By Tina Ornstein, IOD Senior Editor
I have had a long career in content creation—the last several years of which have been primarily as part of the IOD team. I have written dozens each of business plans, blog posts, white papers, and just about every other form of business/marketing collateral you can think of. My clients have ranged from budding entrepreneurs in pre-startups to seasoned marketeers in multinational corporations.
Why do I tell you all this? Because I have come to realize that how any given company deals with their content in general, and with me in particular, is a very strong predictor of success for the early-stage companies or a solid indicator of the health of more mature businesses. Further, those who are agile consistently achieve content that improves business outcomes.
I am using the term agile here as it has come to be applied to the world of software development since the publication of the “Agile Manifesto” in February 2001. The key values of Agile Software Development (ASD) are:
- individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
- working software over comprehensive documentation;
- customer collaboration over contract negotiation; and
- responding to change over following a plan.
In this post, I’ll try to show you how the ASD approach can be applied to content creation for measurably better business results.
Build a Communicative Content Team
In ASD, cross-functional teams collaborate directly and transparently in order to discover requirements and evolve solutions. The same principle should apply to your content creation framework. Put together a team that comprises all the different lines of business that have insight into content creation requirements and a stake in its successful implementation. Different subsets of the team will be more active at different stages of the process.
Content planning and creation should be a cooperative effort of team members from:
- Marketing, for their deep knowledge of the target audiences and the competitive landscape.
- Sales, for their hands-on understanding of customer pain points and their unique perspective on the competitive landscape.
- Product management, for their subject matter expertise and their insight into plans for new products or the evolution of existing products.
- Content creators, for their experience in how content planning impacts execution and because they need to hear first-hand the inputs from all the others.
Creation of the content should take place within an open framework that encourages synchronous and frequent communication among the content creators, graphic artists (depending on the deliverables), and the marketing stakeholder.
I cannot stress enough how important it is that the marketing person has the authority to sign off on content. Yes, product management and sometimes even sales should be added into the review mix. However, I have seen way too much good content seriously delayed or even buried due to endless and, ultimately, fruitless review cycles. It ties into the ASD value that working software is more important than comprehensive documentation. In our context, this means that published content is more important than perfect content.
Testing content is primarily the responsibility of marketing although the sales people may be able to get feedback directly from customers. In any case, content testing must include strong feedback loops to the content planning team in general and to the content creators in particular.
Keep the Content Flowing
ASD is often associated with yet another silo-breaking, time-to-market accelerating approach: DevOps. DevOps brings together development and operations functions and applies highly automated workflows so that software products become part of a Continuous Integration/Continuous Development (CI/CD) pipeline of bug fixes, new features, and improvements. In our context, the agile content creation aspires to Continuous Creation/Continuous Deployment (CC/CD).
Data-driven studies show time and again that the higher the frequency at which content is published each month, the greater the impact on the brand. Here are a few tips that you should keep in mind as you establish CC/CD workflows that can achieve an optimal critical mass of good quality content:
- Right-size the tasks: Break down broader topics into sub-topics that can be spread out across the content creation team, or can accelerate the output of a single content creator. You can then leverage these smaller pieces of content by creating a series, or by publishing a white paper that brings the different sub-topics together under one roof.
- Provide actionable briefs to the content creators: The content creation process will be smoother and more productive if you provide the content creators with clear guidelines on the target audience and their pain points, how the topic highlights your value propositions, how this deliverable fits into a larger campaign, background materials that can shorten their learning curve, and so on.
- Streamline the content creation, review and sign-off process, without compromising quality: I already discussed this in some detail above, but I am mentioning it again here because it is super important.
- A/B testing: Prior to publication you should consider conducting A/B testing on different variations of content elements such as titles or key message statements in order to see which version is more impactful. What you learn from this A/B testing can also be applied to the briefs for deliverables that are still in the pipeline.
- Ongoing metrics: The only way you’ll know if your content is having the desired impact on its intended audience is to track and analyze the engagement metrics. These analytics should be conducted at intervals that let the team adapt and change the content plan as necessary “on the fly.”
A Customer Success Story
IOD has a longstanding customer that, in my opinion, has “nailed” the art and science of agile content creation. This customer has a dedicated and experienced content leader who routinely interfaces with all the necessary in-house roles as a content creation team—sales, marketing, and product management. Since IOD produces a great deal of their content, they also regularly include their IOD account manager in discussions about both strategic and tactical issues related to their content.
In order to be able to respond to dynamic market needs and conditions, they set up their content schedule using a relatively short-term approach. They also make sure that the different content pieces are well integrated with each other and with other marketing efforts, such as webinars or product launches. They always approach their content through the eyes of the customer, showing her how their product addresses her most important use cases or how their product brings values to her particular vertical.
They are highly data-driven and have put into place platforms and technologies that allow them to do automated A/B testing and frequent analyses of metrics. They have clear and frequent milestones at which the team evaluates content performance versus objectives in order to see what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t.
Together with IOD they have designed a content creation, review and sign-off process that is meticulous but efficient. The writers get detailed briefs, a table of contents is approved and SEO guidelines are provided before the first draft is written. Using project collaboration tools, each deliverable makes its way smoothly through two review cycles, after which the customer’s content leader has the full authority to send the deliverable to publication.
This customer invests heavily in its content and reaps the benefits, with measurable upticks in customer sales journeys that begin as a result of engagement with their content.
These days content is king, but in order to extract maximum value you have to build a well-oiled “machine” that regularly turns out targeted, high quality content. Your keys to success are going to be good leadership of a cross-functional team that works within well-defined and streamlined workflows. Feel free to contact us to see if IOD can help you achieve your content objectives. Agile content creation is part of our DNA.