I recently spent several hours of a Sunday afternoon making homemade pasta, a remarkably messy activity that gave me a deep appreciation for the complexities hiding behind a simple strand of spaghetti.
I had no idea there are multiple kinds of flour you can use in an almost infinite number of combinations, depending on the type of pasta you’re after.
For many marketers, our relationship with content is much the same.
We happily employ the products of content marketing without really understanding the intricate dance that led to their creation.
Even those of us responsible for a step or two in that process lack a comprehensive, end-to-end view of content creation.
In the early days, we could get away with a haphazard approach, but now that top-notch content has become table stakes, we must invest in the method of creation as well as its outputs and outcomes.
You can’t be an oblivious eater of spaghetti any longer; it’s time to get your hands dirty by exploring and optimizing the process of content marketing.
Why process matters
Part of the value of the content creation process has been hiding in plain sight for years. It’s shown up in CMI’s research in the regularly cited value of a documented content strategy. If you haven’t been following along, here are the highlights. Content marketers with a documented content strategy:
- Are far more likely to consider themselves effective at content marketing
- Find every aspect of content marketing less challenging
- Feel more effective in their use of all content marketing tactics, as well as social media channels
- Can justify spending a higher content marketing budget
But strategy is just one-half of the equation; execution is the other.
What happens after you’ve nailed the strategy? How do you bring it to life?
It turns out that part needs to be documented too.
CoSchedule has studied the execution side of marketing and discovered that marketers who document their processes are 466% more successful than those who don’t.
When your process is in order, it unlocks magical outcomes. As work flows smoothly start to finish, every item that goes through the process gets better. Work gets done faster, plus it’s more likely to be high quality and connected to marketing objectives.
And, if we’re being honest, those are things most of us could stand to be better at.
An Agile approach to the content marketing process
Documenting your process gives you a better chance at success, which is a simple and straightforward place to start. But you’ll likely discover during documentation that execution could use some optimization.
“Being better” at content marketing execution is a murky and meaningless goal. You need a clearly marked path to follow.
As marketing becomes an ever more digital profession, you increasingly benefit from frameworks designed for the first purely digital profession: software development.
I’m referring, of course, to Agile practices and their application to marketing.
For those naysayers who don’t see the value behind the exploding Agile marketing movement, marketers using Agile project management are 252% more likely to report success.
What Agile content marketing looks like
To be clear, I’m not talking about adopting entire Agile frameworks like Scrum or Kanban. I’m advocating that you start using Agile values to inform your content marketing process.
(Of course, complete Agile frameworks are amazing and will get you even more benefits, but even starting from the values will boost your content marketing practices.)
Agile in general, and Agile marketing particularly, emphasize the following five areas.
Get things out in the open, and you’ll be amazed at what happens. Visibility might simply mean listing everything – literally everything – your content team has in progress and is planning for the next month.
It might mean going a step further and documenting that all in a digital project management tool, but that’s really a bonus at this point.
Even a list of sticky notes on a whiteboard is a step in the right direction.
Ultimately, providing this transparency helps the people making content requests see how their new request impacts what’s in progress.
It also reveals the true scope of your content efforts, which is typically WAY more extensive than anybody outside the content team suspects.
And finally, visibility uncovers the real state of your content marketing process. It won’t magically solve all your problems, but it’s an outstanding first step.
Here’s your new mantra: If you can’t fix it, make it visible.
After you visualize your work, you’ll probably realize you have too much going on. The next logical conversation centers on the question, “What can we stop doing?”
Not doing things can seem like giving up or missing opportunities, so instead express it as another Agile value – experimentation – to guide your content marketing.
The idea is to accept that you can’t design a perfect plan. Audiences are unpredictable, as are competitors and the volatile digital world we live in.
Rather than spending weeks or months trying to craft a bulletproof annual plan, embrace repeated short-term experiments.
To perform their best, these experiments should be:
- Safe to fail – designed so they won’t damage the brand if they don’t work out
- Short term – executable within two to three weeks
- Well designed – with clearly identified outcomes and metrics, and parameters for both success and failure (use the scientific method as your guide)
- Iterative – experiments that prove successful lend themselves to future efforts
When experiments show promise, it’s time to move to Agile marketing value No. 3 and iterate.
When you embrace iteration, you expand on proven ideas, adding value, beauty, and functionality steadily over time.
For example, you could turn a simple listicle getting great audience engagement and social shares into a more robust, multimedia piece of content. If that iteration performs well, you might repurpose the core concept into interactive content, like a webinar. If strong performance continues, you could ultimately expand on the topic through a series of professionally produced videos.
The entire process has been iterative. You’ve moved from one creation to the next based on feedback from your audience.
As you might imagine, the above values work better with a broad spectrum of perspectives. Agile is based on the belief that the people closest to the work and the audience consuming that work should decide how that work gets done.
In a nutshell, Agile means better collaboration. Put another way, a content creator with a computer locked in a basement office simply won’t be as successful as a collaborative team with an audience-centric perspective.
Agile creates systems like daily standup meetings (15-minute strategy sessions at the beginning of each day) to facilitate real-time collaboration. It also strives to create teams that include a variety of skills and expertise so the team can deliver value early and often.
Even if you’re not ready to have daily meetings or reorganize your team(s), still seek different perspectives to guide your content creation. Whether it’s through formalized reviews or an informal show and tell, incorporating collaboration will always improve your content creation process.
Agile processes are often associated with speed and productivity, but I saved efficiency for last because it’s not the primary focus of real Agile practices. The power of Agile frameworks comes from simplicity or maximizing the amount of work not done.
Let me say that again another way, because it bears repeating: Agile teams work hard to do less.
If you’re successful in maximizing the amount of work you deliberately choose NOT to do, you’ll be rewarded by an increase in the amount of work you can get done. That’s one of the most counterintuitive things about process, but it’s indisputably true.
Work on less and you accomplish more.
To put this in content marketing terms, if you need to complete 20 pieces of content, you’ll get them done faster by working on two to three at a time instead of jumping back and forth among 20.
Process unharnesses creative potential
Finally, an Agile content marketing process unlocks more than speed, productivity, and efficiency. It also delivers employee satisfaction and creates room for honest-to-goodness creativity.
In the second annual State of Agile Marketing Report, we found that marketing teams who use at least some Agile marketing practices are far more likely to be satisfied with their processes than marketers who jump onto whatever task or project seems good day to day:
This higher satisfaction reduces creator burnout and increases employee engagement. Agile marketing is also closely linked to quality, with 39% of Agile marketing teams reporting an increase in the quality of their work after Agile came onto the scene.
Many creative teams I’ve worked with inside of Agile marketing departments initially resist Agile values and practices, believing that they’re too rigid. But they learn that Agile creates room for creativity.
When you maximize the amount of work not done, you create space to focus on what really matters and to make those few things amazing.
While the content marketing process may not sound sexy, it’s the key to putting strategy into practice and delivering long-term results. What’s more, you don’t need to wander around looking for process optimization ideas; Agile marketing values and practices can point your content creation process in the right direction.
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Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute