20 Oct 2016

How We Went Agile With Our Content Marketing Strategies

Despite content marketing being a relatively new industry, we have certainly seen our fair share of buzzwords during its short existence. First, it was evergreen, then storytelling, big data and then, influencers. While the word agile or Agile (we’ll get to that difference in a bit) may just be beginning to buzz around your headspace, we promise this concept is not just another glorified notion to questionably add to your lexicon.

Here at Vertical Measures, we recently began to revisit how we perform content marketing strategies for our clients. Our past methodology was based on the waterfall method. In fact, we’ve found that this is what most agencies follow.

Waterfall is linear + sequential, & #contentmarketing is not. Be more agile. Click To Tweet

However, content marketing strategy doesn’t thrive using the waterfall method alone. Why? Because a waterfall method requires that the strategy must be complete before content creation, promotion, and amplification are done. It slows down production and doesn’t allow for learning, adaptation, and pivoting. Waterfall is linear and sequential, and content marketing is not. Agile, however, is based on the principles of, “test, learn, iterate,” and works under the presumption that there is always more to learn.

Here’s a simple infographic explaining the waterfall vs. agile project management processes for content marketing strategies.

content marketing strategy agile versus waterfall

Here’s the thing: very little is a sure thing in content marketing because everything is changing so rapidly. We don’t know every little thing that our competitors are doing in the digital space, the search algorithms change and evolve at millisecond speed, and we can’t predict the next disruption in our audience’s attention. Search and digital marketing strategy is based on intelligent guessing. So, an agile content marketing strategy helps us set a hypothesis, test it, and pivot based on the results. Makes sense, right?

Whether you’re an agency working on client content marketing strategies, or you’re a content leader in your organization in need of a new approach, becoming more agile with your content marketing can be an effective tactic. Even if you don’t go full-on agile, elements of the approach can breathe new life into a stale strategy.

A Quick History of Agile

quick history of agile

Agile gained popularity among software developers who needed a new, more collaborative process to complete their work. With Agile, developers could effectively reach goals by working in sprints, thus avoiding massively long periods of heads-down working and surprise “this-is-not-what-the-client-had-in-mind” deliverables.

Oxford Dictionaries defines Agile (capital A) in this way:

Agile: a project management and continuous improvement term that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Amazon all use Agile methodologies.

Today’s economy moves fast – and people expect everything they interact with to move just as quickly. Developers can no longer go heads-down, working on a project for three months, and neither can content marketing strategists.

Our clients expect fast-turnarounds, simplified deliverables , positive, proven ROI, and they expect it yesterday. Basically, they expect us to get it right from the onset. And really, there is no reason why we shouldn’t. We just need to use a better project management system that is nimble, responsive, and fluid.

Agile vs. agile

An agile content marketing strategy is based on the Agile processes that developers use, but with our own modifications relevant to our industry. We don’t use all of the Agile principles such as daily scrum, sprints, and backlogs; however, we do use the principles of “test, learn, iterate,” because they allow for us to create content marketing hypotheses and test them, which, in turn, leads to faster results for our clients.

Agile #contentmarketing strategy helps you hypothesize, test, & pivot based on results. Click To Tweet

Happy clients = happy content marketers.

With agile approaches, we found that we can:

  1. Avoid creating strategies at the beginning of a client relationship, when we know the least about them
  2. Produce top-of-funnel content that casts the widest net and captures traffic and leads from the onset
  3. Continuously review and adapt our methodologies
  4. Avoid delivering 100-page strategies that end up on virtual shelf, never to be viewed again
  5. Work more closely with our clients to develop a deeper understanding of their needs and ultimately, producing better, more effective content marketing campaigns
  6. Position Vertical Measures as an educational partner and coach

The Agile Mindset

To really live the mindset of agile, get this phrase out of your mind right now:

Work harder

Although it makes a great neon sign, this philosophy is the antithesis of agile content marketing. Instead, you want work smarter to stay fluid, open, and collaborative.

Collaboration:

Before you “go agile,” you first need to get in the right mindset. Agile content marketing strategy requires a change from siloed working, to a more collaborative, sprint-based mentality. Going from waterfall to agile means eliminating heads-down time and instead, collaborating throughout the strategy process. To do this, you need to embrace change.

Say it with me:

“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” –Kakuzo Okakaura

And, FAILURE:

The biggest change required with adopting an agile mindset is that you have to be okay with failure. The good news is that, thanks to the collaboration that agile inspires, failure will only be based on a small sprint-worth of work, not three months of hypothesis. But, with agile, failure is good because it allows you an opportunity to have a conversation as to why you got it wrong, and better yet, it offers an opportunity for you learn something new and get it right.

An Agile Content Marketing Roadmap

So, how and why did we go agile with our content marketing strategies?

First of all, it became clear to us that different clients needed different approaches. While our enterprise-level clients were very happy with a giant strategy deliverable (the “thunk,” as we call it), our small to medium-sized businesses (who follow our 8 Step Process) needed a different experience that was more collaborative, more tailored to their unique infrastructure and resources. They also needed something that allowed us to produce content from the very start.

Marketing depts that consider themselves Agile are 3x more likely to grow market share. - @itsbrentbird #CMWorld Click To Tweet

For us, beginning to integrate agile methodologies for our SMB clients began with two simple questions:

  1. What information do we need to start producing top-of-funnel content right away?
  2. At what point are we making assumptions about what success will look like?

Based on the answer to these, we then break down our content marketing strategy deliverables into three phases that best facilitate the spirit of agile. We have generalized the language to apply to you regardless if you’re an agency, content consultant, or internal marketing leader.

Three Phases of a Content Marketing Strategy

There are three phases of an agile content marketing strategy: Discovery, Strategy and Implementation. Within these three phases live important benchmarks.

Discovery Phase: The discovery phase is all about doing in-depth background research on the organization. Get to know the organization’s goals objectives and competitors as well as possible during this phase. Part of doing so is gaining access to their analytics and being to formulate a plan as to what direction to go with their content marketing strategy. Don’t delay and start to produce top-0f-the-funnel content and work out kinks in the publication process. After all, content that is sitting on your desktop doesn’t do anyone any good.

48 percent of B2C marketers and 42 percent of B2B marketers now publish more than once a week. Stat via @CMIcontent Click To Tweet

Strategy: At this stage, an actionable content marketing strategy can begin to be created. Use the information identified and learned in the research phase to develop audience personas, create strategic initiatives, and establish best practices for optimization.

36% B2B orgs w/documented #contentmarketing strategy say they are effective, 3x more than those w/o via @LinkedIn Click To Tweet

Implementation: Once the strategic direction is established, formalize the content creation process, including governance and workflows in order to ensure consistent content publication cadence and quality.  Begin to produce middle and bottom-of-the-funnel content to drive traffic, leads, and meet any other objectives.

Don’t stop the iteration there because the agile approach will help far after the initial strategy is done. Keep the collaboration alive with weekly meetings, deep-dive analytics sessions, and pivoting based on data. Our own agile content marketing strategy plan for our clients looks a little like this:

agile content marketing strategy

Going agile takes dedication to the process and an openness to failure that dramatically deviates from traditional day-to-day processes. While it is a change that requires some serious insight and relatively little foresight, it has been one that is showing awesome promise for our own internal teams.

Anecdotally, our clients have positively received the new agile content marketing strategy approach, and we hope to publish a case study in Q1 of 2017 to show the efficiencies we’ve gained and other lessons learned.

And remember, you don’t have to adopt all of Agile methodologies to be successful. Just keep in mind that the main motivation behind Agile anything is about being open to change, testing, iterating, and collaborating! All great lessons that content marketers can take and adapt for their own purposes.

Interested in learning more about our content marketing services and how we can help you develop an agile strategy? Contact us to start the conversation!

Going agile with your content marketing strategy

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