Developers love Agile, but is it right for content marketing?
Some swear by the highly iterative process for creating marketing content. Others say it's not a fit.
Agile methodology rejects big planning efforts and a “waterfall”-like set of consecutive phases. Instead, it emphasizes small teams, short-turnaround development cycles and rapid iterations based on feedback.
In recent years, Agile fans have proposed its use in various kinds of marketing efforts. In fact, Magnolia CMO Rasmus Skjoldan said in a recent interview, it’s a particularly good fit for content development.
One might not expect that a process designed to make software development more responsive to user needs would work with the creation of, say, white papers, web site pages or social posts. But Skjoldan said that there are several reasons why his Switzerland-based company, which provides and supports an open source content management system, employs Agile for that purpose.
Speed versus quality
The basic issue for developing large amounts of content, he said, is the old speed versus quality tradeoff. You can have it faster, or you can have it better, but usually not both.
“Agile has an answer to that problem,” he said, by establishing “a level of order in a fast-changing environment.”
To accomplish that, Magnolia focuses on the process, with biweekly reviews to improve the workflow. There’s a running backlog of items-to-do that are described in briefs, accomplished over short-term work sprints, with the items rated as highest priority tackled first by each small content development team.
The sprints generally last a week or two and, if a team finishes early, it tackles another high-priority item. As in Agile-styled software development, where a product owner decides the priority of what needs to get done, each team can collaboratively revise priorities as they go along.
Most importantly, the content is continually revised in an iterative process that utilizes feedback as a key element of the process. In building content for web pages, for instance, the entire site is put together and, Skjoldan said, the task is to “improve, improve, improve.” It doesn’t pit quality against speed, because the content is rapidly delivered and then, based on reactions, brought into focus through updates.
‘One of the easier cases in marketing’
“Content is one of the easier cases in marketing to apply Agile to,” said HubSpot VP and MarTech Conference chair Scott Brinker, who espoused the use of Agile methods for marketing in his book, “Hacking Marketing.”
For one thing, he said, Agile’s essential feedback mechanism is “easier to adjust” for content creation, compared to something like information architecture, which gets embedded in the working navigation of an entire web site.
Brinker noted that Agile-based content development assumes the overall goal of the project remains the same throughout iterations, just as in software development. If there’s a major change in the goal that goes beyond mere iteration, a new project is spun off.
The feedback process for content development can work in a variety of ways, he said, such as getting responses to the first in a series of white papers, which then informs the development of the rest in the series.
“Content marketing is a great fit for Agile,” Brinker said, “because you can quickly deploy [feedback] into content.”
But not all marketers agree with Brinker and Skjoldan that Agile works well for content development.
An agile content development approach “ultimately wasn’t sustainable,” said Natasha Khairullah, head of brand Strategy at crib mattress maker Colgate Mattress.
“The challenge that inevitably surfaced for us,” she said via email, “was creating the necessary new volume of content that was needed based on the ‘gap’ insights provided by our agile optimization software.”
She added that, while traditional content development utilizes a topic roadmap based on insights from past analytics, Agile content development puts “you squarely in the position of creating content based on what your users are looking for right now — in real time.”
The results might be more relevant to the moment, she said, but it requires a very nimble team with enough content options so that pivots can be made in real-time. While Agile can conceivably work in some marketing shops for content development, she said, it didn’t at Colgate Mattress.