends in marketing: more competition and more marginal results in SEO: greater expectations (and perhaps cynicism) from marketing-savvy readers: and the growing homogeneity of samey content marketing.

This is a strategy for a B2B marketing agency, but really, these principles will prove useful to any company looking to differentiate their content marketing. Share the things only you can share. Ignore the boring stuff. Teach the reader to fish. Go to bat for your reader, each and every time. Strategy shouldn’t be complicated.