A Case for Agile Marketing – Beyond Software Development

Posted 3/24/2015 1:50 PM by Jeff Julian

In the modern era of Customer Experience focused businesses, our internal processes for managing workloads needs to be continually evolving. Our teams are more frustrated and less satisfied in their work.  Just look on nearly every applicant’s LinkedIn profile and if they are not directly out of school, look at all the places they have worked and how quickly they move. 

However, these folks are more educated and better equipped to complete the work required.  Think about how many marketers on your team understand the channels you produce content for now based on personal (not professional) experience.  Our teams use LinkedIn, Facebook, Medium, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social media and blogging platforms to consume content on a regular basis outside of work.  They understand the importance of brand recognition and receiving value from an organization before moving into a customer relationship.  After the sale, they see how valuable it is for companies to receive public social interactions with brands and how much influence people have in their networks. 

We just need a way to focus their work and allow them to perform their jobs with less interference from others and more intervention from unrealistic deadlines placed on them from others.  We need to give them a voice to environmental variables like standing desk, multiple monitors, and portable work stations.  We need to listen to what they want and where they want to go and how they want to get there.  If they want to leave our team for a different role with another team, we need processes that, allow that to occur, and quickly bring others on board and in their seats. 

Industry Disruptions and Fast Adjusting Teams

Before we get into the solutions for team growth and process management, we have to add one more variable to our equation.  This variable is one that has always been there, but the rate of change has increased dramatically in the past 10 years.  We have to consider the frequency of disruptions that occur in the industries we compete in.  Now, almost every industry competes with new companies due to increase international commerce or the ability for smaller and younger companies to play in the space of traditional large companies. 

We live in a day where a family of rednecks can launch a TV series and product lines and become one of the most recognizable brands in less than 7 years after their pivot in leadership. 

We also live in a time where companies like Sears and Kmart have to merge, yet they are still closing more stores than they are opening.  And the competitor they had during the 2000’s, Best Buy, is undergoing the same shrinking of business.  Could you imagine even 15 years ago that you would be able to go to a store, see if you like something, then pull out your phone and buy that item at a sustainable discount with free shipping and delivery on your door step in a few days?  Some of us hoped it would be possible, but we were also the ones who expected our hover boards this year.

These disruptions have formed a need within marketing for a new process of workload management that focuses on the needs of the customer and that allows for organizational change in direction and priority after each move.

Moving Toward a Common Process for Leadership

One of the biggest fears we have in the organization is our inability to convey what we are doing in leadership.  Our departments are being measured by different instruments and even though the organization needs each of us to function, some are seen just as cost-centers or revenue-generators.  We must unify around the fact that we need to deliver change rapidly today and everyone’s attention and best efforts are needs for success. 

If leadership teams can have a common process to manage each group with similar rules and outcome, we will be able to shift and change with the delivery of information. These same leaders can deliver priority and information for the analysis and execution down the chain that allows everyone to succeed. 

I have seen agile teams and the process, address these concerns and shifts.  The processes do work and companies can regain their foothold in their industry just by reconsidering the way they do work.  It does require some pain and the removal of several layers of duct tape and super glue, but the light it places on your weaknesses and strengths is well worth the pain.

Combat the Effects of Burnout

For some reason all the cool kids work for an organization for nine months and then move on.  I guess it is the thing to do.

Typically this is not what we have in mind when we see someone who has moved place to place.  Instead, we think, this person either is horrible at what they do or hard to get along with.  Well maybe you don’t, but I have had these thoughts before when reviewing marketing and development team candidates on LinkedIn.  It is easy to blame the individual for their inability to stick and become a part of their team.  Heck, we can probably blame most job shifts on a better offer that puts and extra hundred or two in their pocket each month, but at the root is a bigger problem.  Going from job-to-job is a chore and it is hard enough to land a job and become a member of a team when everyone thinks you only have one foot in the door and the other out when you start.  

So why do people migrate so often in careers that require us to develop things (code or content)?  Job satisfaction plays a huge role in the decision to stay or go and ability to find a pace of work that is comfortable and rewarding. 

When I am brought into teams where employee dissatisfaction is at a high, the first thing I notice is the lack of estimates and input of what they can do in the timeframe allowed.  Without a consistent procedure for estimated work effort based on team input, you cannot find the overall pace and you will require them to work beyond or below their abilities. 

Each one of these factors will cause a person to question their place in the organization and make them prey to the countless amount of corporate recruiters scouring through LinkedIn looking for their next victim.

Agile practices like Scrum address the problem by allowing the team to have the ultimate say in the amount of work they can complete within a time box.  The team does not pick what they work on or how long the duration is for the time box, but they do have a say in what is possible.  If one member is faster than another, that is attributed to the total amount of work that is available.  If someone is going on vacation, that time is removed.  These concepts are not accounted for in an editorial calendar or the list of things we need to get done for department XYZ. 

We have a phrase in agile called The Bus Factor.  How many buses and wrong moves crossing the road will it take to destroy your team or time box?   It is a pretty grim way to look at your team’s stability, but you could easily call it The Recruiter Factor.  How many recruiters will it take to destroy your efforts? 

Beyond just who is available, we need to start to create developers who can produce more than one type of content.  It is the goal of the agile team to deliver across several functions and not rely on individual ability.  If someone is really good at something, they should share that ability and we need to make time to have them educate others through peer review and lunch sessions. 

If that person is sick, pulled on another project, or decides to leave, we limit the ability for them to effect the team’s ability to execute work.  This causes stress and burnout on a typical marketing team because the others are left to pick up the work and no change is made on their delivery expectations.  With agile processes like Scrum, we address this in the planning and execution of the sprint.  If we are down 10 points because someone left the company, we don’t pull those items into our workload. In turn we do not deliver as much.  This is the known expectation and we can actually quantify why, instead of blaming the individual who left.

An Agile Marketing Team

The reason I have coined the term Content Developer is because I believe software teams and marketing teams are very similar.  We each have the unique ability to create new items on a daily basis that require forethought and expertise, but are completely different than the previous day’s or week’s work.  We each have individuals who are experts with certain roles and just good at others.  We all have the need to make the customer happy, but we tend to not be directly connected to our customers. And we each have the ability to make a gigantic impact in our organization if we are allowed to give feedback, flex our muscles, and really go out of our way to deliver great experiences. 

There are several differences between modern marketing teams and software development teams as well.  One of the key differences is the silos we group our marketers in by team roles.  We have the Social Media Specialist, XYZ Marketing Manager, Content Strategy Professional, Content Writer, and the list goes on and on.  In smaller teams, which the majority of marketing departments are in, these roles can cause us to become far too focused on one area. 

This is exactly how most IT teams were when I started writing software in the 90s.  We had the database developers, systems analysts, architects, programmers, interface developers, and so on.  Some of these roles still exists on larger teams and for good reason, but when they are on agile teams, they are all software developers.  We are brought together because of our ability to work together.  It is the software equivalent of finishing each other’s sentences.

As marketing teams, we need to see that we are not creating widgets like and assembly line where we are passing it down the line and bolting on parts.  We have to be ability to tackle more than one area, to make sure no one on the team, whether they leave or have to take leave, can stop the construction and release of content. 

When the concept of an agile team hits your organization, one of the guiding rules is: we are working toward having no task assignments before the day begins.  We want everyone to be able to pull cards and do work.  It takes time to get there, but doing so will allow you to have Content Developers instead of siloed marketers.

Content Marketing requires us to deliver content on a consistent basis and help as many members of our audience as possible.  Quantity of content is important, but the quality of these assets is of the highest importance.  Success is measured by impact and even if we get hits because we are pumping out bad content, if those hits are not targeted at the right audience or giving them something valuable, we just wasted their time and our resources. 

Agile marketing teams can resist this temptation to produce bad content by ensuring we have rules in place for quality control and create content on a regular cadence that allows our team to rest and the ability to enjoy their work.

Agile Makes the Medicine Go Down

I want to end this section with some bullet points you can take back and think about if you are considering an agile marketing approach.  These are my top 5 reasons why I believe agile marketing can succeed by adopting and tuning the processes for their team:

  • Team Unity – The breaking down of internal walls for your department will help enrich your teams experience and help create a group of highly adaptive Content Developers who can do more when you allow them to learn and give them the tools needed to succeed.
  • Measurable Deliverables – For teams to succeed on delivering content and repeat the process week after week, they need the ability to define the size of the work at hand.  Managers and Content Owners also need the ability to hold the team accountable to their estimates so they can have confidence in the delivery timeframes when they communicate a status to the stakeholders.  The time boxes in agile are the vehicle for delivering the accountability and the group based estimates are the team’s voice with the scope.
  • Forward Thinking – Putting a high emphasis on prioritization of the Content Backlog and listening for the changes in the organization will allow the team to start preparing the way for larger organizational initiatives. 
  • Sustainable Pace – Burnout can be caused by going too fast or not going fast enough.  We need to allow Content Developers to produce at a pace that they can sustain over a long period of time.  Agile practices allow this pace to be defined and will expose the team members who need to be encouraged and/or educated.  It will also show you who the next generation leaders are.
  • Audience Centered – With our customers, influencers, fans, and other members of our audience at the center of every piece of content we develop, we have a higher probability of being successful in delivering content assets that have greater value.

Conclusion

I love Content Marketing.  I believe it is an amazing way to build audience, influence, and thought leadership.  Not only do I believe it, I have experienced all of those points during the 10 years we developed the Geekswithblogs.net audience.  If you are thinking about, trying, or are knee deep into your Content Marketing efforts, keep going and know the process works.

I love Agile.  I believe it is the ultimate approach to building assets that require: teams to form, quality to be measured, growth to occur, and long periods of time to execute.  Marketing teams are now more about long term efforts and quick win campaigns.

I believe Content Marketing and Agile together will help you have a better chance of success and the ability to help the organization perform at its best.