Struggling to keep up with the demand for content?
You’re not alone.
Annual research by the Content Marketing Institute revealed that 77% of B2C marketers plan to produce more content this year than last year, yet 46% are already struggling with creating content at a consistent rate.
To be honest… this combination worries me as both a content creator and a consumer.
Content marketing departments that are already having trouble getting things out the door are planning to create more.
That sounds like a recipe for sleepless nights and low quality content if I ever heard one.
Fortunately, there is another trend emerging in marketing departments that has the potential to help content marketers produce more content without going crazy (or releasing sub-par work).
That trend is agile marketing, and when used properly, it’s proven to help teams produce more work in less time. If you’ve never tried it, you may be understandably skeptical about those claims, so we’ll take a closer look.
First, let’s discuss why releasing content at a consistent rate even matters.
Consistent Content Production Wins Consistently
It could be argued that if you aren’t on a steady publication schedule, you’re not using content marketing at all.
The accepted definition of content marketing actually says that it’s, “focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content” (emphasis mine).
Audiences expect us to be communicating with them steadily over time. They’re interested in up-to-the-moment information.
But beyond these basic parameters, brands that publish at a regular cadence just get better results from their content.
In a very insightful Inc.com article, John Boitnott argues that with more and more companies adopting a content-first approach, consistency can become a key differentiator in crowded markets.
Content consistency, Boitnott says, offers five important advantages:
- Consistent content establishes authority and credibility. If your organization has been releasing multiple high-quality pieces per week for several years, it’s obvious that you’re a leader in the industry. You automatically gain respect from new readers, and you have a better chance at retaining audience members.
- It builds brand awareness. Consistent releases put your brand in front of your audience regularly, increasingly the likelihood that they’ll remember you when it comes time to purchase.
- It engages the audience. Consistency breeds loyalty because it helps you become part of the audience’s daily routine. Engaging content is even harder to come by than a regular publication schedule, so this is a pretty big win.
- It generates leads. Online content is one of the most cost-effective methods of lead generation available, so if you can get it out there more often you’ll have more opportunities to collect leads.
- Consistency improves website traffic and SEO. Search engines increasingly value the frequency and quality of the content that sites produce, so sharing great content regularly can help your site climb in the rankings.
Those are fairly compelling arguments, but how can writers and other content creators stick to their editorial calendar when there are so many other demands on their time?
How Agile Marketing Can Keep Content Creators From Drowning
The two most structured versions of agile marketing—Scrum and Scrumban—are designed to insulate their team members from external, fire drill-like demands, which makes them ideal systems for content marketers.
We’re going to start by reviewing both of them very briefly for those who aren’t familiar, and then we’ll see how you can put them into practice on your content team.
A Quick and Dirty Scrum Overview
Scrum was originally developed to allow software teams to start releasing code more rapidly (once every few weeks, for example, instead of once per year). It’s since been adapted work in all kinds of situations, including project management and marketing.
Basically, it works like this:
You begin with a backlog, which you can think of like a prioritized to-do list that everybody has discussed and agreed on. The team then meets and agrees on how much of that list they think they can achieve during their next sprint.
Sprints are typically two weeks long, but they can be as short as one week or as long as four.
Once the team commits to a workload they are locked in for the sprint’s duration, and that’s what vital for content creators.
They agree to produce a set amount of content, and no one is allowed to run over to their desk and demand that they write a new email series by tomorrow or edit a new case study before the end of the week.
During the sprint, team members meet each day for a 15-minute stand up meeting. Each person discusses what they worked on yesterday, what they plan to do today, and any issues that are keeping them from moving forward.
Once the sprint is over, the team demonstrates their work at a sprint review meeting, and then they discuss their agile process and how to improve it at a retrospective.
Scrumban vs. Scrum for Marketing
Scrumban is combination of Scrum and a pull-based agile methodology called Kanban (you have to admit that agile is full of entertaining terminology).
When using Kanban, a team member pulls new work from the backlog whenever they are done with their previous task. There are not timeboxes or set sprint lengths, which makes it a much more flexible system (and one that advanced agile teams often end up using).
For teams that experience frequent emergencies that MUST be addressed, but still want to stick to a schedule, Scrumban can help them walk that line.
My very smart friend Anthony Coppedge, who uses Scrumban on his team, explains it like this:
Scrumban is the combination of Scrum (the ceremonies of Sprint Planning, Stand Ups, Retrospectives) and the pull technique of Kanban with WIP (work in progress) limits. [It] leverages the ceremonies of Scrum and the flexibility of pull-based Kanban, allowing structure and organization to keep the framework in place and accountability and transparency high while also adapting to the realities of change during a Sprint for marketing.
There’s a lot more that could be said about Scrumban, but if this sounds like a good fit for your team, I encourage you to check out this more in-depth article.
The key takeaway, regardless of your choice of methodology, is that on an agile team individual, content creators commit to a workload. They should not be subject to external demands or constantly shifting priorities.
Implementing Agile on Your Content Team
To start using an agile approach with your content marketing team, you need just a few things:
- A prioritized backlog. All concerned parties—content creators and stakeholders—should agree on it before work begins.
- Some sort of tracking board. This can be a simple physical whiteboard or Trello board for your first iteration, then you can see if you need a more sophisticated tool later on.
- A working agreement for your agile experiment. Content creators must be empowered to tell their bosses and colleagues, “Not yet” when they come to them with work that’s not part of their iteration commitment. This can be scary for everybody, but it’s crucial if you want to achieve consistent production.
You’ll want to make sure everyone understands how long the iteration(s) will last, when and where stand up meetings will take place, and what criteria a piece of content must meet to qualify as “done.”
That last one sounds simple, but it’s very easy to trip up there.
Is your content done when it’s published on your website, or is it done when it goes off to legal for review? Or does “done” mean it’s been live for a few weeks, and you have enough data to know whether it was successful or not?
None of these are right or wrong ways to define “done”; it varies from team to team. The important thing is to make sure you’ve got an accepted definition that everyone is working under.
One Content Creator’s Agile Story
Once you’ve spent a few iterations creating content in the nice, safe little agile bubble, I doubt you’ll be willing to abandon the experiment. Hopefully, your team will be seeing such great results that they wouldn’t let you go back to your old frantic, inconsistent ways if you wanted to.
And, in case you’re thinking that this sounds like a great theory that wouldn’t survive contact with reality, I’m living proof that it works wonders.
A few months after I joined a marketing team as its only dedicated content marketer, we shifted to an agile marketing approach. Specifically, we started using Scrum.
Thanks to Scrum’s protection, I was able to maintain focus on the content I committed to without getting caught up in the chaotic content whirlwind that once plagued me.
Consequently, I wrote over 200 articles in 2015, without burning out or pulling a single all-nighter.
Most Content Fails. Yours Doesn’t Have To.
Rand Fishkin’s Slideshare on why most content fails is a work of art. In it he gives us this beautiful illustration of the early lift and eventual flat line that has doomed many a content marketing team:
If you can master consistent publication of quality content, you don’t have to endure the dreaded flat line of nope.
Protect your content creators with an agile approach, and watch their consistent releases produce the content marketing success you’re after.