Three strategies for agile content marketing

Is agile content marketing the key to advertising success? How does it differ from other strategies in terms of earning increased engagement from targeted consumers?  

If content is never engaged with, it cannot give us the results we want. A report from the Content Marketing Institute found that on average, B2B marketers spend just 30 percent of their total marketing budget on content marketing. Additionally, a Sirius Decisions report found that 70 percent of the content created by marketers never gets utilized.

Back in 2013, Pardot research conducted a study that found 71 percent of B2B buyers were disappointed with content they had downloaded from a brand. The study then revealed 25 percent of those disappointed never engaged with the brand again.

These numbers are staggering and all say one thing: we’re doing content marketing all wrong.

But with all of the material out there on content marketing, why are we still doing it wrong? While the channels you use and the people you share with and send content to may be correct, the process you use to create content could be the root of your problem.

What is agile content marketing?

Agile is a process of creating things in an iterative process, as opposed to merely having a single “great idea.”

The concept of agile marketing was formalized in 2012, when The Agile Marketing Manifesto was written. In 2013, the Standish Group found agile projects succeeded three times more often than projects that followed an assembly line or “waterfall” process. They also found that this system required less time and was significantly less expensive to execute.

Ultimately, the purpose of this process is to create better products more quickly and efficiently, but with less risk. Think about how hard you try to create a great campaign, only to have it not do as well as you’d wish. Are you limiting yourself by setting up a strategy that only allows you to take one shot at creating and launching engaging content?

To illustrate the power of agile, try this exercise:

Take a piece of paper and put two dots on it at opposite ends of it, as shown below:

sweezey Diagram 1

Now put your pen on one of the dots and close your eyes. Try to draw a line to the other dot. You cannot pick your pen up off the paper, and you cannot open your eyes. Stop when you think you have reached the opposing dot.

Once you finish, open your eyes and observe your work. Your line will probably look something like this:

sweezey Diagram 2

It is likely that, although you have a straight line, you did not connect the two dots together. If you did happen end up at the dot on the other end of the page, then I challenge you to try this experiment three more times in a row to see how many you get out of three. The odds are extremely low that you can do this successfully once, let alone again in a set of three.

My point here is that, no matter how much you try, the odds for success from a single, blind attempt are always going to be incredibly low. Likewise, if you put all your resources, time and energy into a single piece of content and launch it only once, the odds for success will inevitably be against you.

But this is the way we have done content marketing for years; we brainstorm a great idea, invest lots of time and money into it, and then launch it out to the world.

Now try doing the same experiment, but using the agile method:

Take the piece of paper and try again. This time, feel free to stop, leave your pen on the paper, and occasionally open your eyes to check to see where you are, recalibrate, and try again. Recalibrate as many times as you would like.

My guess is that you’re second line probably looks more like this:

sweezey Diagram 3

You’ll notice your second line not only reaches the other mark, it does so much more quickly. Not only is this 100 percent repeatable, but you were able to accomplish this goal faster and with a much higher degree of accuracy.

This exercise represents how agile content functions. Agile is the only reliable way to create quality content with limited resources that is still of value to the consumer. It is scalable, sustainable, and highly effective.

Now that you understand how and why agile content marketing works, here is how you can create agile content with three easy steps:

1. Utilize user stories

The first step to creating agile content is to begin with user stories. Though this is a simple theory, this is actually a much underutilized practice. Many times, when marketers try to create content, they sit down at a whiteboard and draw up ideas, rather than picking up a telephone and calling their customers. But, without user stories we are only blindly taking guesses. This sort of approach often results in a final product that mirrors what we think our customers want rather than what they actually want.

User stories are a key aspect of agile content marketing because they align what we are going to make with the real goal of making it from the very beginning. These stories help define the intended purpose or use of the content, enabling you to determine what the content will consist of based on what people want or expect from your brand.

Obtaining a user story is simple, if you follow these basic steps:

  1. Gather a list of nine people from the core demographic of your target audience.
    • Three should be leads in your database.
    • Three should be people currently in the sales process.
    • Three should be current customers.
  2. Reach out to each person via telephone and ask them about:
    • Their position in the buying process when they sought out your content.
    • The best content they found about the product, service, or topic in question.
    • How they came across their favorite content.
    • Why they consider this content as their favorite.
  3. Thank them and offer to send them a preview of the content once it is completed.

2. Create minimal viable products

Now it is time to create the content.

Typically, most marketers will begin to create fully finished pieces of content before it is actually released. A recent study from TechValidate discovered that one-third of marketers spent at least seven weeks or more creating a single piece of content. The problem with this is that this type of approach to content creation can cause a massive lag on available resources.

Creating a minimum viable product (MVP) is an alternative to this large investment of time. If you can create a piece of content that exhibits any degree of value to consumers, you can then ask for feedback on how to make it better over time.

Use these ideas to help you make an MVP:

  • Take the idea of larger pieces and make them into smaller assets, like blog posts or short comments.
  • Share the main points via social media. The number of re-shares you get can serve as an indicator for the future success of this idea. If you don’t get re-shares for the main points, then it’s likely that you’re not going to get re-shares for your final product.
  • Use a standard template for content to make the recreation of content easy.
  • Consider using graphic design tools to help you design quick elements.
  • Observe your competition and use tools like Buzzsumo to compare your content to other pieces that are highly shared.

Here is how you can get your MVP into peoples’ hands:

  • Have a small list of people in the demographic you are targeting that you are ready to email or advertise to.
  • Promote it as A First Look via organic social channels. Ask for feedback in exchange for the final product when it is ready.
  • Understand that SEO will not get you anywhere on an MVP.

MVP’s should be a final draft of the initial idea and as such, should be grammatically correct. However, it does not need to be completely polished or fully functional. This is the stage where you can test lots of copy, image, layout and format options to see which combination is most effective for your idea. Observe and analyze the results, then take the winning combination and push it to the next level.

3. Review your work

Reviewing your work against the responses of your audience is the most critical step of the process. After your audience has engaged with your content, reach out to them to ask them for their opinions. You can even do this for old content to help revamp it in an agile way.

Though there are lots of questions you can ask, there are really only four that you absolutely need to include in your list:

  1. What were you hoping to get out of the content?
  2. Did it meet that expectation?
  3. How can it be better?
  4. What else have you found that was helpful to you?

These four simple questions will point you in the correct direction by letting you know if you need to change your tact. This insight will let you know if you need to add more content, conduct other special research, and anything else that the consumers are thinking. While you can expect each individual to answer these questions differently, you should look for any underlying themes within this data.

A review can also help you learn how to make different types of content for different types of buyers. It can highlight instances in which your audience expects more “X” from your product but the C-suite is looking for more “Y.” These are things we cannot assume, but rather find out over a phone call.

As an imperative step in the agile process, it is important that you do not take shortcuts like using forms to get feedback or other indirect methods that consumers could possibly perceive as an inconvenience. Content must be human for it to resonate with consumers. Direct conversation allows you to use intuition to assess honest reactions, thus enabling you to create content others will actually respond to and engage with. Failing to talk to people will keep you from creating any content that is genuinely human or authentic.

In conclusion

The amount of content we must create will only increase moving forward, so it is important to know how to consistently create high quality content. By employing the use of iteration in conjunction with user feedback, your agile content is sure to garner better results. Easier than any other method before it, it’s clear that agile content creation is the only way forward.

Homepage image via Flickr.

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