A Quick Guide to Agile Marketing

By Jeff Julian , Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Let’s face it, content marketing isn’t easy.  Most of us have sat down and reviewed the benefits of content marketing and are on the side of implementing our initiatives.  We have amazing systems like Sitecore that allow us to start engaging with our customers and create amazing experiences. However, our teams are getting hit harder each day with more content expectations and we are missing deadlines and the wheels are starting to come off the cart.  

The software developers who put our Sitecore instances in place dealt with these same problems around the turn of the century as the demand for more websites increased.  Those teams had struggles in their approach to coming up with a strategy, planning their projects, executing on their work, and delivering releases.  Several of those teams, started to look at the agile methodologies to see how these approaches could handle the issues they faced.  We were one of those groups and I can say in all honesty, we had happier customers and team members after making the shift.

In this post, I want to introduce you to some of these ideas and get to the heart of what it means to be agile.  In a later post, we will focus deeper on some of these areas and I will make suggestions on how you can get started. 

What does it mean to be agile?

Several people have attempted to define agile and you can run a quick search and get a plethora of answers.  Instead of giving you an answer in sentence form, I will give you six points that represent what it means to be agile:

  • High priority on customer satisfaction – To be agile, you need to have your heart set on a goal so you can mark the best path to move forward.  As people who create things in content marketing, our goal is to make those who consume those things happy, educated, and/or entertained.  To make our consumers of content, our audiences, feel this way, we have to create content that has value.  Our processes we put in place to produce, plan, and analyze our content should be focused on the satisfaction of our audiences.
  • Change happens – We live in a time of great disruption.  We have to be prepared to analyze our audiences and customers to see if we are continuing to deliver amazing experiences as a whole organization so we can continue to flourish as an organization.  The processes we implement for our content marketing efforts should be frequently reviewed and the work we produce should be spot on based on the information we gather.  
  • Frequent Deliveries – The expectation of regular deliveries of content is what we want to build up with our audiences.  We want them to come back to the well and consume the next batch of assets we produce.  By doing this, we lower the cost of distribution and start to build trust.  Our processes need to ensure we are hitting the mark on regular deliveries and when something goes wrong, we need the ability to extract data from the process to see how best to address the situation.
  • Sustainable Pace – Our teams are asked to deliver more content and the majority of them absolutely love to fill the need.  When you are passionate about your work, you tend to take your eye off those internal systems your body has to tell you to slow down.  When producing content or managing the process, we need to ensure we are doing it in a sustainable way.  Week after week, our team should be refreshed and performing at their optimal pace to keep this rhythm going.  Our best work will come out of a team that is rested and not in a state of fatigue.
  • Simplicity – Most of our processes seem simple enough until we start to ask why we do them.  In agile, we should have a well thought out reason for doing everything we do and that answer should be short and to the point.  By picking the simplest path to release, we allow new members to quickly become productive and resolve onboarding issues.
  • Regular reflection and adaptation – With change being a constant factor and the frequency of deliveries so high, we have to monitor our process so we can reach all our goals.  When something seems to be off, we need a process that allows our team to come together and discuss the issue.  As a group, we should agree upon the solution and move forward with a new set of procedures to correct.  These small changes to the way we produce content, and to the content we produce, will help deliver the correct value to the appropriate audience. 

Areas of Agile Marketing

Since being agile is in the way we do or think about things, we can find areas in the way we implement content marketing that we can address.  I mentioned earlier what software developers focused on when producing their products and several correlate to our efforts as well.  Those include:

  • Strategy
  • Planning
  • Production
  • Release
  • Audience Development

If we focus in on these aspects of content marketing and use agile tools and processes to address the common pitfalls, we will be able to reach our goals. 

Since I promised this would be a quick guide, let’s briefly look at these areas and discuss some approaches we can take to be agile.

Content Strategy

Having a well thought out content strategy is one of the easiest ways to make sure you know what you are doing before you start.  Yet based on recent surveys, the majority of marketers start their content marketing efforts without a documented strategy. 

In our content strategy, we must focus on customer satisfaction. To do so we need to have a well-developed Content Mission Statement and a set of Personas that represent the audience we want to reach. 

Content Planning

Once a strategy is in place, we can start coming up with ideas that will lead to the content we will produce.  This is another we tend to leave up to ad-hoc meetings when the well runs dry or continue down a path of producing content that isn’t reaching the audience we intended on. 

To focus in on this craft, we need to learn more about an agile methodology that has identified the steps for organizing and executing work called Scrum.  In Scrum, we compile a list of things we want to do and work through those items in chunks of time with a team. 

In Agile Marketing, we call the list of things a Content Backlog.  On the Content Backlog, we have Content Items that list several pieces of information to ensure we create quality content that reaches those Personas we put in our strategy.

Here is a list of information I suggest on your Content Items:

  • Title – Not a headline, but something we can use to refer to the item.
  • Content Story – A statement that lists the Personas, content type, problem/topic, and the way we plan to deliver value.
  • How to Demonstrate Value – A set of steps we plan to implement to ensure we delivery on the value promises of a Content Story.
  • Estimate – The amount of time we think it will take to produce the content.
  • Priority – A specific number that represents when we need to produce this content.
  • ID – An identifier we can use when Content Items relate to each other.
  • Call to Action – The next steps we want the consumer of the content to take.

Content Production

To produce content, we need a team or one really good Content Developer.  This is another term that we might not be familiar with because in the marketing profession, we don’t think of ourselves as developers.  Since we have to broaden our skill set to create all the different types of content we produce to meet our audience expectations, we are more like software developers.  These days they wear many hats where in previous years they would have maintained a specialty like UI, database, middleware, etc.

Along with the Content Developers, we have two more roles we need to introduce in this “quick guide”, the ScrumMaster and the Content Owner. 

The ScrumMaster’s role is exactly as you would expect from the name, they are the master of the Scrum process.  They are the people with the process answers and the ones who plan our activities.  The ScrumMaster also removes issues to allow the team to remain focused on their tasks and hit the estimates they gave. 

The Content Owner is in charge of the Content Backlog and they provide answers for the business.  Typically, they are in a position of power or influence to guarantee they have access to decision makers when an answer needs greater clarification.  Since they groom the backlog, a process of reviewing the Content Items and assigning new priority, they need to have an ear to the changes in the overall business. 

Together we form a team and work through our Content Backlog with a regular cadence known as a Sprint.  The Sprint is normally in one to three-week iterations where the Content Developers are brought together to determine how much time is available and select the next Content Items based on the priority and estimates.  Once the items have been assigned to the Sprint, the team will break them down into associated tasks and assign estimates to them.  All the Content Items and tasks are placed on a Scrum Board in the Open Item column. 

Each day the Content Developers and ScrumMaster meet in a huddle known as the Daily Scrum.  Here each developer addresses what they accomplished yesterday, what they plan to work on today, and if there are any outstanding issues for the ScrumMaster to address.  To report their status of the tasks, they move the task cards from the Open Item column to the In Process column, and once complete, to the Completed column. 

Scrum board

The Scrum Board

Through the Sprint, the cards will continue to move over until every item is complete by the last day of the Sprint.  This is the contract the Content Developers commit to and what I refer to as their skin in the game.  Whatever happens in the Sprint, which is not caused by an outside force, the team will rally around and address. 

At the end of the Sprint, the team will hold two meetings.  The first meeting is a Sprint Demo where the Content Developers will walk through the work produced and demonstrate how they reached the value promises made in the Content Story.  At this point, the Content Owner will approve the work they feel meets the expectation of the customers and commit it to release.  The second meeting is a retrospective where the Content Developers and ScrumMaster review the Sprint and discuss the successes and failures that occurred.  This meeting can be expressive for some members of the team so be prepared to be open, but have a thick skin.

At this point, we look back at the Content Backlog and start the process over again.  While I could go on and on about this process, we will save that for a future series of posts.

Release of Content and Audience Development

While we don’t have a set of practices like Scrum that work well with the deployment of content, we can achieve the goals of agile by remaining our focus on the customer and delivering on a regular schedule.  Since we want to focus on audience development during our delivery of content, we need to make sure we have a simple and repeatable process that our company can analyze and measure to see what content is delivering the best value.  If we change our approach to reaching new and existing audiences on a regular basis, it will be very difficult to read the numbers. 

Conclusion

While I know this is not an exhausted list of practices and procedures to start implementing Agile Marketing, I hope I have offered some clarity to the practice and given you some insights.  I will continue to address this topic and others that focus on marketing team efficiencies beyond the Sitecore platform that ensure you have success on both the digital and physical side of marketing.  

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