5 Responsibilities of a Content Owner in Agile Marketing

Posted 5/14/2015 6:45 PM by Jeff Julian

When forming an agile team, there are three roles your team members can play: ScrumMaster, Content Developer, or Content Owner.  Each role is critical to the process, but my favorite role on the team is the Content Owner. 

One of the reasons it is my favorite role is the potential that these individuals have to drive the Content Marketing efforts towards success.  They are steering the ship and making the decisions that impact the timing and depth of the content we produce.  They have their ear to the ground, listening for movements in the business, industry, and audience to know what needs to happen.  There is a sense of precognition to know ahead of the audience what they will want and at the precise moment they will want it. 

Now, I have painted a picture of the potential impact the Content Owner can have on the team, but in reality, this is one of the hardest roles to get someone on the team to play.  Traditionally, the assignment of Content Owner is given to the one who wears the big hat and their calendar is almost always full with other tasks associated with the business.  Burdens of new hires, team moral, and endless meetings do not offer the time needed to focus on the Content Strategy.

If you are lucky enough to have the title of Chief Content Officer in your organization, then you are probably set to receive the assignment of Content Owner.  If you are not this blessed, then you might need to hand off some responsibility to someone who is next in line to the big cheese. 

Whatever you decide, committing to this role will set you up for success.  Here are five responsibilities you will take on when starting the role of Content Owner.

Priority of the Content

Do we create this Content Item first?  Is this Content Item more important than these items?  Even though this Content Item will take our team an entire sprint to the finish, are we willing to do that to complete the whole item or should we break it down? 

These are some of the questions that the Content Owner needs to be able to answer on a regular basis.  When you look at your Content Backlog and the list of Content Items you want to produce, it is hard to know what order will benefit the audience and the development team first.  If our goal is to educate the audience, what level is the audience expecting?  As we start to build new members of the audience, do we need the basics or something more advanced?  All of these questions will help guide your Content Backlog priority decisions. 

Another measurement you need to account for is how long it will take your team to develop the content.  Will this one video have as much impact on the audience today as these three blog posts?  Will adding a podcast series be the best use of our teams time if it means we have to cut back on infographics and case studies?

I am sure I am already stressing you out just talking about these questions, but I will tell you there is hope.  Unlike the traditional team, your agile Content Developers will become amazing estimators of their time as we continue through the Scrum process.  With these estimates, you will be able to see exactly how much you can commit to without burning out the team.  You will know how much to expect out of new resources and when you need new resources for initiatives.  You will have real data to show your boss on why you need resources, internal or external, and when it makes the most sense. 

To help Content Owners get started making these decisions, I like to play a game to help bring them closer to reality.  The game is very easy, and all you need is some fake money.  You should have your ScrumMaster be the leader of the game and your Content Owner as the player.  Here is how you play:

  1. Have the team estimate the majority, if not all, of the fully developed Content Backlog items.
  2. Calculate how many resources you have available and the total amount of work you can accomplish in the next few Sprints.  Later we will cover estimating, but for now go with how many days you have available to commit to content development. 
  3. With the total number of days for each Sprint available, take 20 to 30% of that time away to give the time the ability to attend meetings and the distractions we know will happen.  We call this percentage the efficiency factor.
  4. Give your Content Owner enough money to make purchase decisions for the next two or three Sprints.  I suggest valuing each day at $1000.  So if you have a total amount of time in your Sprint of 25 days, your Content Owner can spend $25,000.
  5. Assign the same value to the estimates on the Content Backlog.  If your team says it will take 13 days to complete, this is $13,000.
  6. Have the Content Owner go through the backlog and ask the question: If you could spend $25,000 in the next Sprint, which items do you want to purchase for your audience?  The answer will be used to determine priority. 

Because priority directly correlates to value received by the audience due to timing of content, it is easier to assign a dollar figure and spend money rather than just see it as time.  How much time it takes someone to complete a task always causes a performance question that we just don’t need to address during these sessions.  Picking a price and using fake money will take away these distractions and let the Content Owner focus on the main goal, assigning priority.

Repeating this game on a regular basis will make your backlog grooming sessions more fun and productive.  You can also conduct these sessions with some members of your audience to get a better view of what they want compared to what you think they want. 

Analyzing the Team’s Performance

The ScrumMaster will have the some amazing numbers as you get started with your agile efforts.  This data can be the exact information you need to make resource decisions based on real measurements instead of a gut feel.

Also, being able to see how much a particular type of content costs versus the return you are receiving will help make some choices easier.  Imagine if you could see that your team produces ten blog posts in the same amount of time it takes them to produce a video.  Is the video driving your goals 10x what you’re a typical blog post will?

Agile Marketing - Preparing Food on a Cruise Ship

Another great measurement is the ability to see how accurate the Content Developers are with their estimates.  While estimating is hard at first, over time it gets easier and more accurate.  The accuracy of the estimate is key to ensuring you will meet your expected goals.  If you are driving towards a particular release of a large group of content and your team regularly fails their estimates, sit back down with them and the data to get an updated estimate.  Afterwards you can calculate when this content will be ready for production.

Listening to the Business

In our company, I am the CMO and one of the owners; I am privileged to attend the meetings that discuss the pivots we are making.  Being in this position allows me to start to plot a course with content and audiences that will make the transition smoother.  If we are looking into bringing on an additional offering or platform, I can do my research to see what our existing audience needs and what the needs are of potential audience members.  I may need to create a new persona to match the new audience member to goals and desires for content. 

This insight happens because I am in those meetings.  If you are not a part of the decision-making group for the strategic direction of the business, you should find out who is.  Being able to have access to this information will give you that upper hand in making your content priority decisions.  As you know by now, audience building is a long process so if you are always reactive to change, you will always be late on delivering value to the audience.

Listening to the Audience

Another side if listening is what is happening in the industry.  Look at all the changes that have happened in the last three years of your business.  Was the shift something you could have heard through monitoring news sources or an overnight occurrence?  Typically, you can hear about these shifts and be prepared. 

Take one of the latest changes we have all had to make to our content management platforms, creating a mobile-friendly site.  Google recently announced that your website should be mobile-friendly, or they will penalize you in mobile search results.  For the first time, they gave marketers a month long heads up but this shouldn’t have surprised anyone.  Responsive design is not new, nor is the use of mobile devices to consume content.  If you are listening to your audience, you would see that the consumption of content on a mobile device has risen over the past 3 to 4 years at a regular pace.  If your audience cannot consume your content on these devices, you are leaving them behind. 

The new Google algorithm is a big change that affected every industry but what about the big changes that affect only your industry.  The heavy hitters in marketing won’t be blogging about those, so you will have to do your listening for those shifts.  And guess what, your customers will love you for sharing your findings.

Setting the Leadership Expectations

This last responsibility is one of the most important for your success and is deeply related to your work on the previous four, setting the expectations of your leadership. 

One of the benefits of a campaign is the short life span, and if the expectations weren’t met, we can change it or try something different.  Content Marketing, however, does not have this quick measurement of traction because of the amount of time it takes to build authority and trust with an audience.  You need to be able to present that fact to your leaders to ensure they do not think this effort is going to be the lead generating engine next week.  It very well may become an excellent lead generating engine, but it will take time. 

As we discussed earlier, having a seat at the table will show others that you are extremely valuable if you are properly listening to the audience and the industry.  The insights you provide for what is going on, backed by data, will allow your organization to flourish and gain leverage for attempting new approaches. 

With more data about your team’s performance using Agile techniques, you will be able to show when you need resources and the exact skill set that will add value to your team.  Two of the reports you could bring to demonstrate your team’s performance are burndown, how well you execute a sprint; and velocity, how much you can complete in a sprint. 

A burndown report will show the leadership team that you have developed a repeatable cadence for delivering on your estimates.  The report will prove that you have been able to measure your ability and you are accomplishing your goals.  A velocity report will show you the amount of work you have been able to complete on average. 

For example, let's say you regularly pull in 22 days, or points, worth of tasks in a three week sprint cycle with two resources.  The report may show that an additional qualified resource with the same skill set and a short time to adapt will provide an additional 11 points of every sprint.  With 48 weeks in a work year, calculated by subtracting vacation, holidays, and planning, you have 15 sprints available each year.  The additional resource will add 165 points of productivity to the team in one year.  You would then be able to look at the average estimate delivery of certain content types like articles, infographics, podcasts, and videos to see the expected contribution they will offer.  Then with other data based on customer feedback, you can determine the potential ROI with this resource.  Try doing that with an editorial calendar or a gut feeling.

Final Plea to the Content Owner

I cannot truly express how valuable you are to the process in this post.  A good Content Owner who knows the role they play and invests their time into these responsibilities.  They will be the largest contributing factor to the success of their content efforts.  The team is now part of the content factory and with fine tuning, they will produce some amazing work.  It is your responsibility to ensure the factory is producing the right work at the right time. 

Go forth and help your team produce amazing content!