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Keeping you on your toes: applying Agile to content creation

James Trowman

You can find out exactly what those principles are by checking out the manifesto, but at its heart Agile focuses on the rapid and iterative creation of working software through daily collaboration. Agile methodology has continued to evolve during the last 15 years and many of its values have been transferred to other industries as businesses look to replicate its effectiveness in delivering working results ahead of time, improving productivity and adapting more quickly to change.

Content creation is an area in which elements of Agile are becoming increasingly effective. Driven by social media, consumers have heightened appetites for content and businesses are under pressure to create engaging and shareable material that’s relevant and “of the moment”. Applying elements of Agile to the content planning and creative process helps marketers meet these consumer needs. The results can be compelling – but it’s not always easy.

Test the waters

Agile elements such as daily “standups”, prioritising content ideas in a "backlog” and embarking on predetermined cycles of work known as “sprints” to create and push content out into the wild can help teams react to trending topics and capitalise on conversations their audiences are having at that moment. A famous example is Oreo’s reaction to the power outage at the Superdome in New Orleans at Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. If the brand had been working to a more traditional and rigid content creation process, in which it had to continually iterate and wait for approval, it would never have been able to push the content out. During an event where brands pay up to $4 million for a 30-second ad slot, Oreo grabbed similar exposure for free thanks to its Agile marketing team.

Agile-inspired content creation also enables marketers to test what content works and what doesn’t. Too often, marketers push out content that they think their audience wants to see without validating the theory. With Agile, if a piece of content doesn’t spark the desired engagement, there is a runway to try again. This is where analytics platforms become a key part of the mix – brands can monitor real-time engagement in order to gauge the success of the content, while social listening tools allow them to join conversations as they happen.

“Timeboxing” provides a structure and keeps the creation and execution of content moving. There’s a frequency; if content is not approved by the client it doesn’t get scrapped – rather it is put on hold and you move on to the next sprint. Instead of things occurring at the same time, there’s a clear process of create, approve and execute. It’s just what brands need to move projects forward.

Gateway content

Not all content is created equal. A brand’s communications team might have an asset of the highest quality – a webinar or a white paper – that has benefitted from thousands of dollars worth of investment. But driving audiences to that resource could prove difficult. The pace of social media is so fast that what engages users can change day-to-day, even hour-to-hour.

Brands must use analytics to stay on top of these shifts and understand what their audience is talking about. Streamlined processes and structured sprints, then, allow marketers to create engaging and shareable content in reaction to these conversations – or even pre-empt them, driving traffic to their longer-form assets.

Perfection is the enemy

Embracing Agile is not without its challenges. Chiefly, there is a constant education process. Clients are used to their communications being meticulously planned and polished before they are published. Brands need to let that perception go if they want to succeed with Agile marketing. Businesses need to throw caution to the wind and be prepared and willing to experiment – even when that means publishing content that might only be 70% complete. As the saying goes: “perfection is the enemy of progress”.

Organisational changes also have to be made for Agile marketing to be truly successful – and that’s another challenge for businesses. Processes need to be streamlined with a focus on communication, collaboration and analytics, while implementing Agile elements like sprints and daily standups mean changes to a company’s organisational culture. We have been integrating Agile elements into projects with clients this year and the impact has been positive. We’ve found the slimmed-down processes, greater communication and room for experimentation have helped create some powerful and engaging content.

Overall, Agile methodology is more about people than processes; the way we work together to conceive and create products, services – and content. It might not be competitive sport, but it’s certainly a team game.