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May 18, 2022

World-class Content Marketing w/ Devin Bramhall (Animalz)

We speak to Devin Bramhall, CEO of Animalz – behind companies like Wistia, Airtable, and Intercom – about what it takes to use content marketing as a lever for growth.

The host

Nima Gardideh

President of Pearmill, ex-Head of Product at Taplytics, ex-Head of Mobile at Frank & Oak. YC fellow.

Our guest(s)

Devin Bramhall

CEO, Animalz

About this episode

For a lot of founders, content marketing may mean having a blog, social media and maybe even email campaigns. What some forget or don’t know is that content marketing isn’t just about the picking the right content format for your business. It’s more about how you’re providing value to your existing and potential customers and constantly analyzing content performance to reach them.

On this episode, we chat w/ Devin Bramhall, CEO of Animalz (a best in class content marketing agency) about implementing a strong content marketing process is the key to drive performance. Plus learn how by focusing on creating quality content and being a people centered leader helped Devin grow Animalz at a cheetahs pace.

More highlight include:

  • What encompasses a content marketing program
  • What are the key factors in creating valuable content
  • How refreshing and optimizing existing content can drive growth
  • Stages to hire an agency and when to begin content marketing
  • Embracing yet forgoing process for teams to be less constrained and more creative

The Hypergrowth Experience

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Transcript

[00:00:00] [MUSIC FADES IN] 

It's this really delicate balance between knowing your product from like a pure, intuitive sense, what the right thing to do is, and then using data to support those things. 

[SWEEPING SOUND EFFECT]

If you're in a growth stage company, there's things happening all over the place. There's lots of distractions. You can get lost in your own world, rising above it. And putting yourself back in that customer seat is such a superpower. 

[SWEEPING SOUND EFFECT]

In the early stages and you might not want to hire someone dedicated to growth until you have some sort of repeatability demonstrated.

[SWEEPING SOUND EFFECT]

The industry is not staying static in terms of like, what do you need to make these decisions? And how can you grow?

[SWEEPING SOUND EFFECT]

I always like the Notion you're like a mad scientist are mixing in a beaker of like all your different variables. You want to keep some constraints. You want to keep some variables, let's say a little bit more of this and you want to see how it reacts. 

Hi, I'm Nima Gardideh and this is The Hypergrowth Experience. We explore how founders and marketers from hyper-growth companies solve their growth [00:01:00] marketing and organizational problems. 

As a co-founder of Pearmill the last three years have brought on a whole new set of challenges. From navigating the pandemic with a fully remote team, shifting startup landscape, to an invigorated labor market. Plus a whole lot more in between.

On this episode, I chat with Devin Bramhall, CEO of Animalz, a best-in-class content marketing agency where they built content marketing programs for SaaS startups, and VCs. We talk a lot about our experiences as founders and marketers during the last couple of years. She also uncovers how focusing on creating quality content, being a people centered leader and implementing a strong content marketing process has helped grow Animalz at a cheetah's pace. Sorry, I had to.

I learned so much about Devin and content marketing in this episode. Hope you learn a few things too. Let's get into it. 

I am the CEO of Animalz. We are a content marketing agency primarily serving the [00:02:00] B2B SaaS industry, we create content strategy and then execute onsets said strategy to help customers achieve their goals through content. Usually CMOs got whatever their ultimate goal is. There's content marketing as a tool in their kit that can help impact that. So that's really what we focus on. That could be long form blog, content, emails, social, whatever it takes to execute on that strategy. 

We've all in house staff, writers, editors, strategists, copy editors. Everyone's sort of trained in the animal's way, rose through our development levels, geared towards writing and strategy and customer management so that we can guarantee, that there's the process, right? There's the underlying process. And that's how we can guarantee quality. 

We've worked with customers like Notion and Wistia and Intercom and Google. So the company size runs the gamut to [00:03:00] the brands you know to early stage companies were just getting off the ground. 

And I really got here from my love of writing. I guess even before I could spell, I was writing voraciously and diaries and don't worry, this is not going to be a complete history of Devin. And it's just, my name literally means poet and Gaelic. So I really think that I was sort of born to lead a content agency, but my career actually began in a birth room in Bali. I was there taking a break from my career and doing some volunteering. And I was unbeknownst to me. I was there to run a program. And unbeknownst to me, the head midwife decided that I was also going to attend. And it was through attending the birth and actually helping deliver that baby that I got really inspired. 

I started, I wrote a story about it. And when I returned from that year and a half long trip, I started doing storytelling on stage [00:04:00] while I was working at a SaaS company doing customer support.

Transcript of the episode

And it was this parallel of like writing in my personal time for my blog and doing stand-up storytelling, doing customer support, and then starting to like do more marketing stuff, like product marketing stuff. And my customer support job as these two things kind of merged together. And I said, Hey, I really think I want to get into content marketing.

And luckily enough for me, I was able to pivot at that first company Springpad, rIP. They were awesome. And I mean, the rest is really history. I just moved up through my career, ended up at Animalz through actually we, when I worked at, I was director of content Help Scout prior to this, and we used Animalz while I was there, which is how I knew about.

When you say you were doing a storytelling, was this something like The Moth or what is the format of your sort of stand-up storytelling? 

It's exactly like the moth. I did it through [00:05:00] a local Boston organization. And you tell a true story about yourself on stage. You have a time limit and you are judged by a panel of judges from the audience that are decided at the beginning.

And whoever wins gets a gold star, like they make it a competition, basically. So it doesn't end up like an open mic night. And everyone's telling these long rambling stories, like giving these constraints actually make the quality of the product better, such that the audience has a good time and the artist gets to, you know, have their moment.

So this is like quite interesting. So you, how long were these when you were doing them? Like what's the format?

I think it was five minutes per story. And there were about 10, 8 or 10 storytellers, or, and then you can go to the final. So if you win one, you go to the semi-finals and then there's like a final where you go in front of 400 people and actually got to the finals.

My first season on that birth story, [00:06:00] that's when I changed my title to storyteller. This was before storytelling was about spark. Yes. So like it wasn't, no one knew what a storyteller was back then. And it was my way of sort of pivoting from support to content marketing, even before I had the content marketing experience or title.

And so what did you, so five minutes is actually pretty short timeframe for a story. So you're telling the same story over and over again, and I'm assuming you were refining it as you were going through this thing. Like what did you end up learning that you've carried with you and that experience, and also are you continuing to do that type of stuff? Cause that's really cool!

I am not doing it currently going backwards. Largely because it's tough to find. I actually went, when I moved to New York, I thought there'd be tons of them, but I couldn't find the one I found, I went to the bar the night, it was supposed to be there and they were like, oh yeah, that's old. We haven't done that in years. [Laughs]

Oh wow. 

I'm not doing it anymore. Also the pandemic obviously, but I've always wanted to restart it. I actually created my own SaaS event, like SaaS related event called The Master Slam, where I combined a [00:07:00] storytelling event with more of a lecture, like all the networking events, you have like a person speaking or a panel or whatever.

And I put those two together and made the competition. It was like a debate, a storytelling style debate. My dream is to restart that because it was such a blast. But the thing I learned from storytelling is the value of creative constraints. So the more constraints you have on your time. What you do, uh, the better the product and just, yes, that part, that the value of refining. We talk about content marketing, refreshing content, and there's a very practical value, practical value to that, that goes beyond just the quality of the piece that also can improve the performance of a piece. And so I would say that's those two things are very much translated from storytelling into my content marketing. 

Yeah. And that's like such an interesting thing cause I in programming and it's like the only sort of I'm a writer, but not so much around marketing as much as I have been programming for [00:08:00] 15 years or so. And we have this, there's this rule around threes. The third time you do something is when you start abstracting it and you learn that you can do it better. And it just makes so much sense where I write these like weekly things to my whole team right now. And I write it once and I read it out loud.

Which makes me right at the second time. And it's always much better because when you read it out loud, you realize how bad it is and it's quite helpful. So it must've been so interesting to like write this thing and then go tell it. Cause it's the telling part, I assume you're not reading off of a script at that point. Yeah. 

No notes. 

So you're really embodying the story. So it must've been super effective. And if you got up the ladder of winning that thing too, so that, that's a very, very interesting start. And like also I feel is the most interesting way to get into a new field. Like I think you hear that, oh, you know, I went and got an MBA in order to like swap fields or I like fell into this thing because someone called me, it sounds like a much more intentional way of realizing that this is [00:09:00] something you love and you want to be really good at.

And then, so your path was, you were doing customer success, then you want it to be a storyteller. You became the Director of Content at Help Scout. 

I had a few jobs in between. I did. Okay so I'm a CEO with no MBA. I was homeschooled as a child. I got a GED when I was 16. So I could go to Hawaii and go to college for a semester early.

Like then ended up going to university of like a semester late, but then graduated early. I don't come from a family of both my parents. Do you remember if both of them quit college before they finished, but it's just a very non-traditional CEO background, but our chairman Walter Chen, who founded Animalz, he's a lawyer turned software engineer who founded a content marketing company after founding a software company.

He really believes that [00:10:00] content marketing is a pathway to basically any career you want because of it's focused on writing and writing is thinking and synthesizing and analyzing. That's just a really powerful skill. That could lead you in almost any direction you want. And I guess I'm living proof of that theory.

Yeah. I like this a lot because I find that at least for us, we have a remote company and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too, but it turns out that leadership is about good writing now. For me, at least. Like a lot of what we talk about is how do we form a very strong, written culture on how we do our work, how we read our processes, how easy it is for people to consume the content, how fast is it for them to consume it and the different formats so we can create it.

So it's not just writing. It's also like we have an internal podcast now and we have Looms and all this sort of stuff that like you walk in and you're like, get to know the people in all these different formats. And I think it's a huge one and I feel like it's highly [00:11:00] under represented in leadership or like, it's just not conversed about that much. Teaching founders you should be good writers. That's really what you should be doing when working on. 

And I'm super grateful. I've been like writing for, since I was like 16, I had a diary like, like yourself and then I had a blog and I then had a out of work blog, work-related blog. And then now I've been writing every week for three years where my whole company, and then sometimes they're like four or five pages long. Sometimes they're like one page long. I write like essays about management and stuff. So it's a quite interesting tool to communicate. 

And so I guess, walk me through, you were storytelling about an experience you had and then you had to do that for companies. So what did that shift feel like? And it sounds like Help Scout was the first one where you did a lot of that work. So I'd love to hear about that experience and what you guys achieved. 

My, my experience really started at Springpad [00:12:00] because that was where I made the transition from support to content marketing. And that was a relatively organic shift because we were a software tool. And so all the support I did was virtual through writing, writing emails or through social, et cetera. So I got good experience relating to our users in written form, through conversation and understanding our users really deeply. 

So then it was sort of a natural transition when we were writing announcements for new products and such. I was able to do it in a, like the storytelling side of my brain could make an announcement more fun. Writing was more narrative style, but then the support side of me could get down to brass tacks where necessary in the post. So I was really honestly a glorified product marketer there. Before I got into more of the content marketing side back then it was social promotion, email and such that's back when, like [00:13:00] you were still looking at engagement on organic engagement on social, like kind of dating myself a little bit.

And then it would, by the time I got to Help Scout, I was a leading a content team. And so I was really focused more on strategy. And I have to say what was very interesting for me. And this we'll probably talk about this later. About what, how did you deploy content marketing at different companies, stages and sizes?

Help Scout was, had been around for several years. They hired, he had a robust content marketing program. Their blog already had hundreds of posts on it, many of them, right? Well for high volume keywords that are, and what my task was to increase traffic by 120k unique visitors per month. And I had to do it in a relatively short period of time.

I think it was a couple, was six months. And I have to say, I, because it had so much content already, I just refreshed a bunch of blog posts, right? Like something as simple, like my [00:14:00] strategy that like, I hit that goal and I got a lot of credit for it. And we did create new pieces of content during that time.

And they were very creative and cool. And well-written the thing that moved the needle were not those blog posts. It was refreshing and optimizing old blog posts for unintended keywords. Maybe they fall in the rankings a little bit. So they're getting less traffic. So maybe the content was outdated.

Maybe the meta info wasn't thoughtful or accurate, or we just made updates. And that really is what moves the needle like that whole, I could go into detail about all the things I did and really it was refreshed. 

Yeah. So it's interesting. So I'm going to come at this because I just don't know enough about the space, which is why you're here. I'm trying to learn from you. And so would you say, like if I were to generalize, what you mentioned, there is like two paths to this thing. There is one you got to go after new keywords and you're writing content for them and trying to capture some of the traffic. 

[00:15:00] But then if you've started there, then it's almost like competing with the other people on the keywords that you've already attempted to compete on and trying to continue capturing more from the same pieces of content by becoming a little bit more nuanced, refreshing them. So there is like updated information and optimizing the words. So then they match the keywords that you're trying to capture better. 

It sounds like super familiar because that's kind of what you do on search as well. Like when you're doing paid search where you're trying to like go after new keywords and you capture some of the traffic, but then the competitors come into it. So then you start competing a little bit harder by iterating a lot. And so it sounds like a very similar process. 

And so do you have, and maybe you can go into your process a little bit. Do you have explicit keywords for each post you're creating, like you're saying, I want to capture some of this keyword or these two sets of keywords for this piece, or are you writing with the thing with the sort of philosophy of I'm trying to be helpful to the potential [00:16:00] customer and then seeing what keywords get picked up for that piece and then optimizing towards capturing more of those? What is the process there? 

It's all of the above and a slightly different configuration. I agree. Content marketing mirrors paid search. Certain tools in the content marketing toolbox mirror paid search, which is organic start writing for organic search. And if you are writing for search, you are choosing keywords that you believe your readers are using to find answers to their questions.

If you were doing content marketing, what I believe is correctly, you are always helping your reader. Every article, whether you're targeting a keyword or not has to be helpful too. So you don't bother writing for a keyword if it's not going to [00:17:00] actually help your reader, because Google isn't just measuring based on whether or not you used a keyword or not.

They have a whole bunch of factors to their ranking algorithm and among them is engagement on a post. So if you write a fundamentally, if you write a post on a keyword. And you deploy the keyword and all the ways you're supposed to, but the content itself, isn't good. Your readers are going to go to that page. They're going to bounce and that's going to count against you if it happens in high volumes. 

So to do it correctly, you want to be writing for a keyword, understanding your reader enough, to know what their search like, what their search intent is, what the question they're asking when they're searching, using those keywords and writing comprehensively and helpfully on whatever their intent might be. And that is a very successful execution of one part, one facet or one tool in the content marketing toolbox. [00:18:00] 

Gotcha. Yeah, I think that, that makes a lot of sense. And I think it's similar to how, even the way we think about ad creation, unlike let's say Facebook, it's very clear that they use equality of the ad in terms of the value for the customer. And if they click on it, end up staying where they clicked on, and if they keep coming back to Facebook, in fact, we know those are all inputs to the ML models that they have, or even pricing the ads for you. 

So it would make sense that Google's algorithms doing similar things. I understand it's always been under fire and that content marketers have always continued to find ways around trying to be actually helpful and finding it, but probably a long-term strategies to be extremely helpful to the user. And that's how you end up continuing to not be penalized. 

And that's what good content marketers embrace like a good, I would say the content marketers who are trying to get around. Anything that is nonsensical. Like if they're not content marketers, there are different type of marketer. I think good, like the best content [00:19:00] marketers embrace those constraints and they get really creative about them. But the core tenant of each of their creativity is to provide value to their reader and be helpful. 

Like content marketing is fundamentally the practice of growing your business through helping your customers. That is it. You're helping your customers do your job better through your product and your content. The way I see it is you're building some like a SaaS product and you're serving a say, HubSpot, it's an easy example. You've built HubSpot. And in the early days of HubSpot, you were serving marketers largely right now, it's sales and support and all of the above.

But say for sake of this example, you're serving market. And you're serving marketers of a certain level. So your product helps them execute their day-to-day job. But in that execution, you need guidance and advice and strategies and ideas, right? And their blog is that library [00:20:00] that supports the product. I mean, I learned content marketing through HubSpot in the early days and like customer IO and God, I'm going to, Buffer and Sprout Social, all these blogs.

Like they taught me how to do my job. And in the meantime, I use their tools to execute those that right. And that is like content marketing, working. It's perfect. It's beautiful. You're like, you're helping me do my job better. Your tools, your content is telling me, do my job better. Your tools, helping me execute my job. And I feel like a winner because you are a part of my life. 

I advise some companies and growth and they were saying, oh, like maybe we should do SEO. And I, first of all, when someone comes and tells me they should do SEO immediately, like flags go off in my head. Because if you're calling an SEO, you're probably thinking like that the first version of the marketer, you mentioned who like trying to just get around these algorithms and just get some traffic for a short term sort of thing.

And at the way I talk about it with them is, Hey, are you willing to build a publication? That's kind of what you need to do, right? And if you're not willing [00:21:00] to build the publication, then maybe you shouldn't do this. You should do other channels that make sense for your personality type and your product type and what fits better as a channel.

It also depends on the stage of your company or how, what you growth trajectory is. If you've just taken on a round of funding and the expectations are on you, or like you've got to grow X amount in a quarter, content marketing may not be for you. Content marketing is a long as a longer term play. And it's not a super long term, but like what I advise for companies, especially at the early stages, as they're like building their blog from scratch.

You should do paid search and whatever, like you should engage in performance marketing at the same time, because that's kind of your shot in the arm while you build this foundation. And that foundation should include search. And it's not just search like there's SEO foundations on your site, right? Like how you build your site, the architecture, all of that. That's actually very important at the early stages of your site, because you're basically setting it up to be successful in search, the bone structure. [00:22:00] 

And then the blog obviously like use a folder, not a sub domain kind of stuff. Like there's sort of those fundamentals. And then yes, you should have a keyword strategy at the beginning because what that is your posts written for search are your like ongoing baseline of recurring organic traffic. That is maintained over time. Plus the occasional refresh to make sure it continues, right? Whereas like pay to something, it's a something you constantly have to put money into to keep it going. Right.

Yeah.

The idea behind the content is it's your ongoing source of traffic, and it's a way for you to build your brand credibility. It demonstrates your knowledge. It elevates you as an expert. And so through helping other people. That's something that I've always really admired, Help Scout for and why I loved working there is they really understood the value of grant and they understood that investing in content was how part of their growth, a very important [00:23:00] cog in the growth wheel. It's a little bit less, it's harder to measure.

But I think it's very important for folks who are building companies that they want to like sustain over time. If you're building a company and poising it for acquisition, I would tell a different story potentially.

I guess walk me through. So there's two things that are one is, you mentioned maybe it's not the right time. If you're early stage, what is it? So there is like foundational things that seems like you should be doing in the beginning so then you can set yourself up so when it is time, you can start producing in a more like systemic way, but when should they start really investing in it? And what does that really mean? Let's say I'm company X. I just raised a series a, is that the time for me to hire someone full-time to write content or go after an agency like yours? Is it earlier than that? 

I guess walk me through how you advise founders when they come to you and say, Hey, we're thinking about producing content, doing content marketing. 

[00:24:00] Gosh, that is a, that is one big it dependence question. There is not a, I don't have a specific blanket answer to that, but I will say that. A really good time to invest heavily, to really double down on your investment and content is like, once you have product market fit, you know where you're going, you've picked your path and you're ready to blaze ahead. That's really the best time because that's when you will be able to adequately identify what keywords for example would work for you, who your reader is, what challenges they have that you can address.

If you don't know what your product is for, or which direction your product is supposed to go in, you're not going to be able to answer those questions. And so you run the risk of writing content that like even do you run the risk of wasting time ultimately. And so I think for the person ready to make an investment, you got to have product market fit. You've got to know where you're [00:25:00] going. 

Like when that happens, depends. Right. But I would say like, yes, around series a kind of makes sense. The other thing is there's, but there's like a ton of nuance to that. Like so much nuance that it's almost correct and incorrect simultaneously, because you may need content to fundraise. You may need content to help you determine product market fit. I don't know like what you use content for really depends. And so, if we're talking about though, like when you're ready to go full on, I would say you kind of have to know who you're with the practice form, what it is in order to go full steam ahead.

Yeah, this is, I relate to this a lot because we've been around for three years and I would say the first year we were willing to work with companies that were in the, Hey, we think we have something going on in terms of product market fit, but we're not there yet. And it just turns out to be true for paid too.

It's just, you should not be pulling gasoline on the fire. If you don't really have the fuel in there yet, [00:26:00] or the logs in there yet. So it's a, it's an interesting problem where you can just do it and then you'll just have a leaky bucket and maybe you capture some traffic and people will come through.

You can also learn from those experiments too, especially when it comes to paid search, I think you get data faster. So it can be a way to experiment, which I find valuable. Another thing to think about early stage content has early stage content might not be about the product. You may need to deploy early stage content to attract teams, right?

You're like, okay, we got some money and now we need to get people over here. Like contents a great way to do employer branding. Content is a great way to begin building the brand by having founders do thought leadership and talk about their philosophy. And it's also important to remember that content marketing isn't just a blog content marketing is email copy, it is social media content and strategy, it's [00:27:00] video, it's podcasts. Like there's all these different things. And so, if you're an early stage company and maybe you're still in that, like figuring out the product is, but you need some team that you're like, okay, we are going to focus on building the brand around our founder philosophy.

And so we're going to be thought leadership, but our founder has a huge following on Twitter, for example. So he's just going to do a ton of like long form, like Twitter threads or whatever on LinkedIn and write these long posts. Or he already has a newsletter. He's going to start a newsletter, go over the water's sort of flowing down river.

So those can be really effective, even if they're not, long-term a part of your core strategy, right? Like you were telling me offline, you do all this writing about management philosophy and all that, like lots of stuff that can be great external things to start posting if you're early on and you've got to build a team of engineers and we know that engineering choose companies, not necessarily based on brand, but based on the problem to solve, the culture or, the founder that's [00:28:00] content too. That's content strategy. It's just not that like growth stage product marketing strategy. It's more like getting off the ground. A kickstart guide. 

Yeah. And that's like an interesting thing where it's a combination ofrecruiting tool plus customer acquisition tool.

What do you think of these like open companies that are just building in public? And it feels like content marketing is kind of part of the culture where they write about everything they do and they expose, I think Buffer is a very good example, right. They even have their salaries up there and their formulas up there.

I've always been like very curious about those. There was some parts of it that give me that are questionable to me. Like the salary stuff seems an interesting thing to expose, but also removes privacy for people inside of your company, but everyone's bought into it if they're joining that company. So it's like a little bit of an interesting thing where you're self selecting people that are okay with that privacy, not existing. 

Whenever we've asked people versus cause I was a fan of it at first. [00:29:00] And then we went around and asked, asked our employees and people are not up for it as much as I thought they would be, because I was like, oh, we want to be extremely transparent. But people were interestingly one at some level of privacy. But what do you think of these companies? Do you feel like that's just like a path of growth at any can choose it and it can be part of culture. You think every company should move towards building in public? Yeah. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that one. 

Yes. So my mother used to recite a quote to me and I do not know who this is attributed to, but it was, "What you go after alludes you, what you become, you attract." And I think that a company like Buffer, who embraces transparency once they made that, once they embrace that, I actually don't know what maybe they were always this way or there was an inflection point in their leadership and their history of the company. I don't recall. 

But once you make that decision and you start to filter out the folks that don't believe in [00:30:00] that they'll self select out and you'll attract people who share that philosophy. And then you become this thing that you believe. And I think that's beautiful. As a consumer of Buffer content and just total fan girl of their brand. I have always been very inspired by their transparency and it is something I think particularly now is of, is valued more than ever, especially in a labor market, such as this. And businesses are sort of rightfully on their back foot right now. And I think that's correct. They're sort of forced to do things that they didn't prioritize, just take care of their people.

So I really love the transparency model. We did a lot. That was something I embraced at Help Scout as well. Like I was getting our engineers to write about how the sausage was made. I have a designer and talk about the history of our logo. Like I was really trying to surface that content. I think it's really interesting.

I think it is inspiring. Like reading a post about how a designer [00:31:00] comes up with our logo can inspire other types of creativity, regardless of whether or not you're a designer. I think people in general love a behind the scenes content. They want to peek behind the curtain. They want to see how the what's going on behind, like inside the brain of the brand, all the content that we did that just surfaced what was behind our product and our content performed very, very well.

However, I don't believe every company should do anything. There's no such thing as one way in anything period. And I think anyone trying to, one of the first pieces of advice that we give it's in a blog post row ages ago, it was like, don't try to copy another company and their content marketing program, just don't. Think freely, look at your company, your resources, your goals, your capabilities, [00:32:00] and come up with a plan, because guess what? That's going to stand out more than anything. 

I have a friend she's my dear friend. And yesterday she's been trying to update her LinkedIn profile. She's literally never updated. She's like former performer. She worked on the Disney cruise lines forever, and she's a dancer and a singer. And, she just had this various sort of like performance led career.

And now she works, she produces content for a health and wellness. And she had to update her LinkedIn profile and she said, okay, I did this stuff. Do you have any feedback? And I said, yeah, recommended taking some stuff out. And she said, but can I keep the team cheerleader? That's just who I am. That's me. I said, keep that! It has nothing to do with what works on LinkedIn. It has nothing to do with any professional strategy whatsoever, except it makes you unique human being. Every company launching any type of growth strategy. And certainly content [00:33:00] marketing program needs to find their unique angle.

And that's why Buffer doing it was really special. And anyone doing it after it's kind of like, okay, because they're the follow-ons. Nobody remembers all the, can you name another company that does transparency the way they do. I can't. Because Buffer was first, as far as I know, and then they become the most well-known.

So it's like, you've got to find your own unique thing, even if you're using the tools that everyone else, or even if you're doing a podcast, like everyone else video, like everybody else, blog posts, like if your boss do those blog posts differently, put your own team cheerleader, title your title on it. I think, yes. I think transparency is a beautiful thing to do. I love when companies do it, but I think that no, not everyone should do it. Everyone should do their own thing. 

Yeah. And that resonates a lot. I mean, the way I've been thinking about this as almost like partially the founders, but really the brand actualizing and the [00:34:00] way that it's meant to actualize.

And there is, and I'm sure you're familiar with this. I bring this up on almost every episode now on here, this sort of data out there that says that almost every company has one or two channels that cover 60, 70% of the acquisition mix. And my sort of take on it is that I've had people push back and say that they just disagree. That needs to happen. But I think the reason it happens is this, or what you just talked about. 

There is like just parts of your product or your people or your founders or your brand that just stand out more. They make more sense because they're the parts of you that are unique and, or the parts of your product that just fit well into a channel in a way that no one else can compete with.

And so it makes, yeah, it just makes so much sense to me that this happens. Although I had someone here last a couple of weeks ago from the Head of Growth at Deel who [00:35:00] disagreed that needs to happen and it's just marketers getting lazy, but it's an interesting take. And I think there's some truth to that too, but there is also parts of it that makes sense in the way that you just described it in that you're just exposing the most unique parts of yourself and that's why it works.

It's a reason .I agree. Like I sort of agree with both of you and myself. It's like, there isn't one thing. So sometimes the reason why you may get the majority of your acquisition through a couple of channels, it could be just who your customer base is. And maybe it just so happens that you make a tool that targets a certain group of people that are always like, especially when you're thinking about engineers, right.

Engineers are what they're mostly passive consumers on Twitter and in Reddit all the time. And Hacker News, like wherever they're like offline to my offline communities, like Discords and such. So it would make sense that that's the way they are. That's where you're going [00:36:00] to get theoretically that's where we get most of your acquisition from.

And so wo your customer makes a difference and how much money you have to invest, if you have tons of money to invest in performance marketing, like you could probably make that a leading channel for awhile. Most of the reason why people come to us and want to build a content marketing program is they're sick of paying for every, every yeah.

So it's like, so yeah, it's a complicated, like there isn't one reason, like all of those reasons apply and it depends on what kind of company you are and what your resources are, who your customer is. 

Yeah. I think there was like an aspect of it where you start somewhere and let's say you do some paid search and it works a little bit. And you're like, oh, I want to optimize that more. So you build stuff into your product that makes it so that you're better at. And they just keep going down route. And then you ended up with a Booking.com that spends a billion dollars, right on paid search. Where if you were a TripAdvisor and you had got some good SEO traffic at first, and you're like, oh, well maybe I should pick that part of my product better for awhile.

[00:37:00] And you do that. And then you just continue winning on long tail search because you spend more time optimizing those flows. I there's like a lot of it that happens. I think organically without people recognizing is not what they're doing as they're experimenting. And one thing works and they just called the path. 

That if I were to say, there's like one formula there, if you had to like nail me down on one thing, I'm like analysis. The beef that I have with people trying to identify a silver bullet is that it's overly simplistic and it misses the point. It might cause you to throw away some like a strategy or a tactic. Prematurely because you don't get the top level results that you're like, okay, well, I'm going to invest in paid search and oh, I didn't see what I wanted so I'm out there doingmore paid search stuff more. Incorrect. Or possibly incorrect, right? You might need to [00:38:00] optimize it further. Like you have to analyze what happened, why it didn't perform the way you thought it did or at all. And keep going on that experiment a little longer before you make the determination.

And I think that goes for other tactics you might try for content marketing because you can't just decide after one blog post that blogging doesn't work or one social, like all of this stuff takes time and investment and continued analysis. Really evaluate even the stuff that works. Why did that work? What did we do? Was it the channel? Was it the topic? Was it the format? Whatever it was analyzing is what's going to help you. Continue to perform whatever your strategy is, it will help it maintain performance. You'll find more creative tactics that way. 

And I think that is to me, if you want the one ring for any of your marketing stuff is like, yeah, [00:39:00] just analyze it deeply. Keep going, like experiment, measure, analyze, experiment, measure, and analyze. It's an execution. 

This is like such a classic, right. Everyone, I think talks about it and what I've found it to be hard is doing it in practice. So I'd love to hear, what do you guys have a process? Are you like a super strict process driven company when you're producing this stuff?

And how do you keep people accountable on following the process and also like, how do you describe this to your clients? Because part of this is like, I'm sure to clients come and they want. And they don't see it in the first week or the first month or the first three months, because you're going through this experimentation process until you discover it.

So walk me through first. I think what I care more about, cause like I have the other conversations on the other side of just teaching founders of companies, how to think this way as well. But what I'm very curious about is how you all run the experimentation process internally and how you built that [00:40:00] culture over the years. 

Imperfectly and inconsistently, which I think is to be expected of a small growing company. So if you would ask to me last year, and I think somebody definitely did on a podcast, probably multiple people. And I said with complete certainty, that process is everything. It is how I grew the company over the past two years through a global pandemic, rocky market, like just complete insanity all over the world.

And I do believe that process matters. So because that is how you guarantee sort of this cyclical is consistency. It's like execute, measure, analyze, rinse, repeat, you need that sort of to ensure that you stay a course long enough to have anything to add, like to have enough data to measure and analyze.

And I think that's what [00:41:00] process is good for is it is like a manufacturing. Supply chain thing in a factory. I don't know why I use metaphors. I can't follow through on. Just use the thing that I know instead of trying to pretend like I know anything about manufacturing and this was a car engine recently, it went poorly. I don't know anything about current engines as it turns out. 

But you understand the concept of like a factory is set up to repeatedly produce the same thing over and over. That is the value of process. And especially in the beginning or any type of flection point, having a, sort of a consistent baseline to produce data that you could analyze and refine off of is really important.

This year I was waiting for the, but I do believe that you can, over-index on process to the point of holding your department to whatever marketing program back because [00:42:00] it blocks you from going rogue or experimenting with those wild cards that could completely fail, but that are also, regardless of whether they succeed or fail, it can be very informative and can be beneficial and in their own way.

And so this year, and I think that at Animalz specifically, I believed so strongly in the importance of creating process, around producing quality content that I think in a way we reversed ourselves and that, especially in creative work, you can't create a process that guarantees an outcome every time. And you shouldn't because you need to be able to go rogue sometimes. 

So one example is when I worked with Jared, who is one of the founders of Help Scout, he was our Lead Designer. Like when we would work on a piece or an asset, our process was not the same every time. And we [00:43:00] didn't really have one.

The most of our process was I would put a general thing together, send it to him. And he would literally make me pull up a chair next to him. And we would go through it together and get it to its final place. And that was it. And I think as content marketing has become more, more measurable. There are more tools to measure the efficacy of the content you produce and its contribution to the bottom line. We've gotten mired in this like, oh, everything has to be attributable and oh, everything has to have an outcome direct outcome and blah, blah, blah. 

When like advertising, when you put a billboard up there, wasn't like an algorithm for eyeballs. It's an estimate, right? You're measuring market saturation pre and market saturation post. And you're like, I think it was that because we only did this one that, you know, whatever. And I think that that's like something I would really like to see more folks embrace now is content marketing is not performance marketing. Is not a one-to-one thing. And I think the more you're willing [00:44:00] to or go process, like have a baseline process and then have a process. Another thing layered on top of that is less constrained. 

I think that's where you're really going to see more people innovation. I don't like using that word, but being more creative. So like Wistia is a great example. Like they just constantly break the wheel. Wildbit, they made a comic this year, Wistia made a literal, like Wildbit they made a comic strip, Wistia made a, like a cartoon and yes, they're both from Boston, my home city, total love for them. They're doing great.

They're not sitting when I talked to Justine Jordan, who is the one who facilitated the comic strip for Wildbit. But like she wasn't talking about, well, it drove this many leads and you know, we got this many new customers from it, right? It's like, she was willing to think outside the box in terms of efficacy and outcome.

And I think that's really what... 

It's also like that level of commitment and investment probably doesn't fall into some like rhythmic [00:45:00] process. Writing X number of pieces per month or whatever it is. This is like an interesting thing, because in performance marketing, we get asked this a lot of like, what are, where are the like crazy ideas?

And we do the crazy ideas for awhile, just so we can show them that we're capable of it. And they realize it just doesn't work because it really doesn't in performance. 

It's not suppose to.

It's just a space in which it does. But in your content marketing world, it's almost like, yeah, the billboard is a very good example because you can tap into shared experience, which unfortunately has gone away from performance advertising and shared experiences when two people look at the same thing and talk about it later on. It's very rare where you have a conversation about Facebook ads at a party. 

[Laughs] It's true!

You're going to totally talk about the billboard ads or the subway ads or the comic strip that accompany for days straight. And so the shared experience piece is you have boundless creativity on. So it's such an interesting insight [00:46:00] where you're saying, yes, there is value in producing and like in this rhythmic process driven way, but doing these like crazy ideas you're tapping into this shared experience piece is super hard to measure, but the potential is far bigger than these, Hey, let's capture 10% more of the sets of keywords. 

This is problem with the SaaS industry, as it relates to marketing in general, it's like companies are constantly working against the clock and it's not until that they really have this, like they've decided what route they're going to go, that they can really say.

Cause doing creative work is somewhat of a luxury. The reason why wildly it does it they're privately owned they've I don't think they ever got funded. They're self funded, bootstrapped, whatever. And they've made a decision about growth for their company that's slow and steady, right? Like they don't have, they don't have these, like, you know, I'm not trying to go be the next unicorn. Remember, like they made it sort of life choices about how they were going to structure their company and therefore [00:47:00] growth, which means that they prioritize doing experiments every year. And so they have that as a luxury. 

Wistia really believes in brand. And again, they were able to, they had a belief in content from the top and I've spent a lot of money on it and done a really good job with it in drilling. So being able to experiment is definitely a luxury and it's not something that every SaaS company has because, and maybe this is just like my experience.

I've never been a founder before, but to me, it's like, once you get that check, the clock is ticking and your decisions are made for you at that point. In which case, of course, you're going to focus on the repeatable thing. That's going to guarantee your results because what choice do you have? You have to keep your company, do you getting funding to get to the next place?

You've got to show those results, but there is an upper limit to these like process-driven things, right? Even performance marketing, you don't, you'll just hit a point in auctions where it's just too expensive. There is a virtue in what you're talking about, but the VC sort of 18 months [00:48:00] cycle is very hard to navigate in order to get to that level of creativity.

I do have some bad news for you. I think you haven't read this, but Wildbit was sold today.

What?!?

ActiveCampaign about them. 

We haven't I read the news today. Why did I not go on Twitter? I literally have not even been on Twitter yet. Wow. 

I remember reading it. I was like, I'm just doing a double check. And as you were talking to double-check, the ActiveCampaign bought them. They have a very nice piece written about why they sold.

They're so thoughtful. That company, I respect so much and they're what they value. And wow. 

I hope that culture stays with them as they get sold and run by another sort of entity. It seems like they're going to keep their teams separate that. And all that good stuff. 

That's never a guarantee, but yeah, that's really cool though. Good. I mean, I'm excited. I'm excited for them, but I know like, I, that surprises me. I never granted I'm not on the phone with Natalie every day. Like I'm not talking to him every day, but that's just based on their previous philosophy that [00:49:00] I'm very curious to read that and understand why they did it because they are, they're such purposeful, thoughtful people.

And I know even without knowing them really well, like I know they did it. They had good reasons. I sort of like preemptively believe in why they did it, even though I don't know what it was. 

Yeah. Based on my understanding is that the founders decided that they're just heart is no longer in it as much. And they're doing the service to the team by continuing to run it when their heart is not in it as much, which is a super admirable to recognize that I think and say, I'm just not here in the way I used to be anymore. So I think that is like the number one thing. 

We talk about this a lot as founders, we're very early in our journey three years or so, but we always say, is it the moment it stops becoming interesting where our hearts are in it. I think that's when we're not caring about the thing anymore. And that's when we should stop at least and give it to someone else to run or whatever other options are out there. But it's quite interesting [00:50:00] right now. 

I fully believe in that actually, it's funny to talk to anyone who's led a company in the past of the past few years, and I was talking to somebody about this last night and I said, I feel 80. I feel tired as if I were 80. I don't even know what it's like to be 80. The news story of 2021 was a great resignation among workers and all predictions were that this was continuing on through this year, which we very much seen. But I think what's happening this year is there's more leadership transition.

I think trying to be strong and navigate such complicated world stuff. The way human behavior deteriorated over the past year and a half people are kind of mean now. [Laughs] It's so challenging to try to lead through that. And so I, so wholly respect any leader who's like, I [00:51:00] just need to think about me right now. Well, sorry. Any leader who's been as decent as the folks at Wildbit and with the care for their full folks like that, I'd say not any leader cause some leaders are.... 

Just taking.

Yeah, exactly. But giving leaders who care. I think, it makes sense to me that one might want to switch either for not being interest in the product anymore. And why don't you send me different? Like, that's why everyone's switching their jobs. People suddenly just aren't taking it anymore. And they're like, if I don't love it, cause not a hell. Yes, it's a no. And I think that's great because if you think about it on a broader scale, that's totally not what this podcast is about, but like you almost see the puzzle being put back together in its truest form.

If we're working towards a percentage of the population or doing what they truly care about and are passionate. Imagine what can happen after this, once this reset has happen. Image what kind of creativity and new ideas, and hopefully someone's going to finally figure out how to convince people to save the environment. Like, I think this has a lot of potential that we just [00:52:00] haven't even, we can't even see yet. 

Yeah. It's an interesting time because I lived in the valley for a while. So I have a lot of Libertarian friends as you would if you've lived in the Bay Area and they love it right now because they're like, look, the market worked. It's shifting talent in this way. And labor is caring about like a certain level of standards when it comes to work and caring about environments that are willing to join those companies better. Now there's funds caring about the environment and all this sort of stuff. 

Pearmill has a fund arm and we've invested in a bunch of funds around climate. It is lovely to see you, to be honest. It's quite interesting. So yeah, the world has shifted over the past couple of years in all of these positive ways that I think is just not actually available to someone that is not maybe researching it in-depth, but so much funding has shifted towards like these better types of companies.

And a lot of talent is shifting towards it and you're running companies or even working with companies. You'll see it, right? Like we have clients who have a strict [00:53:00] goals on impact and also strict limits on who is allowed to work at the company based on how much they care about the impact. Like our, the first call with the recruiter is you'll get very hard questions about what have you done for your community? What are you doing right now? Why are you caring about this type of job. Be it they're much slower hiring, but you speak to every person in their company. They were like in love with the mission, right? So there, we have a few of those clients, it's just, I'm in awe of how things are changing.

So I do feel like, and this content marketing piece actually falls well within that because if you're putting out or the way, I actually think a lot about this, and I don't know if you use this word a lot, I've started using this word in my thirties. It's kind of like a vibe you put out. And so like, you're putting out this vibe of like I care and all these different ways. And do you also like vibe well with this? And if the answer is, yes, you should come work with us or you should become our customer. 

I do think that, and people have all these different words for it, right? It's like branding and positioning and more corporate ways of talking about this. But really what you're putting out is a feeling [00:54:00] and you're attracting people who subscribe to wanting to feel the same way.

And I think it goes back to what your mother was talking about with that quote, 

"What you got after aludes you, what you become, you attract." Exactly. 

Right. And so it's all the same thing. And content is like the core of how you create the sensation as a company. So I think we're pretty much on the same page there. Then the last thing I wanted to talk about around this is I want to double click a little bit more on this 18 month cycles that companies are stuck on. And this process thing. 

I don't know if you've been following Notion. I think that's an interesting example of grabbing a somewhat boring SaaS product, right? It's just a Wiki and designing an experience for people where not only when I'm using it, I feel good, but also every content they produce has this like vibe where it is, we care about design. We care about the aesthetics. We care about the style in which we're producing things. [00:55:00] It's starting to feel like a consumer ran to me. 

And so what you touched on with these like comic strips and stuff, they feel like brand work consumer companies would do. And I've met since founders and their personality is they love consumer brands. And I think Ivan just constantly wears Prada for instance, every time I've seen him. And so it just makes sense to me where now that the market is saturated enough, where you're not really just solving problems anymore, because there was a point where you SaaS product could look awful and you barely have to do anything really on the product side, because you are solving a problem that was just so hard to solve cause no one else had solved it before. 

But now there is like 20 Wiki products out there and you have choice as a business consumer now. So there is essentially like the consumerization of SaaS. Yeah. Walk me through, how can you enable teams to think in the way that you're talking about?

How can they think more long-term. To produce the type of content that is more around this. It's [00:56:00] almost like fashion where you are like making it cool to use your product. You're attracting the people that kind of want to feel the same way. Like we use Notion because we're like very into aesthetics. Coda on the other hand probably has like the same features if not better, but I just don't like their aesthetics. So we just chose Notion. 

Yeah. I do believe that Notion understand something that not every SaaS company gets yet, which is that exactly what you just said in a time of saturation of products and content brand is your only is one of the few ways you actually can differentiate because your product does whatever their product is.

Even at the time when Notion came out, I remember. I had used confluence, we used Tetra. There's so many. Internal wikis, there's Google docs. Like, you know what I mean? Like [00:57:00] what, why do they exist? Like, why are they here is like the question, right? Like why does Notion exists? But they exist because one, they took something really boring and made it more interesting or the emphasis around emojis and such.

And you're right, the way that they externalize their philosophy and use that to build the brand, they infuse that into the brand. And I think that it is difficult to convince companies that's important early on. I think there's still this belief amongst founders, that the product really matters more than everything, which sounds weird to say, to contradict if it does matter, but for anyone to care about the product, as your example of Coda, it doesn't matter how good it is if nobody cares about it.

And it's hard to get it's helpful when you have a founder who fundamentally understands that if they don't, it's really an uphill battle. It is one of my biggest criticisms of the space in which I've operated. My entire [00:58:00] career is it's, you got some founders who really,understand that you're one in a million until you embrace and externalize your uniqueness and marketers are never going to be able to convince their higher ups.

I got asked this on a podcast recently, they were like, what do you do to get like, if your leadership team doesn't buy in on marketing, whenever I said, quit, just leave your founder's an idiot. Your leader's an idiot and you should go work somewhere else because they're wrong. And I'm not even like, my company, like we don't sell a branding service.

I'm not here hocking brand positioning, or that we don't do that. I just know it's important. Now it's not like I'm saying go hire big brand agency. It's been tens of thousands of dollars a month on creating a perfect logo. Like there's ways for you to, I think Notion did really well. Build a brand slowly, efficiently, cheaply through things like thought leadership and even cheeky stuff around the product, [00:59:00] et cetera.

But I think if you are a marketer of any sort at a company and you have a leader who doesn't understand the importance of what you do, bye, no time for that. I'm sorry. Like we're talking about labor markets, go join a company that does care about the thing that you care about. Yeah, because it's a fundamental, if you're going to bother to bring on somebody.

And then not value the work that they do, then you're fundamentally a bad leader and you would be it's terrible. So don't work for them. They're bad. Like go find somebody who's good because it happens a lot, you know? Well, somebody told me I need marketing stuff. I'm a marketer, but I'm going to undermine it really can question everything you do. The number of marketers who have that experience is astronomical. It's just always said behind closed doors. And I'm just like, my advice is like, stop trying. They're never like, just bye, they'll find a better job and there's money in them. [Laughs] 

It's like the, there's like a lot of virtue in this part of like, Hey, branding matters. But really what is branding is [01:00:00] just the way you put yourself out there. So you don't need the perfect logo and all this other stuff. I think it's just about thinking of it as a craft of communication. And so when you are building a product flow or your forums and the way people interact with your company and your people in the company.

Via customer service reps all the way to salespeople and every word on your website. Are you sort of putting out the same thing and are you saying the same thing? And that's the part? I think it's very hard to actually execute it. And I think it's simple to talk about it and it can be interactive.

Okay. When Animalz, before he joined in early 2015, before was a twinkle in my eye. Our website was a landing page and the landing page consistent the whole above the fold. It's just that one frame. It was a poorly taken photo of two stuffed Animalz [01:01:00] staring at a laptop screen. What does that mean? Right. [Laughs]

But like, honestly, that's our brand. That is Animalz to a tee. So then when we had this next gen website that was like kind of more mainstream and logical and have navigation, a blog who Jimmy came in. Okay. That was like, you know, a little more polished, but the word, everything, the way we talked still reflected, basically our founder, Walter, like he's the smartest guy in the room and he's very casual and informal in the way he talks. Right? 

Because there was a brilliant person who you think is like your little brother, a lot of times, the way he can be raised. Right. And I'm like, that is, that has stayed true to when I redesigned the, not personally, but I brought on someone to help me redesign the website. The website today is got some fancy design. Thank you, Mark Johnson. You're a genius, but it's still quirky. The illustrations are so quirky. Like, there's still this kind of like quirky two stuffed Animalz staring at a computer [01:02:00] screen. Yeah. And that has been our personality throughout. And I think that, like, it has been visually it's been iterative even in our, some of our beliefs are trained, but like fundamentally those core things are still the same.

And it's allowed us to iterate in a relatively like low maintenance way, but keep our core so that everyone still looks at us and sees the same thing. Yeah. And it makes so much sense to me because the narrative in my head is just this actualization thing. You're just like your brand is actualizing over time.

So it's not going to be the perfect version of itself at first. It's just going to overtime get better and better and become itself. Yeah. I think people going out there trying to come up with, okay, we solved the branding problem for the next two years is just wrong. Isn't it like, this is why the branding agency path.

I like the ones that come in and take a portion of your company and care about it over the long-term because I think it's a lifelong sort of commitment to the approach, but it's so much of, it has to just be internal and so much of it is just who [01:03:00] you hire and what they write and how they write it externally. And it's so hard to nail.

And your founder. Your founders too matter, I have run this company for two years and I have infused my beliefs into, I've reset our values and our mission statement and everything, but everything I've done is in the image of what Walter created, because I fundamentally joined because I believe him, I believe what he believes about content marketing. And I believe in like his fundamental principles, most of them. 

And so if I had tried to do it differently, I probably couldn't have, gosh, if you've got a strong founder and you're aligned with what they believe in at a court, like you're going involve the company a lot. Animalz is just beginning, as far as I'm concerned. And we look way different than when I started. But it's always, it will always have Walter Chen as like that [01:04:00] foundational thread throughout. I can't help it. 

Yeah. And if I feel like that's still quite a romantic notion for me to think of it this way and the phrasing of used before I was like the founders' personalities flourish in the culture. And it's just so true. I've seen it over and over again. We've worked with all sorts of companies. I'm sure you see it too. And you interact with the company first and then I'll end up meeting the founder for 30 minutes. I'm like, cool. I completely understand where your company operates the way it, and it's so clear that we've started like categorizing culture's a little bit on our end because we will have different approaches to working with them. And it matches like personality types of the founders and some of them like lead by fear. Some of them are super analytical and have like even NPV based decision models. Some of them are super care based. And so, first of all, lovely to see human coming up with different ways of organizing and getting work done.

But also it's just really how the founders initially create the seed. And then it grew in the way it did. Anyway, I think that's a great way to end this. 

[01:05:00] [MUSIC PLAYS] 

Thank you so much for spending this. It was so awesome speaking to you. You're obviously a wonderful human. Thank you for all the knowledge and the wisdom.

Cool, thank you. This felt like a bulky gal moment on content marketing, and it's even more fun talking to someone whose specialty is not content marketing. That makes it a really fun conversation. 

Thanks for listening. And Hey, we want to hear from you. If you enjoy our show, drop us a rating and review in Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Your feedback helps us get more and more great guests.

We have a bunch more episodes to binge. If you haven't listened to already folks from Webflow, Uber, Instacart, Deel, and many more talk through their hyper-growth challenges until next time take care. This episode was produced and written partnership with Leah Jackson at Puka Puka Creative.

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