April 14, 2015
Marketing sets the tone and pace for content strategy, but there’s a great deal marketers can learn from their IT counterparts.
More than a decade ago, 17 software developers gathered for a weekend to talk about development methods. One of the outcomes was the Agile Manifesto – a document that shared the groups’ belief of a better way to develop software and their collective values:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
In the past, IT projects followed the waterfall method; a fixed sequence of well-defined stages. Teams gathered and documented all requirements up front, then designed, implemented, tested and deployed. Like a waterfall, the process flowed from one step to another, and you didn’t go back upstream. Or if you tried to, it proved a tough swim in rough waters.
Waterfall looks great on paper; very neat and tidy. But the problem was people DO want to go back. In the real world, things change before you get far from the dock – or even while you’re still on it. Priorities shift. Expectations morph. Scopes creep.
The 17 developers recognized this, which is what guided them as they developed the Agile Manifesto. Designed to make software development more iterative and responsive to change, the philosophy aptly applies to much of marketing and content planning.
A lot of marketing follows the waterfall approach. We take six months to build comprehensive plans and strategies only to find out that while we squirreled away in meetings and created long-tail documentation, the world changed. Today’s environment requires quicker adaptability and responsiveness.
When we created that marketing plan, we couldn’t anticipate a social media response or customer situation that changed everything in a matter of minutes. When this happens, we’re left with two choices: abandon the time and energy we spent building a comprehensive strategy or acknowledge that we’re not equipped to handle circumstances at the speed we need to.
The Agile Manifesto focuses on collaboration with people – including customers – and responding to change. By bringing together cross-functional teams, Agile Marketing helps put the needs of the customer first, and breaks downs silos and hierarchy that often bog down progress.
It still takes planning. But with Agile, customers become the centerpiece. By bringing them into the process, marketing teams have the chance to hear their world and create “user stories” (or customer stories, in marketing’s case) about what they want and how to deliver it.
Next come small, cross-functional teams of no more than eight people. One form of Agile uses scrum teams, groups who sits together – literally – so they can easily turn in their chair and ask what impacts their deliverable; it’s where content, code, data/analytics and project management all work as together in ways that the waterfall hierarchy doesn’t allow. Scrum teams take user stories and create a plan for a marketing outcome – a content strategy, a better customer experience, a technology tool, etc. They chunk work into short periods of time, usually around two weeks, with an agreed upon result.
With short daily “stand up” meetings of no more than 10 minutes, the team talks about what they did yesterday, what they’ll do today, and what’s blocking progress. At the end of two weeks, you release something new – a new or refined persona, scrub the content of one vertical on your web site for better quality, identify a new research partner and so forth.
Not sure you hit the mark? No worries. At the end of the two-week sprint, the scrum team takes time to evaluate how the results measures up, learn what could be better, and then plan to deliver “better,” based on the customer story, in another two weeks. The idea isn’t to chase perfection, but to continually improve on what brings value to your customers.
Progress, Not Perfection
An Agile approach makes content marketing more effective in the modern world. It puts the customer story at the center of its vision and requires thoughtful reflection and prioritization. It gives teams a sense of accomplishment through incremental progress. And it helps marketers stay flexible by creating an environment that thrives on the ability to respond to change and take advantage of new opportunities.
Compared with the big-bang campaigns, rigid planning and hierarchy mentality of waterfall, Agile certainly feels like a trip to the beach.