If you’re one of the very few marketers who doesn’t subscribe to dozens of email newsletters, you may be unfamiliar with the steady drumbeat of praise for agile marketing in the past year.
In case that’s you, allow me to present a few recent headlines:
- Agile Marketing: The Future or Fluff?
- Why Agile Marketing Should Be A Focus For CMOs Now
- Agile Marketing: It’s Not Just For Tech Companies
- 4 Reasons Agile Marketing Hasn’t Yet Reached its Inevitable Tipping Point
These are examples from some of the most reputable publications that have tackled this hot topic in the past few months, but they’re by no means the only ones.
But despite this veritable avalanche of coverage, there are quite a few things that simply aren’t being said by the dozens of “what is” and “how to start” articles that are flooding search results.
I get it — blog articles, even those with “Ultimate Guide” in their title — can only be so long. So, I hope that this simple rundown will help to clear up some of the unspoken (or unwritten, as the case may be) assumptions about what it means to practice Agile content marketing.
Myth #1: Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Plans
I once came across an article that rhetorically asked if Agile marketing teams should have plans at all. “Isn’t that cheating?” the author wondered.
Allow me to answer that question with a single, emphatic word: NO.
Whether Agile or traditional, marketing teams need plans to guide their day-to-day efforts and prioritize projects. Sure, Agile marketing plans tend to come up for review and evaluation far more frequently than those of waterfall teams, but that doesn’t mean the plans are absent.
Regardless of the Agile methodology that they use, Agile marketing teams work inside plan parameters.
Scrum teams hold regular Sprint Planning Meetings, during which they determine what work they’ll commit to completing in the next iteration. (They have the word “plan” in their name. I think it’s pretty clear that planning is part of Scrum at least.)
Scrumban teams likewise perform this type of short-term planning as one iteration ends, establishing a definite roadmap to guide the content they’ll work on for the next couple of weeks.
Even teams using Kanban, the least structured Agile methodology, hold regular meetings to plan and strategize. They simply use different situations, such as an empty backlog or the release of a particular number of pieces of content, to trigger planning sessions.
Myth #2: If We’re Fast, We’re Already Agile
Being agile, meaning nimble or responsive, is an important trait for practically every individual content marketer and content team who hope to communicate with modern audiences.
But, responding quickly or changing your mind all the time are not the same thing as being Agile.
Agile content marketing is driven by Agile values and principles, which means it’s focused on iterative improvement and small, incremental releases powered by a self-organizing, audience-focused team.
While the Agile Marketing Manifesto includes a preference for releasing content often, there is no mention of speed in there anywhere.
Agility isn’t a race. Teams who are truly Agile meet most, if not all, of these criteria:
- They are committed to continuously improving their processes and meet regularly to identify areas to work on.
- The “how” and “when” components of content creation are in the hands of the team.
- Audience-facing content goes out at least once a week, typically closer to once per day.
- Visibility, both internally among team members and externally with other departments, is highly valued.
- Data plays a central role in planning and decision making.
- At least one team member has a solid understanding of core Agile methodologies, allowing them to guide the team in its efforts at continuous improvement.
Myth #3: Anarchy Reigns on Agile Teams
This myth typically goes hand in hand with #1. There’s often a misconception that Agile teams show up and work on whatever they feel like from day to day, or that they operate as a content commune.
But when it comes to Agile teams, “self-organizing” is not a synonym for “communist.” Whether it’s a manager, a VP, a Director, a CMO, or some combination of all of these, more often than not Agile content marketing teams operate inside a traditional organizational structure.
Given the frustration that I often hear from content creators (and the simmering rage I’ve experienced myself), when content strategy goes off the rails, it’s not surprising that we imagine a utopian Agile environment where we’re free from onerous upper-management interference.
I wish I could tell you that Agile marketing will free you from executives who don’t get content marketing, or that all managers magically get better when they work in an Agile environment.
But that would just be mean.
The reality is that, as I mentioned before, Agile teams are in charge of the “how” and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the “when” of their content. But it’s still down to stakeholders and managers to identify and communicate the “what.”
Those high-level plans that we talked about in Myth #1 have to come from somewhere, and it’s typically not from the content team. And that’s how it should be.
Many creatives are so very good at what they do because they live in the minutiae of their craft. It’s often not in their nature to think strategically, consider market forces, or hold the larger needs of the audience as a whole in their minds.
That’s why we have managers and executives, for traditional as well as Agile content marketing teams.
Myth #4: Everybody Has to Go Agile at the Same Time
After every presentation or workshop that I give, I hear from someone who very much wants to embrace Agile ideals and processes, but can’t imagine trying to convince the rest of their team/department/organization.
We hear stories of groups like Dell, Mozilla, Hubspot, and others who spend a year or more tackling massive transformations, and we assume that’s the only way to “go Agile.” Fortunately, that’s just not the case.
You can start an Agile revolution inside of your organization in a very grassroots way.
Content marketing teams, in fact, are an ideal proving ground for agile marketing. As Scott Brinker points out in his 2016 book Hacking Marketing, “Preliminary content themes can be quickly tested in blog posts or floated in social media. The ones that resonate can then be expanded into larger assets in increments, such as an infographic or a more polished article for industry publications.”
Even if you’re the only enthusiast inside a content team, you can start by learning to use a Personal Kanban system to manage your workload. I can almost guarantee that your teammates will soon be begging to know your secret, and then you can spread the Agile word a little further.
Sure, the ideal situation includes executive sponsors and widespread organizational buy-in, but Agile is all about incremental improvement.
Just because you can’t start with a week-long, company-wide transformation workshop doesn’t mean you can’t start.
Myth #5: One Agile Size Fits All
I’ve been pleased to see this myth getting some explicit attention lately, but it bears a thorough debunking all the same.
Not every team will follow the same path to becoming Agile.
That goes for the early days when you choose your first piece of software and methodology, and it applies all the way through the struggles you’ll face when you’re a year in and feeling the team stagnate.
Commit to starting somewhere that makes sense for your team’s current situation, and commit to getting a little bit better every couple of weeks. If you’re not sure where that starting point is, the list of legitimate Agile marketing consultants and training workshops is growing all the time.
If consulting isn’t for you, Meetups can introduce you to key concepts, and there are resources aplenty out there these days. The Marketing Agility Podcast, The Agile Marketer, AgileMarketing.net, and many more offer tips, tools, and techniques.
Manage Your Own Agile Marketing Myths
Agile is a mindset and a way of approaching all aspects of content marketing; it’s not an item on your to-do list that you can check off and move on.
The way things work for your team may fly in the face of established wisdom, and that’s okay.
Don’t be afraid to break things; the pieces may fit together to make something even better.
Someone else’s steps to success might lead your team nowhere, but as long as you learn from every step and commit to putting those lessons into practice, you’ll never fall victim to myths.