We all know the marketing tactic “spray and pray” doesn’t work, but a lot of us still use it as our first strategy. We know you need to make a plan and execute it over time. We get that identifying your audience, understanding what they need, and knowing how you are going to meet those needs are the beginning steps. Maybe it is time we stop working and take time to start planning it instead.
To get started with agile content planning, you need to have the strategy, personas, and mission to get to the next step of creating a Content Backlog. If you have those, great, you are ready to move on. If not, consider placing some time on your calendar to do so as soon as possible.
For a Content Backlog you need a list of content you would like to produce. In this list, you need each piece of desired content to have what goals you are trying to achieve and how you will provide value to the target audience for the content. With your mission statement and your Content Backlog in hand, you are ready to start producing content.
One big problem arises during the execution stage that can cause us to get off target and end up delivering great content that does not match the goals of the audience and the company. This problem has what seems to be a simple fix, but without oversight and guidance, it will continue to creep up in your content production cycle. The problem is having the Content Owner, or for some teams the team manager, set the priority of the Content Backlog.
Such a simple task right, you open up the Excel document or your stack of cards, review the items and make changes to the priority of each item. Use the filtering system to default the sort order of the list to the highest number at the top and the lowest at the bottom. When our organization changes, the education of our target audience changes, or even the way they consume data changes, we need to repeat the process.
A Journey Back to 2012
Let’s get into a time machine and go to the year 2012. For some of you, this may not seem like that long ago, but in the digital world, this is a decade.
Think about creating a Content Backlog for a technology device manufacturer. In 2012, Nest was getting ready to release their thermostat but the Internet-of-Things was not a topic people mentioned. Apple just launched AppleTV, but there was no mention of the wearable devices we anticipate today. Windows 8 was supposed to be Microsoft saving OS and no one imagined the power that would come with connected devices for Windows 10 and the HoloLens technology that has developed.
If we were to develop a Content Backlog for this company, we might get a few trends right. The thing that has changed significantly in the past 3 years is the way people consume information. Three years ago, Google Reader was still the dominate blog reader at the time. Twitter and Facebook were popular ways to release information to your audience, but the way we use them today for organic reach is completely different.
We would be mistaken if we did not rethink ever item on this company’s backlog three years later. If this backlog was created on January 1, 2012, nothing is relevant and so much disruption has occurred in this industry and in ours.
Almost every industry has changed in the past 10 years. The speed of business is so fast that small startup companies can turn your stable business upside down. Knowing your audience as well as possible and having the owned assets required to retain and entertain that audience is one of the most important functions of a marketing team in the new economy.
In the case of AJi, before 2012, the only time we dealt with marketing teams was when I would sell ads to developer tool vendors and use native advertising models to allow them to build audience beyond the click. On the consulting side of the house, we were purely an IT centered organization. We did the same work we do today, but IT owned the budget, IT found the vendors, and IT lead the projects. Content Management tools continued to grow and soon marketing did not need to rely on IT as much and started to lead their own initiatives.
Consulting firms and digital agencies started to compete on the same projects. We ran up against agencies that had huge budgets for sales efforts and proposal development, but lacked the execution experience we had in deep-system development work. This is disruption and it happened swiftly.
So we took a deep breath and instead of changing the model to remove the web work we were competing with the agencies on, we buckled in and took them head on. Now, the majority of our work is with marketing teams, but we still understand IT and are able to bridge the gaps that still remain in organizations when it comes to shared budgets, deployment, and development efforts. This has made us stronger and better equipped to serve our customers.
Because of this trend, we needed a major shift in priority of the content we were producing to stay relevant. An audience of developers would not benefit us compared to the cost in resources, so we focused on the new audience and made the sale.
How to Get Started
Sounds funny to say get started on setting priority. Typically this is something we believe we have a grip on. However, most of the time our priority is based on outside factors that go beyond what the customer wants.
Since the content is produced for our customers, we need to look through that lens. It takes time to develop content, so the Content Owner needs to be ahead of everyone else to release at the optimal time. Here are some techniques to consider:
- Prioritize Your Personas – Start your priority exercises on the personas. Look at factors like who produces the highest ROI, who is has the least amount of content, and who we are trying to build an audience with, what products/services are we releasing for our personas. These can all factor into the question: Who do we want to reach the most right now?
- Prioritize the Customer Journey / Purchase Path – Next, we should look at when we are engaging our customers and prioritize this list. We need a lot of the same metrics for judging priority as we did the personas. What engagement step returns the highest ROI, what journey step is lacking content, and what updates or service offerings will impact the steps for the customer in the coming months.
- Prioritize a List of Content Topics – What do we need to talk about right now to be relevant? What happened in our industry where advice from a thought-leader would be beneficial? What products have been released that our customers are asking about? What events are occurring that will cause our customers to question if they need an offering like ours? Once you know the relevant questions and the answers, create a list of topics that are important.
- Look for Gaps in Your Content – What have we not answered for our audience members that we should base on all these factors? If it is in our Content Backlog, great! If it is missing, we probably should add it before we sort.
Now you are ready to review each item in your backlog and adjust the priority. You should have a few key content topics, journey paths, and personas to help guide your decisions.
If you are a Content Developer and a Content Owner, the desire to pick content that matters the most to you, will be tamed by the desire to reach the audience by this new criteria.
Make sure each Content Item has its own priority that is unique to it. Never group items into priority buckets as a final destination. If it helps for sorting to do buckets of 100s or 1000s, then start there, but don’t stop until every item has its own number.
Review Your Reasons with the Team
Finally, I am a big fan of sharing information with your team when you can teach them about making decisions. The next generation of marketing leadership is sitting on your team right now and you have the ability to show them how you process this Content Marketing approach and share wisdom and insights for empathizing the customer.
At the same time, I hate meetings that do not have a purpose of measurable value being delivered. In agile, we have a lot of short meetings that all have purpose, but for some, the amount of meetings can cause some discomfort.
Keep your eye on the ball during your Content Backlog planning meetings to make sure you are addressing the necessary issues and also sharing information to help them continue down the path of getting to know the audience better.
One of the methods we use at AJi is recorded meeting. Anytime we bring a team together, we ensure someone is using a Livescribe pen to record notes and the audio for the meeting. If the meeting is virtual, we use our conference calling service that is automatically configured to record all sessions. These sessions are archived with the project or initiative on our SharePoint environment. Anytime we need to go back, we pull audio and review.
One of the great features of the Livescribe is the ability to synchronize your notes with your audio. When you playback the audio on the PDF or paper version of the notes, you can click on a particular note and the audio starts at the time you took the note. Using some quick rewind features on the notebook, you can move back to get to the context of the note.
Now mix this with your Content Backlog preparation. Create a bullet for each Content Item on the notepad and record the audio with the explanation of why we feel this item will provide value for the personas and goals we have selected. 3 days, 2 weeks, or 5 months later when you start the work on this Content Item, your team can playback the conversation quickly and bring back to life the passion and compassion you have for the customer that was lost in time between discussion and production.
Now what some would call a waste of time has become amazing tool for bringing teams back online and the content with thrive because of it.
As we have seen throughout the article that priority is important. I want to leave you with a story on how I changed my mind on the priority of our content. During one of our Agile Content Marketing Workshops, we did an exercise to help generate ideas for your Content Backlog with the teams called Brain Writing. During this session, the topic we approached was Agile Marketing! The jokes started flying when everyone realized how valuable the information was to us because we had 10 audience members in the room giving us information about what they need during a session that was teaching them about agility in marketing. Once we started producing content ideas and groups formed to review and produce more items, we started to hear some amazing insights into our audience.
The room was full of excitement for the process, but there was a near unanimous request for ideas on getting started. After coming back to the office and capturing all the thoughts that came out of the session, I pulled open the Content Backlog and noticed we had a lower priority for the introduction topics, and instead I was working on topics that would better align our audience with other Content Marketing thoughts. In my mind I was still selling the reason for Agile Marketing and not considering what an audience would really want if they were getting started. I had a priority crisis that needed to be addressed immediately.
Because of the agile approach, all I needed to do was think about the audience, look at the Content Backlog to see what was available and what was missing. When I felt it was full of required information, I changed the priority values on each item, resorted the list and the crisis was over. The next Content Item I selected contained was at the top of the list and we are moving forward.