Three Bad Approaches to Content Strategy (and One Good One)

If you’ve spent any time around software developers, you’ve no doubt heard about Agile development. The basic idea behind this approach is that software should be developed iteratively in short bursts of activity involving teams of developers, writers, UX/UI experts, and so on. The goal is to create “shippable” products, or enhancements to existing products, on a regular basis.

But that’s software development. What does Agile have to do with content strategy?

As it turns out, a lot.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is by contrasting an Agile approach with some of the common content strategy approaches I’ve seen in my career as a marketer.

Approach #1: “This needs a little more work.”

We’ve all been part of marketing departments where we sit in countless meetings discussing how we need to create more content, how content is king, and how the other guys seem to be eating our lunch where content is concerned. Everyone nods their heads approvingly, but then…nothing happens.

Why not? It’s the curse of editorial review. What I mean is that writers (and I consider myself one of them) tend to get very protective of what they write, while editors (and salespeople, HR, and seemingly even the guy who cleans the office bathrooms) tend to want to review and review and review content until it’s been beaten into submission – meaning that the end result comes out bland and highly ignorable by most readers.

Ultimately, the small amounts of content that do see the light of day just aren’t very compelling.

Approach #2: “My hair is on fire! Put it out!”

Another content challenge facing marketers is what I call “the drop-in.” This happens when someone from management drops in on the marketing team and announces that a piece of content about X needs to be done and be done yesterday. Their hair is on fire.

Since marketers tend to be an obliging group, they drop everything and get to work. But what happens? Yes, you guessed it: The individual making the request moves on to something else and the content languishes in a sort of editorial purgatory, rarely if ever getting out the door. And every other content project gets knocked off the tracks in the process.

Approach #3: “We need a content plan, a very detailed plan.”

Marketing people love to plan. They love to create PowerPoint decks detailing 12-month strategies for doing this and doing that. Content strategy is not immune to this mentality:

  • Creating 73 blog posts this year? Check.
  • Developing 21 ebooks? No problem.
  • Ten webinars? Easy as pie.

But then life, as they say, gets in the way. Drop-ins happen. Editorial review happens. Developers and photographers and videographers have opinions. And, well, after twelve months, not much content gets created. Sadly, marketing rinses and repeats the same process each year after that, with the same mediocre (and frustrating) results.

Marketing made easier

Agile has something to offer here.

To Approach #1, Agile says: Release content early and often.

This doesn’t meant the content should be bad or grammatically incorrect, but it can be basic. This gives you the opportunity to quickly get user feedback and suggestions you and your team can use to make the content better and better. It’s time to start thinking in terms of iterative content.

To Approach #2, Agile says: Yes, we can accommodate your requests.

Why is that? Because our content projects span weeks, not months. When a team member finishes a content project, they can roll onto the new content project sooner rather than later. Of course, if the new content project is deemed to be urgent, the team can add the current project to the backlog and switch over to the new one without causing massive problems.

To Approach #3, Agile says: Go ahead and plan.

The planing you do, however, is going to be different. For example, the plan for the current two weeks (typically what Agile practitioners call a sprint) will be much more specific than plans for a month or six months down the road.

You can also go ahead and create a framework for topics or trends you’d like to cover, just be flexible enough to incorporate things like customer feedback and shifts in corporate direction. In the end, Agile is all about adapting to what the customers (internal and external) want.

Being agile about Agile content strategy

My point in writing all of this is to try to convince you that we, as marketers, need to adjust our thinking about upstream content strategy, which flows downstream into content development. Agile methodologies teach us to expect the unexpected and in some real sense to go with the flow. (For some of us, that’s not easy, so feel free to take baby steps.)

Adopting an Agile approach doesn’t mean we don’t plan. It doesn’t mean we accept sloppy work. But it does mean that we work together in teams – web developers, designers, content folks, and so on – to create shippable products (read: content) on a regular basis.

How much and how often those products (content) get updated or improved depends on competing priorities within the marketing team and across the wider organization. Agile embraces the reality that there are more ideas and projects than people and resources to accomplish them, but it gives you a framework for tackling the highest-value projects first.

The result? More content gets created (and content continually improves). Organizational silos break down. Customers get more of what they want.

Agile wins every time. Try it and see!

Originally published on Aberdeen Essentials.

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